Tensions and Transitions in the Muslim World By Louay Safi (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003. 231 pages.)

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Amr G. E. Sabet



This book belongs to the genre of studies attempting to extend and broaden
Muslim channels of communication to “western” academic and intellectual
circles in general, and to their American counterparts in particular. It starts
from the conventional apologetic premise that Islam is misunderstood and,
in many instances, mystified both by unrepresentative scholarly works on
the one hand, and the dynamics of Muslim history and actions on the other.
Marked differences between the historical, social, and political experiences
of Muslims and Europeans, as reflected in different modes of organization
and discourse, have put serious impediments in the way of mutual understanding
across the cultural divide separating the two worlds.
One reflection of such distrust is manifested in the indifference shown
by American scholars and statesmen toward what Safi designates as
“Islamic reformists” and their forward-looking agenda. Despite the latter’s
ambitions to advance a pluralist and democratic society in consonance with
the modern world, the former continue to dismiss such claims as both
“opportunistic” and insincere. These perceptions, according to the author,
are driven by a strong sense of skepticism about the commensurability of
Islamic values with modern western ideals as well as by vested American
geostrategic interests.
Safi challenges such attitudes by emphasizing the importance and vital
significance of Islamic reform, which he defines as the “middle ground and
the moral synthesis between the nationalist-secularist and the moral-
Islamist forces” at the heart of the unsettling tensions that inform sociopolitical
transformations in the Arab and Islamic worlds (p. xii). Reform of
this kind should be able to appropriate the universal elements of the historical
Muslim experience in order to transcend the political and cultural institutions
of classical and contemporary Muslim societies, and to bring about
a creative synthesis of Islam and modernity (p. xi). Safi’s main contention ...

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