The experience of modernity in Muslim societies has varied from a sense of total disruption of their life world to recognition of progress and improvement in their political economies (Jᾱmi‘a 1984). Muslims perceive modernity in several different ways and vary in their views on its relevance and compatibility to Islam. Muslim modern trends range from reform to total rejection of either tradition or modernity. Discourses on reform also vary in their perception of modernity and tradition. This chapter studies the discourse of Islamic Modernism in order to understand the perceptions of modernity, tradition and reason in Muslim societies. This discourse is chosen particularly because it stresses compatibility of modernity with Islam, and therefore, it is possible to explore the question how it objectifies modernity and explains its compatibility with Islam and what framework it uses to define and reform tradition.
Studying Islamic modernism is quite problematic; no Muslim thinker calls himself Islamic modernist and also the heterogeneous character of this discourse eludes a clear definition. Apparently, this ambiguity is due to the fact that Islamic modernism is one of the three overlapping discourses on reform, modernity and tradition. It is, therefore, important from the outset to distinguish between these discourses.
First discourse, often described as revivalism and reform (Voll 1994, Rahman 2000) continues from pre-modern times. In fact, the ideas of revival (Ihya) and reform (Islah) respectively mean revival of the practice (Sunna) of the first three generations of Islam, also called the Ancestors (Salaf ). and the reform of innovations (Bid’a) introduced by the later generations and that is why it is also called renewal (Tajdid). This discourse was revived very strongly in the eighteenth century by the Wahhabi movement and survives today in similar movements who call themselves Salafis. An international reform...