Issues of Power and Modernity in Understanding Political and Militant Islam

There are multiple ways to be modern, Tariq Amin-Khan writes in “Issues of Power and Modernity in Understanding Political and Militant Islam,” arguing that political and militant Islam are modern movements that provide an alternative to the Eurocentric view of modernity that is classically accepted. In this 2009 article in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Amin-Khan argues that viewing political and militant Islam within a historical context that reflects an acknowledgment of the subordination of Muslim populations at the hand of Europeans enables scholars to see these movements as a distinctly Muslim form of modernity.

Amin-Khan builds on his earlier work, which articulated a useful distinction between political and militant Islam. These varieties of Islam differ in their tactics: the former uses legal methods to effect chance while the later predominantly uses extra-legal methods. However, both political and militant Islam share the same goal of gaining control of state power.

Although political and militant Islam are often seen as regressive and traditional, Amin-Khan argues that these strands of Islam provide an alternative vision of modernity. In his view, mobilization through political and militant Islam is a modern response by Muslims to what they see as the decadence of the West. As such, it provides a different model of modernity than the conventional type of modernity—European modernity, with its focus on science and reason—but is modern nonetheless.

Amin-Khan, however, is not uncritical of political and militant Islam. Both political and militant Islam uphold a narrow conception of sharia that, as Amin-Khan details, lead to problematic consequences for women and ethnic minorities. However, any attempt to better the lives of the inhabitants of Muslim-majority states, Amin-Khan argues, requires a better understanding of the origins and nature of political and militant Islam.

There are relevant policy conclusions from this article as well: Amin-Khan argues that a similar understanding of political and militant Islam is necessary to guide a U.S. foreign policy that promotes less radicalization among Muslim communities.

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