In Arab countries and in the Muslim world currents and movements aiming to achieve an integral Islamisation of society are growing increasingly stronger. They share both a need to pursue an original identity and the anxiety of redemption. They attempt to reinstate a proper relationship between religion and politics, which they feel is the basis of Islam, its expansion and its accomplishments during its golden era. To what extent does this ideology actually reflect Islamic tradition? Why do other voices, such as those of Muslim reformists, command so few followers in today's world? Paolo Branca addresses these issues by placing them in a wider context and describing the last century's conflicts between innovation and traditions. The text also discusses Islam's ambiguous relationship with the West, considered a positive reference point by modernists, but a negative one by fundamentalists. It is a paradox that radical groups' behaviour, methods, and ideologies - far from being archaic and pre-modern leftovers of a bygone era - are a product of modernity to no lesser a degree than their adversaries. The author often cites important Muslim figures, activists, and intellectuals in order to throw light on debates occurring inside the world of Islam, debates that are more intense and painstaking than outsiders might think.
Paolo Branca is a scholar of Islam and teaches Arabic at the Catholic University of Milan.