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
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
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