Historical event have regularly shifted the normative bases for the study of Islamic activism.

For example,
the stance of scholars and the public towards Islamic activism following the 1979 Iranian Revolution was
quite different from that during the Afghan resistance to the Russian occupation. The events of
September 11, 2001, precipitated yet another tectonic shift in attitudes toward Islamic activism as
monolithic---and, in this case, malevolent---challenges any nuanced study of Islamic movement.
This progression, through the Enlightenment writers, colonial perceptions, the weberian paradigm,
structural-functionalists/modernization theory, and the current analysis of Islamic movements and their
leaders, all represents a continuum of binary divisions. These divisions were and still are the products of
historical circumstance and the cultural memory of the west. The understanding of rationality,
modernity, and democratic practice has also been built on the historical/cultural memories of the
Western experience.
Unfortunately, the majority if studies of Islamic activism and its leaders fall into two analytical traps:
Some investigators have chosen to study Islamic movements as a temporary malaise or hindrance to
proper development and civility. This genre perpetuates the division between “Us” (the civilized,
modern, and democratic) and “Them” (the uncivilized, backwards, and undemocratic). The second
group is the “cultural relativist” genre, in which Islamic movements, for example, are considered
rationalist because in the end they achieve their prioritized goals. These writers try to include Islamic
movements in their analysis but still cling to assumption leading to the externalization of Islamic
movements and their leaders. Both sets of analysis highlight profound differences.
This chapter illustrates that the influence of the enlightenment era is still alive and well in political
theory as applied to Islamic activist movements. Said would argue that the historical continuum does
represent an “Orientalist” bias. The continuum presented in this chapter reveals at different points
across time that there are specific binary divisions between the rational and the irrational and primarily
between reason and faith. The trajectory of history reflects ebbs and flows in the Western perception of
Muslim societies and Islamic movements. Over time, these perceptions were not consistently negative,
and not all purposefully designed to serve relations of power and realpolitik, although in certain periods,
for example in pre-colonial and colonial times, they did abet power and realpolitik interests.
One could argue that contemporary analyses of Islamic movement reflect realpolitik interests and biases.
However, as in Lamartine and Berque’s day, two opposing schools of thought, Lewis and Huntington
versus Esposito and Voll, are in contention. The paradigmatic and epistemological influences of the
Enlightenment are alive and well in contemporary research agendas.
It is only through constructive comparisons and analyses of compatible ideas/practices that the
conceptual division between rational/irrational, modern/traditional, democratic/undemocratic will be
laid to rest at last. Such comparisons can only begin through an understanding of the leader’s ideologues
of Islamic movements both on their own merits and in a comparative framework. As Euben writes:
movement without reference to the adherents’ own understanding of the connection between action
and meaning.

Shatibi’s influence on the remnats of Muslim Spain are well recognized in the legacy that he left to his
students,individuals like Abu Yehya Ibn Aim, Abu, Bakr al-Kady, and Abu Abdallah al-Bayani (Abu AlAjfan
1984:40). His observance and stress on public welfare also led the people to question elements of
habitualized practices that were detached in spirit from their faith. His scrutiny of certain public
practices was met with resistance, however, his theoretical contribution to the sources of Islamic
las )Usul al-Fiqh) activated religious inquiry in Muslim Spain and it still continues to engaged
Furthermore, Shatibi was a unique scholar in his day and age, given his fatwas (legal opinion). For
example, people went to Shatibi asking him about his legal opinion of a Bedouin woman who was
teaching the Qua’an to other of Bedouin woman who was teaching the Qur’an to other women and girls.
Shatibi responded that is she knew how to read it without making any mistakes and if she did not sing
the Qur’an instead of just reciting it, then her teaching was valuable, Shatibi added, however, that what
was common to a lot of women, as well as men, was that they did not read the Qur’an accurately.
Shatibi appreciated the Bedouin women’s efforts (provided that she stuck to the rules of recitation) and
he also equated men and women in their poor knowledge of reading the Qur’an accurately. That is to
say, he did not discriminate against the Bedouin on the basis of her gender.
In another fatwa, Shatibi responded to a North African scholar who discussed the problem of being
distracted during prayers. The North African scholar said that if a person was thinking about something
during prayers, the person should get rid of whatever preoccupied him, even if it was worth 50
thousand dirhams. Shatibi responded that if everyone followed this fatwa, everyone would lose
everything they owned and their families! Then, what if the person was preoccupied with his poverty
and his plight? How could he get rid of that during prayers? (Raysouni 1991: 119-20).
Obviously, Shatibi was not of the opinion that Muslims should not pay attention to prayers. However, h
was utilizing a very important principle in the legal interpretation of Islamic laws and mores:
If following the rules and mores, generally, leads the person to hardship (hardship that the law and
human reason do not accept), then the rule of the law could not be generalized in tis applicability.
(Shatibi, Al-Muwafaqat: part1:102)
In line with the rest of his writings, Shatibi sresses here that there are exceptions to the rule. For
example, if the rules leads to extreme hardship, that hardship goes against the essence and spirit of the
In conclusion, I would like to restate that the binary division between faith and reason was not part of
the Muslim understanding and ethos. On the contrary, what Shatibi seems to argue in his contributions
to the sources of Islamic law (Usul al-Fiqh) is that faith and reason are complementary to each other.
As a scholar, Shatibi’s contributions in the fourteenth century were relevant in his lifetime, after his
death, and up until today.
In an article published in Boston Revies Khaled Abouel-Fadl writes about the compatibility of Islam and
Democracy, using notions reminiscent of Shatibi’s works. In resonse to Abou el-Fadl’s article, John
Esposito writes:
Modern reformers in the twentieth century began to reinterpret key traditional Islamic concepts and
institutions: consultation (shura) of rulers with those ruled, consensus (ijma) of the community,
reinterpretation (ijtihad), and legal principles such as the public welfare

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