‘Reformist Islam’, today an oft-heard slogan, is notoriously difficult to define, for it can mean different things to different people. Recent years have witnessed the sudden burgeoning of volumes on the subject, but this book is not just a repetition of what has already been written before. Ambitiously global in its scope, it brings together writings by well-known Islamic scholars and activists, each of who provides a broad survey of ‘reformist’ Muslim voices in the part of the world that they are most familiar with—Shireen Hunter, editor of this book, on Iran, the noted Egyptian scholar Hasan Hanafi on North Africa, Riffat Hasan on South Asia, Martin van Bruinessen on Indonesia, Farish Noor on Malaysia, Recep Senturk on Turkey, Farhad Khosrokhavar on Europe, and Tamara Sonn on the United States.
These writers deal with a number of other contemporary Muslim scholars and scholar-activists, outlining their own and varied approaches to the question of reform in Islamic thought. These are simply too numerous to name, leave alone discuss, here, but they all share certain common methodologies and, to an extent, goals.
Firstly, these scholars all insist that what they are engaged in reforming is not Islam itself, but, rather, certain aspects of commonly-held human understandings of Islam. They see their task as seeking to revive what they regard as more authentic understandings on these issues.
Secondly, they are profoundly dissatisfied with the approach of the traditionalist ulema, wedded to the doctrine of taqlid or imitation of jurisprudential precedent, of the ulema allied with state authorities (who generally do their bidding) and of radical Islamists.