Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Samuel Helfont on Islam and Islamism

Samuel Helfont

Regular readers know that Islam and Islamism are two terms I've often discussed and distinguished, using the rule of thumb that "Islam" is the religion and that "Islamism" is the political use of Islam. This distinction, however, is problematic, as we shall see. But first, let's read what the Islam expert Samuel Helfont offers as his views on "Islam and Islamism: A Primer for Teachers and Students" (FPRI Footnote, Vol. 20, No. 9, August 2015):
Disputes over Islam and Islamism continue to rage in the Islamic World and in Muslim communities in the West. Islamists often refer to themselves simply as Muslims and they claim that those who oppose their ideas also necessarily oppose Islam. They root their ideas in a particular reading of history. If Muhammad combined political and religious authority, then how could Muslims disavow the role of politics in Islam? This is a powerful argument.
Agreed, the fact that Muhammad is a moral exemplar for Muslims makes the distinction between Islam and Islamism problematic and weighs in favor of Islamism as the true Islam, for if Muhammad combined the two roles of religious leader and political leader (not to mention military leader and highest judge), then how can one separate Islam from politics?

Nevertheless, Helfont brings as much nuance to bear against Islamism as he can find in Muslim sources and history, and he thereby provides important information on politics and Islam throughout history.

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