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Nearly a century after it first emerged in Egypt, political Islam is redefining the Muslim world. Also called Islamism, this potent ideology holds that the billion-strong global Muslim community would be free and great if only it were pious—that is, if Muslims lived under state-enforced Islamic law, or sharia, as they have done for most of Islamic history. Islamists have long been confronted by Muslims who reject sharia and by non-Muslims who try to get them to reject it. At times benign and at times violent, these confrontations have fueled the revolutions in Egypt in 1952 and Iran in 1979, the al Qaeda attacks in 2001, the Arab Spring of 2011, and the rise of radical Islamist groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS).
It is not Islam the religion that is generating discord. Rather, the problem is a deep disagreement among Muslims over the degree to which Islam