Return of the Binary Theory in History, Politics and Sociology


The medieval metaphor of the Two Swords, first introduced by Pope Gelasius I (492-496), posited a unity of Christian society. It proclaimed that the two governments of sacerdotium and regnun, each with separate powers, were merely the spiritual and the temporal arms of a single Christian commonwealth. There was as yet no theory of church and state: the Church was not a State; it was the State, universal order, spiritual as well as moral. What we today know of as the state, the supreme civil authority, was merely the temporal arm, the police department if you will, of the Church. Every duality, however, is liable to be perceived as a dichotomy and it is not surprising that the later historical development of the West came to assume the character of a struggle between Church and State, a clash of the Two Swords. Ever since that fateful conflict, the modern man has lived in a binary world of antitheses and antinomies, dialectics and disputations, rifts and ruptures. Indeed, he either dreams of a Grand Theory that would restore the unity of his lost vision, or dreads this possibility!

With the departure of Enlightenment Reason from the academic scene, contemporary theory has become adamant about the multi-polar constitution of the world. The deployment of the globalist perspective has introduced all sorts of tensions and polarities into our theoretical vision: modernity thwarted by postmodernity; secularization challenged by fundamentalism; sociological theory confounded by religious atavism; Islamic world under the siege of the West, and so on. All the works presented here offer, with the possible exception of Bradney's concrete study on the relationship between religious pluralism and legal rights in Great Britain, dualistic, dialogical and dialectical models that apprehend the world in terms of opposites. Some of them are overtly and self-confessedly partisan, others merely circumspectly and reluctantly so. Their analytical richness  however, is seldom redeemed by synthetical charity. The starved reader remains condemned to subsist on a frugal ideational diet.

A Future for Religion?, which seeks new paradigms for social analysis, starts from the disquieting insight that the sociology of religion is facing a twofold 'identity crisis': whereas the subdiscipline has become isolated from the mainstream of sociological research, the mainstream sociology itself is under assault within the hallowed precinct of the academy. The principle cause of this crisis, notes Swatos, the editor of this volume, may be sociology's skewed and flawed vision of religion. Though the category 'religion' is almost integral to the sociological vision, it has always been conceived negatively. The decline of religion was for the founding fathers of sociology - Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Tocqueville, Comte, Simmel, Spencer, Martineau, the American founders, and so on - an incontrovertible fact that may be lamented or celebrated but never questioned! To the more skeptical conscience of postmodernity, however, the secularization thesis appears more of 'a doctrine than a theory'. Indeed, the disappearance of religion represented 'a taken for granted ideology in social sciences'; a cardinal tenet of social theory that was accepted 'on faith'!

Works Discussed in the Essay:

ISLAMS AND MODERNITIES. By Aziz Al-Azmeh. Verso, 6 Meard Street, London W1V 3HR, 1993. Pp 157. £11.95 (pbk). ISBN 0-86091-626-X.

ALTERNATIVE PARADIGMS: The Impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on Political Theory. By Ahmed Davutoglu. University of America Press, 3 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8LU, 1994. Pp 261. ISBN 0-8191-9047-0.

A SENSE OF SIEGE: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West. By Graham E. Fuller & Ian O. Lesser. Westview Press, 12 Hid's Copse Road, Cumnor Hill, Oxford OX2 9JJ, 1955. Pp 193. £10.95 (pbk). ISBN 0-8133-2149-2.

POLITICAL DIMENSIONS OF RELIGION. Ed. by Said Amir Arjomand. State University of New York Press, State University Plaza. Albany, N.Y. 12246, 1993. Pp 293. ISBN 0-7914-1558-9 (pbk)

RELIGIONS, RIGHTS AND LAWS. By A. Brandney. Leicester University Press, 25 Floral Street, London WC2E 9DS, 1993. Pp 178. £39.95 (hbk). ISBN 0-7185-1366-5.

A FUTURE FOR RELIGION? New Paradigms for Social Analysis. Ed by William H Swatos, Jr. Sage Publications Ltd, 6 Bonhill Street, LONDON EC2A 4PU, 1993. Pp 210. ISBN 0-8039-4676-7 (pbk).

Today the sociological reason is called upon to testify that 'modernity arouses expectations that it cannot satisfy without stimulating the religious imagination.' The sociological dogma of secularization, therefore, is in need of a radical revision or redefinition. But even more crucial to continued 'sociological misunderstanding of religion' is the focus on 'content abstracted from experience'. In other words, the 'religion' of sociology is nothing but an apparition, a lifeless ghost that only haunts the ivory towers of the academia! Far more radical than the revisionist posture is the ultimate sense of doubt, almost tantamount to loss of faith in the sociological vision, that rekindles the perennial controversy between history and theory, history and sociology. History as the recalcitrant human science par excellence subverts all kinds of sociological theory and Swatos admits: 'Social science is not the application of timeless truths but the development of explanatory and predictive constructs' ..... that demand 'attentiveness to the lifeworld - to the problematics that constitute existence in our time and their implications in the future.'

Against this ideational backdrop, a series of sociological surveys and reflections attempt to reorient the sociology of religion to new paradigms in social inquiry. The topics covered include, besides 'global fundamentalism' which in every contemporary discourse, whether sociological, theological or political, is de rigueur, feminist perspectives on inequality and difference, religion and body, the sociology of religious experience, and much else that is of interest only to the specialist. Given the ideological uncertainty of the subdiscipline of sociology of religion, it is not surprising that this study neither advances a definite thesis nor makes any unambiguous pronouncement on the future of religion. Despite this, however, as a particularly competent survey of the identity-crisis of a key discipline of modernism and as a revealing statement about the antithetical nature of 'religion' and 'sociology', the present volume deserves the Muslim reader's close attention.

The bifurcation of existential order into a religious and a political sphere is a modern secular idea whose veracity and validity have been vigorously, indeed violently, challenged by the numerous religio-political movements of our times. Hence, the relationship between religion and politics has become the most paramount field of academic research today. All sorts of disciplines, from sociology to psychology, from theology to anthropology, from history to philosophy are devoting their resources to the unravelling of the mysterious bond which exists between pragmatic and utopian visions in human societies. Said Amir Arjomand's book, The Political Dimensions of Religion, despite being a motley collection of essays by different authors, represents a more serious attempt to conceptualize and study this perplexing relationship. Because of Arjomand's specialization in Islamic political science, this volume, to which he has contributed substantially by his own essays, is of special interest to the Muslim.

Religion, so starts Arjomand's meditation in a true Voegelinian vein, is a 'conscious reflection of the constitution of order in nature and society', whereas politics is merely 'the art and science of government.' At the most fundamental level, then, politics subsists in religion. 'The reflection of the act of foundation of political order in consciousness', he adds, 'is pure religion; and political action merges with religion to the extent that i approaches the foundation of order.' Normative order, then, may be derived either from religious or secular premises, just as politics may be 'routine' or 'absolute'. Absolute politics turns politics into metaphysics, a total explanation of all that is or should be in the human situation. Obviously, it is coterminous with messianism and represents a state of affairs 'where no boundaries are set to political will, and everything social is seen as transformable by politics.' When politics refuses to accept the established order and recognizes none of its boundaries, it acquires a religious character. Or, more simply put, the destruction of old order and the establishment of a new one always testifies to the (temporary) unity of religion and politics.

Like so much else today, the present volume, a collection of individual essays, interposes theoretical reflection between  concrete area studies. Unlike others, however, where a bland, empirical sociology and an insipid, descriptive history convey no sense of meaning, theoretical reflection is the forte of Arjomand's work. It consciously adopts the elusive but meaningful approach of the late Eric Voegelin, whose philosophic focus on  the role of metaphysics and consciousness in the symbolization and creation of order provides the most suggestive method for dealing with the problem of transcendence in political order - a problem that no proponent, or critic, of Islamic political theory can afford to ignore. It is to the credit of Arjomand's approach that neither he himself nor any other contributor of his volume reduces political order to a purely immanentist scheme in the manner of all modernists, secularists and fundamentalists! On that account alone, this is a promising and rewarding work.

It is in the nature of this phenomenological reflection, however, that protean concepts like 'religion' and 'politics' be subjected to further differentiation in terms of their symbolic content. It is posited thus that a fundamental distinction exists between religion as the most fundamental premise of social order and religion in the modern, secular sense as devotion, ritual and piety. All 'civic' injunctions of religions, accordingly, belong to the political sphere of action and are liable to cause political conflicts. In simpler terms, religion constitutes ideational ground for societal order, politics provides blueprints for social action. In millennarian movements and myths, where the fundamental premises of established order are actively challenged, this distinction between the political and the religious cannot be maintained. A major section of the book, 'Utopian Religious Beliefs and Political Action', which focusses on the millennial movements of such diverse areas as Peru, Philippines, Vietnam and Iran, seeks to corroborate this insight.
The first section, dealing with 'Religion, Order and Pluralism', contains reflections on the role of heterodoxies in the presentation of alternative schemes of order, in cultural-political reconstruction and hence in the transformation of civilization that remind one of Arnold Toynbee's theories.

No one need haggle with the author of the opening essay, 'Religion and the Civilizational Dimensions of Politics' (S. N. Eisenstadt) on the issue that 'normative pluralism is built into the civilizational dynamics of the world religions.' Nevertheless, when it comes to Islam, not even Eisenstadt's phenomenological method completely overcomes the Orientalist prejudices that are the source of his factual confusion:
'Among the basic ontological conceptions that crystallized in the Islamic realm', he contends, 'the following were the most important for the shaping of the institutional formations: the strong distinction or tension between the cosmic transcendental realm and the mundane one; the emphasis on overcoming this tension by total submission to God; and by this-worldly above all, politicomilitary activity; the strong universalistic element in the definition of the Islamic community; the ideal of the umma, the politicoreligious community of all believers, distinct from any ascriptive, primordial collectivity; the principled autonomous access of all members of the community to the attributes of the transcendent order, to salvation, through submission to God, and the closely connected emphasis on the principled political equality of all believers.'

Where in this scheme of things, one may ask, is the mentioning of 'governance'? Further, isn't the hallowed ideal of the 'autonomous access of all members of the community to the attributes of the transcendent order' subversive of all political constitutions which by necessity must be hierarchical? Similarly, isn't positing an unbridgeable chasm between the transcendental and the mundane realm tantamount to di-divinizing politics and debunking all theocratic pretensions of the ruler? Or, when another sweeping claim is made, namely that 'Islam evinced the characteristics of a "totalitarian movement"', isn't Eisenstadt equating Islam with the revolutionary Khwarij, Shi'ia and Islam'ilis and excluding the great majority of the Sunnis? Certainly, Islam is not coterminous with Sunnism, but a historical and political Islam without the Sunnis, what kind of ghost is it? Hence, when Eisenstadt also accepts that 'a de facto separation between the political and the religious leadership' was the result of 'the final crystallization of the universalistic ideology', he is merely  confessing to the uncomfortable truth that the relationship between 'religion' and 'politics' in Islam has not been properly formulated or understood, neither by the normative theorists of yesterday nor by the empirical historians of today!

In his essay 'Religion and Normative Order', Arjomand mainly follows in the footsteps of Eric Voegelin. He takes the latter's insight, that the function of the sacral kingship is to re-enact of the cosmological myth, as the pivotal point of his own reflection. From this premise, Arjomand then comes to, what for him is an 'unexpected connection' between order and utopia, between sacral kingship and millennial soteriology. For the students of history of religions, however, the connection is neither unusual nor surprising but rather routine and predictable. Nonetheless, Arjomand's essay makes a stimulating piece of political theory that is very gratifying for the Muslim reader. For instance, he contends that the representative of the transcendent truth of religion against the immanentist truth of order is the figure of the Sufi. For, 'Sufism represented a very important mode of institutionalization of transcendence in medieval Islam. Although world-renouncing and apolitical, early Sufism had momentous political implications: It amplified normative pluralism and enhanced the duality of religious and political authority.' It is our contention that even the figure of the faqih was a representative of the transcendent truth of faith and that he too, despite his 'constitutional theory' of Khilafa or his theocratic vision of Imama, 'enhanced the duality of religious and political authority.'! For a major part of Muslim history, governance (politics of order) has been superfluous for salvation (politics of transcendence.)

Another intriguing theme that has received unwonted attention in this volume is millenariansm's attitude towards time. In 'Antinomian Conduct at the Millennium: Metaphorical Conception of Time in Social Science and Social Life', Karen Fields agues that millenarianism intensifies the sense of historical movement towards a goal and rejects both the existing social order and the prevailing cosmological myth. Political order, everybody knows, is premised upon expectations of continuity, routine and durability: its notions of time are cyclical. Millenarianism, she contends, rejects the cyclical time metaphor of orthodox theology, corresponding to the sociological concept of structure, which 'induces obedience to worldly law and authority.' Or, re-expressed in plain Weberian terms, orthodox order is routinized order. Millenarian metaphor, on the contrary, by accentuating the present in the light of a transcendent vision, demands 'goal directed antinomian action now or soon!' (Incidentally, Fields's research puts a big question mark on Henry Corbin's esoteric theories about 'Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis' - even if she does not refer to the latter's work at all!) In short, this is a provocative and scholarly study that should enrich the current debate on the antinomies, within both religion and politics, of the transcendent and the mundane, the sacred and the violent, the millenarian and the established.

Religion and politics may represent contrary, or complementary, modes of orientation towards order and transcendence, it is within the realm of law that the two clash most visibly. It is also within the province of legal rights and injunctions that this contest attains a pragmatic resolution. Given the state of religious pluralism in most of the western countries today, it is not surprising that the law court has assumed the position of the main public arena where religious conflicts are routinely played out and adjudicated. Hence, it is but natural that not only the legal theory but also the legal practice of western polities should receive ever greater scholarly attention and scrutiny in our times. And yet, A Bradney contends, very little has been written about the relationship of religion, rights and legal rules in Great Britain. In comparison, other jurisdictions, notably the United States, 'have generated a vast literature commenting on the relationship between religion and law. Part of the explanation, Bradney conjectures further, lies in the fact that these jurisdictions have written constitutions protecting religious liberty and providing for the separation of church and state. There is thus, in his view, 'a particular focus on commentary.'

'The unwritten nature of the United Kingdom constitution, and the lack of positive legal protection for individual rights,' Bradney explains further, 'means that there is a less obvious centre for enquiry.' Given the fact that there is a legally established church 'in parts of the country', and that 'no religion is proscribed within Great Britain', there is ample justification for an inquiry of the kind that is presented here, namely: Religion, Rights and Laws. Bradney is also very clear with regard to the rift that exists between the theory of religious freedom and its actual safeguard by legal institutions. 'If the freedom of religion is the norm within the legal systems of Great Britain, and if judges are neutral about the religious beliefs of those before them', he concludes wryly, 'there is little purpose to this volume.'
It is in this, ostensibly polemical but actually quite earnest, mood that Bradney conducts his educational survey of the relationship between religious obligations, legal rules and individual rights. Despite his pragmatic, eminently British, approach which shuns abstract theoretical queries for their own sake, he manages to raise some very disconcerting and existentially relevant questions. For instance, in response to the prevailing consensus that freedom of religion is relative and need to be balanced against other freedoms and rights, he asks: 'If the metaphor of the balance is to have real meaning, rather than to conceal an arbitrary process by which one appears to provide a rational justification for a conclusion that has in fact been already arrived at, both things considered must be analyzed in the light of some previously delineated criteria. What is the measure used when assessing freedom of religion?' Similar pragmatic concerns make him reject the characteristically Christian notion of 'the radical autonomy of the individual' as the criterion for assessing legal rules with regard to religious freedom.

For a concrete discussion on specific cases and examples, Bradney has chosen the following areas of legal contestation: Marriage and family life, Education, Blasphemy, Religion and work and Charity. Concerning marriage and family laws, his grim conclusion is that 'in this area of law individual autonomy and complete freedom of religion are incompatible.' (It would be fair to point out that no legal system can accommodate full freedom and autonomy of individual conscience. Individual conscience that is capable of being accommodated, of course, refers only to religious conscience under secular sovereignty. Political, and moral, conscience is not allowed the luxury of 'full autonomy': it has no other option but to obey the law till it can change it by political action.) Bradney's discussion of the Rushdie Affair under the rubric of 'Blasphemy, Heresy or whatever means the good' is also quite level-headed. Without recommending any reform of the law of blasphemy, he manages to expose the 'depth of prejudices against Muslims in British society.'

Lecturing Muslims on their duties as British citizens, as the then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd did in the Birmingham Central Mosque', argues Bradney, 'is not an appropriate response to Muslim protests which have largely been conducted in accordance with the normal political processes of the country.' Disregarding all display of ideological and philosophical lopsidedness that in this case was almost obligagtory, he contends further, 'the judicial response to the Rushdie affair has been no less suspect than that of the Government and the media. In refusing to extend the law of blasphemy to cover Islam the Divisional Court held that, 'where the law is clear, it is not the proper function of this court to extend it; particularly is this so in criminal cases, where offenses cannot retrospectively been created.' On 11 July 1991 the House of Lords, then, refused to leave to appeal against this judgement. However, ten days before this, we are duly informed, 'the House of Lords had heard arguments in R. v. R. Giving judgement in this latter case, the court overturned a 100 years old precedent exempting husbands from the crime of rape with respect to their wives.'! In sum, this is a stimulating challenging work which should be read with due care, not merely by the polemical ideologue, as is the custom, but by the sober and pragmatic scholars of Islam.

A Sense of Siege attempts to examine the dichotomies and polarities of the trans-cultural world of geopolitics through a vision which is both concrete and strategic. Indeed, it is a vision which is commissioned by the policy makers of a super-power. To say this, however, is in no way to dismiss it as a mere propagandist tract, but to locate its ideological parameters. In fact, in analytical terms, this work, by 'two senior analysts in the international policy department at RAND', is as dispassionate in tone, scholarly in design and conciliatory in temper as any other. Its flaws, or virtues, depending on one's vantage-point, stem not so much from its unquestioning loyalty to the ethos of the civilization in power but out of the zest that it unabashedly displays for promoting its strategic goals. It is also in the nature of such an enterprise that it should ignore the nebulous moral landscape that is our global humanity but keenly observe all the vainglorious landmarks of our 'Geopolity'. In short, this is no utopian reflection but an articulate treatise about contemporary Realpolitik, seen through the eye of the privileged and the powerful.

The chief merit of this study is that in the hysterical climate of our days, when 'The Clash of Civilizations' is the only metaphor available to the political imagination, it seeks to refute an emotive, mystical and non-functional view of our human agency that informs this deterministic thesis. Discarding the sweeping 'civilizational' approach, and shunning conundrums like "What is Islam?", or "What is the West?", the authors wish to disentangle the problems that arise between the Muslim world and the West and sort them under manageable political categories. They are fully alert to the objection that by dissecting the nature of issues at stake between Islam and the West along functional lines, they are in fact 'attempting to make the problem go away.' Despite Huntington's notoriety, the most prominent proponent of this view, that the problem is greater than the sum of its parts, is Bernard Lewis who claims that 'we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations.'

In the tradition of sound American pragmatism, Fuller and Lesser do not fall for the mystique of civilization, culture or religion that would transform the concrete issues of co-existence into the  ontological nightmare of 'final solutions'! Hence, they reject, rightfully in our opinion, all conceptual schemes such as "the clash of cultures" that are 'by definition beyond description or analysis and therefore defy treatment.' Whatever the reality of 'civilizations', or the power of other emotive concepts such as the <umma>, they retort, 'we cannot accept that we are dealing with forces beyond identification and remedy, including in the perceptual and psychological areas.' Hence, instead of apprehensively clinging to the specter of an inevitable, deterministic clash, they choose to analyze 'understandable and partially manageable grievances and conflicts of interest.' Indeed, the whole theory of the civilizational clash is put to shame by the following, reflective note: 'If civilizations will always to some extant remain mysterious and impenetrable to one another, the actual gap between Islamic and Western culture is probably less than that between Western and Hindu, Western and Japanese, or Western and African cultures.'

Whatever the moral discomforts of the worldview of <Realpolitik>, there's no disagreeing that what is revealed through its prism is neither the best world, nor even best possible world, but merely the actual world of possibility and change. And it is in this actual world that relations between Islam and the West are influenced by the immense historical baggage, much of which persists in the living memories, 'especially when resuscitated as contemporary grist for the ideological mill.' There is a frank and revealing survey of these perceptions: the Western perception of Islam and the Muslim perception of the West. Both have their own 'mirror visions of history, myths, perceptions, and potent images.' And yet, the authors do not fail to point out, it is not a question of two sides being equally (ill-)informed about each other. On the contrary. 'the preponderance of Western media and Western activity on the international scene has made Muslim awareness of Western attitudes, values, and fears far deeper than the relatively limited Western exposure to the anxieties, grievances, and aspirations of the Muslim world.' Hence, the reality of the Muslim sense of siege, whether justified or not, is the main concern of Fuller and Lesser's inquiry. In terms of both fact and reflection, then, it is a rich work that needs to be read with caution for its pragmatic reading of the geopolitical text does not preclude reconciliation and cooperation between civilizations. In the final analysis, the authors' quest is not only policies which remove civilizational tensions but also a vision which transcends them.

In <Alternative Paradigms>, Ahmet Davutoglu seeks no sovereign vision which would transcend the dichotomies of Islamic and Western <Weltanschauungs> in the field of political theory. For him, these two relate to each other in a spirit of metaphysical antagonism and ontological incompatibility: none of the two allows itself to be reduced to, or reconciled with, the other. Further, even if it is never made explicit, Davutoglu's ambition is to establish the superiority of the Islamic political vision which, according to him, is able to resolves the kind of problems which often frustrate and humble Western theory. However, lest his position be misrepresented, it must be declared at the outset that Islam for him represent a transcendent order, indeed the ultimate transcendental order and not a historical civilization or its concrete manifestations, even if, it is in the nature of things that in actual discussion the two often get entangled.

The principal argument of Davutoglu's thesis is 'ontological'; for he believes that the Western challenge to Islam today is no longer cast in the Christian mould. Consequently, Islam's intellectual and philosophical response also needs to discard the language of theology, which is mealy 'mythologized metaphysics', and employ the foundational idiom of ontology. Given this motivation for the adoption of a metaphysical approach, it is not surprising that 'Islam' and 'the West' come to represent two grand ontological paradigms; <Tawhid> and <Shirk>, transcendence and immanence (or, in Davutoglu's own turgid and laborious phraseology: 'ontological hierarchy' and 'ontological proximity'!) Not only the tenets of 'political theory' but the ultimate grounds for ethics and morality can, of course, be derived from these two paradigmatic ontologies. This is what Davutoglu does with considerable ease, though not always with equal logical consistence. And yet, the two metaphysical paradigms never devolve to historical institutions and the political theories of Islam and the West deal more with theory than with politics. In this sense, Davutoglu's presentation is neither subject to confirmation nor criticism: both are superfluous for a theory which seeks no corroboration from history. Incidentally, though the author does not mention Eric Voegelin, much of what he presents here, both with regard to his method and content, has been anticipated by the latter in his sterling reflection on the interface of metaphysics and political theory.

Davutoglu's book looks densely-argued and overwhelmingly erudite: it appears encyclopedic in its conception and profound in its execution - that is, if the reader takes an extremely generous and charitable view of its expression and style. For nearly every sentence that he encounters is an offense to good taste, if not a downright challenge to human intelligibility and patience. The promising and gifted author of this book must decide for himself, whether sentences like the one quoted below is redeemed by any thought content, or whether that thought content will ever be accessible to his eager readers:
"Such a reduction during the process of conceptualization in the sense of ontological proximity as a specific way of ontological consciousness might be accepted as a version of the Husserlian phenomenological reduction in the sense of the performance of an <epochJ> which assumes a specific relationship between <cogitationes>, <cogitatum>, and <cogitata>....'!

Expression is also not Aziz Al-Azmeh's forte, though erudition and perspicacity certainly are. It is therefore a matter of great satisfaction that Al-Azmeh's earlier essays on such current themes as 'Utopia and Islamic Political Thought', 'Islamist Revivalism and Western Ideologies', 'Islamist Revivalism and Enlightenment Universalism' etc, are now available in a single volume. As all these have previously appeared in print, the contents of the present work are familiar, at least to scholars. What is new is the postmodern turn, ostentatiously displayed in the title, that the older material has acquired in order to gain renewed actuality. It is a turn away from norm to history, from unity to plurality, from universality to parochiality. There is breakdown not only of the Enlightenment Reason but that of the Islamic meta-narrative as well. Fundamentalism and other forms of political radicalism are a clear testimony to the disintegration of the Islamic tradition.

The goal of Al-Azmeh's postmodernism is quite clear: it is to rescue Islamic history from the reductionist essentialism of the Western orientalist and the Islamic radical both. Needless to say, Al-Azmeh is eminently suited for this task: he can reveal the richness and prolificness of Muslim textual response to the exigencies of history as few others can. But his fecund and prolific vision also shatters Islam into islams, Modernity into modernities, History into histories. History then may offer protection against reductionism and essentialism, it does not create meaning. The meaning creating text is trans-historical. The Muslim dilemma is that the duality of text and history, faith and existence cannot be abolished; neither by sacral necessity nor by secular freedom.

Stockholm                                                                            S Parvez Manzoor