Philosophy and Religion -- L'Islam Laique, Ou le Retour a la Grande Tradition by Olivier Carre / L'Islam: Politique et Croyance by Maxime Rodinson

By Gretsky, Sergei | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Philosophy and Religion -- L'Islam Laique, Ou le Retour a la Grande Tradition by Olivier Carre / L'Islam: Politique et Croyance by Maxime Rodinson


Gretsky, Sergei, The Middle East Journal


L'Islam laique, ou le retour a la Grande Tradition, by Olivier Carre. Paris: Armand Colin, 1993. 151 pages. Notes to p. 165. Contents to p. 167. n.p. paper.

L'Islam: politique et croyance, by Maxime Rodinson. Paris: Fayard, 1993. 327 pages. Bibl. Essay to p. 330. Contents to p. 333. FF130 paper.

The Iranian revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from his residence in a Paris suburb, generated great interest in the relationship between Islam and politics on the eve of the next century. Olivier Carre and Maxime Rodinson approach the subject from different angles. Carre brings to the discussion a historical perspective to describe the relationship. His conclusion is that modem Islamic political figures and thinkers (Hasan al-Banna, Khomeini, Abu al-A'la al-Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Rashid Rida, and others) have broken with the grand tradition of separating Islam from politics. Carre finds this separation in existence from the 11th until the end of the 19th century. In Carre's assessment, that period in Islamic political philosophy and history corresponds to the period of securalization in Europe. On that basis he concludes that "it is wrong and dangerous to pretend that it is in Islam's nature to mix the religious and the political. even if today this appears to be the dominant doctrinal tendency in Islam" (p. 35). Unfortunately, he does not produce convincing evidence to substantiate such a stunning claim. Carre essentially excludes the Prophet Muhammad, the "rightly guided" caliphs, and Muslim political tradition up to the 10th century from the Islamic mainstream tradition. He acknowledges that the Prophet left behind a theocratic system of government, which subsequently became deeply institutionalized in Islam. Apparently, however, he regards this system as having nothing to do with the nature of Islam nor being representative of Islam, calling it the "short tradition" or "deviance" from Islam. At the same time, Carre does not name any state in Islamic history that exemplifies the separation of religion and politics, referring only to theoretical elaborations. Even dealing with community, which he considers to be the nucleus of Muslim society and the cornerstone of the grand tradition of Islam, Carre admits that, unlike political philosophy, it has been preserved intact since the days of the Prophet, and that its members treasure their allegiance to their confessional community above all else. The latter fact, to a great degree, accounts for the failure of pan-Arabism, especially in multi-confessional societies like Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Even class interests in Lebanese cities, Carre says, rarely prevail over those of a community.

L'Islam laique leaves the impression that the author's theorization was guided more by the Western perception of the role religion plays and should play in Western society, than by an objective assessment of Islamic political tradition. This becomes obvious on p. 137, when Carre urges Muslims to adopt a quietist approach, i.e., perform only ethical, educational, and charitable functions, and not be engaged in politics. In Carre's view, in the 21st century, Islam should become "post-Islamist," thus admitting that secularization lies ahead of Muslim society, and not somewhere behind.

Rodinson's book, L'Islam: politique et croyance, is a collection of articles examining various aspects of Islam. Rodinson tries to find traces of secularization in the activities of those leaders, political parties, and movements of modern political Islam that advocate a return to Islam as it was practiced in the days of the Prophet. …

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