DLT £14.95 (0-232-52535-8); Church Times Bookshop £13.45
WHEN ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY MEET: Muslims in Europe and in the
Palgrave Macmillan £25 (0-312-29401-8); Church Times Bookshop £22.50
TAKEN together, these two very different studies illuminate the diversity,
predicaments, and controversies exercising contemporary Muslims, not least in
the West. Geaves, a professor of religious studies at University College,
Chester, offers a useful thematic study of how the various dimensions of
contemporary Islam are understood today - the doctrine of God, the nature of
the Prophet, Islamic law, the significance of the umma (world-wide
Muslim community), Sufism, the status of women, martyrdom, jihad, and
Much of the material is framed to capture the passionate, often sectarian,
debates within Islam, as well as between Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. Thus
the chapter on martyrdom is suggestively subtitled: "The Shi'a doctrine of
suffering opposed to the Sunni doctrine of 'Manifest Success'".
Geaves's text serves as a useful entry point for undergraduate and general
reader alike. Each chapter provides a readable summary of recent academic -
largely non-Muslim - scholarship, enriched by Geaves's own specialist
interests, umma and Sufism.
The book's focus is contemporary Islam, but its main weakness is that it
reads rather like a view from nowhere in particular. This contrasts with Cesari'
s clear focus on Western Europe and the United States.
Cesari is an Arabist and French political scientist who now lectures in
Islam at the Harvard Divinity School. Her book is an innovative, comparative
study of Muslim communities in the West, and the mutual transformations of
Islam and Western societies.
Part 1 examines ways in which nationalism and secularism are being
reconfigured through interaction with Muslim communities, while Islamic
practice in the West is being individualised. Part 2 focuses on two distinct,
imaginative re-appropriations of the umma in the West: one, defensive
and reactive, which includes a theology of hate; the other, the production and
consumption of Islam on the internet, which signals an acceptance of modernity.
Part 3 explores the crisis in religious authority, and the emergence of
different sorts of religious leaders. This section also reviews the rethinking
of Islamic thought that is beginning to occur in the West.
A welcome feature of this study is that it is interwoven with a series of
interviews with a wide range of Muslims, male and female. Many represent a new
generation of young Western Muslim scholars who have a constituency in both
Europe and the US. Readers who have followed the anguished debates in the
British media post-7/7 will recognise at least two of these names: Professor
Tariq Ramadan, who is based in Switzerland and is the charismatic grandson of
the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, an
American convert and exponent of an open and engaged form of Sufism.
Both studies concur in the importance of the media's often stereotyping and
misrepresenting Muslim communities. Geaves rightly draws attention to ways in
which Muslim communities respond in kind, drawing on a rich anti-Christian and
anti-Western polemical tradition. Neither author makes allowances for
improvements, at least over the past five years, in the UK: any reader of the
British newspapers will have noticed significant new Muslim voices in the
mainstream press, from the hijab-wearing Anila Beg in The Sun, and
Burhan Wazir in The Times, to Ziauddin Sardar in the
Cesari is more at home with Islam in the Arab world; Greaves has a surer
grasp of Islam in South Asia. Inevitably, Cesari has a greater understanding of
France than of the UK. Too often, France provides - almost unconsciously - a
template for Europe. Her comments on "secularism" in Europe are shaped by France
's laïcité rather than by England's Anglican establishment.
One of the great strengths of Ceasari's work, however, is her insistence
that the uneven success of distinct Muslim communities in integrating in the
West turns, in part, on the institutional space given to religion, methods of
acquiring citizenship, and the degree of multicultural tolerance. This varies
significantly across European countries. In this regard, she makes some
fascinating comparisons between the US and Europe.
Most readers will gain from both these works a deepened sense of the travail
of contemporary Islam. Cesari offers, in addition, a most useful review of
rethinking within Western Islam, especially with regard to Islamic law as a
minority, and the issues of human rights, secularism, gender, and apostasy. She
observes, acutely, that "the democratisation of Islamic religious authority
does not necessarily imply its liberalisation."
Disappointingly, neither work takes the measure of the importance and
investment of the mainstream Churches in Christian-Muslim relations since
Nostra Aetate. Surprisingly, Lloyd Ridgeon's edited volume
Islamic Interpretations of Christianity does not appear in either
Dr Lewis is Inter-Faith Adviser to the Bishop of Bradford, and lecturer
in Peace Studies at Bradford University.
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