Currently a growing anxiety is expressed in the belief that the “Arab Spring” has turned into an “Islamist winter.” Are we then on the verge of yet another wave of religious radicalism in the Muslim world? Has the forward march of Islamism beginning with Iran’s revolution of 1979 assumed a new momentum with the Arab revolutions of 2011? This book, drawing on the historical studies of ten Muslim-majority countries extending from Indonesia to Morocco, suggests that the Muslim world may, in fact, be on the verge of a “post-Islamist” path, as political Islam is undergoing a significant transformation pushed by forces from within and without. Surely many religious parties in the Muslim world, as in Tunisia, Turkey, or Morocco, have indeed scored significant electoral victories and moved to the helm of governmental power. But is every “Islamic” party or movement necessarily “Islamist”?
It is striking that while so much is said about Islamism as a political and moral project, scant attention is paid to its shifting trajectories, especially if we exclude those who have suggested that political Islam has failed altogether. Even though there is now growing acknowledgment within the scholarly and policy communities that Islamism is in the throes of transformation, little is actually known about the nature, direction, or variations of change. Nor is there an adequate comparative framework to gauge the diversity of Islamist trajectories and investigate its implications for democratic order in Muslim-majority societies.
To explore the differentiations within Islamic politics and highlight their implications for a democratic polity, a few years ago I conducted a comparative study of religious politics in Iran and Egypt covering the period between the 1970s and 2005. The central preoccupation of that study, Making Islam Democratic (2007), was to interrogate the infamous question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy. I concluded that (p.x) whereas Islamism understood as the deployment of Islam for the political project of establishing an Islamic state was unlikely to embrace democratic order, post-Islamism could and did. For unlike an Islamist politics that stresses citizens’ obligations, “post-Islamism” is characterized by the fusion of religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to transcend Islamism by building a pious society within a civil nonreligious state.
My early formulation of post-Islamism was based primarily on the experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the late 1990s, even though the transformation of Turkish Islamism embodied in the Justice and Development Party could readily invoke this trend. But a fundamental question remained as to the extent to which the post-Islamist trend had found meaningful resonance in other societies of the Muslim world and how much this early conceptualization could explain the diverse patterns of shifts found among different Islamist movements. I was already aware that the concept of “post-Islamism” had instigated some lively debate in both scholarly and political circles in Europe as well as in Turkey, Sudan, Indonesia, and other countries. To investigate the possibility of post-Islamism at large in the Muslim world, I convened an international conference in the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden, the Netherlands, in 2009, bringing together a dozen scholars of religious politics to discuss and highlight the traces of post-Islamism in multiple Muslim settings that ranged from Indonesia to Morocco.
That conference resulted in the studies compiled in this volume, which examine the historical trajectories of Islamist movements and regimes, bringing to light how they have shifted in the past three decades, in what directions, for what reasons, and what alternative trends they have engendered. The conclusions alert us that we should not look at Islamism as a static phenomenon but, rather, as comprising dynamic entities, which have been shifting as a result of their own internal dynamics as well as external and international exigencies. In addition, we learn how Islamism by its very operation has caused robust critical spin-offs expressing themselves in alternative trends of thought and action.
While the book offers fresh and comparative interpretations of the historical transformation of Islamism in individual countries of the Muslim world, it is particularly adamant to conceptualize such shifts with the aim of building a broad analytical perspective that can make sense of the general trends of Islamism in contemporary times. Drawing on the rich studies of individual Muslim societies offered by the contributors, I attempt (p.xi) to reengage with and revisit the notion of “post-Islamism,” a notion that represents a critical break from and an alternative to “Islamist politics” and promises to make Islam compatible with democracy.
A number of individuals and colleagues have helped bring this project to its successful conclusion. Dennis Janssen, Marlous Willemsen, and the staff of ISIM assisted in organizing the Leiden conference; contributors came mostly from distant places to partake in the deliberations, while others served as discussants or assisted in logistical matters. Cynthia Read, my editor at Oxford University Press, appreciated the project and encouraged me to pursue its publication. I am grateful to them all. My greatest debt goes to the colleagues whose contributions constitute the bulk of this book: those who participated in the conference and those whose studies were solicited later. Their well-crafted works have enriched the debate about and our understanding of Post-Islamism. I wish to dedicate this volume to the memory of Nasr Hamed Abu-Zaid, a friend and an astute scholar of Islam, whose “untimely” departure has left many of us with a real void. His voice and wisdom are acutely missed in these unsettled times. (p.xii)