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Modern Islamist Movements, History, Religion and Politics

This book is an easy to read textbook that is structured to present readers with an historical overview of some of the prominent Islamic movements active in parts of the Muslim world, specifically in West and South Asia.


This book is an easy to read textbook that is structured to present readers with an historical overview of some of the prominent Islamic movements active in parts of the Muslim world, specifically in West and South Asia.

It comprises an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The first chapter is about Egypt’s Islamism with the main focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. The second chapter is on the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. A summary of the history of the conflict leads to a discussion of Hamas, Palestine’s main Islamic group. The third chapter is on Saudi Arabia tracing the roots of Wahhabism to Najd. The fourth chapter is on Pakistan with an emphasis on Mawdudi and Jama’at-I Islami. And the fifth chapter is on Afghanistan and the rise of Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and Alqaida.

Although the book is well structured, it suffers from two main caveats: it is not up to date and it lacks original research, relying mainly on secondary sources.

As a result of the first caveat the book, which has recently been published, falls short of taking into consideration the major developments in the regions under consideration over the past half decade or so, including the Arab Spring and its impact on Islamism as well as on regional and world politics. The author not only fails to consult some of the most relevant and most recent works on Islamic movements published during the decade that preceded his own book’s publication, he seems to have made very little effort, if at all, to conduct first hand research at least to verify or question some of the arguments or analyses imported from secondary sources. In fact, in many instances, quotations from secondary sources remained un-questioned. Thus, his analysis of these sources is weak. Some of these sources had either their own circumstances or agendas and therefore may not have done justice to the topic under consideration.

As a result, the second caveat is that the author falls into the trap of copying quite a few inaccurate or questionable assertions. He only needed to directly consult primary sources or could have conducted basic field research to avoid such misundestanding Take these assertions, for instance, that appear in various parts of the book:“Palestinian suicide assaults against Israelis in the heart of Israel and in the West Bank settlements that began in September 2000” (pp. 9-10). In fact this tactic, which has long been abandoned, started in April 1994. “For Islamists, Islamic educational institutions must wholeheartedly reject Western-based content within all academic disciplines” (p. 12). Actually, Islamists in much of the Middle East established and run some of the best and most modern academic institutions. A visit by the author to the Gaza Strip, Jordan or Egypt would have enlightened him on this matter. “A Muslim must be certain that the food she or he eats, the cookware within which it is prepared, and the utensils with which it is eaten are in full compliance with Islamic halal dietary regulations” (p. 13). No such regulations exist to govern the use of utensils or cookware. This is a Jewish tradition and not an Islamic one. “One of the most urgent demands that various Islamic groups, including Al-Qaida and the Taliban, have been making is for the creation of a fully autonomous Palestinian state” (p. 26). This is absolutely incorrect. Islamic movements do not think of the Palestinian issue as being one of statehood but rather of the liberation of a Muslim land occupied by foreigners. The Palestinian state discourse is a secular nationalist idea and not an Islamic one. “…. Until 1945 various Islamist groups, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, were influenced by the strands of German National Socialist (Nazi) thought which had an anti-Semitic character” (p. 52). This is a ludicrous allegation taken from Zionist literature seeking to explain Islamic opposition to Zionism in terms of anti-Semitism. The author did not even bother to consult Muslim Brotherhood literature or interview any of their ideologues. “In 1954, a segment of the Muslim Brotherhood planned an assassination attempt on President Nasser” (p. 54). At the very least, what the author should have done here is to refer to the Brotherhood denials and claims that this incident was orchestrated by Nasser to justify his onslaught on their movement. “…… the Dome of the Rock Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam” (pp. 103-4). This is not its correct name; its name is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “Hamas’s world view is similar to that of some other Islamist organizations in that Hamas views people and organizations who do not subscribe to its form of Islam as jahil or ignorant and potentially legitimate targets for its attack” (p. 105). There can be nothing furthest from the truth. Had the author read Hamas or spoken to any of its leaders or ideologues, he would have discovered how erroneous this statement was.

Overall, the book provides a reasonable source of information to students of Middle East and Islamic politics. However, they should not content themselves with relying solely on it but should be encouraged to consult other references on the subject matter, especially references that have first hand access to primary sources or field research.

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