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The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change Hardcover – November 24, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Like all religions, Islam becomes what it is as its adherents contest, negotiate, remake, and shape it in ways appropriate to each time and place, passing its traditions on from one generation to the next. In this excellent study, Zaman (religious studies, Brown Univ.) carefully examines how the ulama, Muslim scholars educated in the traditional religious manner, have artfully navigated their responses to colonial and postcolonial circumstances. Zaman shows how the ulama have appropriated and adapted medieval commentaries and authorities to the modern world, updating Islam's message to contemporary necessities. He identifies the rhetorical and social strategies they used to transmit that message effectively in the marketplace of Muslim ideas. The Deobandi sect of British India and Pakistan is his primary case in point, but he makes frequent comparisons to parallel developments among ulama elsewhere in the Muslim world. For those who wish to understand some of the ways Islam constitutes itself in the contemporary world, this persuasive study provides a well-argued and nuanced analysis of this aspect of contemporary Islam. For all academic and larger public libraries, as well as special collections in religion, sociology, and political science.
Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"A detailed, carefully researched monographic study. . . . Among other things, it demonstrates that the received image of Muslim clerics . . . as passive, unworldly reactionaries bound to an atemporal, socially withdrawn Islam is thoroughly misconceived. In many places, by now perhaps most, they are seen as members of vanguard groups in the renovation of traditional Islamic society and belief."--Clifford Geertz, The New York Review of Books

Muhammad Qasim Zaman [writes] . . . with a magisterial command of both the internal discourses the ulama use among themselves and the dynamics of national and international developments. In addition, he builds his arguments with an extraordinarily rich mix of relevant examples, rarely seen and well referenced documentation, plus discerning support from other researchers, theorists, and commentators. . . . Zaman offers what amounts to a new working definition of the ulama that locates them not at the edge but at the center of discussions charting the course of Islam in the next century."--Patrick Gaffney, American Historical Review

"This book, a shining example of thorough and deliberate scholarship, forces us to re-evaluate commonly held misperceptions of the religious class and madrasa education more generally. . . . With this unique volume, Qasim Zaman has finally provided something long missing in the field of Islamic studies: a comprehensive analysis of contemporary ulama as dynamic interpreters and producers of religious knowledge--and an analysis of the absolutely highest quality at that."--Peter Mandaville, International Sociology

"Muhammad Qasim Zaman's book de-stereotypes the ulama, especially the view that they are inflexible in their attitudes, generally resistant to social changes, and, as a consequence, become redundant. He clarifies that the community of religious scholars that has existed in Muslim societies for more than a thousand years has also witnessed resurgence in contemporary Muslim societies."--Mohammad Talib, Journal of Islamic Studies

"[An] excellent study. . . For those who wish to understand some of the ways Islam constitutes itself in the contemporary world, this persuasive study provides a well-argued and nuanced analysis of this aspect of contemporary Islam."--Library Journal

"A very important and scholarly work . . . this book shows how the Ulama have responded to the challenges of a rapidly changing world."--Choice

"Muhammad Qasim Zaman dispels any notion of the homogeneity of Muslim thought in The Ulama in Contemporary Islam, a masterly study of the role of the 'ulama' in India and, after 1947, in Pakistan."--Mahmood Ibrahim, Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies

"With this book Muhammad Qasim Zaman has placed the modern 'ulama' squarely into the debates over the rise and appeal of Islamist movements. . . . The book presents a well-documented exploration of the 'ulama' in the Subcontinent, and an important comparison of the modern 'ulama' of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India."--Richard McGregor, Islamic Studies


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691096805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691096803
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Vinod K. Jairath on July 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a well-argued book, which brings out the complexity of the role of the ulama in contemporary Muslim societies with clarity and simple elegance. It deals with the response of the ulama after the encounter of Islam with the moment of rupture constituted by colonialism and Western modernity.

Running throughout the book, Zaman examines the contextually defined, dynamic relationships of cooperation and contradiction between the modernists, the Islamists and the ulama. Whereas modernism and Islamism, trends that emerged in the Muslim world since the late nineteenth century, are seen to be largely rooted in modern, Westernized institutions of education, the ulama are generally perceived to be carriers of "tradition," which in turn is conceptualized as static and unresponsive to the modern world. "Modernist" Muslim intellectuals have sought `to find ways of making Islam compatible with what they have taken to be the challenge of modern age' (p.7). The Islamists, on the other hand, `are drawn to initiatives aimed at radically altering the contours of their societies and states through the public implementation of norms they take as "truly" Islamic' (p.8). The interests of the modernists and the Islamists are generally perceived to be opposed to those of the ulama and they share the view that `one certainly does not need the ulama to interpret Islam to the ordinary believers' (p.10). It is implied that ulama are tied to a frozen tradition. However, Zaman demonstrates in this book that `boundaries between the ulama and the "modernists" can become blurred, just as they sometimes do between the ulama and the Islamists' (p.10). Thus the ulama are not only engaged in religiopolitical activism, like the Islamists, but also participate in redefining and reconstituting "tradition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TheBit on March 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is an amazing work by Zaman on the role of the Ulama, or Muslim religious scholars, in society today. Zaman takes the examples of the Deobandi ulama, which hailed from the religious seminary in Deoband, India, as a case in point to demonstrate his thesis. The ulama are shown to be cognizant of modern problems, not simply confined to their madrassas and preaching fundamentalism, as they are usually depicted. Indeed, as the title indicates, the Ulama play such a large role in Muslim societies that they are a major factor in the evolution of any of these societies. Zaman eventually discusses the issue of ulama and their role in extremism, as any good work should. But Zaman demonstrates that the ulama themselves are not a single, united group, and many have vastly different ideologies.
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