Few writers, Thomas W. Lippman wrote in the Washington Post, have explained so lucidly the complex developments of Muslim history.
It is difficult to address the questions of Islam, the Arabs and their relations with Israel and remain nonpartisan. But Business Week's Ronald Taggiasco called Pipes' scholarly explanation of events and faith in that little-known, volatile, and important part of the world well worth reading.
Pipes' reasoned, literate explanation of what generated the Islamic resurgence goes a long way to explaining recent events. Written in 1983, this book provided the first comprehensive political study of Islam's extraordinary role in modern world. We are fortunate indeed that Transaction has rescued the political and global implications of the Islamic revival, revealed here, from the out-of-print category, complete with a new preface for 2002.
The book is divided into three sections. The first covers the premodern legacy of Islam's sacred laws and its failure to implement the public ideal represented by those laws--as existed in the single state for Muslims (Dar al-Islam) from 622 to 753 A.D. According to Pipes, for most of Muslim history, traditional Muslims were willing to accept the gap between the ideal and the actual, to live with a less-than-complete implementation of Shari'a, although the Muslim approach to politics derived from the "invariant premises of the religion" established more than 1,500 years ago.
The second section covers Islam's encounters with the West, beginning with the matched powers of Crusaders against the Ayyubids, and proceeding quickly to Napoleon's 1789 invasion of Egypt. (This prompted the Ottoman Sultan Selim III to declare Jihad against the French and join the infidel British and Russian empires to keep his own in tact).
Muslims had ruled millions of Christians in Europe for 450 years before being displaced by Turkey. Then the western cultural onslaught began in the first half of the 18th century, and ran from Umma's eastern end (China and Indonesia) to its west (Crimea). By the end of 1919, only Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Arabia and Yemen retained political independence, the first three by balancing the claims of Britain against those of Russia and the latter two simply by being remote and completely barren. Meanwhile, the Muslim Empire had also lost battles of scientific, technical, mechanical, geographic and historical knowledge. Even daily Western life differed markedly from that of the Islamic east. Thus fundamentalists began lobbying for strict Shari'a everywhere in the Umma.
In contrast, reformist Muslims argue that traditional Shari'a is hopelessly illiberal and conflicts with the true Qur'anic values. They reject Shari'a traditions emanating from Hadith, consensus of the 'ulama and reasoning by analogy as inauthentic and outdated, respectively. Similarly, they approve of parliamentary systems of government, but view hold their record in Islamic society in contempt. On some fronts, liberal views conflict with themselves. While they admire pan-Islamic solidarity they are not committed to it; and they recognize national interests but disapprove of Muslim states fighting one another. And as for non-Muslims, according to Pipes, reformists are caught by ambiguity, between their desire for equal status for all and the wish for Dhimmi laws that traditional Islamic states use to bestow a special place on Muslims, while relegating all non-Muslims to inferior, even slavish conditions. The fact that Westernization did not markedly improve the Muslim world in the 1970s led to increasing fundamentalism.
Pipes devotes the third section to Islam in current affairs, detailing the effects of the fundamentalist surge on 22 Muslim-dominated nations from Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in Central Asia and Asia to Algeria, Morocco and Egypt in Africa and Syria, Iran and Iraq, in the Middle East. In at least 8 other nations, from Malaysia to Nigeria, Muslims vie with non-Muslims for power. In one of these--the Sudan--the conflict has grown bloody since this book was written, forcing millions into subjugation and slavery. Pipes also reviews 20 areas, including the former Soviet Union, where Muslims account for less than a quarter of the population but are asserting themselves. Pipes includes an extensive 50-plus page look at the means that the oil boom provided to promote Islam. Oil is behind the political importance of Saudi Arabia, and the Iranian Revolution, for example.
But Pipes also concludes that an Islamic revival dependant on oil constitutes a mirage, for the cash that oil provides cannot last forever. This, Pipes predicts, will leave the Islamic world with a choice that has become increasingly urgent--to adapt and come to terms with global Westernization, or to accept apologetics, introversion and poverty.
This broad treatment remains as helpful in understanding current events as when it was written nearly 20 years ago. Alyssa A. Lappen