Review – Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam And Society (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002): R. Hassan.

S. Zainuddin

Riaz Hassan: Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam And Society (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002) xviii + 276pp., $49.95 (hardback).
For Journal of Sociology. 40.3 (Sept 2004): 306(3). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Flinders University Library. 23 Dec. 2007

COPYRIGHT 2004 Addison Wesley Longman Higher Education

Religious traditions are not practised by their followers in any socially pure or context-independent form. These traditions are shaped by historical and political experiences, along with interpretations of society and its constituting elements. Religion is, therefore, neither beyond space and time nor above human interpretations. Its virtues are not transcendental but immanent. Every religion operates in a social setting and is crucially influenced in its ideals and values by local conditions. The followers of religion, it needs to be emphasized, do not blindly conform to these values and rules of religious conduct. They selectively appropriate them within the context of their experiences, attitudes, emotions and interests. The beliefs and practices of religious believers are shaped by both their objective interests and subjective experiences. This being so, the practice of religion is never uniform or singular, and gets pluralized in myriad ways. This includes the emerging contradictions between theological and sociological orientations.
The book under review demonstrates that Islam is a religion with multiple traditions, and also highlights the multiple sociological nuances within any given tradition. It successfully reveals the complexities through which one particular tradition is reflected in a variety of ways in a given context from the vantage point of particular societies. Riaz Hassan’s book sets out to examine the relationship between Islam and society with reference to some socioeconomic and demographic variables operating in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Egypt. This comparative study is based on the responses obtained through a structured survey questionnaire administered to 4500 people from four countries. The book consists of nine chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion that summarizes the findings and discusses their future implications.
The introductory chapter provides a theoretical perspective and surveys existing literature on Islam. The second chapter explores the nature and content of Muslim piety based on Stark and Glock’s formulation which encompasses the ideological, ritualistic, devotional, experiential and consequential dimensions. The author notes ‘that religion, and in particular, reliance on religion in the activities of everyday life, features significantly in the lives of significant numbers of Indonesians, Pakistanis and Egyptians’ (p. 71). For the Kazakh Muslims, the author informs us, ‘Religion played only a marginal and insignificant role in their strategies to find solutions to their problems and in the decision making process’ (p. 72). This is a striking divergence from their co-religionists of Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt and is explained by the author as a consequence of the long span of communist rule. This appears to the present book reviewer to be too simplistic an explanation. Besides the role of the state, the author should have examined the role of such other factors as secular education and the influence of the long established sufi traditions of central Asian regions. A more serious difficulty in the work perhaps lies in the persistent effort to capture religious beliefs and sentiments through the application of quantitative methods of analysis. Quantitative analysis can be of help in understanding social forms and structures, but is clearly quite inept in handling issues of emotions and experiences, and in using the processual dynamic of any social phenomenon, particularly religion. Moreover, this reviewer also feels that on quite a few occasions the application of statistical methods was quite crude and simplistic. As an example one could cite the attempt to categorize the socio-religious perspectives of respondents simply on the basis of a Yes/No response to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The third chapter reports that the majority of respondents in Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt adhere to ‘scriptural Islam’. This conclusion is drawn from the fact that the overall universe of the study covers heavily the middle-class respondents comprising religious elites, professionals, etc. The study privileges the middle-class discourses of Islam and marginalizes the discourses of underprivileged groups. This imbalance should have been rectified to understand the deeply entrenched epistemological interests of the religious elites.
These points of criticism apart, some of the interesting points emerging from the book are worth mentioning. The social construction of religious piety by global and local societal conditions; assessing the role of religious institutions in societies where religion and politics are both intertwined and disjointed; the association of resurgent religious piety with political liberalization and diminishing support for militant Islamic groups etc.
The book reads well as it is free of jargon. Being an empirical study, its strength lies in its ability to conduct large-scale surveys systematically across societies. It is, indeed, a valuable contribution to the understanding of Islam as a lived religion.
S. Zainuddin
Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India
Gale Document Number:A123675745

© 2007 Gale, a part of The Thomson Corporation. Thomson and Star Logo are trademarks and are registered trademarks used herein under license


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