PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE-Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age

By Voll, John O. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE-Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age


Voll, John O., The Middle East Journal


PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age, by Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 363 pages. $30.99 paper.

Reviewed by John O. Voll

Muslim advocates of religious and social reform present a broad spectrum of views. Modernists seek syntheses of Islamic traditions with modernity, while Islamists provide radical, and sometimes revolutionary, critiques of contemporary modernizing ideologies and programs. Both movements attack old-style Islamic institutions and the scholars (the 'ulama) who are central to them as being inadequate. However, Muhammad Qasim Zaman argues that "the traditionally educated religious scholars, who may be thought to have a vested interest in the preservation and defense of their tradition, also have often been vigorous critics of particular aspects of that tradition and . . . important contributors to the debate on reform in Muslim societies"(p. 2). In this book, Zaman provides a clear, in-depth analysis of what he calls the "internal criticism" articulated by these important 'ulama.

Zaman begins by identifying three major individuals whose ideas provide much of the foundation for the analysis in the book, Muhammad Rashid Rida, 'Ubaidullah Sindhi, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Zaman notes that Rida and Sindhi provide a way to view reform in the era of imperialism and the end of the Ottoman caliphate, and Qaradawi reflects major trends in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Although Zaman notes the works of many other 'ulama, concentrating primarily on those within the South Asian Deobandi tradition, Zaman's discussions of the ideas of these three men provide the cohesion for this wide-ranging study.

The first part of the book examines the internal criticism articulated by more traditionally trained 'ulama as it deals with three concepts central to the debates about Muslim reform, consensus (ijma'), ijtihad - "unmediated recourse to the Islamic foundational texts"(p.75), and the common good (maslaha). The remarkable debates presented in the three chapters covering these subjects present a picture of cosmopolitan intellectual dynamism that contradicts the widespread image of the old-style 'ulama as rigid and unimaginative conservatives. For example, Zaman's discussion of "the common good" provides a significant picture of "the sort of contestation that has often taken place within the ranks of the 'ulama" (p. 108). The debates about the permissibility of financial interest (riba) provide an excellent case study, showing a broad spectrum of views. …

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