Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies
by Cheryl Benard
Santa Monica, Arlington, Pittsburgh: Rand Corporation, 2003. 72 pp. $20, paper.
Reviewed by Khaleel Mohammed
San Diego State University
Middle East Quarterly
In this extremely short work, Benard seeks to structure a design that will allow for better interaction between the West and the Islamic world. Her credentials are worth noting: she is a senior political analyst at the RAND Corporation, former associate professor of political science at the University of Vienna, and is a specialist in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Her approach is certainly commendable. She offers a useful seven-part typology of Muslims: radical fundamentalists, scriptural fundamentalists, conservative traditionalists, reformists, traditionalists, modernists, mainstream secularists, and radical secularists. She rightly points out that the fundamentalists and traditionalists have a good infrastructure upon which to rely. And she astutely notes that some aspects of U.S. culture work to the traditionalists' advantage since this group, with its view of its Islamic garb, better fits the image most Americans expect.
Yet, she unwittingly downplays the danger of fundamentalist and traditionalist Islam by assuming that modernists become professors at universities. It may be that many modernists teach Islamic studies at many universities, but many Muslim professors in other disciplines are rabid fundamentalists and traditionalists, both deeply anti-American. They misuse their classroom and power to spew venomous propaganda—and these are often the professors to whom Muslim students look for guidance.
While identifying some problematic elements such as anti-democratic websites and traditionalist conferences at universities that propound hostile views to the United States, she never once mentions the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Muslim American Society (MAS)—two of the biggest problem groups that purport to be the Muslim voice in the United States. She also chooses to avoid the discussion of the attitudes of different Muslim groups on the issue of Israel—a subject that underlines the interaction between the Muslim world and the United States.
Her analysis of the U.S. government's inappropriate dealing with the hijab issue is insightful: by appearing to endorse the headscarf, the government sided with the fundamentalists. Her idea to work towards promoting modernists and pitting them against fundamentalists, and in fact, pitting one group against another is a pragmatic one.
There are some problems in detail. Benard supplies a glossary in the introductory pages, but she identifies ijma‘ as community consensus, and sura as a section or verse of the Qur'an. "Scholarly consensus" and "chapter" are better definitions. Benard writes too often as though interpreting the Qur'an, which leads to other mistakes. She rightly assumes that modernist Muslims do not see the need for hijab, but she claims that the Qur'an itself "manifestly does not support the hijab." Given that hijab is taken now to mean the women's dress in general, Qur'an 24:31 or 33:59 can be used to refute her argument.
This is far too important a subject for Benard to leave here. Let us hope that, in conjunction with the many capable specialists on these issues, she will broaden the scope of her study.
Related Topics: Islam | Khaleel Mohammed | Summer 2005 MEQ
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