There is a growing number of academic studies on contemporary Islamic thought published in the West each year. Yet despite the sharp increase in books that portend to study the works of modern Muslim theologians and jurists, only a few of these studies manage to offer original insights on the normative assumptions and choices made by the internal participants to the current Muslim discourse. Fewer still are successful in analytically engaging the internal debates of contemporary Muslims on their own terms without projecting onto these debates assumptions and values that inevitably distort and even misrepresent them. It is the relative absence of sound and thorough scholarship in this critical and timely field that makes this book by Adis Duderija so compellingly necessary.
This book, which is the fourth in the Palgrave series in Islamic Theology, Law and History, is remarkable in its breadth and depth. The author takes on the formidable task of analyzing the thought of the most influential and important orientations in contemporary Islamic thought: what the author calls the neo-traditional and progressive orientations. The author focuses on a pivotal issue that oddly enough has received but scant attention in non-Muslim and Muslim scholarly analysis. In an admirably tight and rigorous exposition, the author investigates the methodologies deployed by the representative participants of each orientation in understanding, narrating, and representing the role and meaning of the Qur’anic text and traditions of the Prophet, his family, and companions. The author carefully and systematically unpacks the methodologies that define how various theological and legal thinkers relate to the Islamic tradition and its role and relationship to the contemporary realities and challenges of the world today. One of the truly valuable contributions of this book is the author’s analysis of the epistemological, hermeneutical, and moral assumptions at the core and foundations of the methodologies employed by the proponents of each orientation. The author ably demonstrates the extent to which normative moral and epistemological assumptions dramatically influence the methodologies of each orientation and indeed, the very attitude and way that they understand, conceptualize, and construct the Islamic tradition and its normative role in the modern world. Perhaps the most original and profound contribution of this book is the author’s eye-opening analysis of the ways that the two main orientations have contrasting conceptions or constructions of the prototypical Muslim believer and of the normative commitments expected or anticipated from such a believer. The author also convincingly demonstrates that the imagined and constructed conceptions of “the Muslim believer" have a direct effect upon the adoption of the normative assumptions at the heart of a particular orientation’s methodology in dealing with and interacting with the text. Indeed, this is the first systematic study to explore the intricate and necessary relationship between the theological conception of the believer, as the prototype for the pious and orthodox Muslim, and the methodologies per which the religious text is understood and represented.
This book is a must read for students of contemporary Muslim thought, and it is also a necessary study for readers interested in the future of Islamic movements, institutions, and the possibilities of reform. But beyond the field of Islamic Studies, all readers interested in questions of authenticity, legitimacy, and the construction of religious meaning in the modern world will find the contributions of this work invaluable for any comparative understanding of the role of religious texts in negotiating between, on the one hand, the normative impact of tradition and history, and on the other, the contingencies and imperatives of the present. As this book powerfully demonstrates, stereotypical generalizations about the avowed determinism of Islamic texts or the determinative role of revelation in Islam are, to say the least, deeply problematic. Like other religious traditions wrestling with the same issues, Muslims struggle to anchor themselves in a perceived orthodoxy and authenticity as they confront and negotiate the numerous challenges of modernity and post-modernity.
The Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law and History endeavors to publish works that make truly original and indispensable contributions to understanding the internal micro-discourses and debates taking place within the Islamic tradition. This new study by the gifted young scholar, Adis Duderija, substantially raises the bar for all future studies dealing with the issues of fundamentalism, traditionalism, reformism, and authenticity and progress in Muslim thought. One of the most insightful and even startling contributions of this book is that it analytically and rigorously interrogates the claims of various and disparate Muslim participants that their thought and methodology authentically represents the religious truth of Islam—the religious truth as embodied in the text of the Qur’an and the oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Upon reading this book, no Muslim or non-Muslim researcher will be able to rest with the superficial assumption that either the traditionalists or reformers are more genuinely anchored in the textualist sources of Islam. In my opinion, what makes this book a necessary read for any Muslim or non-Muslim interested in the future of Islam and Muslims is that it convincingly demonstrates the pivotal importance of scrutinizing the interpretive and constructive methodologies of Muslims competing to represent Islamic authenticity. Employing a scholarly methodology that is uncompromising in its objectivity, detachment, and rigor, Adis Duderija demonstrates that there is a considerable gap between dogmatic perceptions of legitimacy and authenticity, and the extent to which the methodologies employed by neo-traditionalists and progressives actually reflect normativities inherent or necessary to the religious foundational texts of Islam. At the very least, anyone reading this book will be forced to seriously re-examine their understanding of the dynamics governing the relationship between critical conceptual categories such as orthodoxy, authenticity, tradition, and progress. The author of this book does not determine who authentically speaks for modern Islam. But he does invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to a serious critical engagement with the value choices and coherence of various participants claiming to represent Islamic normativities in the world today.
Khaled Abou El Fadl