Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation

By Güneş Murat Tezcür | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Muslim Reformism:
Engagement with
Secularism and
Liberal Democracy

Muslim reformism has its origins in the nineteenth century when superior Western firepower and technological advances began to achieve dominance over Muslim societies. The reformist response involved a comprehensive attempt to identify the causes of Western dominance and Muslim weakness. It sought to reestablish the relevance of Islamic identity in a rapidly transforming and modernizing world. The current trend of Muslim democracy may be conceptualized as representing a high point in this reformist lineage that encourages a self-critical yet confident perspective and a systematic engagement with Western achievements such as political pluralism and human rights. The appeal of Muslim reformism in countries such as Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey indicates that the lasting importance of Islam does not necessarily signify a negation of secularism understood as neutrality of religion. Besides, many Muslim politicians and intellectuals refuse to endorse authoritarian versions of Islamic political identities on the basis of their Islamic identity and readings.

This chapter starts with a conceptual and historical discussion of secularism and a comparative narrative of Western and Muslim experiences of secularism. A central contention is that Islamic political movements of the twentieth century were defensive efforts in an increasingly secularized sociopolitical environment. The Islamic revival of the twentieth century was not necessarily a stubborn resistance to modernity and secular trends. Rather, it represented Muslim believers’ attempts to reinvent their religion as a force capable of guiding action and defining political vision in the age of secularism. These endeavors were heterogeneous and gave rise to thinkers and organizations that competed with each other to be the authentic representative of Muslim belief. They had various forms, ranging from clandestine cells with

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