Supported by solid research, Rothman explores the complicated tension between tradition and modernization in three very different Muslim countries.
Iran, Turkey and Egypt have embraced the modern world with various levels of enthusiasm, and struggled to establish a national identity that both honors their Islamic pasts and addresses a need–influenced by the West–for economic strength, political stability and social justice. Iran, calling itself an â€œIslamic Republic” since 1980, has rejected the tendency to move to a more secular society and remains strongly determined to revere the Qur’an as the supreme guide on all cultural, legal and political issues. Turkey, on the other hand, strives for a spirit of democracy, even though the country is nearly 98 percent Muslim. Perhaps because it straddles both Europe and Asia, the Turkish nation has always enjoyed a political and social pluralism that other Islamic countries have not. Egypt seems to exist as a country that, while declaring Islam the national religion, still resists the idea of a governing body devoted to that religion. Many Egyptians identify themselves as Muslims but enjoy the benefits of a contemporary world. Zeroing in on the struggle between religion and politics, Rothman carefully outlines the complex history of each country, moving from the Ottoman Empire’s Tulip Era to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The author is particularly effective when investigating the emerging educational institutions–the Madrassahs, the Qur’anic mosque schools, the innovative Gulen schools in Turkey that emphasize self-discipline and tolerance–in each of the Muslim countries. Thankfully, the clarity and confidence of the prose prevents the book from becoming a dry, enigmatic exercise. In the end, this compelling look into the nature of the Islamic state asks an important and difficult question: Does the identity of a nation spring from its desire to embrace the modern world or from its membership in a traditional religious community?
Informative and highly readable–an insightful journey through the wonder and mystery of Islam.