Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century By Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer M. Nafi, eds. (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004. 432 pages.)

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Carool Kersten



In the introduction, the editors explain that the main motivation for producing
this volume is that, in the course of the last century or so, the Muslim
world has experienced unprecedented change to its societies and cultures
that, in turn, has had a tremendous impact upon its intellectual life. The
Muslim world’s encounter with modernity has been a source of tension
that has turned “Islamic discourse in the twentieth century into a crisis” (p.
3). In devising a framework for what they call the “dialectical relationship”
between twentieth-century Islamic thought and modernity, Suha
Taji-Farouki and Basheer Nafi have resolved to construct their account
around three themes: the emergence of new spokespersons, the diversity
of twentieth-century Muslim discourse, and the connections and disruptions
between Islamic thought and the rest of “the global intellectual
arena” (p. 5).
With regards to the first theme, the key observation is that a new type of
intellectual, one who is not part of the ulama’ class, has taken center stage.
The lack of consensus and almost “complete fragmentation” of present-day
Islamic thought is attributed to the external challenges that the Muslim
world has faced for the last 200 years. In fact, contemporary Islamic thought
mirrors the very nature of modernity: the loss of certainty, challenged values,
relativism, and an Islamdom – formerly assumed to be invincible – that
has been shaken to its inner core. An interesting observation made in this
respect is “the blurring of the contours between expressions of Islamic intellectualism
and the academic study of Islam” (p. 11). As a result of their
encounter with western scholarship, Muslim intellectuals felt increasingly
compelled to respond to what they saw as Orientalist distortions. However,
as area study experts, social scientists, and specialists from the humanities –
among them increasing numbers of Muslim scholars – began to study Islam,
it became possible to discern a “meeting of the minds.” ...

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