Many people believe that the current Islamic resurgence is not necessarily a “return of religion,” but rather a continuation of tradition. According to this line of thought, therefore, Islam is essentially resistant to modernity and incompatible with contemporary secular societies. But is this really the case? Abdulkader Tayob, professor of Religion at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, examines this question in his new book Religion in Modern Islamic Discourse (Columbia University Press, 2010).
In the book, Tayob offers a fresh look at Muslim intellectuals from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Treatments of modern Islam often portray it as uniformly antithetical to modernity, but this book presents divergent Muslim voices on this score. Tayob employs religion not as an essential category of examination, but rather as a guiding mode through which he explores Muslim debates on identity, science, politics, law, and gender. The characters involved in these dialogues span the globe from South Asia, the Middle East, and North America, and give voice to both male and female perspectives. We are left with a nuanced examination of modern Islamic thought, which has been carefully contextualized in a critical, disruptive, and engaging way. Overall, Tayob presents a wonderful thematic resource for understanding the adaptation and resistance to modernity as Muslims began to reconcile Islam with the forces of modernization and secularization. It should be useful for readers and listeners interested in modern Islam and the study of religion more generally.