Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition Reform, Rationality, and Modernity by Samira Haj (Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 2009. 284 pages.)

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Rosnani Hashim



The goal of this book “is to provide a way of conceptualizing the Islamic tradition
that is different from that proposed by conventional scholarship”
(p. 6). The author wants to highlight howMuslims themselves view modernity
because their own views have been overshadowed by western scholarship
and have problematized assumptions founded on the oppositional
dichotomies of modern versus traditional or secular versus sacred. She
argues that a tradition is not simply the recapitulation of previous beliefs and
practices, but that each successive generation confronts its own particular
problems via an engagement with a set of ongoing arguments. Therefore, the
author asserts, one effective way of addressing Islam is to approach it as
Muslims do – as a discursive tradition embodied in the practices and institutions
of their communities.
Haj intends to attain her goals and highlights these problems by analyzing
the work of two significant Muslim reformers: Muhammad ibn Abd al-
Wahhab (1703-87) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). Although they
belong to different historical periods and social settings, she feels that their
work has inspired the two major strands of contemporary Islamic political
thought. The former, an Arabian reformer, has often been referred to as the
“legendary mastermind of a ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘violent’ political movement,
the inspiration for the present-day militant Muslim groups (like al-
Qa`ida) in their struggle against modernity” (p. 30). The latter is an Egyptian
reformer regarded as a liberal humanist who underlined the essence of
Muslim humanism for the modern world ...

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