Review: Islamic Thought

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An anthology of texts by Roxanne Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman titled Princeton Readings in Islamic Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden1 gives an introduction to Islamic political thought starting in the twentieth century and following to modern times. The authors discuss Muslim scholars and how they effected change in Islamic ideologies throughout the decades. The overall assertions by this text illustrates Islamic arguments regarding gender, democracy, and violence; the evidence presented is a historical context to relate to contemporary issues.

The text is split into five sections, starting with a worldview of Islam and a discussion of democracy. Because Islam is a worldwide community consisting of many diverse subsets of individuals, Islamist thought is articulated differently by a range of identities2. Within a world of conflicting views, the authors strive to suggest what makes Islam distinctive compared to the many other existing beliefs. Relative to politics, they focus on the argument of democracy. The question is whether to adapt to elements of the changing modern societies around them, or two continue with fundamentalist views which always strongly stress the importance of the practices of Muhammad and his closest followers. Scholars such as Qaradawi3 profess to end debate of Islamic politics and create a single enveloping system for the international community of Muslims.  He personally expresses that “democracy does not necessarily require that the people should be able to overturn divinely instituted norms”4 but people should be able to exercise their rights within bounds of constitutionality. The authors give more specific examples of scholars and their views and mention the influence of the Qur’an, but then move onto the next section regarding the Islamic State.

After giving an introduction to the workings of the Islamic government and economics, they begin discussing the framework of the Islamic State and its effects on the rest of the world. Overall, issues regarding Islam are often commonly discussed in modern society due to the religion and state’s wide outreach. The main scholar who is focused on in this section is Hasan al-Turabi. Living from 1932-20165 he was seen as one of the most influential figures in contemporary politics and history of Sudan. He challenged the ideas of Marxist and Fascist ideologies which were being pinned onto Islam. He argued that the politics during his time period conflicted with Islam’s overarching message of peace and the goal of reaching God. However, some individuals disagree with Hasan al-Turabi’s work. They believe he is hypocritical and in a time of issues such as ISIS and Osama Bin Lad, this hostility is of especial importance. Although there are people who disagree with him, there are still many both in and out of Sudan who find him appealing as a political theorist6.

The third section of this book is about topics regarding Islam and gender. It begins with Muraza Mutahhari and the women’s status in the Qur’an because of this central text being one of the most reiterated things in the faith7. Some of the most controversial topics throughout Islamic history regard the topics of women’s rights in the position of marriage and the question of oppression. These arguments affect political thought regarding things such as polygyny and divorce8.In the modern western society, divorce is becoming more and more common. However, polygyny is often viewed as taboo. Understandably, the contrast brought forth by some interpretations of the Qur’an which prohibit divorce and allow polygyny is why the topic is so highly debated. Muraza Mutahhari, whose teaching made a significant impact on ideologies of individuals in Iran sought to stress the traditions of the Qur’an and keep the Muslim community focused on its original doctrines and beliefs.

The fourth section of the text focuses on violence and jihad. The scholar with the works most relevant in the contemporary world is ‘Umar ‘Abd al Rahman because of his discussion regarding the present rulers of the Islamic State9. After the events of 9/11, the ideologies of Muslims are often questioned for fear of public safety. In his works, he debates the questions of whether political leaders are correctly practicing the beliefs of Islam or not. He asks that if Islam is a faith about peace, then why are political leaders constantly in turmoil? This is especially apparent in the past few decades as the western world is taking a violent stance against extremist groups10.

The fifth and final section of the book also correlates to section four. Its topic is global jihad. In the case of terroristic groups such as ISIS, they see the path to God as the creation of pan-Islam – or the idea that an overarching caliph will be internationally relevant11. One out of two chapters in this section is focused on texts written by Osama bin Laden. He professes his ideas for war against western societies, specifically Americans. His idea, and the ideal of his followers is his interpretation of how his faith wants him to reach ultimate peace. Although many disagree with and are fearful of this kind of mindset, it is unfortunately very present in the modern world.

Overall, Roxanne Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman present a discussion beginning with historical texts from the early twentieth century and working through contemporary scholars. Princeton Readings in Islamic Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden makes assertions and gives imagery of how Islamic political thought has effected both the Islamic State and the rest of the world. It makes points on the main topics of gender, democracy, and jihad.

1 Euben, R. L. Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2009.

2 Euben pg. 30

3 Euben pg. 31

4 Euben pg. 31

5 Euben pg. 207

6 Euben pg. 209

7 Euben pg. 254

8 Khan, Aftab Ahmad. “The Spirit of Muslim Culture.” Defense Journal 19, no. 9: 46-63. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, 2016.

9 Euben pg. 350

10 Johnson, Wendell G. “In Search of the Caliphate.” Journal of Religious & Theological Information 16, no. 2: 43-51. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, 2017.

11 Johnson pg. 44

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