Debates on Civilization in the Muslim World Critical Perspectives on Islam and Modernity by Lutfi Sunar, ed. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2017. 434 pages.)

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Tauseef Ahmad Parray



“Civilization,” which plays a significant role in today’s world, is a term
that has been discussed and debated through the ages and remains so today.
In the broader context, and at different levels and contexts (e.g., historical,
cultural, and political), it is used to describe “the entirety of collective
human values”; “consequential behavior against barbarism” (or simply “the
idea of being civilized”); as a “vision of existence and order”; and, above
all, as “being an abstraction of modernity and secularism.” One of the most
oft-debated concepts in the social sciences, it has largely been framed by
Western assumptions and concerns; although there are non-Western perspectives
on it as well. A recent addition to the multi-faceted debate on civilization
and modernization vis-à-vis the Muslim world is editor Lutfi
Sunar’s Debates on Civilization in the Muslim World. Sunar is a Turkish
sociologist who teaches at Istanbul University.
This collective endeavor of (predominantly young) Muslim scholars
seeks to evaluate Muslim views on civilization by challenging the “embedded
prejudices within the social theory” and offering “alternative viewpoints”
(p. vii). It presents “a complex assessment of key ideas in the
modernist discourse from non-ethnocentric perspectives and offers a new
understanding of civilization” (p. viii).
To achieve this objective, the book has been divided into three main
parts. Part 1, “Defining and Discussing Civilization,” consists of three
chapters, by Anthony Pagden, Lutfi Sunar, and Mustafa Demirici, respectively,
that review, analyze, and discuss definitions of civilization and
modernity and their “Eurocentric” understandings. Part 2, “Debates on the
Civilization in the Contemporary Muslim World,” examines non-Western
civilizations, efforts to resist against being assimilated in Western perspectives
and dominance. These chapters are contributed by Vahdettin Isik,
Cemil Aydin, Necmettin Dogan, Halil Ibrahim Yenigun, Seyed Javad Miri,
Mahmud Hakki Akin, and Driss Habti, respectively. Part 3, “Modernization,
Globalization, and the Future of Civilization Debate,” features chapters
by Syed Farid Alatas, Yunus Kaya, Murat Cemrek, and Khosrow
Bagheri Noaparast, respectively. The volume’s overall theme is designed
“to expose complex issues for further discussion pertaining to modernization,
globalization, (de)colonization, and multiculturalism” (p. vii). As it is
difficult to focus on all the chapters, I provide a brief assessment of some
selected ones below ...

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