by A. R. MOMIN
Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, 2017, 681 pp.

Sociology is an expanding and increasingly popular discipline across many parts of the world, particularly in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, India and Australia. It is taught in graduate and postgraduate courses in all major universities around the world.

There are dozens of introductory textbooks in sociology in English and other languages. As most of them are written by American and European authors and as they primarily cater to the academic interests and needs of students in Western universities, their contents as well as illustrations are largely drawn from contemporary Western societies. Most if not all textbooks in the subject suffer from an unmistakable and pervasive Eurocentric bias.

This volume, which has been commissioned by the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, seeks to provide a corrective to the Eurocentric underpinnings of Western sociology and offers suggestions for the formulation of a genuinely comparative science of society. It takes sufficient cognizance of the enormous diversity that characterizes human societies around the world. The empirical and historical data as well as illustrations that have been presented in the volume in order to elucidate sociological themes, issues and theories are drawn from a wide range of societies from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America and Australia. However, Muslim societies are in the focus of the volume.

Sociological studies of contemporary Muslim societies carried out by American and European scholars are undoubtedly valuable for the wealth of ethnographic data. However, a grave limitation of much of the sociological writing on Muslim societies is that they overlook or understate the overarching unity of Muslim societies while overly concentrating on their indisputable diversity. In other words, Western sociologists who have studied Muslim societies generally fail to see the wood for the trees. This volume seeks to rectify this anomaly by highlighting the dynamic interface between diversity and unity in Muslim societies.

There has been pervasive and deeply-entrenched undercurrent of hostility against Islam and Muslims in the Western intellectual tradition, which has seeped into the works of some prominent Western authors and writers, in the discourse of the social sciences and in the media. Much of the literature related to Islam and Muslims in the West is based on ignorance, prejudice, misconception and misrepresentation. There is a widely-held view in the West that Islam is the breeding ground for the growing aggression, fanaticism and intolerance in a large section of Muslims, that Muslim societies in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and elsewhere continue to be steeped in stagnation and backwardness and that Islam is inherently inimical to modernity and progress. The volume presents a substantial amount of empirical and historical evidence to refute such unfounded assumptions and pronouncements and to demonstrate that contemporary Muslim societies are significantly impacted by processes of change and transformation.

Some universities in Muslim countries have introduced sociology as a major component of graduate and postgraduate courses. This book has been written primarily for Muslim university students. However, it has a wider scope and it is hoped that sociology students in general, researchers and academics from other disciplines and the general reader will find it useful.


    1. Introduction
    2. Human Nature
    3. Socialization
    4. Society
    5. Culture
    6. Gender and Kinship
    7. Population and Environment
    8. Social Inequality and Stratification
    9. Religion and Society
    10. State, Nation and Nationalism
    11. Modernity and Development
    12. Globalization
    13. Sociology of Islam
    14. Muslim Minorities
    15. Health and Illness
    16. Theory and Methodology
Copies of the volume may be ordered from Genuine Publications and Media Private Limited, B-35 (LGF), Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110 013. Email:


by A. R. Momin
Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, 2017, 288 pp.

Ethnographic and sociological studies of Muslim societies have acquired considerable prominence and salience in the past few years. The literature on Muslim societies and the sociology of Islam is steadily growing. Many universities in Europe, USA and Canada as well as in some Muslim countries have introduced courses on contemporary Muslim societies. Scores of doctoral dissertations and research projects are being carried out at leading universities in the West.

A few Muslim sociologists have focused attention on the restructuring of sociology in an Islamic framework and on formulating the principles and premises of Islamic sociology. The material in this area is rather sketchy and scattered and is not easily accessible to students and researchers. This volume seeks to fill in this lacuna by putting together a set of important papers on the subject. An extended Introduction by the editor sets out the wider historical, political, social and cultural context in which the issue of conceptualising an Islamic sociology in particular and the restructuring of social science knowledge in general can be located.

Sociology in Islamic Perspective: Selected Readings may be considered a companion volume to Introduction to Sociology: An Islamic Perspective, published by the Institute of Objective Studies in 2017.



    1. Contemporary Sociology: An Islamic Critique
    Ilyas Ba-Yunus

    2. Sociological Realism: An Islamic Paradigm
    Ilyas Ba-Yunus

    3. Restructuring Sociology in an Islamic Framework
    A. R. Momin

    4. Towards an Islamic Sociology
    Jamil Farooqui

    5. Islamic Perspectives on Theory-Building in the Social Sciences
    Ibrahim A. Ragab

    6. Islam, Gender and Muslim Women in India
    Bashir A. Dabla

    7. Science and Islamic Civilization: An Essay in the Historiography and Sociology of Science
    A. R. Momin

    8. Islamic Law and Muslim Minorities
    A. R. Momin

    9. Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change
    Fida Mohammad
Copies of the volume may be ordered from Genuine Publications and Media Private Limited, B-35 (LGF), Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110 013. Email:

Article Review

Momin, A.R. Introduction to Sociology: An Islamic Perspective. Institute of Objective Studies. Genuine Publications, New Delhi, India, first edition, 2017.

I have read the book with total enthusiasm as it relates our pedagogical and methodological challenges. The pedagogical challenge presents itself in availing appropriate material for students of sociology. The methodological challenge presses itself in moving our Islamic of Knowledge precepts from the realm of abstraction and the foundation of knowledge into the realm of disciplinary knowledge. Mainstreaming an output especially formulated for students is critically needed. It is the challenge of the textbook, the challenge of descending from the skies of intellectual circles into the arena of the university, especially at the undergraduate level. Now this work stood for the task as a pioneering effort.

The most important feature of the book is that it is formulated for students in the discipline of sociology at the undergraduate level. Indeed, the book is organized along the standardized subjects you find in most sociology intro textbooks in the US. That is, the chapters discuss culture, society, gender, inequality, etc. In that respect, the book is ready to enter the classroom and is teachable.

The expansive knowledge of the author is evident, and his gift in presenting complex ideas and simplifying them is clear. For such a book, the style writing and the pros are essential, and the textbook deserves a high mark in that respect. Furthermore, the chapters take the reader in a marvelous journey through Muslim countries and societies and some of the challenges they face, which has an educational value in itself. But the promise of delivering an Islamic perspective—a formidable task when it comes to the undergraduate level—seems to have fell short of what one would hope for. And this aspect will be at the center of my review.

The first two chapters, Introduction and Human Nature, are well-formulated ideas that stress two aspects. First, they clearly demonstrate the western nature of the discipline and the general bias in western discourse toward the “third world” in general and Muslims in particular. Second, Chapter 2 chapter clearly points to the reductionist and negative view of human nature that dominates the western perspective. Chapter 2 is at a higher level of complexity compared with the other chapters. However, most of the rest of the chapters are quite ordinary and reflect two properties: First, not moving beyond the contours of the modern conceptualizations of sociology; second, the liberally eclectic approach that pervades the discussion to the point of diluting the possibility and the need for an alternative model. Below are some specific notes on the chapters.

Chapter 2: Human Nature

The chapter goes into details in discussing animal behavior. It stresses that animals show a wide range of emotions, that individual animals have distinct personalities, and that primate display striking resemblance with human behavior. The length of the discussion leaves the student reader with a faulty unwanted impression: it narrows the gap between the human and animal kingdom, even if the chapter has few sentences that warn otherwise. The following section, Ethology and Sociobiology, presents a very brief critique of this deterministic view. The next section, Man’s Uniqueness, is meant to present a corrective measure, but remains too attached to the secular discussion of the issue. And this section ends with a three-liner paragraph stressing that humans are unique in a wide range of traits such as guilt, honour, modesty, selflessness… pg. 31. This is a too short ending. What would stick in the student’s mind is the details that animal behavior is similar to that of humans.

The following section, Paradox of Human Nature, serves again to stress the animality of human behavior. The discussion of the Holocaust, with 6 million victims of Jews (pg. 31), fails to mention that it stands as the utmost representation of modernist rationality. The presentation is reductionist in simply putting it in the context of human nature.

The last section, Human Nature in Islamic Perspective, is clear. While it is adequate, this section did not need to quote Pascal, Jung, and Allport! Such inclusion of secular views in the section dedicated to the Islamic perspective is troubling as it compromises the efficiency in constructing appropriate concepts.

Chapter 3: Socialization

The chapter discusses the concept of socialization in a standard way as you find in other sociology textbooks. The difference lies in the examples, where the chapter stresses the plight of female children especially in India and China. The chapter maintains the standard definition of gender even if its soundness has been challenged. Furthermore, the chapter states that gender roles are not biologically determined (pg. 51), and it does not stress enough the multifaceted differences between the sexes regardless of socialization.

In the section “Child Labour”, especially in Egypt, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, the chapter adequately addresses the concern, but it does not mention larger macro factors contributing to the phenomenon. Apart from dire financial needs, modern educational systems are designed for middle-class students, and they are alienating to lower-classes culture (especially males) and are irrelevant to the needs of those classes. So the behavior of people who send their children to work is not totally irrational. And in the first place, the infrastructure to absorb those children is not usually available, leaving us between having loose unattended children, or connecting them to work. This is not to take lightly the exploitation of children, but the customary sympathy with them is often condescending.

The discourse of Ferrero on education is appropriate to be invoked in this chapter. Nevertheless, the chapter that opens the eyes of students to continuing problems in the world including Muslim countries, even if the treatment maintained the standard human rights framework, with its liberal underpinnings, toward such issues.

Chapter 4: Society

This chapter stands out as the author is clearly authoritative on the subject of communities and multiculturalism. Nevertheless, there is reservation regarding how the chapter discussed Types of Societies, where it combined the classical material divisions (hunter and gatherer, agrarian, industrial), along with Tribal, Third World, Civilization, and Clash of Civilization. Those last four sections deserve to be under a standalone section as they have different underling principles.

The chapter discusses the Turkification efforts as unjust practices against minorities (pg. 90), not as part of a nation-state project in the process of replace the khilafah system.

The excellent discussion of “communitarianism” can be rarely seen in American textbooks. The section “Society and Community in Islamic Perspective” has room for further development, and the mention of the concept of ummah, and millat deserves more elaboration.

Chapter 5: Culture

Cultural Diversity in the Muslim World is an important issue that deserves special attention. The chapter presents a wide range of social practices, some of which could be problematic. And here where one feels uncomfortable. That is, the overemphasis on differences among Muslim population leaves the impression that there is nothing shared among them. Indeed, there is much importance to stress that the common elements in Muslim cultures are deeper and more meaningful in comparison to the diversity in lifestyle issues. The stress on lifestyle is the squarely a modernist concern of the affluent.

Furthermore, the textbook falls short in stressing the uniqueness of the Muslim social patterns and beliefs. Consider this sentence:

    “Hinduism holds that the divine essence permeated the whole universe. Islam and Judaism believe in a supreme God, called Allah in Islam and Yahweh in Hebrew, and forbid image worship. Christians believe in the doctrine of trinity, which holds that divine essence is manifested in the Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Ghost” (pg. 109).

Now when a student reads such a sentence, he or she would form a loosely eclectic view of religion, as if differences do not matter.

In speaking of ethnic minorities in Turkey, the book states that the Alevis “follow the Shi’i creed” (pg. 111), which is not true. So again, you feel that the book follows too much some customary depictions. The Muslim classical literature on diversity clearly differentiates between the mainstream Sunni and Shii on one hand and syncretic groups on the other. This critical differentiation is absent in the whole textbook.

In discussing diversity in cultural norms, the book states that “Muslim, Jews, and Hindus consider pork and pork products as forbidden. The Chinese as well as many communities in West Africa consider milk and milk products inedible” (pg. 113). Such equalization of cultural norms with religious ones is problematic.

In the section Discontents of Ethnicity, the book notes to cases of ethnic conflict, and it counts the Palestinian issue as one example. Also, it describes the conflict in Darfur as that between black Africans and Arabs (pg. 126). Such a view was refuted by several scholarly accounts.

The chapter devotes near a whole page on Kurds in Turkey, and it almost normalizes the image of the PKK, similar to leftists’ treatments. Furthermore, there is no mention to the Kemalist and nationalist backdrop, and the discussion is disconnected from the development in the last 10 years (pg. 126-127).

The framework that the chapter maintains is vividly demonstrated in the following definition: “Minority group identities are generally defined in, projects of identity politics, in terms of descent, ethnicity, language, religion, and gender” (pg. 132). Including gender as a minority group is a pure ideological and liberal categorization.

Chapter 6: Gender, Family and Kinship

The chapter does not advance a concept of gender from an Islamic perspective, and uses it as customarily invoked.

The chapter starts with Mead’s ideas (pg. 142), and fails to note that her work was discredited. The short section “Gender Inequity, Injustice and Violence” is a standard feminist lack of appropriate theorizing. The chapter devotes a long treatment on Female Genital Mutilation-FGM. The book appropriately notes that such practice is cultural and not connected to religion. But while the practice is deplorable, the FGM term (pg. 114) is considered highly feminist and ideological. The alternative term is not apologetic and uses the word “removal”. The chapter cites UNICIF statics showing 91% prevalence of this practice in Egypt (pg. 145). Such high percentage is always suspect, especially for a country with large metropolitan populations that were sufficiently exposed to modernity and its patterns. Again, while there is no denial about the problematic nature of the practice, a critic would ask what prompted dedicating that much space of attention relative to other concerns.

The chapter discusses the status and role of women in the Muslim World. It importantly notes that in “the Islamic view, the roles, rights and responsibilities of men and women are largely equal and complementary, but not identical” (pg. 149). But instead of following up on this theme and making it the organizing principle in analysis, the book delves into discussing the dark aspect of Muslim reality. The book notes that 99% of Egyptian women say that they have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment (pg. 150), forgetting that that is true about many societies including France. Then the book claims that the violence against women in Turkey witnessed a 1,400% increase in the last decade! (pg. 150). Obviously, the reports to which the book refers are politically driven.

Then the book devotes a section on the “Status of Women in the Arab World”, much of which represent an out of context clichés that cite UN Human Development Report. In the section titled “Islamic Feminism”, the book starts with Huda Sharawi, with no contextualization, and continues in a casual coverage of the subject.

The tone of discussion of Child Marriage is not sociological enough as it is void of considering macro factors, making the phenomenon as if it were the result of a pure cultural backward attitude.

In conclusion, this chapter is iconic in: dancing on exceptions, falling short in providing adequate contextualization, and in using standard sociological terminology that is problematic from an Islamic point of view. Furthermore, the presentation mentions different family patterns and sexual norms in a normalizing tone. The details on the forms of marriage, including homosexuality, comes without connecting them to post-modernity and western cultural disarray. Toward the end of the chapter, the book is satisfied by saying that “Islamic law forbids polyandry as well as lesbian and homosexual unions” pg. 173.

Chapter 7: Population and Environment

The chapter focuses on the related issues in Muslim countries. The detailed discussion of fasting in Ramadan in northern altitudes and the different fatwas regarding is interesting although sounds out of place.

Chapter 8: Inequality and Social Stratification

This chapter does not differ much from other sociology intro books, except that it emphasizes inequity in Muslim and non-western countries. Among the issues that this chapter discusses is the plight of the aboriginals of Australia followed by the ethnic inequality towards the Palestinians (pg. 245). The discussion of the caste system is very clear rightly situated in its cultural context. The chapter acknowledges that inequality is also found in rich and democratic societies.

Under the section “Gender Inequality”, the book states that Syrian, Jordan, and Lebanon are among the top ten in gender inequality (pg. 249). Obviously, this is an erroneous generalization that the textbook snatched from the World Economic Forum 2015 report. And despite that the book stresses that poverty is concentrated in India, China, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, it reminds us that the “Middle East [is] one of the most unequal regions of the world” (pg. 269). This generalization lumpsums oil-producing countries in the named region with others, which makes it not that illuminating.

The section Equality and Social Justice in Islam (pgs. 265-267) is satisfied with citing some verses and hadiths. The content of this section is not sociological, and is not different from any normative book on the subject.

Chapter 9: Religion and Society

The chapter has concise summaries of the major religions that exist in the world, with a standard one-page about Islam. The discussion of Hinduism is one of the clearest of such a complex subject.

The chapter then shifts to discuss western sociological take on religion. The book notes that Durkheim’s generalizations “are open to question” (pg. 290), and that Weber’s view of Asian religions “exemplifies the characteristics Orientalist perspective” (pg. 292). That much thin is the critical examination of the western view of religion. The book follows that with Peter Berger’s admission that his secularization thesis was misguided (pg. 293), and the book does not present its own critique.

The chapter ends with describing extremism and militancy in the Muslim world, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and ISIS. This is followed by the renunciation of terrorism by many Muslim scholars (pgs. 310-314). The book acknowledges that “Muslims in the Middle East have borne the brunt of numerous wars, military interventions and covert operations launched by Western powers” (pg. 312).

As much as this chapter is successful in its vivid description of different religions, it is flat in discussing the conceptual limitations of the Sociology of Religion, especially in relation to Islam.

Chapter 10: State, Nation, and Nationalism

This chapter parallels Chapter 2 in its sophistication. The section “Islamic View of State” clearly identifies eleven features of the Islamic state, khilafah, in the classical sources (317-320). But it does not juxtapose them to the modern state; rather, it shifts to discuss the trajectory of the modern state and the modern idea of nation, followed by a brief discussion of colonialism and state formation in the Muslim world with focus on the Ottoman Empire and the Levant.

The following section talks about early movements of liberation that stood up to colonial powers, which were in fact Muslim Sufi-dominated movements. The title of that section refers to those movements as national movements, not liberation or resistance movements.

Under the section “Nationalism and Democracy in the Muslim World”, the book visits cases mostly from Arab countries in addition to Iran. The presentation included an unsubstantiated out-of-context claim: “Al-Siba’i’s ideas were adopted by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who sought to combine Arab nationalism, socialism and Islam” (pg. 337).

The chapter offers a student-appropriate brief discussion of democracy and stating the following: “It is possible and desirable to combine the positive and time-teste features of democracy with the normative principles of Islamic Shariah and to restructure and reinvent it in accordance with the requirements of Muslim societies” (pg. 339).

The discussion of secularism is interesting, but the section “Secularism in the Muslim World” is too polite to the degree it distorts such experience. That is, the discussion does not stress that secularism in Muslim countries was the bearer of dictatorship. The text does have the following strong statement regarding the Kemalist ideology: “Under its influence, the state acquired absolute and tyrannical powers. Laicism or secularism became an official instrument for the control and manipulation of religion and for the suppression of people’s religious and cultural rights” (pg. 343 emphasis added). That is followed by a similar strong statement regarding Bourguiba of Tunisia. One wish that the implications of such statements reverberate in the text. Rather, you found them sidelined by the emphasis on marginal issues. Also, the text does not bring to the attention that secular leaders (and thinkers) represented the extensions of external powers, and that secularism itself was forged as a cultural substitute and an alternative vision for the Muslim world. That is, it is not simply a matter of violating people’s religious and cultural rights.

Following that the book quickly notes that there was anti-secularist current, such as Mawdudi, Banna, Qutb, and Khomeini, only to conclude that a middle-ground was created by thinkers such as al-Ghannouchi. Lastly, the chapter makes a fair presentation of the Arab Spring even if the closing sentence is jaded.

Ch 11: Modernity and Development

The chapter presents a clear discussion of the development of modernity. Furthermore, it makes colonialism as one of the “contexts”, and that its ideology was justified in terms of “while supremacy as “self-styled” moral European claims (pg. 359).

The section Modernity in the Muslim World is disorienting. This section focuses on the last phase of the Ottoman Empire, and the Tanzimat reforms are presented as progressive efforts, along with implied praise to those who engineered such reforms; obviously, the issue is thornier than that. For example, the book notes that Namik Kemal’s ideas “reflect a synthesis of Islamic ideals and Western principles, especially constitutionalism and democracy” (pg. 365). The presentation also normalizes Ataturk’s modernist project; the presentation is satisfied by saying: “However, the Kemalist ideology never enjoyed an unchallenged sway, especially in the Anatolian countryside and in the Kurdish-dominated regions” (pg. 365). In a similar tone, the chapter notes the case of Egypt and the position of Tahtawi, and the case of Tunisia and the position of Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi. That is followed by the cases of Iran then Syria; the chapter only portrays those two cases as secular and autocratic.

Then the chapter discusses Modernist Discourses and Movements, and it includes the following diverse personalities: al-Afghani, Abduh, Rida, Ahmad Lutfi el-Sayyid, Qasim Amin, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Iqbal, and Shariati, along the with Jadidism movement in Crimea and the Caucasus and the Muhammadiya movement in Indonesia (pgs. 368-376). Obviously, presenting such mixture of key figures as having the same goal confuses students.

Then the chapter switched gears to discuss the subject of development, without proper transition, flipping form the discussion of ideas to the presentation of measures such as GDP and HDI (and its conceptualizer, Mahbub ul-Haq). Then that chapter notes that there “is an inverse correlation between development and conflict and violence” (pg. 385), implying the acceptance of the neoliberal vision. The chapter keeps rolling and discusses development, well-being, and happiness, presenting the paradox of the lack of correlation between development and happiness. Well, this is the concern of rich countries. Development should be made clear that it stands as a practical mark of modernity, and that it is the driver for war and inequality. The chapter ends with two thoughtful sections: Muslim World’s Resources and Awqaf.

Note. The chapter included the following phrase using the term holy war: “The Prophet is reported to have said: “Seek for your family legitimate means of livelihood, for this is a jihad (holy war) in the cause of God” (pg. 389).

Ch 12: Globalization

This chapter perceptively start in discussing proto-globalization and Islamic civilization, and how Muslim activities once traversed the whole known world. The wide implications of globalization are discussed, including multinational corporations and shifting global power balance to migration, global diasporas, and lifestyles.

The take on globalization came in the form of two sections: benefits of globalization and discontents of globalization. This is a simplified way that may be appropriate for students.

The chapter also notes Islamic finance and its huge presence in the world, but without being critical or evaluative. In other words, what does sociology say about world capitalist firms catering financial instruments to Muslims, and what does sociology say about the establishing mega financial institutions in Malaysia and Arab Gulf countries, etc.

Ch 13: Sociology of Islam

This chapter is more intellectually complex compared to the rest of chapters. It starts with presenting the views of orientalists and the degree they were negative and antagonistic of Islam. Then the book presents Gellner, Geertz, and Hodgson. The message that filters into students’ minds is that the scholarly west was bad, but it became reasonable.

Then the chapter focuses on the sociology of Islamic law and its distinctive features. It appropriately notes that “the term Sharia (for which Islamic law represents an imperfect translation) comprises not just a set of legal rules but something which is suffused with moral and spiritual values” (pg. 456). One wishes that in the rest of the discussion the text kept using the term sharia instead of Islamic law.

The chapter details the sources and methodology of Islamic law as well as legal pluralism in Islam. Those sections are appropriately followed by discussing unity. The chapter cites Gibb and Feldman to stress that there is a generalized Muslim character worldwide, despite deep diversity, and that sharia is the key principle for integration.

The chapter ends with the discussion of Islamic resurgent movements, but without appropriate engagement with their ideational contributions. The discussion feels like the observation of an outsider. Is this a matter of objectivity or a jaded sense of social change? In addition, there is a subtle blame of social movements. For example, “al-Banna sought to spread his message further by communicating directly with kings, prime ministers and head of Arab states, as a result of which he came in conflict with the ruling establishment” (pg. 473). This is troubling simplification that reduces the conflict to political competition. When talking about Sayyid Qutb, the book states the following: “…but cooperation between the Nasser regime and Ikhwan came to an end due to ideological and political differences. Nasser then turned against the Muslim Brotherhood with a view to consolidate his own power, and imprisoned some 20,000 of its members. Qutb condemned the Nasser regime as un-Islamic and urged his followers to launch an armed resistance against it (pg. 474). First, Qutb did not call for armed resistance. Rather, his position is akin to that of Mandela and Malcom X: ultimate rejection of the institution of oppression, and reserving the right to resist by all means. Moreover, Qutb has fine philosophical contributions (especially his Khasais al-Tasawwur). Again, the text reduces the matter to political competition and almost justifies the “reaction” of the regime. Surely, this is the manner of presenting social movements by western specialists. Lastly, while the coverage of Ikhwan is detailed and fair enough, the coverage of the Jamaat-e-Islami is very brief. And following popular western treatment of the subject, the discussion of Salafiyah squeezes together that of ibn Abdul-Wahab with that of Afghani and Rida, and adds to the mixture Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi and Shakib Arsalan in Syria (pg. 479).

It is worth noting that this chapter about the sociology of Islam mainly cites western authors. Classical sources were noted only in terms of Islamic law and legal pluralism. Islamic movements were discussed as if they are purely political movements and have no cultural bearings. The chapter not only fails to mention the contemporary contributions to the sociology of Islam by the current generation of Muslims in the west who are formulating a renewed perspective that challenges the received views on Islam and Muslim societies, but also misses mentioning the pioneering contributions of the older Muslim generation whom the author is one of them.

Ch 14: Muslim Minorities

This is almost purely empirical chapter where it covers diverse Muslim minorities in the world, reminding the student that their huge size is forgotten. The end of the chapter is an exception as it ends with a theoretical subject regarding the classifications of Dar. Being cognizant of what students hear about Muslim minorities makes presenting the subject a challenging task. But the chapter was successful in managing to stress two points. First, that Muslim minorities are to a considerable extent well-integrated within their societies, and that many of them represent indigenous population. Second, the extensive discrimination and suppression that Muslims suffer at the hand of ultra-nationalist or ideological regimes. The detailed coverage of Muslims in India illuminates the situation of the largest Muslim minority in the world, so is the detailed coverage of Muslims in China and Russia.

The textbook chooses to make a dichotomous presentation about Muslims in western countries. The presentation first stresses the bright picture of the situation of those minorities and that their existence has been normalized. Then under a section titled Problems and Challenges, the chapter discusses the dim picture. The chapter does not go into the consequences of belonging to a different block of civilization.

The chapter ends with a controversial subject, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, where many observers and scholars, as the textbook notes, think that it is outdated and there is no benefit in invoking it. However, the author disagrees and affirms a third approach:

    “Therefore, a distinction needs to be drawn between the typology of Dar al-Islam, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Ahd, which was embedded in a specific historical, geopolitical and social context, and the overarching legal principles, which were derived from the Quran, the Prophet’s Sunnah and the precedents of his companions, which provided the theoretical edifice of the typology. While the typology may be said to have become irrelevant or obsolete in the radically modified global scenario, the legal principles and issues that underpin it continue to remain relevant and significant even today. The principles and issues include the political, diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations between Muslims and non-Muslim states, the ethics of war and peace, treatment of prisoners of war and refugees, protection of the social, legal and political rights of the non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state, and the response and obligation of Muslim states towards the status and rights of Muslim minorities living in non-Muslim societies” (pgs. 522-523).

The chapter closes with the idea of fiqh of minorities, citing Taha Jabir Alwani. Overall, the chapter maintains a modernist vision of coexistence, where the legal takes precedent over the social and the cultural.

Ch 15: Health and Illness

The chapter is a short chapter that surveys illnesses as they relate to behavior, social conditions, and cultural factors. It also notes alternative systems of medicine that dissented the biomedical model. The chapter ends with a section on Health and Illnesses in Islamic Perspective. This section cites some Islamic injunctions and practices related to health, such as moderation, minimal food consumption by Sufis, and the health benefits of fasting and circumcision.

Ch 16: Theory and Methodology

In only 29 pages, this chapter provides a concise summary of all sociological schools and perspectives, in addition to a note on the main methodological approaches. The presentation is crystal clear, though dense by necessity. But one cannot miss the fact that the chapter has a brief section on the Critique of Positivism as well a one paragraph critique of functionalism; it has only four lines critique of Marxism and Conflict perspectives, and none for phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and hermeneutics.

The chapter ends with a two-page section titled Restructuring of Sociology in Islamic Framework, defining four prerequisites to such framework: rejection of Cartesian epistemology, critical appraisal and selective appropriation of western sociology, being a deeply comparative discipline informed by moral imagination, and flexible methodology [most of the terms I used in this sentence are the author’s]. One could say that those four practical principles were the guidelines in writing the book itself. Yet, they are simply prerequisites and do not point much to the indigenous properties of the Islamic framework itself.

Conclusion and General Remarks

This introduction to sociology textbook represents an ambitious project to provide Muslim students material that is focused on the issues of their communities and countries. The tremendous effort that went into developing the material cannot be more evident. Such an effort normally requires solid institutional support, especially if we consider the absence of Islamically appropriate undergraduate material in social sciences despite the richness of available work at the graduate level. The critical importance of the project calls for serious critique as part of the nasiha ethos in the Islamic attitude and does not take away from the eminence of authors and their efforts; after all, developing material at under the undergraduate from a new perceptive is a real puzzle. Below is a summary of concerns classified as pedagogical, theoretical, and perspective.

Pedagogical Concerns

  1. The length of chapters is of concern. Most chapters are around 40 pages or more. That is too much for today’s students.

  2. Seemingly unrelated subjects were squeezed into the chapters. In developing the textbook, it appears that there was a tension between adding an extra chapter versus finding a place for tangent issues. It is as if the chapters were anticipating the critique of incompleteness and omission, and tried ahead to please an imaginary committee.

  3. The rich material of the textbook in bringing diverse cases from around the world has an educational value as horizon expanders. However, there is a concern that it might lead to a lack of focus on the central issues. And regardless of that, making the connection between the main theme of the chapter and the tangent issues was not always apparent.

  4. As an undergraduate textbook, it is imperially driven by examples and cases, and theoretical principles hide between the lines. While the density of examples makes the material both readable and appealing, it might push away lessons learned and obscure theoretical conclusions.

  5. Space allocation is a major concern. In many instances, the book elaborated on different views, lifestyles, beliefs… following that by a single or few sentences on the Islamic perspective on the matter. For students, mindful of tests, space matters very much. For them, the length dedicated to an issue means: (1) importance; and (2) worthy of energy and time and the ability to recall. In such a way, the Islamic alternative view gets overwhelmed.

  6. The textbook was keen to reflect on many aspects of Muslim realities around the world, including problems, historical crossroads, key figures, and social movements. The issues of the Levant were frequently covered, but South Asia might have been somewhat neglected. Specifically, there was no mention of Kashmir, nor a discussion of the Pakistan-Bangladesh dynamics.

  7. The presentation of the Islamic movements seemed to have been either brief or too cautious, with more generous descriptors attached to Sufi movements.

  8. In several instances, the Islamic point of view is presented at a different level from what it responds to. That is, while the not-Islamic-perspective is introduced through detailed description as part of customary sociology, the Islamic answer comes brief and more abstract. That is not a problem for top students. However, for the average student the former sticks in the mind, not the latter.

  9. The book deferred the theory and methodology chapter to be the last while most textbooks puts it as the first. The choice of the author is advantageous, as fresh students can hardly make sense of theories if they were introduced upfront.

Theoretical Concerns

  1. The presentation is densely empirical and it is overly biographical at some places, to the degree it sometimes dwarfs the focus on concepts.

  2. There is little utilization of the conflict and critical perspectives.

  3. While the coverage of communitarianism is welcomed as seldom found in sociology textbooks, there was a shortage of connecting it to the Muslim patterns of living. When discussing communitarianism, few repentant western scholars were cited, failing to root the concept more broadly in religion-oriented communities, let alone connecting it to the Islamic mode of sociation that is at odds with the liberal celebrated mode.

  4. While the textbook justifiably focuses on problematic aspects of Muslim contemporary realities (especially issues related to females), in some issues it falls short in pointing to the other full half of the cup. Despite all ailments, there is much to highlight in Muslim reality today: persistence, resistance, and authenticity.

  5. There is a general neglect of macro analysis. True that three chapters are dedicated to macro issues, but a micro way of analysis is what pervades. Even the chapters on macro issues dedicate considerable space to speak about key figures, not generalized dynamics.

  6. The macro deficit of the book led the discussion of some issues to be reductionist or even distortive. Internal conflicts in Muslim societies were simply referred to as “civil war”. Similarly, the Turkification efforts were mentioned as unjust practices against minorities not as part of a nation-state project that toppled the khilafah. And while too much stress on the impact of colonization should be avoided, the textbook was too light in that respect.

  7. The book in general, and specific chapters in particular, has Muslim factual reality as its major concern. This is a definite valued feature of the textbook. While one reviewer would find the discussion a sort of needed realism that is concerned with contemporary remedies, other might find it too acquiescent with the dominant system along with a lack of emphasis on social change.

  8. The drive to bring examples and statistical data have led in some places to cite doubtful figures that are at odd with what is qualitatively known.

Perspective Concerns

  1. As an intro book, it seems that there was a keen interest not to show clear preference and to appeal to a wide audience of Muslims as well as non-Muslims. This apparent preference left the Islamic perspective too much implied.

  2. The book largely normalizes the controversies within western academia, giving the sense that truth could emerge from between, rather than challenging the secular views upfront. For students, such an approach does not foster thinking of alternative perspectives.

  3. There is an overconcern with diversity. While a reviewer would apricate the book’s focus on marginalization, students are likely to process it within a liberal schema. The coverage of diversity ends up diluting the idea that moral standards do exist, edging toward a too much cultural relativity position.

  4. The discussion of the Islamic perspective varied across chapters. Chapter 2, Human Nature, clearly elucidates an Islamic perspective on the matter. Chapter 3 has ten lines on socialization in Islamic perspective. Chapter 4 has an adequate two-page discussion of the Islamic perspective on society and community, although it could have been further utilized. Chapter 6 on Gender, Family, and Kinship has a confusing one page on Islamic Feminism and offers no alternatives to mainstream sociological views. Chapter 10 on State, Nation, and Nationalism (like chapter 2) is distinct in clearly defining the Islamic view of the state even if it was not utilized. Notions on the Islamic perspective are presented within Chapter 11, Modernity and Development, most of which are historical and have clear modernist tilt. However, the section on Awqaf briefly notes the uniqueness of the Islamic system. Chapter 13, Sociology of Islam is full of discussion on Islamic perspective issues. Chapter 14, Muslim Minorities, concludes with a five-page discussion of Islamic Law for Muslim Minorities. Chapter 15, Health and Illness has a three-page uneven discussion of the Islamic perspective. Finally, Chapter 16 has a three-page recommendation on restructuring sociology in Islamic framework.

  5. Regardless of the length of discussion of the Islamic perspective, when it was mentioned it appeared mainly as a note or appendix. The Islamic perspective was not at the core of the discussion, nor was it the analytical scheme or the thread of conceptualization.

  6. The textbook does not start from Islamic questions; rather, it offers Islamically- spirited reconciliatory answers to modernity’s questions. The book has a keen focus on the dilemmas of Muslim societies, but the conceptualization of the problematique as well as the solutions are often standard, i.e., modernist. True that such an approach saved the book from falling into the intellectual traps of Islamic activism and from the apologetic answers and nominal solutions of the fiqhi approach, however, the result was a too much Islamically watered-down treatment.

  7. The avoidance of presenting alternatives that are paradigmatically at odds with modern realities is evident in the book. And one should acknowledge the difficulties and precautions of catering to undergraduates what appears to be radically solutions. Yet, that means that the sought solutions remained arrested by the world’s unpleasant realities.

  8. Chapters 10, 11, and 14 are exceptions in their extensive discussion of Islamically related notions, regardless that some see in them modernist loadings.

  9. In some chapters, the Islamic perspective might be judged by some reviewers as narrowly situated within a fiqhi/legal framework.

  10. Generally, the textbook shied away from invoking an Islamic perspective, even at the elementary level of terminology. The textbook provided some brief and reserved critique of the received view, and stated some aspects of an Islamic perspective as sideline remarks.

In conclusion, the textbook Introduction of Sociology: An Islamic Perspective has a lucid writing style and is distinctive in its breadth in terms of subjects and examples. The knowledge repertoire that the author tapped into is highly impressive. However, one could assert that the title of the book put to itself a too-high goal in promising an Islamic perspective. Such an aim for an intro undergraduate textbook might be hardly attainable. Nevertheless, as it is the first in its kind, this textbook should take its proper place in classrooms as an alternative to commercially available textbooks that have little relevance to Muslim students.

And may Allah accept our deeds and forgive our trials and errors.

Mazen Hashem, Ph.D.

A Rejoinder

Professor A. R. Momin

Academic interactions and exchanges, including thoughtful and critical reviews of contemporary contributions, are of utmost importance in that they throw into sharp relief the varied dimensions of issues and concerns and lead to the broadening of intellectual horizons and the deepening of scholarly sensibilities. However, it is necessary to ensure that this endeavour is marked by seriousness of intent, fairness and objectivity and that it does not succumb to frivolousness, bias, partisanship and misrepresentation of others’ views.

To begin with, I would like to thank Dr Mazen Hashem for his kind words about my book. Unfortunately, while reading his review (which is written in flawed, crude English and abounds in simplistic and vague assertions and rash conclusions) I get the impression that he has not read the book carefully and with an open mind, that he has been less than fair in his criticism and that at many places he has misrepresented my views.

Dr Hashem begins by making the platitudinous remark that the most important feature of the book is that it is written for undergraduate students in the discipline of sociology. The book has undoubtedly been written for university students, but it will also be useful for academics, researchers and students in other social sciences and the humanities as well as for the general reader. Had Dr Hashem read the book with an open mind, he would have noticed that the volume has at least five distinctive features. First, the book emphasizes that much of the substantive, theoretical and methodological corpus of Western sociology is embedded in the historical, political, economic, social and cultural context of European and North American societies. Evidently, the empirical data as well as illustrations in textbooks written by American and European sociologists are mostly drawn from Western societies, which account for less than one-fifth of humanity. Sociological theories, which are derived from the study of Western societies, are extrapolated to all other, including non-Western societies, and fallaciously assumed to have universal validity. The volume seeks to offer a much-needed corrective to this pervasive Eurocentric (and US-centric) bias in the Western sociological tradition by presenting its cogent critique, by expanding the discipline’s empirical and theoretical base and by exploring alternative theoretical orientations.

Second, I do not subscribe to the Durkheimian dictum that “social facts” must be explained (only) with reference to other social facts. I believe that social reality is extremely complex and multi-layered, which cannot be adequately explained within the exclusive framework of a single discipline. Though the focus of discussion and analysis in the book is primarily sociological, it is supplemented, wherever necessary and desirable, with the findings and researches of other disciplines, including biology, genetics, neurophysiology, ethology, ecology, psychology, history, philosophy and anthropology. Furthermore, the discussion is informed by historical and philosophical sensibility. This feature sets the book apart from most if not all sociology textbooks written by American authors, which generally employ an empiricist and ahistorical framework.

Third, sociological studies of contemporary Muslim societies carried out by American and European scholars are undoubtedly valuable for the wealth of ethnographic data they offer. However, a grave limitation of much of the sociological writing on Muslim societies is that they overlook or understate the overarching unity of Muslim societies while overly concentrating on their indisputable diversity. In other words, Western sociologists who have studied Muslim societies fail to see the wood for the trees. This volume seeks to rectify this anomaly by highlighting the overarching and all too evident doctrinal, normative, institutional and cultural unity of Muslim societies and the dynamic interface between unity and diversity in Muslim societies.

Fourth, there has been a pervasive and deeply-entrenched undercurrent of hostility against Islam and Muslims in the Western intellectual tradition, which has seeped into the works of some prominent Western authors and writers, in the discourse of the social sciences and in the media. Much of the literature related to Islam and Muslims in the West is based on ignorance, prejudice, misconception and misrepresentation. There is a widely-held view in the West that Muslim societies in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and elsewhere are steeped in stagnation and backwardness and that Islam is inherently inimical to modernity and progress. The volume presents a substantial amount of empirical and historical evidence to refute such unfounded assumptions and generalisations and demonstrates that contemporary Muslim societies are significantly impacted by processes of change and transformation.

Finally, the volume emphasizes that normative and epistemological premises inevitably underpin sociological theorizing. It offers suggestions for the restructuring of sociology in the light of Islamic normative and epistemological principles by discussing the major themes and issues in the discipline from an Islamic perspective and by highlighting the sociological significance and relevance of ideas, principles, institutions and cultural patterns that are rooted in the Islamic tradition.

Dr Hashem states that the book is organised around the “standardized subjects” one finds in American sociology textbooks. He also says that most of the chapters in the book “do not move beyond the contours of modern conceptualisations in sociology.” This criticism is absolutely misplaced. For one thing, three of the 16 chapters in the book are unique to the volume, which one will not find in any sociology textbook. Secondly, and more importantly, the contents of the chapters are qualitatively different from what one finds in standard textbooks in the discipline. The book presents an enormous amount of empirical and historical data from a wide range of societies from around the world, particularly from India (where one-seventh of humanity is concentrated) and the Muslim world, which one does not come across in standard textbooks in sociology.

The chapter on Human Nature is one of the unique parts of the book. I have seen more than two dozen textbooks written by eminent American and European sociologists. None of them discuss the issue of human nature, which is so central to social science theorising, in any appreciable detail or depth or in a comparative perspective. The chapter offers a critique of the dominant conception of human nature in mainstream sociology and looks at the subject from a comparative, inter-disciplinary perspective. Dr Hashem notes that the chapter “narrows the gap between human and animal kingdom” and that it stresses the “animality of human behaviour.” This is a gross distortion and misrepresentation of what has been said in the chapter. The chapter explicitly states that there is a fundamental, irreducible difference between humans and animals and adduces substantial evidence from genetics, biology and neurophysiology to substantiate this fact.

I am not aware whether Dr Hashem is a professional sociologist. I am quite amused to read his observations on child labour. I would like to quote the relevant passage without any comments. He says, “Apart from dire financial needs, modern educational systems are designed for middle class students, and they are alienating to (sic) lower class culture (especially males) and are irrelevant to the needs of those classes. So the behaviour of people who send their children to work is not totally irrational. And in the first place, the infrastructure to absorb those children is not usually available, leaving us between having loose unattended children, or connecting them to work. This is not to take lightly the exploitation of children, but the customary sympathy with them is often condescending.”

I am thankful to Dr Hashem for his appreciation of the critical discussion on communitarianism in the chapter on Society. A far more important idea in the chapter is multicommunitarianism, which is my original contribution and which was initially presented at a symposium of European Forum Alpbach held in Alpbach, Austria in 2000 and subsequently published in Asia-Europe Journal in 2004. The idea of multicommunitarianism, which has been conceived in the context of multiethnic societies, offers an alternative to communitarianism and multiculturalism.

Dr Hashem seems to have a tendency to tear ideas and views out of their wider context. Thus, he says that the discussion on cultural diversity in Muslim societies in the chapter on Culture leaves the impression that “there is nothing shared among them.” Dr Hashem has overlooked the fact that the discussion forms part of the wider subject of cultural diversity. As far as the indisputable unity of the Muslim world is concerned, the subject has been dealt with in considerable detail in the chapter on Sociology of Islam (pp. 462-67). The author approvingly quotes the remark of Ernest Gellner, a perceptive and sympathetic observer of Muslim societies, that “for all the indisputable diversity, the remarkable thing is the extent to which Muslim societies resemble each other.” I have also repudiates the view of Abdul Hamid el-Zein that, in view of the enormous diversity that characterises Muslim societies around the world and the multiplicity of Islamic expressions, the term Islam should be replaced by “Islams” (p. 463).

It is mentioned in the section on cultural diversity in the Muslim world in the chapter on Culture that the Alevis follow the Shi’i creed. Dr Hashem says that this is incorrect. He should have taken the trouble of enlightening his readers about the Alevis’ religious identity. Throughout Islamic history, the term Alawiyah or Alawi has been used for Shi’i groups. In Turkey, the Alevis are a heterodox offshoot of Shi’ism, who are looked upon with suspicion by both Sunnis and Shias. Many Kurds in Turkey (as well as in the Turkish diaspora in Germany) are Alevis.

The section on cultural diversity in the chapter on Culture states that “Muslims, Jews and Hindus consider pork and pork products as forbidden. The Chinese as well as many communities in west Africa consider milk and milk products inedible” (p. 113). Dr Hashem says that this “equalization” of “cultural with the religious is problematic. Every sociologist knows that the religious and cultural dimensions of food taboos in many societies, particularly in India and China, are inseparable and that one cannot disentangle the cultural from the religious. How does an ethnographic fact become problematic? Dr Hashem’s criticism is scarcely better than nit-picking.

While discussing the issue of identity politics in the chapter on Culture, it is stated that “minority group identities are generally defined, in projects of identity politics, in terms of descent, ethnicity, language, religion and gender” (p. 132). There is a broad consensus among sociologists on this characterisation of identity politics. However, Dr Hashem takes exception to this definition and says that “including gender as a minority group (emphasis added) is a pure ideological and liberal categorization.” The criticism betrays Dr Hashem’s muddled thinking on the subject and his tendency to oversimplify and distort matters. I have spoken of gender as one of the markers or instruments of identity politics, and not as a minority group, which would be absurd. This is an analytical observation about an empirical phenomenon which, contrary to Dr Hashem’s rash and thoughtless remark, has nothing to do with ideology.

Dr Hashem remarks, in his characteristically rash and careless manner, that the chapter on Gender, Family and Kinship starts with the ideas of Margaret Mead on gender roles. This is a false statement. The chapter begins with a discussion on the genetic, anatomical, physiological and neurological differences between men and women. He then says that the discussion on the ideas of Margaret Mead “fails to note that her work was discredited”. Unfortunately, Dr Hashem chooses to overlook my critical comments on Mead. I have stated, “Though it cannot be denied that social and cultural factors play a highly important role in the construction of gender roles and identities, the point cannot be stretched too far. The assumption of cultural determinism, implicit in Mead’s views, takes a one-sided look at the complex dynamics of human behaviour and ignores the role of human agency” (p. 142).

The chapter on Population and Environment contains a section on problems related to fasting in the month of Ramadan in the Northern Hemisphere. Dr Hashem says that this discussion is out of place. Pray, how? Doesn’t this reflect the complex interface between society and the environment? Isn’t this a pressing problem for Muslims living in the Scandinavian countries as well as in St. Petersburg and northern Canada? Isn’t this issue worthy of sociological analysis?

Incidentally, an expanded version of this section, which was published in The Minaret (an online Islamic magazine published by the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi) a couple of years ago, was highly appreciated by Dr AbdulHamid AbuSulayman, one of the most distinguished Muslim thinkers of our time.

Dr Hashem says that the chapter on Inequality and Social Stratification “does not differ much from other introductory books in sociology.” If he had carefully read the chapter and compared its contents with the discussion on the subject in Western textbooks in the discipline, he would have thought twice about making such a careless remark. Sociology textbooks generally focus on social stratification in European and North American societies, with passing references to Japan and India. The chapter on Inequality and Social Stratification in my book discusses all substantive issues on the subject that one comes across in standard sociology textbooks. In addition, it discusses, in a historically nuanced manner and in a comparative framework, several issues and themes that one generally does not find in standard sociology textbooks. These include an extended discussion on slavery (and modern slavery), the caste system in India, racism, the plight of Palestinian Arabs, and inequality and social stratification in the Muslim world.

Dr Hashem says that the discussion on “Equality and Social Justice in Islam” in the chapter is “not sociological.” Does he mean to say that the subject has no sociological import or relevance?

Dr Hashem says that the chapter on Religion and Society is “flat” in discussing the conceptual limitations of the Sociology of Religion (in the Western sociological tradition), especially in relation to Islam. He quotes, selectively, two half sentences from the chapter to assert that the critical examination of the Western conceptualisation of religion in the book is too “thin.” Unfortunately, Dr Hashem has overlooked the following passages in the book.

    Durkheim’s classic study, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, has profoundly influenced the study of religion in the West. An enduring contribution of Durkheim to the study of religion lies in his emphasis that religion is quintessentially a social phenomenon. However, his generalizations about the origin and functions of religion, which are based on an extremely limited range of societies and on selective and fragmentary data, are open to question. The dichotomy of the sacred and the profane, as formulated by Durkheim, cannot be said to be universally validity. In many social contexts, the sacred and the profane are on the same level of experience and are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. Since Durkheim focused on the role and functions of religion in small-scale, homogeneous societies, he exaggerated and idealized the role of religion in fostering social solidarity. This view is highly problematic in the context of large and complex multiethnic societies in which religion is often used as an instrument for creating and reinforcing division and conflict.

    Weber’s view of ‘Asian religions’ exemplifies the characteristic Orientalist perspective, in which the West is projected as dynamic and progressive and the East as stagnant and backward. S.N. Eisentadt has dubbed this approach ‘sociological Orientalism’ (pp. 291-92).

I have quoted Bryan Turner’s perceptive analysis and critique of Western scholarship on Islam:

    An examination of any sociology of religion textbook published in the last fifty years will show the recurrent and depressing fact that sociologists are either not interested in Islam or have nothing to contribute to Islamic scholarship….. There is no major tradition of sociology of Islam and modern research and publications on Islamic issues are minimal (p. 447).

The following passages bring out my critique of the conceptualisation of Islam in the writings of Weber and other Western sociologists.

    Weber’s understanding and analysis of Asian religions, especially of Islam, was greatly influenced by the writings and views of Orientalists like Theodor Noeldeke, Carl H. Becker, Julius Wellhausen and Ignaz Goldziher. Noeldeke had stated in 1887 that the sum total of his work as an Orientalist was to confirm his ‘low opinion’ of the Eastern peoples. Carl Becker saw Islam as latently inferior and Islamic civilization as underdeveloped. Weber had no interest in Islam or Islamic civilization per se. He included Islam in his comparative analysis with a view to buttress his argument about the linkage between Protestantism and capitalism. Weber left his study of Islam unfinished due to his protracted illness, and what we have at our disposal are fragments of his conjectural analysis.

    Weber characterized Islam as a ‘warrior religion’ and argued that its feudal outlook inhibited the emergence of rational formal laws, autonomous cities, an independent bourgeoisie and political stability, which are conspicuously absent in Muslim societies. Weber’s views on Islam and Muslim societies bear the imprint of the Orientalist outlook. He has been criticized for his erroneous and flawed characterization of Islam. Ernest Gellner describes Weber’s notion of the close affinity between the bourgeois style and life and religious sobriety and asceticism as a “piece of Judaeo-Protestant ethnocentrism.” Maxime Rodinson, an eminent French historian, sociologist and Orientalist, in his book Islam and Capitalism (1966) repudiated the Weberian thesis that Islamic values inhibited the development of capitalism and argued that Islam was not an obstacle or impediment to modernity and development.

    One of the prominent American sociologists who has been greatly influenced by the writings and views of Orientalists is Daniel Lerner (1917-1980). Like most American sociologists of his generation, Lerner espoused a neo-evolutionary and Eurocentric view of modernity. In the eighteenth century, the British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke had posited an ideological dichotomy and opposition between tradition and reason, which was elaborated by Weber and appropriated by subsequent generations of sociologists. Drawing on this dichotomy, Lerner identified reason with modernity and stipulated a universal, linear and hierarchical trajectory of societies from traditional to modern. Lerner drew a sharp distinction between Western societies, which exemplified rationality, progress and modernity, and the traditional societies of Asia and Africa, which were dubbed as backward, steeped in superstitions and inherently incapable of attaining modernity and development on their own. In his influential book The Passing of Traditional Society (1958), which dealt with the question of modernity and development in Muslim societies in the Middle East, Lerner argued that the Islamic tradition seemed to be a formidable obstacle to the modernization of the region and that in the face of modernization ‘Islam is absolutely defenceless.’ He added that confronted by the West’s ‘rationalist and positivist spirit, Islam is in rapid retreat.’ Lerner argued that the Middle East needed to emulate the United States in order to get out of the morass in which it finds itself (pp. 447-449).

If Dr Hashem had read these passages with an open mind he would have refrained from jumping to a rash and baseless conclusion.

Dr Hashem says that the section on Peter Berger’s secularisation thesis in the chapter on Religion and Society does not offer my own critique of the secularisation thesis. I would like to draw his attention to the following passage in the book.

    Peter Berger, like Western sociologists in general, sought to formulate a generalization about the prospects of religion in the future on the basis of evidence from a specific, extremely narrow social context, namely, Western Europe. Like all such generalizations, Berger’s views on the positive correlation between modernity and secularization and the decline of religion are fraught with serious flaws. However, it must be said to his credit that he graciously admitted his mistake and sought to rectify it. If one looks at the secularization process in the contemporary global context, one finds little evidence in support of the assumption that it is holding sway in most parts of the world, including the US, Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, the secularization thesis holds true in the context of large parts of Europe, particularly Western Europe (pp. 293-94)

Dr Hashem takes exception to the following statement in the chapter on State, Nation and Nationalism: “Al-Sibai’s ideas were adopted by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who sought to combine Arab nationalism, socialism and Islam” (p. 337). Dismissing a statement as unsubstantiated serves no academic purpose. Dr Hashem should have given the benefit of his scholarship and erudition on the subject to his readers.

Mustafa al-Sibai’s most important work is Ishtirakiyat al-Islam (The Socialism of Islam), in which he argued that there is no incompatibility between Islam and socialism and that Islam espouses a rather unique kind of socialism which conforms with human nature. He held that the state should play a regulatory function in the establishment of a socialist society. Al-Sibai played a prominent role in providing an intellectual justification for Islamic socialism. His ideas on Islamic socialism were embraced by Nasser. The National Charter issued by Nasser in 1962 sought to synthesize Arab nationalism, socialism and Islam. 1

Dr Hashem attributes a statement to the author in the chapter on State, Nation and Nationalism to the effect that “secularism commissioned itself to fight the society and its culture” (and cites p. 343). I am appalled by this blatant fabrication. This statement, vague and obfuscating as it is, does not occur anywhere in the book and is nothing but a figment of Dr Hashem’s imagination.

The opening part of the chapter on Modernity and Development highlights the pioneering role of Muslim scientists, astronomers, engineers and translators in laying the foundations of the Renaissance, which paved the way for the advent of modernity in Europe. This is a unique part of the book which one would not find in any sociology textbook. Similarly, the chapter discusses in considerable detail the unmistakable nexus between modernity and European colonialism, which is generally left out of account in standard sociology textbooks. Dr Hashem chooses to overlook what constitute some of the important contributions of the book.

The chapter also presents a succinct and balanced critique of the project of modernity. To quote the relevant passage:

    Modernization theory has been criticized for its Eurocentric presuppositions. The critics of the theory point out that the project of modernity cannot be divorced from the historical and political context of European colonialism and Western hegemony. The theory has also been criticized for glossing over the linkage between modernization and widening economic and social inequalities and environmental degradation. Some scholars have rightly emphasized that modernity is not a monolithic or seamless phenomenon. They speak of multiple modernities or multiple paradigms or models of modernity. This suggests that the identification between modernization and Westernization is untenable. Modernity encompasses various hues and shades, some bright and others dark. One may draw a distinction between authoritarian, tyrannical modernity and a liberal and culturally sensitive modernity (p. 361).

Dr Hashem alleges that the discussion on the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the chapter on Modernity and Development “normalizes his modernist project.” This is a gross distortion and misrepresentation of what has been said in the chapter. I quote the relevant passages from the book:

    Following the establishment of Turkey as a secular, republican state in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk launched a vigorous state-sponsored project of modernization and secularization. The education system was radically overhauled and the traditional Islamic subjects were replaced by modern subjects. Turkish replaced Arabic as the liturgical language and it was decreed that calling the faithful to prayer (adhan) should be in Turkish, and not in Arabic. People were prohibited from going on pilgrimage to Makkah. The Quran was to be read not in Arabic but in its Turkish translation. The post of Shaykh al-Islam was abolished and the ulama were placed under the authority of the ministry of religious affairs. Sufi orders were banned and Islamic madrasas and Sufi lodges (tekkes) and shrines were closed down. Sunday replaced Friday as the weekly public holiday. The Arabic script of the Turkish language was changed to Latin and an attempt was made to purge it of words of Arabic origin. The wearing of the traditional Turkish cap – fez -- was prohibited and the wearing of veils and headscarves was banned in all public institutions, including schools, universities, government offices and public hospitals. Ataturk and his colleague and successor Ismet Inonu introduced policies aimed at the forcible assimilation of the Kurdish minority into mainstream Turkish society. The teaching of Kurdish language in schools was banned and the ethnic identity of the Kurds was systematically denied and undermined (p. 365).

    The influence of the Kemalist ideology, which sought to impose a top-down model of Western modernity and secularization on the Turkish people, remained confined to the urban elite. The ideology had a calamitous and insidious effect on Turkish polity, economy, society and religious and cultural ethos. Under its influence, the state acquired absolute and tyrannical powers. Laicism or secularism became an official instrument for the control and manipulation of religion and for the suppression of people’s religious and cultural rights. The Kemalist ideology created a cleavage between the Westernised ruling elite, including the army and the courts, and the masses. Kemalism was used as a pretext for repeated military interventions and takeovers in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 (p. 343).

Dr Hashem’s review is replete with over-simplification and pedestrian, crude assertions. Consider, for example, his cryptic comment on the discussion on the representation of Islam in the Western discourse in the chapter on Sociology of Islam: “The message is that the scholarly West was bad but then it became reasonable.”

The chapter on Sociology of Islam has a section on “Sociology of Islamic Law,” which constitutes one of the original contributions of the volume. Dr Hashem does not consider it worthy of even a passing mention.

The section on Islamic movements in the chapter on Sociology of Islam notes that “Al-Banna sought to spread his message further by communicating directly with kings, prime ministers and heads of Islamic states, as a result of which he came in conflict with the ruling establishment” (p. 473). Dr Hashem say that this statement lays the blame on al-Banna. Nothing of the kind is either intended or implied in the statement. What has been said in the section is based on historical evidence.

Dr Hashem takes exception to the exposition of the views of Sayyid Qutb (for whom I have great respect) in the section on Islamic movements. It is stated that Qutb believed that Muslims are obliged to overthrow despotic and un-Islamic regimes even if the rulers happen to be nominally Muslim. He condemned the Nasser regime as un-Islamic and urged his followers to launch an armed resistance against it. Dr Hashem says that Qutb did not call for armed resistance, but he contradicts himself in the same breath by adding that “his position is akin to that of Mandela and Malcolm X: ultimate rejection of the institution (sic) of oppression and reserving the right to resist by all means (emphasis added).” In Signposts on the Way, Qutb condemned the Nasser regime as un-Islamic and urged the formation of a vanguard of true believers who would not hesitate to engage in armed resistance. Dr Hashem accuses me of “justifying the actions of the Nasser regime against Sayyid Qutb.” This is an absolutely baseless allegation. There is nothing in the relevant section of the chapter which could be said to even remotely insinuate or justify Nasser’s barbaric action.

Dr Hashem says that the section on Islamic movements in the chapter on Sociology of Islam is “squeezed” into the chapter and is not really germane to it. He does not care to explain how and why. The section begins by observing that “Since the beginning of the Islamic era, Islam has been a highly potent and enduring source of inspiration, renewal and regeneration. This fact is conspicuously reflected in Islamic movements of renewal and reform, which regularly emerged in the course of Islamic history. These movements harked back to the golden era of Islam, influenced generations of Muslims around the world and acted as a catalyst in the unification and integration of Muslim societies” (p.470). Dr Hashem remarks that the discussion on Islamic movements “feels like the observation of an outsider.” Would an outsider write a passage quoted in the foregoing? 2

A section in the chapter on Muslim Minorities briefly and critically discusses the notions of Dar al-Islam, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Ahd in the discourse of classical Islamic jurisprudence and underscores the need for its reinterpretation in the contemporary global context. Dr Hashem says that many scholars consider the typology as outdated. Though the relevance of the typology in the context of the radically different global scenario is a contested issue among Muslim scholars, some eminent Islamic scholars of our time, including Shaykh Habib al-Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, have adopted this typology in an interpretative framework. Shaykh al-Qaradawi, for example, considers all non-Muslim countries where Muslims are living as minorities as Dar al-Ahd (Abode of Covenant).


Dr Hashem calls his rather long review a ‘review-article.’ This is a misnomer. A review-article contains, in addition to a critical review of a book, the reviewer’s own thoughtful reflections and seeks to make a substantial contribution to the subject of the book. Dr Hashem’s review abounds in vague, cryptic and obfuscating comments on my book and makes absolutely no contribution to the issue of the reorientation of sociology in an Islamic framework. He makes a cryptic and passing reference to an alternative paradigm for sociology and writes about “the indigenous properties of the Islamic framework” without bothering to elaborate what it means or entails.


1. See the following references:

Mustafa al-Sibai, ‘Islamic Socialism in political and social thought’ In Kemal Karpat, ed. Contemporary Middle East (1968)
Umar F. Abdullah. The Islamic Struggle in Syria (1983)
Hamid Enayat. Modern Islamic Political Thought (1982)
Yareq Y. Ismael and Jacquelin S. Ismael. Government and Politics in Islam (1985)

2. Dr Hashem’s objection betrays his superficial understanding of the interface and complementarity between empathy and objectivity, between the perspectives of the insider and the outsider in sociological research and analysis. I would like to draw his attention to a discussion of this vexed issue in the chapter on Theory and Methodology (pp. 573-74). I would also like to request him to read Robert K. Merton’s thoughtful and insightful essay “Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge,” published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1972. Incidentally, I had the honour of listening to Professor Merton’s lecture on the subject at an international conference in 1969. Michael Polany’s Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958) also offers valuable insights into the issue.


As we prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of 1857 events we are once again apt to ask ourselves the same old, unanswered questions: Was it a mutiny, first war of independence, or Jihad for the sake of Islam? William Dalrymple's account clearly shows that it had elements from all the three.   More ...

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