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Islam and Modernity

Preface

The idea of the present book emerged in 2002 when the editors began developing
a postgraduate course on Islam and modernity at the International Institute
for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) in Leiden, The Netherlands.
Our aim was to engage with Western social thought as well as with the ideas
and visions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers in the Muslim world
concerning the political, socio-economic and cultural transformation of their
societies. We found that there was no single book we could use to introduce the
range of subjects that we thought essential for such a course. The scholarly literature
on various aspects of Islam and modernity is rich and complex and rapidly
expanding, but there is a dearth of general works that offer an interdisciplinary
perspective and overview of the major questions and debates in this literature.
We convened a workshop at ISIM on ‘Islam and Modernity, Key Issues and
Debates’ in October 2004. The present book is an outcome of continued deliberations
and revisions of the papers presented at the workshop.

The book aims to provide refl ections on major debates that have taken place
within and between the various scholarly disciplines that have addressed questions
of modernity in connection with Islam and Muslim societies. The book is
organised in three parts. The fi rst part, ‘Conceptualising Modernity’, consists of
two chapters that introduce theoretical and general issues in modernity studies.

The four chapters in the second part, ‘Negotiating Modernity’, offer an analysis
of the processes of modernisation of Muslim societies, focusing on certain specifi c
aspects of their social and political dynamics. The four chapters in the third part,
‘Debating Modernity’, survey how Muslim scholars and intellectuals have perceived
and responded to issues of modernity. The contributors to the book are
drawn from among the best-known scholars in the fi eld, whose earlier work we
found most seminal and stimulating in our teaching.

The immediate background to the importance of producing such a textbook
is under everybody’s eyes. Dramatic events have focused public attention on the
potential tensions between the Muslim world and the modern West. Are such tensions
rooted in real differences or in distorted perceptions? Compared to the other
world religions, Islam appears either more resistant to internal development, with
less prospect of change or, in spite of all efforts at reform, inherently pre-modern.
Islam, it is frequently claimed, has experienced neither a major reformation, as
has Christianity, nor been touched by Enlightenment. Or, paradoxically, as some
observers would have it, Islam would no longer be Islam if truly reformed.

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