Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought

In This Review

Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought

By Daniel Brown
Cambridge University Press, 1996
185 pp. $49.95
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This slim volume takes aim at one version of the debate among Muslims and makes a clear hit. The author argues that it is wrong to think in the terms of conservatives who cling to tradition and modernizers who rely on reason. The sunna, or traditions based on the life of Mohammed, are used by both proponents of orthodoxy and those who seek to change the old ways. Like most great traditions, that of Islam contains within it plenty for both schools to draw on. One of the most interesting accounts in this balanced study is the failure of those who sought to narrow drastically the scope of the sunna. Instead, the "revivalists" have won the debate and use the traditions to support their often radical agenda. Islamist movements in Egypt and Pakistan provide the empirical base for the study.