In This Review

Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics
Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics
By L. Carl Brown
Columbia University Press, 2000, 236 pp

A balanced, scholarly assessment of Islamic politics. By placing Islam in its historical and comparative context, Brown (this magazine's Middle East book reviewer) convincingly demonstrates that "fundamentalist" thought is a radical deviation from Islam's earlier political quietism. Although he regrets this development and wishes that Islamists would display greater tolerance toward fellow Muslims, Brown's argument is far from polemical. Some readers might wish for more details on the upheavals of the past two decades, and some may argue that the author's focus on four influential thinkers -- Hasan al-Banna, Abul Ala Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, and Ayatollah Khomeini -- inadequately represents the range of current Sunni and Shi'a thinking. But his survey of Islamic ideas and practice is confident and lucid, making sense of the current invocations of jihad, the "Islamic state," and such movements as Hamas and Hezbollah. He is also instructive on the subject of Muslim political engagement, which he sees as not simply a matter of doctrine but also of evolving circumstance, shared history, and normative frameworks. The Islamic approach to politics is thus neither preordained nor unique but "distinctive." Such a nuanced view avoids the stereotyping of political Islam that has often skewed recent interpretations, and it provides a valuable lesson: Islam is not as determining as both Western critics and Islamists themselves would contend, yet it remains an important feature of the Muslim political landscape. A subtle and skilled rejoinder to the conventional schools of thought -- and to fashionable assumptions about the "post-Islamist" era.