Islamutopia: A very short history of political Islam

Whenever contemporary Islamists ponder their own genealogy, there are two pivotal figures that invariably come up to invigorate their imaginings. These two reference points of contemporary political Islam are Sayyid Jamal al-din al-Afghani (or Asadabadi)(1838-1897) , and his disciple Mohammad Abduh (1849-1905). Afghani and Abduh lived through a tumultuous period for the ummah whose decline as an organised political entity they tried to prevent in theory and in praxis. They were battling against the inevitable, however, and did not live long enough to witness the abolishment of the caliphate in Turkey in 1924. Now with the Arab revolts yielding a new spring for the Islamists, parallels to these pioneers of the Islamic revival are being dusted down. Are we at the dawn of a new Islamic era in West Asia and North Africa (WANA)? With the Muslim Brotherhood fielding a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections in Egypt, the electoral victory of Ennahda in Tunisia, the emergence of “neo-Ottoman” politics in Turkey, “neo-Shia” authoritarianism in Iraq and the continued influence of the Islamic republic in Iran the headlines almost write themselves. There is no doubt that there is something ‘Islamic’ about what is happening. But what is it exactly?

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