ISLAMIC MODERNISM IN SOUTH ASIA: A REASSESSMENT
No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without express written
consent of the author.
In the early part of the century Goldziher contrasted the independence of
Muslim thinkers in the Subcontinent with the relative conservatism of those
of the Middle East, attributing the difference to the more prolonged and
direct encounter with Europeans. Since then, the special contribution
of South Asian thinkers to modern Muslim intellectual history has been widely
recognized. Islamic modernism took early root in the Subcontinent and nowhere
else did the modernist venture find as fertile soil or flourish with such
vigor and variety. In originality, at least, South Asian modernists have
been unequalled. We are hard pressed to identify rivals elsewhere in the
Islamic world for the boldness of Sayyid Amad Khan's speculations, the sophistication
of Muammad Iqbal's attempt to establish new foundations for Islamic theology,
or the the radical rethinking of religious authority in the work of Ghulam
Amad Parwez. In the early years after independence, modernist ideas continued
to flourish, as witnessed by Pakistan's constitutional debates, and especially
by the vigorous activism of modernists within the judiciary. Under Ayyub
Khan's martial law regime, modernist policy initiatives, especially in the
area of legal reform, received direct state support and modernist thinkers
and institutions benefited from state patronage. In the 1950's and 60's,
an analyst of the religious scene might have seemed justified in predicting
that modernism, although not without rivals, represented the future of Islam
among the Muslims of South Asia, at least among intellectuals and in government
Yet the challenge at the end of the twentieth century is not to understand
how or why modernism flourished in the Subcontinent, but rather to explain
its dissipation. In reviewing the development of modernism one is struck
by how few prominent modernist spokespersons are still active in the Subcontinent,
by the absence of successors to the likes of Fazlur Rahman or Ghulam Amad
Parwez, and by the erosion of modernist influence in judicial and other
government institutions. This is not to say that the modernist venture
has been unimportant, or that it has not left significant legacies. But
for all its continuing attractiveness to scholars, and without belittling
its historical or intellectual importance, there can be little doubt that,
with no major spokespersons, few institutions and little influence in matters
of state policy, modernism's time is past. My purpose in this article is
to suggest a framework for reassessing Islamic modernism in the Subcontinent
which may help to account both for its earlier strength and for its decline.
I will argue that modernism is firmly rooted in an essentially revivalist
impulse, and that the dissipation of modernism is integrally related to
the success of revivalism. Modernism I will suggest, can be usefully viewed
as a Eurocentric form of Islamic revivalism. Stripped of its apologetic
tone and Eurocentric orientation, modernism slipped back into the broader
current of Islamic revivalism from which it had originally emerged in the
mid nineteenth century.
The genealogy of modernist thought in South Asia, at least in the phase
which Rahman labels "classical modernism," can be traced to two
independent roots, one originating in Bengal, with Mawlawi Sayyid Karamat
'Ali of Jawnpur (1796-1876) and the second with Sir Sayyid Amad Khan. Karamat
'Ali, who has often been confused with his contemporary of the same name,
initiated a distinctly Shi'ite line of modernism that had its clearest expression
in the writings of Karamat 'Ali's most famous student, Sayyid Amir 'Ali,
and especially in his widely read apologetic, The Spirit of Islam.
Sayyid Amad Khan's brand of modernism, on the other hand, grew
out of the reformist sufi line of Shah Wali Allah and his descendants.
The two strains were by no means isolated from one another, and they exhibit
the same general character, but it was Sayyid Amad Khan who had the greater
influence, and who, in the range of his concerns and the nature of his program,
becomes the defining case for modernism in the Subcontinent, and also the
key to understanding the weakness of modernist thought.
Sayyid Amad Khan's religious thought blended an essentially revivalistic
impulse with an apologetic emphasis rooted in a deep affinity for Western
culture. Much of his career may be understood as a double apologetic:
On the one hand he defended Islam, in its pure form, to Europeans and westernized
Muslims, on the other hand he commended European culture and learning to
his Muslim compatriots. These two major features of Sayyid Amad Khan's
thought -- the desire to revive and defend the purity of early Islam, combined
with the conviction that such a pure Islam could be shown to be entirely
compatible with modernity (defined in terms of dominant western ideas) --
are, I suggest, the defining features of modernism.
Of the two impulses, revivalistic and apologetic, the revivalistic is the
more basic. Modernism begins not with a commitment to adaptation for its
own sake, but with a conviction that Islam, in its pure form, is relevant
to the modern world, and that adaptation is a means of restoring this purity.
This is clearly evident in the evolution of Sayyid Amad Khan's thought,
for as Troll argues, re-establishing "the pure and essential Islam
of the origins" was the ultimate motive of all of his religious thought.
He began with the conviction, which he never abandoned, that Islam, in
its origins, was pure and perfect, and that his most basic task was to recover
this pure Islam by removing all the superstitions and innovations of later
centuries. His adaptationism was thus subordinate to an overriding revivalist
Sir Sayyid began his writing career, in fact, with works that show the revivalist
influences which shaped his early intellectual life. His early works show
a dedication to the pure practice of the Prophet attributable to the influence
on his family of the reformist Naqshbandi line of Shaykh Amad Sirhindi.
As he grew older he came more and more under the spell of the Ahl-i Hadith.
The Ahl-i-adith were a grouping of 'ulama' who, as the name
suggests, upheld adith as the major focus of religious authority
for Muslim belief and practice. Viewed in retrospect, the Ahl-i-adith seem
conservative and reactionary because of the extreme and dogmatic literalism
in their approach to adith. But in the nineteenth century their
position was a radical one, for they claimed the right to bypass thirteen
centuries of ijma' and to come to reinterpret the basic sources,
the Qur'an and sunna, for themselves. For the Ahl-i-ºadith, the whole
classical tradition of Islamic learning is suspect. Only in the prophetic
sunna, represented by authentic adith, is the legacy of Muammad
preserved in purity. By insisting that a qualified person need not rely
on authorities, and that texts can be approached without intermediary, they
advance a democratization of religious knowledge and seek to wrest control
of the interpretive process away from the specialists. Moreover, by their
emphasis on a return to the Qur'an and the sunna the Ahl-i Hadith offer
a radical critique of the whole classical tradition.
Sayyid Amad Khan felt a deep affinity for the spirit of the Ahl-i-ºadith
reformers and he expressed great respect for them throughout his life.
Moreover, even when his vision of "true" Islam became quite
different from that of the Ahl-i-adith the basic assumptions underlying
his method continued to reflect the revivalist ethos of the group. He continued,
in particular, to be preoccupied with the early sources of the tradition
and their reliability. In fact, after he abandoned the dogmatic attachment
to adith which of the Ahl-i-adith, he had reason to be even more
concerned about questions relating to the authenticity of early Muslim tradition.
This continuing concern is especially focussed in his essays on the life
of Muhammad, written in response to the the missionary-orientalist William
Muir's Life of Mohamet. In his Essays Sayyid Amad Khan combines
a cautious approach to adith with a concern to defend the historical
value of the tradition literature against Muir's attacks. The result is
an ambivalence toward the early sources which concedes a good deal to Muir's
skepticism, but at the same time illustrates Sir Sayyid's continuing preoccupation
with uncovering the pure legacy of early Islam .
In this continuing quest for authenticity, Sir Sayyid came to be convinced,
partly under Muir's influence, that the Qur'an alone could be fully trusted
to communicate the Prophet's legacy. The result was an approach to the
Qur'an that was in some respects just as dogmatic as the Ahl-i-adith attitude
toward adith. In an effort to separate the Qur'an from lesser sources
of authority, and to establish its uniqueness, Sir Sayyid abandoned much
of the flexibility which was built into classical treatments of the Qur'anic
text. In particular, he rejected the classical doctrine of abrogation,
which had given some latitude to the classical discipline of tafsir.
To his mind the doctrine of abrogation was inconsistent with the perfection
of the Qur'anic text. Thus he replaced the adith-based scripturalism
of the Ahl-i-adith with a sort of qur'anic scripturalism. The result was
to make the Qur'an bear the full burden of Islamic theology and legal interpretation.
There were two directions such scripturalism could go: toward a sort of
qur'anic fundamentalism characterized by a narrow and literalistic approach
to the text -- such was the approach of those who called themselves the
"Ahl-i-Qur'an" -- or towards the application of a modernist ta'wil.
The latter was the direction of Sayyid Amad Khan's tafsir. Unshackled
from the restraints of adith-based exegesis, he was free to interpret
the Qur'an in new and startling ways. Thus the revivalist ethos with which
he started was overshadowed by increasingly free and rationalistic interpretations.
Nevertheless, consistent with that revivalist ethos, his religious writings
continued reflect the assumption that the future of Islam can be best mapped
out by looking at its past. Even when he rejected adith in favor
or reliance solely on the Qur'an, and even when he interpreted the Qur'an
in radical ways, he continued to look backward for a guide to the road ahead.
But this backward looking tendency, which is a common characteristic of
much of modern Muslim thought, was not what made Sayyid Amad Khan a modernist.
On the contrary, modernism's distinguishing feature is a distinctively
apologetic attitude vis à vis the West. Modernists were not just
convinced that a pure and pristine Islam could be revived -- they also became
convinced that such an unadulterated Islam could be shown to be completely
compatible with the modern (read western) world, and they were intent on
showing both westerners and westernized Muslims that this was so. Modernism
assumes, in other words, an affinity for western thought and ideas and a
desire to reconcile these with Islam.
For Sayyid Amad Khan the transition from the revivalism of his "Wahhabi"
phase, as he called it, to a full-blown modernism began with increasing
contacts with Europeans. From 1837, when he followed his father into the
service of the East India Company, his contacts with Europeans were frequent
and cordial. His early years with the Company were spent in Agra, a major
center of missionary activity, and he was there at the time of the "Mohammedan
Controversy" touched off by the polemics of Carl Pfander (1803-65).
Sayyid Amad became a friend of the missionary-orientalist William Muir
(1819-1905) and at the same time, as Troll points out, he was exposed to
western scholarly method through the influence of Alois Sprenger who was
then Principal of Delhi College.
But it was the revolt of 1857 that was decisive in convincing Sayyid Amad
Khan that the future of the Muslim community in India was inextricably entwined
with the British. He became, in his political thought, an unwavering anglophile
-- a legacy which has been the great scandal of Islamic modernism in the
subcontinent. Yet this unabashed attraction to European culture, repugnant
though it was for nationalists, was the major catalyst for his modernist
program, which aimed at reconciling "true" Islam with all that
was good in European culture. His object was, first and foremost, to remove
apparent contradictions between Islamic teachings and "science"
-- hence his oft-repeated thesis that Islam is "in complete conformity
with nature." This thesis became the chief basis for his rationalist
tafsir: The word of God, the Qur'an, is fully true; but neither
can the work of God, evident to us from nature, be denied. They cannot
conflict. If they appear to, we must seek to understand the word of God
in light of the work of God.
Sayyid Amad's affinity for the West thus pulled him farther and farther
in the direction of adaptation, while at the same time he maintained a deep
concern to get at the authentic sources of the tradition. It is this blend
of concerns, adaptation and authenticity, flexibility and deep concern for
the tradition, which gives modernism its characteristic flavor. For the
modernist, western ideas and techniques, indeed, the very fact of western
power, does not lead away from Islam, but serves as a challenge to reexamine
the sources of the Muslim intellectual tradition. Indeed, it is this very
rootedness in the tradition, and concern to justify adaptation through the
tradition that is the definitive characteristic of modernism. The modernist
is thus perched, precariously, between revivalism and westernization, and
because of the precariousness of this position, modernist movements have
tended to slip in one direction or the other -- either towards a secular
adaptationism, abandoning any effort to justify change in Islamic terms,
or towards a pure revivalism, valuing authenticity over adaptation.
We see both sorts of drift among Sayyid Ahmad's associates and successors.
On the one hand some of his followers moved toward a much more explicit
secularism. Sayyid Amad Khan's associate, Chiragh 'Ali, for instance, advocated
a complete separation between religious and secular spheres of activity
by denying that the Prophet had any involvement at all in the realm of government.
He argued that Muammad "did not interfere with the civil and political
institutions of the country, except those which came in direct collision
with his spiritual doctrines and moral reforms." Such an arguments
at least maintains the spirit of modernism, by implicitly recognizing that
any adaptation (even towards secularism!) must be tested against the tradition.
But the final result of such a position would be to encourage adaptation
for its own sake, with no restraint from the tradition. Moreover, at Aligarh,
Sayyid Amad Khan's most enduring institutional legacy, the spirit of modernism
was lost altogether. Rather than teaching a modernized Islam at the College,
Sayyid Ahmad was forced by the sensitivities of donors to remove himself
from any involvement in the religious curriculum. Consequently conservative
'ulama' were brought in to teach Islamic subjects, and "modern"
and "religious" subjects were kept separate from one another.
Religious studies remained peripheral to the curriculum with the result
that graduates came away westernized, but with little to help them reconcile
their new knowledge with their tradition. Ironically, Sayyid Ahmad Khan's
most lasting achievement was an institution which was to further the gap
between Islamic tradition and the new education, encouraging a slide toward
Fazlur Rahman, among this centuries most important proponents of modernism,
has argued that this same slide toward secularism, especially in education,
diluted the effectiveness of modernism well into the twentieth century.
Indeed, he identifies secularism, defined as modernization without reference
to Islam, as the greatest threat to the modernist venture, blaming the rise
of secularism on "the pressures of a moribund conservatism and the
imbecilities of Islamic modernism." At the time he wrote, Rahman
was looking back on the 60s, the heyday of state secularism in the Muslim
world. But the experience of the 70s and 80s has shown that the other side
of the modernist legacy, the tendency toward a more strident revivalism,
has had equal or greater influence.
This tendency too can be illustrated by the generation following Sayyid
Amad Khan, for there were those among Sayyid Ahmad Khan's followers who
felt more strongly the pull of the revivalist side of modernism. The ease
with which the modernist impulse could slip into a more conservative revivalism,
and the difficulties of defining boundaries between modernism and revivalism,
is especially clear in the careers of Shibli Nu'mani and Abu al-Kalam Azad.
Shibli, who came from an undistinguished family of A'amgarh, represents
perhaps more than any other individual of his time the conflicting tendencies
of apologetic revivalism and adaptation within Indian Islam. He enjoyed
a first-rate traditional education in the Islamic sciences, first at the
Arabic madrasah in A'amgarh and later under the tutelage of Muammad Faruq
Chiryak¨ti in Ghazipur, under whom he studied ºanafi jurisprudence.
The latter, along with another ºanafi scholar, Irshad ºusayn
Rampuri, left a lasting impression on Shibli and instilled in him the lifelong
and passionate interest in Abu ºanifa which led him to adopt the laqab,
Shibli's first encounter with scholarly methods outside of the traditional
sphere of the religious scholar probably came during a brief stay in Lahore
where he studied Arabic literature at the Oriental College. But the more
decisive influence resulted from his association with Sayyid Ahmad Khan
and Aligarh. Shibli took up the post of assistant professor of Arabic at
Aligarh in 1882, and during his fifteen year career there he was profoundly
influenced both by Sir Sayyid and by Thomas Arnold, who came to the school
in 1888. It was under the guidance of these two that Shibli was introduced
to Western scientific thinking and, more importantly, to the western historiographic
methods that set the foundation for the historical and theological writings
which are his most important legacy.
The tone of Shibli's writing is still adaptationist -- sufficiently so to
make him suspect in the eyes of the 'ulama' from whom he hoped
to win approval. He aimed, in fact, at no less than a reformulation of
Muslim theology, and as Detlev Khalid has shown, he must be considered one
of the most important exponents of the modern revival of Mu'tazilite thought,
exerting significant influence on Amad Amin. But his method of reformulation
was to remind Muslims of the breadth of their own intellectual heritage
-- to revive a critical spirit of Islamic scholarship squarely within the
Islamic tradition. According to W. C. Smith, "His program was not
to reform Islam with some new criterion but to revive it from within, his
ambitious vision including the rehabilitation of Islamic learning in its
entirety, along the lines of its flowering under the 'Abbasis in Baghdad."
The greater part of his literary output is a series of biographies of
outstanding Muslims of the past: al-Ma'mun, Abu ºanifa, 'Umar, al-Ghazali,
and Rumi. The culmination of these efforts was a biography of the Prophet
which he was still working on at the time of his death.
The result, however, was not a true reformulation, but simply a restatement
of neglected elements of the classical Islamic tradition. Like Amir 'Ali,
he encouraged Muslims to look to their own past with pride, but he had none
of the former's enchantment with western liberal values. In any case the
apologetic approach could hardly be expected to aid the cause of modernism,
for such appeals to tradition can, in the end, only be expected to strengthen
traditionalism. Moreover, with both Shibli and Amir 'Ali -- in fact in
the whole modern Muslim apologetic tradition -- we see increasingly strident
criticism of the West, demonstrating how quickly and naturally apology turns
to defiance. Shibli thus points the direction that modernism was bound
to go for those who did not feel the allure of the West as Sayyid Amad Khan
had. He absorbed from modernism a critical historiographical method, and
was clearly a product of modernism, but he shed the westernizing orientation
and the rationalist tendency which marked Sayyid Amad Khan's approach.
Shibli had little sympathy for Sir Sayyid's brand of rationalism, and was
highly critical of the argument, foundational for Sir Sayyid, that religion
can be judged by the standard of science. He was, in this respect akin
to the salafi reformers with whom he fostered ties, although he had a broader
appreciation and more sophisticated understanding of Islamic history than
they. Rather than seeking to reform Islam by somehow reconciling Islam
with western ideas, he demonstrated a confidence that Islam, rightly understood,
had all the resources it needed to reform itself. Thus, in the tone of
his work, Shibli is a true precursor of modern Islamic revivalism in the
Subcontinent. Probably for this reason his works have had a greater continuing
popularity than those of any other modernist. Sayyid Amad Khan's religious
writings are almost forgotten, but Shibli's apologetic works, particularly
his biography of the Prophet, have continued to enjoy wide circulation.
Abu'l Kalam Azad, a protege of Shibli, further illustrates the same pattern.
Azad is commonly and rightly identified as a modernist. He is remembered
most clearly in India for his consistent commitment to Hindu-Muslim unity,
hence his bitter opposition to the partition of the Subcontent, and also
for his religious universalism. He had an expansive mind, and despite his
abhorrence of the excesses of Aligarh style westernization, he remained
open to modern currents of thought throughout his career. Azad's greatest
work, his Tarjuman al-Qur'an, displays a combination of scholarly
breadth and latidudinarian approach that has made it a benchmark for modernist
tafsir. His greatest concern in this regard was to allow the Qur'an
to speak for itself, unconstrained either by brittle tradition or by anachronistic
imposition of modern ideas. In this work in particular, but also in the
main emphases of his career, he pursued the modernist ideal of a reformed
Islam both true to the tradition and relevant to the modern situation.
But the modern situation in which Azad found himself was very different
from that of Sayyid Amad Khan, hence his modernism had a very different
flavor. Although he confessed to an infatuation with Sayyid Amad Khan's
writings during his youth, describing his attachment as a kind of taqlid,
he later completely repudiated Sayyid Amad Khan's rationalism, and became
an unrelenting opponent of Aligarh, the Muslim League, and the sort of accommodation
to British rule that these represented. In intellectual orientation Azad
was closer to Shibli than to Sir Sayyid. Shibli and Azad shared a classical
Islamic education, common literary interests, strong ties with the Arab
world, and aspirations to leadership of the Indian 'ulama'.
The two became close friends and Shibli helped to launch Azad's career
in journalism when he invited him to edit the journal, al-Nadwah
Yet Azad was of a different generation from either Sayyid Amad Khan or Shibli,
and he was content neither with the obsequious accommodation of the former
nor the passive revivalism of the latter. Azad and his generation were
politicized by the partition and reunification of Bengal, Gandhi's South
African campaigns, and most of all by the first World War. The War provided
Indian Muslims both an issue around which to mobilize -- the apparent British
threat to the Ottoman empire and its Caliph -- and also the hope that an
empire embroiled in war would be more easily forced out of India. Azad's
was a new, more assertive generation, no longer living in the shadow of
1857, but invigorated by a resurgent nationalism.
Azad's thought was influenced not only by this increasingly politicized
Indian environment but also by his close ties with the Islamic world outside
of India, ties which reached back to his birth in Mecca, where his family
had emigrated after 1857. His mother was Arab, and he was a native speaker
of Arabic. In 1898, when he was ten, his family moved back to Calcutta,
but his intellectual affinity for things Arab was never broken. He continued
to be influenced by intellectual currents in the Arab world, and he was
especially inspired by the writings of 'Abduh and Ri¥a, and by al-Manar.
In Calcutta he had a traditional Muslim education following the dars-i-Nizami
curriculum, and though he later discounted its value, this education clearly
laid the foundation for his later religious thought.
Azad's strong grounding in the classical Islamic tradition came together
with anti-British politics and repudiation of Aligarh's politics of accommodation
to produce a much more strident revivalism than we find in earlier modernists.
This was especially the case from 1912, when he began editing al-Hilal,
until 1923 when his involvement with the Indian National Congress began
to dilute his Islamic rhetoric. Early in this period, as Douglas has documented,
Azad viewed his vocation in messianic terms. He expected to become Imam
al-Hind, religious leader of the Indian Muslims, destined to awaken his
compatriots from their slumber and lead them toward a revival and restoration
of true Islam. In this attitude he foreshadowed the activism, confidence
and assertiveness that would characterize later revivalist movements. His
schemes for the renewal of the Muslim community, particularly his attempt
to organize a party of God (Hizb Allah), show a marked resemblance to the
organizational style of and objectives of the Jama'at-i-Tabligh -- small
bands of dedicated young men were to travel at their own expense aiming
to restore Muslim communities to the pure practice of the Prophet.
Azad did more than foreshadow the style of later revivalism, however;
he anticipated many of the specific themes that would be taken up in later
revivalist literature. In fact, the connections in theme of al-Hilal
and the work of Abu'l 'Ala Mawdudi seem strong enough to make a strong
circumstantial case for Azad's direct influence on the latter, and at least
one Pakistani historian, S.M. Ikram, identifies Mawdudi as the true heir
to the revivalist side of Azad's legacy. Among the most important of the
revivalist themes in Azad's thought was his emphasis on "enjoining
the good and forbidding the evil," which he identified as the pre-eminent
Islamic imperative and the dominant message of the Qur'an. He thus anticipates
the Islamic totalitarianism that characterizes the thought of Mawdudi and
Sayyid Qutb, insisting on the comprehensiveness of the Qur'an as a guide
for all of life. Similarly, in his treatment of jihad he differs markedly
from earlier modernist apologetic, emphasizing the necessity of a physical
jihad and describing jihad as a binding duty. His identification with
historical figures like Ibn ºanbal and Ibn Taymiyya gives further evidence
of the revivalist side of his thought. Azad should be viewed, along with
Shibli, as one of the major transitional figures between classical modernism
and the modern revivalism which was both an outgrowth of and a reaction
to modernism. Moreover, as Ikram argues, it is this revivalist side of
Azad's thought that has wielded the greater influence:
By a strange irony the vision that has caught the imagination of the people
has come out of the pages of al-Hilal, and the Abu'l Kalam Azad who
has really been effective in the history of Muslim India is the emotional
revivalistic, pan-Islamic, anti-modern, anti-intellectual.
As we have seen, much the same could be said of Shibli.
The examples of Shibli and Azad show the close affinity of the tendencies
normally labelled modernism and revivalism. As constructs, the two have
been artificially opposed to one another; in fact they represent not opposing
tendencies, but variations on the same impulse. The same tendency for modernism
and revivalism to merge into one another could be illustrated with numerous
other examples. The contradictory tendencies in Iqbal's thought, for instance
have been widely commented on. Similarly, two arch rivals in Pakistan,
the modernist Ghulam Amad Parwez and the revivalist Mawdudi, can be shown
to be much closer to each other than their rhetoric will suggest. In their
opposition to the 'ulama', their use of modern means of communication
and organization, and even in their political vision they are remarkably
alike. Even in their approach to the sources of the tradition, especially
the adith, Parwez and Mawdudi share an approach which makes flexibility
a primary value. Despite the rancour evident in their exchanges the two
are responding to the same basic impulse.
Modernism then should be viewed as that part the more general Islamic revival
which has the most affinity to the West and modernists represent that part
of the spectrum of Muslim revivalism which has been most sympathetic to
Western ideas and institutions. But if this is so, then it follows that
revivalism should be seen as a sort of anti-western modernism. Such a view
challenges the common representation of revivalism as simply a reaction
against modernity. I would submit that revivalism is not so much
anti-modern as it is anti-western. Revivalists have inherited from modernism
a critical attitude toward the classical tradition, a commitment to revive
Islam in relevant forms, and a willingness to appropriate many of the tools
of modernity. What they reject is the perceived "westoxification"
of the modernists. In this way revivalists are able to convincingly argue
that their vision of Islam is just as relevant to the modern situation as
that of the modernists -- in fact, more so because it offers real tools
to resist western hegemony -- while at the same time holding a greater claim
That revivalism is a truly modern response (and not just a reaction
against modernity) should no longer be doubted. As Ernest Gellner
suggests: "A puritan and scripturalist world religion does not seem
necessarily doomed to erosion by modern conditions. It may on the contrary
be favoured by them." Gellner's argument might suggest an explanation
for the apparent failure of modernism with which we began: that is, revivalism
has shown itself to be more "modern" than modernism. It has done
so by effectively using the tools of modernity -- technology, means of communication,
political organization -- but more importantly by voicing an ideology which
is in fact more attuned than modernism to the political and sociological
realities of modern Islamic societies, an ideology which offers both a convincing
diagnosis and an invigorating cure for the spiritual, economic and political
malaise of Muslim societies.
Daniel W. Brown
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Massachusetts