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Islamic Political Thought: An Introduction contains a selection of articles reprinted from the much larger and comprehensive Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought published in 2012 (hereafter PEIPT). More specifically, the sixteen chapters here represent the full contents of the earlier work’s ‘Central Themes’ section with the addition of an article on ‘women’, which, curiously, had originally been part of PEIPT’s section on ‘Modern Concepts, Institutions, Movements, and Parties’. Editor Gerhard Bowering explains the purpose of Islamic Political Thought as seeking to ‘integrate and contextualize the contemporary political and cultural situation of Islam while also examining in depth the historical roots of that situation’. By and large the book achieves that goal, and the quality of scholarship here is unimpeachable. Perhaps the more relevant question to ask is whether this volume lives up to its subtitle (‘An Introduction’) and manages to jump categories from the comprehensive reference work that PEIPT represents to something more approaching a readable overview of political thought in Islam. Islamic Political Thought leads off with an introductory essay by Bowering that provides a usefully distilled and abbreviated overview of the evolution of political thought in the Muslim world over major historical periods. The subsequent sixteen chapters deal with central concepts, terms, institutions and figures in Islamic political thought—more specifically (and in the following order): authority, caliphate, fundamentalism, government, jihad, knowledge, minorities, modernity, the Prophet, pluralism and tolerance, Qurʾān, revival and reform, Shariʿa, traditional political thought, ulema, and women. The sequencing of chapters here is alphabetical rather than based on a designed schema for presenting Islamic political thought according to a particular narrative or thematic structure. Between them, these chapters do a superb job of covering—with great nuance and sensitivity to context—the full gamut of key themes and topics in Muslim political thinking throughout history. This is not surprising given the calibre of scholarship represented by the volume’s list of contributors. It features numerous authors widely regarded as leading authorities, including figures such as Roxanne Euben, Emad El-Din Shahin, John Kelsay, Armando Salvatore, Gudrun Krämer, Ebrahim Moosa, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, and the late Patricia Crone. By and large the volume does a very good job of avoiding duplication, even when it comes to the chapters on closely related topics such as authority, knowledge, and ulema. With a volume of this kind there is inevitably a temptation to argue over what does and does not get included. To a large extent this is mitigated by the fact that the primary criterion for inclusion in Islamic Political Thought is the fact of a given topic having already been identified as a central theme for PEIPT. The chapters here very helpfully synthesize, integrate, and contextualize dozens of topics that receive dedicated treatment in the more than four hundred entries that comprise the parent text. Looking at the latter work’s full list of entries and bearing in mind the intended readership of Islamic Political Thought (‘students, journalists, policymakers, and anyone else seeking an informed perspective on the complex intersection of Islam and politics’), there are a few omissions which seem curious. For example, non-specialist observers of the Muslim world are often particularly curious about the Sunni–Shiʿi split. While several chapters in Islamic Political Thought do cover Shiʿi political thought in good measure, a lay reader may have greater difficulty finding this material than if PEIPT’s dedicated articles on ‘Shiʿism’ and ‘Sunnism’ had been included. Likewise, given the commonly held view in public and policy discourse of Sufi Islam as ‘moderate’ and ‘apolitical’, adding the PEIPT article on ‘Sufism’ might have helped a general reader to appreciate the complexity that characterizes the relationship between Sufism and politics both historically and in the contemporary period. Again, there is solid coverage of Sufism in Islamic Political Thought, but many readers would probably not naturally think to look for it in Armando Salvatore’s fine chapter on ‘Modernity’. Given Islamic Political Thought’s roots in an encyclopedia that seeks to cover the entire history of Muslim political thinking, readers primarily motivated by contemporary developments in Islam and politics may not find as much coverage of recent Islamic political thought as they would like. For example, Rashid Ghannoushi, widely regarded as one of the most influential contemporary Muslim political thinkers, does not even appear in the index. These quibbles aside, all the other major topics that tend to generate strong interest among broader audiences—jihad, Shariʿa, women, minorities—are all very well covered here. Islamic Political Thought, with its highly sophisticated yet eminently readable treatments of every major theme within the topical domain of its title, is a highly valuable contribution to the literature on Islam and politics. In the end, it remains primarily a reference work albeit one that is far more user-friendly than the voluminous PEIPT from which it has been excerpted. In that sense, Islamic Political Thought is not a replacement for monographic overviews of the subject such as Hamid Enayat’s Modern Islamic Political Thought, W. Montgomery Watt’s (now outdated) Islamic Political Thought, or Antony Black’s History of Islamic Political Thought. Non-specialist readers looking for a more organic narrative overview of Islamic political thought will not find it in this collection of very fine essays—and in that sense the volume’s subtitle (‘an introduction’) is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. However, as something more akin to a handbook or a supplementary text for those readers—especially journalists, policymakers, civil society practitioners, and students—who require concise yet sophisticated and authoritative explanations of key concepts in Islamic political thought, this volume sets a new standard. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 1, 2018
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