Islamism and Islam


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Bassam Tibi

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A distinguished scholar of international politics clarifies what is widely misunderstood in the West: Islam and Islamism are not two words for the same thing

Despite the intense media focus on Muslims and their religion since the tragedy of 9/11, few Western scholars or policymakers today have a clear idea of the distinctions between Islam and the politically based fundamentalist movement known as Islamism. In this important and illuminating book, Bassam Tibi, a senior scholar of Islamic politics, provides a corrective to this dangerous gap in our understanding. He explores the true nature of contemporary Islamism and the essential ways in which it differs from the religious faith of Islam.

Drawing on research in twenty Islamic countries over three decades, Tibi describes Islamism as a political ideology based on a reinvented version of Islamic law. In separate chapters devoted to the major features of Islamism, he discusses the Islamist vision of state order, the centrality of antisemitism in Islamist ideology, Islamism's incompatibility with democracy, the reinvention of jihadism as terrorism, the invented tradition of shari'a law as constitutional order, and the Islamists' confusion of the concepts of authenticity and cultural purity. Tibi's concluding chapter applies elements of Hannah Arendt's theory to identify Islamism as a totalitarian ideology.

Bassam Tibi is Professor Emeritus of International Relations, University of Göttingen and former A. D. White Professor-at-Large, Cornell University. In 2010, he was the Resnick Scholar for the Study of Antisemitism at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is the author of three dozen previous books, including most recently Islam's Predicament with Modernity. He lives in Göttingen, Germany.


Islamism and Islam is an excellent scholarly study of the tensions between Islamism and modern secular democracy by a renowned scholar.  Bassam Tibi's Islam is our hope for the world.”—Paul Cliteur, author of The Secular Outlook

"Islamism and Islam ought to be essential reading for students and scholars alike. Bassam Tibi brings his years of expertise to material that is understudied and often misunderstood in the academy and by policymakers. This brave and timely text provides an interdisciplinary, high-caliber, scholarly analysis of a subject that is of profound importance."—Charles Small, founder and director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism

"With Islam and Islamism, we have Bassam Tibi’s strongest contribution to date with respect to issues raised by groups that are usually described as 'militant' or 'radical'.  Tibi’s discussions of antisemitism and totalitarian ideology are illuminating, as is his delineation of civil Islam as an alternative."—John Kelsay, author of Arguing the Just War in Islam

"Bassam Tibi’s book is a must-read for those interested in currents in the Muslim world.  He challenges the secularist bias that informs most Western analysis, rightfully arguing that the “religionized politics” of Islamism is not only a challenge to Western democratic values, but also to the faith commitments of many Muslims worldwide.  The good news is that he envisions a possible alternative to the clash of civilizations: respect, sharing, and learning between East and West."—Eric Patterson, Associate Director of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Visiting Professor of Government, and author of Ending Wars Well (Yale University Press, 2012)

“Bassam Tibi marshals all of his formidable argumentative power to explore deeply contested ideas about the nature of contemporary Islam. Beyond agreement and disagreement he seeks the reader’s intellectual engagement—and succeeds admirably.”—Peter J. Katzenstein, Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies, Cornell University

“A disturbing yet hopeful book. In a learned and trenchant study, Tibi brings out the dangers inherent in political Islam ("Islamism"), while showing how Islam as a religion and culture is open to tolerance and possible co-existence with other religions. A must and a truly masterful guide to the perplexed.” —Shlomo Avineri, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Fascinating and nuanced, Tibi's book makes it clear that Islam itself is compatible with democracy. This book is essential to understanding the contemporary Arab Islamic world, and should be required reading for all scholars who write about this region. It is highly recommended."—Robert S. Fortner, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, American University in Bulgaria, and Research Scholar, Institute of Communications Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“The author deserves the readers' thanks for his effort to bring to a fuller viewing those contemporary Islamist practices and understandings that do not conform to Islamic tradition. . . . We must admire his courage.”—Dale Stover, ID: International Dialogue
ISBN: 9780300159981
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4