Legitimizing Modernity in Islam: Muslim Modus Vivendi and Western Modernity

Author: Kassim, Husain
This present study constructs modernity in Islam. Its value lies in its approach towards finding categories from within the shari' a law to create a space for an alternative possibility of modernity in the Muslim modus vivendi without changing its religious orientation. This unique approach remains within the Muslim tradition yet finding room for modernity in the Muslim world that is compatible with Western modernity. The author is remarkably successful in employing the ideas of Western modernity from Kant through Habermas and recent French theory (Levinas, Derrida etc.) in all its fundamental features such as the concepts of justice, human rights, secularization, individual freedom and society, democracy, gender relations, banking and financial transactions etc. that can be accommodated in the Muslim ethos.


“In the past decade or so, a plethora of literature has been published on the subject of modernity in Islam by Muslim scholars. Part of it is apologetic, defensive, mostly repetitive of claims and cliches and has been written with an evangelical fervor, but some have seriously attempted to develop a modem modus vivendi for understanding the Islamic dogma ... Persons having an intimate knowledge of Islam and Muslim societies and at the same time a deep understanding of Western modernity are comparatively rare. Dr. Husain Kassim is one of the rarities who is in a privileged position to address with authenticity Muslim modus vivendi and Western modernity. The value of the book lies in its approach towards finding specific categories that could allow a reinterpretation of the sharia law … If constant intellectual exercises, like Husain Kassim's are continued, sooner or later they will have an impact on the vast majority of the people living in the Muslim world.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Dr. Manzoor Ahmad, Former Dean Faculty of Arts, University of Karachi and Vice Chancellor Hamdard University

“The topic of this work is extremely important and timely. The contentious issues of the relationship between Islam and modernity are not easy ones, and Dr. Kassim has drawn on his extensive background and study in this area to define a path for this connection and to propose a well-informed justification for it. Dr. Kassim draws on his knowledge of the Muslim traditions in legal, cultural and religious practices, as well as on an understanding of modernism informed by contemporary European thinkers, from Kant through Habermas and recent French theory (Levinas, Derrida, etc.). I think this is quite a unique study that combines expertise in areas that are not often brought together in discussions of Islam ... I recommend this work for publication, and I trust that it will find a wide and significant audience. As I indicated, I think these are extremely important issues that require informed exploration. I believe that Dr. Kassim's work will be a significant contribution in this regard.” – Professor Shaun Gallagher, Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Central Florida

“I have known Dr. Husain for several years. We worked together closely in a seminar on ethics that was held a few years ago at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I mention this fact because, in my view, Husain is a philosopher who is very favorably poised to play a crucial mediating role between the Western and the Islamic worlds. He is well versed in both traditions, philosophically, religiously, and culturally. His book reflects these facts. The book, which is clearly written, interprets Islamic ways to the West, and it does the same as it reflects on Western traditions in relation to Islamic culture and thought. In these difficult times, when the need for greater understanding between these two orientations is pronounced, this book will provide a valuable service.” – John K. Roth, Edward J Sexton Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for The Study Of The Holocaust, Genocide, And Human Rights, Claremont McKenna College

"A masterpiece in its own genre, this book calls for compulsive reading, deep thought and serious deliberation by all those who minds are agitated by the 'clash of civilizations,' orthodox and liberals alike. The forceful arguments and the mass of supportive evidence keep the reader's attention riveted from the beginning to the end." - S.G. Jilanee, DAWN, August 2005

"The question of Islam's compatability with modernity has primarily been approached from one of three methodological positions: First, Islam (as variable) must adapt itself to modernity (as constant) by eliminating all beliefs and practices that are incompatible with modernity; second, "Islamic modernity" rejects all modernist principles that are inconsistent with Islamic teachings; and third, modernity and Islam are mutually compatible and reconcilable, when based on a particular (re)interpretation of Islam. The author, who adheres to the third approach, thus questions whether a society can be simultaneously Islamic and adhere to modernity's general criteria ... The book's methodological approach seeks to create a space for modernity in the Islamic world based not on changing, but rather on accommodating, Islamic cultural, social, and political facts ... Dr. Kassim's text can be useful to those interested in debates surrouding modernity and Islam. One of its strengths is his suggestion of a framework in which to engage this debate through identifying concepts and ideas important to both Islamic and the modernist intellectual traditions." - The American Journal of Islamic Social Studies

Table of Contents

1. Concept of Knowledge in Western Modernity and the Muslim modus vivendi
2. Shari'a Law, Modernity and Secularization in the Muslim modus vivendi
3. Jihad and Just War
4. Democracy: The Concept of freedom and Equality in Western Modernity and the Concept of Obedience and Justice in the Muslim modus vivendi
5. Human Rights in the Muslim modus vivendi and the Western Modernity
6. Traditionalism, Modernism and Secularism in the Muslim modus vivendi
7. Gender Relations in the Muslim modus vivendi and Western Modernity
8. Western versus Islamic Institutions of Banking, Finance and their Operations
9. Individual and Societal Individual in Western Modernity and the Muslim modus vivendi
10. Ethical Discourse in Western Modernity and the Muslim modus vivendi
Concluding Remarks
Select Bibliography