Remaking Muslim Politics: Pluralism, Contestation, Democratization

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There is a struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims unfolding across the Islamic world. The conflict pits Muslims who support pluralism and democracy against others who insist such institutions are antithetical to Islam. With some 1.3 billion people worldwide professing Islam, the outcome of this contest is sure to be one of the defining political events of the twenty-first century.

Bringing together twelve engaging essays by leading specialists focusing on individual countries, this pioneering book examines the social origins of civil-democratic Islam, its long-term prospects, its implications for the West, and its lessons for our understanding of religion and politics in modern times.

Although depicted by its opponents as the product of political ideas "made in the West" civil-democratic Islam represents an indigenous politics that seeks to build a distinctive Islamic modernity. In countries like Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it has become a major political force. Elsewhere its influence is apparent in efforts to devise Islamic grounds for women's rights, religious tolerance, and democratic citizenship. Everywhere it has generated fierce resistance from religious conservatives. Examining this high-stakes clash, Remaking Muslim Politics breaks new ground in the comparative study of Islam and democracy. The contributors are Bahman Baktiari, Thomas Barfield, John R. Bowen, Dale F. Eickelman, Robert W. Hefner, Peter Mandaville, Augustus Richard Norton, Gwenn Okruhlik, Michael G. Peletz, Diane Singerman, Jenny B. White, and Muhammad Qasim Zaman.

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Editorial Reviews

Perspectives on Politics
This is a most interesting and serious book on Islam. It is perhaps one of the most scholarly books on the topic since September 11.
— As'ad AbuKhalil
American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
Remaking Muslim Politics remains . . . an important work. It captures the wide breadth of civic-democratic Islamic voices with exhaustive detail in cross-national contexts.
— Sean L. Yom
Perspectives on Politics - As'ad AbuKhalil
This is a most interesting and serious book on Islam. It is perhaps one of the most scholarly books on the topic since September 11.
American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences - Sean L. Yom
Remaking Muslim Politics remains . . . an important work. It captures the wide breadth of civic-democratic Islamic voices with exhaustive detail in cross-national contexts.
From the Publisher
"This is a most interesting and serious book on Islam. It is perhaps one of the most scholarly books on the topic since September 11."—As'ad AbuKhalil, Perspectives on Politics

"Remaking Muslim Politics remains . . . an important work. It captures the wide breadth of civic-democratic Islamic voices with exhaustive detail in cross-national contexts."—Sean L. Yom, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Robert W. Hefner is Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs, Boston University. His recent books include "Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia" (Princeton).
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Read an Excerpt

Remaking Muslim Politics

Pluralism, Contestation, Democratization
By Robert W. Hefner

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2004 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12093-5

Chapter One




THE TERRORIST ATTACKS of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq placed the question of Islam and Muslim politics squarely in the American public's mind. In bookshops and classrooms, and on radio and television talk shows, Americans were treated to crash courses on the history of Islam, Muslim attitudes toward democracy, the reasons (some) Muslim women veil, and the question of whether the Western and Muslim worlds are indeed fated to a "clash of civilizations."

The impact of this heady media brew was decidedly mixed. In February 2002, a half year after the 9-11 attacks, the liberal-minded leader (imam) of one of Washington D.C.'s largest mosques told me that the number of invitations he had received to speak at churches and synagogues had increased twentyfold from the year before, and the number of American citizens whom he had helped to convert to Islam had quadrupled. "Never in my eighteen years of living in the United States have I encountered such an outpouring of interest in Islam, most of it quite sympathetic!" On the other hand, in the monthsfollowing the 9-11 attacks, there were dozens of unprovoked assaults on Americans of Muslim and Middle Eastern background. Several prominent conservative evangelists blamed the 9-11 attacks not just on individual extremists, but on Islam itself, which they decried as worship of a false god (Cooperman 2003). More alarming yet, surveys conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life revealed that, two years after the terrorist attacks, growing numbers of Americans believed that Islam encourages violence among its followers (Pew Forum 2003).

In a society as culturally diverse as the United States, it was inevitable that there would be contrary pushes-and-pulls to the post 9-11 reaction. With the passage of time, it was not surprising too that the events of September 11 came to be seen against the backdrop of other events: the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the conflict in Chechnya, border skirmishes between India and Pakistan, the war in Iraq, and continuing strife between Israelis and Palestinians, among others. Other than the fact that, somehow, they all involved Muslims, there was no agreement on the narrative thread with which to tie these events together. What was clear was that the question of Muslim politics loomed larger than at any time in modern American history.

As public discussion continued, two broadly opposed positions emerged concerning Islam's compatibility with democracy and civic pluralism, one pessimistic, the other cautiously optimistic. Prominent in the former camp was the distinguished senior historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis. Written just prior to the September 11 attacks, Lewis's best-selling What Went Wrong? attributed the Muslim world's turbulence to the fact that, in the course of its encounter with Western modernity, "[t]he Muslim attitude was different from that of other civilizations that suffered the impact of the expanding West" (Lewis 2002, 36). In particular, Lewis argued, the premodern history of Muslim confrontation with Europe insured that in the modern era Muslims showed a defensive or even hostile attitude toward things Western. Muslims were "willing enough to accept the products of infidel science in warfare and medicine, where they could make the difference between victory and defeat ... However, the underlying philosophy and sociopolitical context of these scientific achievements proved more difficult to accept or even to recognize." This rejection, Lewis concluded, "is one of the more striking differences between the Middle East and other parts of the non-Western world that have in one way or another endured the impact of Western civilization" (Lewis 2002, 81). The difference ensures that it is unlikely that Muslim societies will embrace democracy and pluralism any time soon.

Certainly there is no dearth of jihadi militants willing and able to enunciate the starkly anti-Western rhetoric Lewis has in mind.2 But other observers wonder whether it is fair to take such individuals as representative of Muslim opinion as a whole. There is compelling evidence that many among the world's Muslims endorse no such rejection of modernity and democracy. To take just one example, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris's recent World Values Survey compared opinion in eleven Muslim-majority societies with several Western countries and found in all but one of the Muslim countries (Pakistan) public support for democracy was equal to or even greater than in Western countries (Inglehart and Norris 2003). Where Muslim and Western attitudes diverged was not on matters of democracy, but in relation to "self-expression values" only recently ascendant in the West, such as gay rights and full gender equality.

Recent developments in Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia offer an even more striking indication of Muslim interest in democracy and civic pluralism. On November 3, 2002, voters in Turkey gave their overwhelming support to a new, Islam-oriented party, known as the Justice and Development Party (JDP). The JDP is a reformist party that traces its origins back to a series of Islamist parties banned by secular Turkish authorities in previous decades (White 2002). Despite rumblings from the country's secular-minded Constitutional Court, the JDP managed to escape the wrath of authorities while broadening its appeal among Turkish voters, many of whom had previously been skeptical of Islamic parties. It did so in large part by tapping voter resentment over corruption and the country's continuing economic crisis, while distancing itself from the Islamist rhetoric of its predecessors. More significant yet, as Jenny White explains in chapter 4 in this volume, the party leadership made clear its commitment to principles of human rights, the rule of law, and pluralist democracy. The leadership explained that rather than providing an alternative to democratic institutions, Islam should deepen the values of justice, equality, and human dignity on which those institutions depend.

The terrorist attacks on synagogues and British-owned buildings in Istanbul in November 2003, in which dozens died and more than five hundred were injured (Smith 2003), showed that not all Turkish Muslims agree with Justice and Development's democratic commitments. But the Turkish public's horrified reaction to the bloodshed showed just where most citizens' sympathies lay. In this sense, events in Istanbul were illustrative of a struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims taking place not just in Turkey but around the world. The contest pits those who believe in the compatibility of Islam with democracy and pluralist freedom against those who insist that such values and institutions are antithetical to Islam.

Events in Iran since 1997 offer a second example of a similar pluralization and contestation of the forms and meanings of Muslim politics. Iran is especially interesting because it is the only country in the Muslim world to have undergone the political metamorphosis from an Islamic revolution to the establishment of an Islamic Republic and, finally, the emergence of a postrevolutionary society (Brumberg 2001; Hooglund 2002). During its first quarter-century, the republic was seen by Islamist activists around the world as proof of their religion's ability to provide an alternative to Western-style democracy. As Bahman Baktiari explains in chapter 5, however, the third, or postrevolutionary, phase of the Islamic Republic's evolution has yielded some surprises. Events since the election of the reform-minded President Khatami in May 1997 show that the youth, women, and professional wings of Iran's new middle class have grown disenchanted with the reigning repressive interpretation of Muslim politics. They seem more interested in the creation of a civil society with genuine pluralism and freedoms than they are the shibboleth of velayat-e faqih (lit., "rule by the religiously learned," i.e., clerics; see Arjomand 1988, 148-59). As yet the dream of a democratic spring in Iran remains unfulfilled, and, as in Turkey, the long-term success of efforts to remake Muslim politics is far from guaranteed. But what is clear is that, in Iran as in Turkey, a growing number of faithful have concluded that there is no contradiction between their great religion and civil-democratic decency.

The Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia offers a third example of a Muslim politics as plural and contested as its counterparts in Turkey and Iran. Although often overlooked in discussions of Muslim societies, Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. In the final years of the Soeharto dictatorship (1966-98), a powerful movement for a democratic Muslim politics took shape. In alliance with secular Muslims and non-Muslims, the movement succeeded in May 1998 in toppling the long-ruling Soeharto. No less remarkable, Muslim participants in the democracy campaign dedicated themselves to devising religious arguments in support of pluralism, democracy, women's rights, and civil society (Abdillah 1997; Barton 2002; Hefner 2000). Unfortunately, as I discuss in chapter 11, in the months following Soeharto's overthrow, Indonesia was rocked by outbreaks of fierce ethnoreligious violence. Some of the violence showed the telltale signs of ancien regime provocation. But other acts were linked to independent extremists, including one group with ties to al-Qa'ida. The violence slowed the reform movement and put the Muslim community's pluralist experiment in question.

Notwithstanding these and other setbacks, events in Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia have proved that Muslim politics is not monolithic, and that there is more to its contemporary ferment than the bleak alternatives of secularist authoritarianism or extremist violence. Less widely noted but no less important, there is an effort underway in many countries to give Muslim politics a civic, pluralist, and even democratic face. In some nations, perhaps the majority, the initiative is still so preliminary or disorganized as to hardly merit the label "movement." Elsewhere, as in Saudi Arabia (chapter 8), the reformers are not clamoring for full-fledged party democracy, but greater pluralism and citizen participation. In these and other Muslim countries, however, there are hints of change in the air, and hope of better things to come.


It was with an eye toward exploring these changes that the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University, with the generous support of the Pew Charitable Trusts, brought together fourteen specialists of Muslim politics for three meetings, in May 2002 and in January and September 2003. The meetings were part of an eighteen-month program of research and analysis on social supports for, and obstacles to, pluralism and democratization in the Muslim world. The project was not intended to address the September 11 violence as such. Having directed a small program on Islam and Civil Society for the previous nine years, I had submitted the project proposal to the Pew Trusts in August 2001, a few weeks prior to the events of September 11. The aim of the "Working Group on Civic-Pluralist Islam," as our project came to be known, was to look at Muslim politics from within, examining the local roots for a pluralist public sphere and a democratic politics. In undertaking this program, we also hoped to bridge the gap between, on one hand, academic scholars and, on the other, policy makers and a general public increasingly concerned about developments in the Muslim world.

The contributors to this volume are first and foremost scholars of Islam and Muslim politics. But all share the conviction that policy-oriented public scholarship is intellectually important in its own right. Some of our colleagues in academia may not share this conviction; even those who do often regard public scholarship as a lesser intellectual genre. What this viewpoint forgets is that most of the great Western social theorists of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century were public intellectuals as well as or even more than they were academics. They understood well the rhetorical demands and intellectual benefits of having to communicate specialized insights to general audiences. What this perspective also overlooks is one of the most impressive aspects of cultural life in the contemporary Muslim world: its proud legacy of public intellectualism (see Abaza 2002, 55-74; Eickelman and Anderson 1999). All this said, the main motive for bringing together the authors who contributed to this volume was our shared conviction that efforts to understand events in the Muslim world can succeed only if we move beyond sound bites and stereotypes and acknowledge the plurality and contest of modern Muslim politics.

To begin to appreciate this variety, and to understand the background to the essays in this volume, we need to look beyond the categories of Western liberal history and recognize several distinctive concerns of Muslim politics. Three are particularly relevant to the chapters that follow. First, far more than is the case in contemporary Western democracies (but not unlike some Western subcultures; see Casanova 1994; Wuthnow 1988, 173-214), Muslim politics is informed by the conviction that religious scholars, the ulama (literally, "those who know," sing., alim), have the right and duty to make sure that all major developments in politics and society are in conformity with God's commands. Notwithstanding a few radical experiments like revolutionary Iran or Afghanistan's Taliban, this first feature of Muslim politics is not typically understood as an imperative for theocratic rule. Religious scholars do not govern and, again, notwithstanding certain utopian Islamisms to the contrary, real-and-existing Muslim polities are not characterized by a seamless fusion of religion and state or a dictatorship of "clerics" over a supine civil society (see Arjomand 1988, 147-63; Brown 2000; Zubaida 2003). Indeed, in a manner that may at first appear paradoxical, most Muslim societies are marked by deep disagreements over just who is qualified to speak as a religious authority and over just how seriously ordinary Muslims should take the pronouncements of individual scholars.

Rather than an all-powerful theocracy, then, the more general effect of this first principle of Muslim politics is diffusely cultural. The principle makes it difficult for public political deliberation to lapse into laissez-faireism, leaving urgent ethical questions to individual choice or the marketplace of public opinion alone. As Muhammad Qasim Zaman (chapter 3) and John Bowen (chapter 13) illustrate in their discussions of "normativity" in this volume, social and political initiatives are in principle subject to ethical assessment by scholars whose charge is to assure that the developments are consistent with God's commands. The latter are in turn understood in relation to the body of revealed regulations or Islamic "law" known as shari'a (lit., "the path," "the way," as in divine regulations or law; see Murata and Chittick 1994, 25-27). In this sense, contemporary Muslim politics operates on two levels: a generalized or mass level driven by the actions and concerns of ordinary Muslims, and a restricted or specialized track involving the efforts of religious scholars to respond to modern problems within the normative horizons of the shari'a and Islamic tradition as a whole. Much of the fevered argument of contemporary Muslim politics centers on questions as to how these two tracks are to be harmonized.

Although this first concern informs Muslim political ideals today just as it did during Islam's classical age, its social urgency has varied over time. As occurred with the rise of secular nationalism in the middle decades of the twentieth century, there are times in Muslim history when popular culture drifts away from normative-mindedness, and the public appears less concerned with justifying its political choices with reference to religious ideals. However, when, as in much of the Muslim world after the 1960s, a society experiences a period of deepening Islamization, the concern for religious legitimation will rebound into public awareness, unleashing a torrent of debate on what is and what is not in accord with God's commands.


Excerpted from Remaking Muslim Politics by Robert W. Hefner Copyright © 2004 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Note on Transliteration ix
Contributors xi

CHAPTER 1: Introduction: Modernity and the Remaking of Muslim Politics by Robert W. Hefner 1
CHAPTER 2: New Media in the Arab Middle East and the Emergence of Open Societies by Dale F. Eickelman 37
CHAPTER 3: Pluralism, Democracy, and the 'Ulama by Muhammad Qasim Zaman 60
CHAPTER 4: The End of Islamism? Turkey's Muslimhood Model by Jenny B.White 87
CHAPTER 5: Dilemmas of Reform and Democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran by Bahman Baktiari 112
CHAPTER 6: Thwarted Politics: The Case of Egypt's Hizb al-Wasat Augustus by Richard Norton 133
CHAPTER 7: Rewriting Divorce in Egypt: Reclaiming Islam, Legal Activism, and Coalition Politics by Diane Singerman 161
CHAPTER 8: Empowering Civility through Nationalism: Reformist Islam and Belonging in Saudi Arabia by Gwenn Okruhlik 189
CHAPTER 9: An Islamic State Is a State Run by Good Muslims: Religion as a Way of Life and Not an Ideology in Afghanistan by Thomas Barfield 213
CHAPTER 10: Islam and the Cultural Politics of Legitimacy: Malaysia in the Aftermath of September 11 by Michael G. Peletz 240
CHAPTER 11: Muslim Democrats and Islamist Violence in Post-Soeharto Indonesia by Robert W. Hefner 273
CHAPTER 12: Sufis and Salafis: The Political Discourse of Transnational Islam by Peter Mandaville 302
CHAPTER 13: Pluralism and Normativity in French Islamic Reasoning by John R. Bowen 326

Index 347

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"9/11 not only drove home the magnitude of the threat of global terrorism but also brought into sharp focus and contention the question of Islam's compatibility with pluralism and democracy. Robert Hefner's Remaking Muslim Politics assembles a group of scholars who provide insightful case studies that shed new light on the process of democratization as witnessed in the experiments and experiences of diverse countries across the Muslim world: from Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia."—John L. Esposito, University Professor and Professor of Religion and International Affairs, Georgetown University, author of Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam

"Remaking Muslim Politics makes a compelling case for both a far more nuanced and variegated understanding of Islam and politics than is conventional and a more sanguine view of the prospects for a pluralist, even democratic, politics in the Muslim world. Given the high-decibel debates about Islam and politics these days, it should find a wide readership—but unlike many of the books on the market today, it will deserve this."—Lisa Anderson, Columbia University, past president of the Middle East Studies Association

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