Review Essay

Political Islam After the Arab Spring

Between Jihad and Democracy

In This Review

Rethinking Political Islam
Rethinking Political Islam
Edited by Shadi Hamid and Will McCants
Oxford University Press, 2017, 398 pp. Purchase

The term “Islamism” and its watered-down equivalent, “political Islam,” sprang into widespread use after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and soon became permanent fixtures of contemporary political discourse. They were coined to describe an allegedly new phenomenon: political movements headed by educated Muslim laymen who advocated the “re-Islamization” of Muslim-majority countries (and Muslim communities elsewhere) that had, in their eyes, ceased to be sufficiently Islamic. These movements promoted sharia through modern forms of popular mobilization—for example, creating branches specifically for young people, women, and workers. They adopted a hybrid organizational structure, a cross between a traditional Sufi brotherhood, in which members pass through different steps of initiation, and a modern political party, where an advisory council appoints a leader who oversees technical committees devoted to particular policy areas. Islamists worked on two tracks: fostering a social movement that would partner with community organizations and charities and establishing a political movement

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