How to make Islam compatible with contemporary notions of democracy, legality and the state?
In this brilliantly argued book, Mohamed Charfi tackles this pressing question facing all Arab-Muslim nations today. Contemporary Arab governments have yet to conceive the very idea of democracy in terms of today's criteria, and until they do so, the debate between traditionalists and democrats cannot progress. Charfi rejects the position of those who downplay Islamist violence and legitimise fundamentalist positions. But, although he is attuned to the relationship between some forms of Islamism and popular dispossession, he remains convinced that fundamentalist constructions are deeply damaging for all people, not least for women.
Charfi believes passionately that those Arabs who campaign for freedom and democracy are not deracinated supporters of Western constructs. Rather, they are treading the same precarious but necessary path as thinkers such as Mohammed Abdoh and Tahar Haddad who called for a new understanding of Islam and modernity over 100 years ago. Sadly, however, the 21st century is witnessing a regression in the independence of the law from holy writ.
Charfi advocates a profound revision of Islamic thought. He insists on a new reading of Islamic history and Islamic law and presses for a society that allows for dissent, secularism and freedom of belief. Above all, he stresses the overriding importance of educational reform - an area where he himself played a pivotal role in pioneering when minister of education in his own country, Tunisia, in the early 1990s.
This book is an important example of the courageous voices from within the Muslim world that are calling for a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between religion and society quite independently of, and with a very different agenda from, the external pressures emanating from the United States.