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Capsule Review

Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices From a New Generation

In This Review

Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices From a New Generation
By Madawi Al-Rasheed
Cambridge University Press, 2006 332 pp. $30.00 Purchase

Al-Rasheed depicts a working alliance between the Saudi dynasty and the Wahhabi religious establishment: the state has let the ulama (Islamic clergy) dictate the details of social and personal conduct, while the ulama has proclaimed the religious imperative of obeying the ruler. This religiously sanctioned justification for authoritarian rule came to be contested, especially in the 1990s, by a group of clerics proclaiming the need for a sahwa (awakening), but they largely tamed their ideological challenge after 9/11, renouncing violence and restricting their demands to (socially very conservative) reforms rather than regime change. Now, both the sahwa movement and the state have confronted hard-core Saudi jihadists, who are in exile or prison or have assumed noms de guerre (such as the popular Internet intellectual with the hybrid name of Lewis Atiyat Allah). This Saudi case fits into the larger story of other Islamist movements, but the great strength of this book lies in the author's nuanced argument that these Saudi ideologues and ideologies are best understood within their distinctive Saudi-Wahhabi historical context.

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