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Hardcover Comparative Studies in Religion and Society Book

ISBN: 0520088689

ISBN13: 9780520088689

Comparative Studies in Religion and Society

(Part of the Comparative Studies in Religion and Society Series)

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Long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Islamic fundamentalism was exerting a significant influence in nearly every corner of the world. Bassam Tibi, a widely recognized expert on Islam and Arab culture, offers an important and disquieting analysis of this particular synthesis of religion and politics. A Muslim and descendant of a famous Damascene Islamic scholar family, Tibi sees Islamic fundamentalism as the result of Islam's confrontation...

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The new world disorder

For two decades, Bassam Tibi, one of the tiny and dwindling number of Muslim liberals, has been preaching conciliation between his co-religionists and the rest of the world. "The Challenge of Fundamentalism," which was written after the first Gulf War but before Sept. 11, 2001, then revised, represents a viewpoint that may need serious revision again as a result of the second Gulf War. Nevertheless, as a comprehensive and clarifying statement from one end of the political range, it repays reading. If nothing else, it's worth $19.95 to clear away the sappy misconception that Islam is a "religion of peace." Tibi explains that this refers not to peace now, but to a promise in the Koran that eventually the warfare between dar al-Islam (house of Islam) and dar al-Harb (house of war) will end with Islam triumphant. There will then be no more war between the houses, since one will have ceased to exist. That such a childish tautology has status as profound doctrine in Islam shows how very different Islam is from other societies, leading some, like Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, to predict a "clash of civilizations." Tibi also demolishes the idea that jihad means spiritual struggle. Of course it means armed violence, he says, which will hardly surprise anyone but the willfully ignorant. "Fundamentalism" is an unfortunate term to use for American audiences, because it gets confused with Christian Fundamentalism, which is not even remotely similar to the Islamic kind. Nor, says Tibi, is Islamic fundamentalism either traditional or authentic. He contends that Islam as a religion should be viewed as an ethical system, that sharia does not derive from either the Koran or hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and that Islamic fundamentalism is riddled with modern, although unacknowledged, concepts. "The Challenge of Fundamentalism" is loosely reasoned, but among several candidates as the central point, Tibi argues that the concept of the nation-state is western and alien to the rest of the world -- not just the Islamic part. The borders and the forms of government, not being organic to their societies, of course have failed. With the Cold War ended, this hidden crisis springs into the open. The situation is complex, with Tibi taking pains to try to separate out strands such as pan-Arabism, legal systems (Islam has four) and anti-colonialism. He concluded, though, that Gulf War I was a political victory for Saddam Hussein. It's a dubious proposition, but if ever true, it didn't last. Tibi, a Syrian who lives in the West (as almost all Muslim liberals must do to avoid being murdered), says that the political program of the Islamic fundamentalists can never succeed, but that does not mean they cannot create a "new world disorder" by trying. He disparages military solutions from the West, suggesting instead that Islam as a religion could revert to an authentic tradition of rationality and secular government. Unfortunately, the last important Muslim philos

One of the most important works on Islamic Fundamentalism from Westerners

The fact that this book was written several years before 9/11 tells wonders to how deep the problem with Islamism (i.e Islamic extreminism/fundamentalism) was throughout the globe well before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As a U.S. student of international relations, this was one of the first books that exposed me to the problem of Islamic fundamentalism and I am glad it was the primer. I have gone on to read other books and I am just astonished by the disinformation and as well the misinformation presented by authors claiming to interpret the inner psyche of fundamentalists. What disturbs me the most about other authors is that most do no even read or write and Arabic. In turn, they rely on translations by others which could be easily misconstrued from a difficult dialect such as Arabic and the style and prose of Quranic verses. Professor Tibi, on the other hand, does not suffer from this pathology. Aside from being able to speak and write fluently in Arabic, Professor Tibi is an Arab as well as a devout Muslim - a moderate one at that. Furthermore, Professor Tibi has actually traveled all over the world, into some of the most violent and volatile regional hotbeds to experience first hand the problem with Islamic fundamentalism. To understand the roots the problem, I believe one cannot sit in the comfort of Washington, D.C. think tanks or American universities: the dimensional problems associated with Islamic fundamentalism require proactive engagement. But thankfully, most readers and students will not have to experience such hardship because of Professor. Tibi's work. It would be difficult to do justice to Professor Tibi works in such a short review. Having said that, here are three important points I felt are worthy of notice. First, Prof. Tibi contends that Islamic fundamentalism is not at war with the West, but at war with secular nation-states. He contends convincingly that the concept of the nation-state is foreign to Islam. He cites several passages from the Quran that support this contention and goes on to explain how such an political arrangement - often advocated by the West - is incompatible with current understanding of Islam by followers. Second, he strongly advocates that Islamic fundamentalism (he refers to it as Islamism as well) as a pure political apparatus to undermine the apologists of the nation-state. He does this by showing the contradictions between the interpretations of fundamentalist teachings and works to that of the Quran. By following this methodology, Professor Tibi lays out the framework for Islam as the peaceful religion and its rogue opposite (Islamism) which twists the teachings in the Quran to sanction terrorism as means to its political ends. Third, he discusses the West's inability to escapes its "Orientalism" when it comes to interpreting and understanding Islamic fundamentalism. Orientalism implies the Western perspective of old-fashioned and prejudiced outsid

Answers to Post 9/11 Questions

This brilliant and prescient volume (written in 1997) belongs in the library of anyone interested in military history or world affairs as well as general academic circulation. It should be mandatory reading for anyone in Western government. It's one of the most important books written about the turmoil in our world today. A non-academic, I found it a revelation. Questions about the silence of the non-violent, "moderate" Muslims receive tentative answers in these pages. It also deals with the widespread fundamental movement within Islam of which the terrorists compose only a tiny percentage. It sets the historical framework for the acceptance of Islamic fundamentalism, in its many imperfect forms, as a reaction to the foolish post WWI decision of the French and British foreign offices in dividing the Arabic Middle East into arbitrary nation-states. They were never accepted by many Muslims who regarded them as an irrevelent impostion by the West. As a Muslim, Tibi demonstrates great courage in detailing the inherent inconsistences in Islamic fundamentalism thought as well as its lack of historical grounding in traditional Islam. He places Islamic fundamentalism in the political arena. Nothing is more potent than religion coupled to political drive for change. He's careful to point out there are many fundamental movements worldwide that have nothing to do with Islam. I've just touched the surface of the many important points Tibi raises.

In-depth analysis that looks at reality, not the sensational

I actually read this book (or main essays therefrom) in German. (The author teaches at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, and I believe publishes in that language) Having grown up in the Middle-East, I found Prof. Tibi's description of both events and realities on the ground to be very faithful to the truth. The very satisfying thing about his writing is his scientific-neutral (with a twist of anthropology, economics as well as just plain common sense) approach. There are countless books out there written by Arab "scholars" and "I've been there and understand it all" western journalists who more often than not just highlight one fact without showing interdependence of economic conditions, sociological stratification and cultural alienation that help explain the mess brought about by the rapid introduction of modernity into a world that heretofore had a limited sense of nationhood, let alone a secular societal organization. Bassam Tibi has this very rare objectivity due to not having the inferiority complex vis-a-vis the "West" which unfortunately plagues most if not all Arab and Middle-Eastern academia.
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