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The Ulama in Contemporary Islam:
Custodians of Change
Muhammad Qasim Zaman

Paperback | 2007 | $32.95 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691130705
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 3 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400837519 |
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From the cleric-led Iranian revolution to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, many people have been surprised by what they see as the modern reemergence of an antimodern phenomenon. This book helps account for the increasingly visible public role of traditionally educated Muslim religious scholars (the `ulama) across contemporary Muslim societies. Muhammad Qasim Zaman describes the transformations the centuries-old culture and tradition of the `ulama have undergone in the modern era--transformations that underlie the new religious and political activism of these scholars. In doing so, it provides a new foundation for the comparative study of Islam, politics, and religious change in the contemporary world.

While focusing primarily on Pakistan, Zaman takes a broad approach that considers the Taliban and the `ulama of Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, and the southern Philippines. He shows how their religious and political discourses have evolved in often unexpected but mutually reinforcing ways to redefine and enlarge the roles the `ulama play in society. Their discourses are informed by a longstanding religious tradition, of which they see themselves as the custodians. But these discourses are equally shaped by--and contribute in significant ways to--contemporary debates in the Muslim public sphere.

This book offers the first sustained comparative perspective on the `ulama and their increasingly crucial religious and political activism. It shows how issues of religious authority are debated in contemporary Islam, how Islamic law and tradition are continuously negotiated in a rapidly changing world, and how the `ulama both react to and shape larger Islamic social trends. Introducing previously unexamined facets of religious and political thought in modern Islam, it clarifies the complex processes of religious change unfolding in the contemporary Muslim world and goes a long way toward explaining their vast social and political ramifications.


"A detailed, carefully researched monographic study. . . . Among other things, it demonstrates that the received image of Muslim clerics . . . as passive, unworldly reactionaries bound to an atemporal, socially withdrawn Islam is thoroughly misconceived. In many places, by now perhaps most, they are seen as members of vanguard groups in the renovation of traditional Islamic society and belief."--Clifford Geertz, The New York Review of Books

Muhammad Qasim Zaman [writes] . . . with a magisterial command of both the internal discourses the ulama use among themselves and the dynamics of national and international developments. In addition, he builds his arguments with an extraordinarily rich mix of relevant examples, rarely seen and well referenced documentation, plus discerning support from other researchers, theorists, and commentators. . . . Zaman offers what amounts to a new working definition of the ulama that locates them not at the edge but at the center of discussions charting the course of Islam in the next century."--Patrick Gaffney, American Historical Review

"This book, a shining example of thorough and deliberate scholarship, forces us to re-evaluate commonly held misperceptions of the religious class and madrasa education more generally. . . . With this unique volume, Qasim Zaman has finally provided something long missing in the field of Islamic studies: a comprehensive analysis of contemporary ulama as dynamic interpreters and producers of religious knowledge--and an analysis of the absolutely highest quality at that."--Peter Mandaville, International Sociology

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Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
I: Islamic Law and the 'Ulama in Colonial India: A Legal Tradition in Transition 17
II: Constructions of Authority 38
III: The Rhetoric of Reform and the Religious Sphere 60
IV: Conceptions of the Islamic State 87
V: Refashioning Identities 111
VI: Religiopolitical Activism and the 'Ulama: Comparative Perspectives 144
Epilogue: The 'Ulama in the Twenty-First Century 181

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