Date of Award

12-1-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Hashim Gibrill

Abstract

This dissertation is a study of the dynamics and direction of contemporary Islamic activism. It examines why some Muslims turn to Islamic activism and what determines the direction of this movement. It focuses on the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, one of the most influential Islamic activist movements in South Asia. The study particularly explores the factors that contributed to the rise of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, and the subsequent transformation of this movement.

The basic premise of this study is that the appeal of the contemporary Islamic activism is primarily religious, but wherever and whenever it participates in a democratic system, moderation is critical to its wider appeal and political success.

By examining the historical roots, ideological discourse, organizational mechanism and the strategy of the Jamaat-e-Islami based on both primary and secondary source materials, the study uncovers that while at the core of this movement is a religious reawakening and rhetoric that were generated by new kind of Islamic discourses and sustained by a well-knit organizational network, this awakening being the result of one particular reading of Islam has attracted only a limited number of adherents. Having failed to win the hearts and minds of the majority as reflected in repeated electoral showings, the Jamaat has turned to redefine its ideology and socio-political agenda by adopting a “pragmatic” and relatively “liberal” approach in the political arena. While it is still experiencing dilemmas in reconciling and re-interpreting much of its agenda, the transformation the party has gone through in Bangladesh is significant, for it demonstrates its flexible character and a trend toward further moderation.

Empirical findings of this study have wider theoretical implications. First, contemporary Islamic movements are not necessarily fundamentalist, reactive or radical, as they are often portrayed in the literature of this subject. In contrast, this study finds that while a degree of nostalgia is at work in Islamic activism in that it often refers back to the early history of Islam, it nevertheless embraces modernity. Second, this study unveils the diverse character of the Islamic activism that can be radical as well as moderate. It also shows that the character of an Islamic movement is shaped not just by a particular reading of Islam, but also by the context in which it operates. In other words, the nature of contemporary Islamic activism is largely contextual. Third, the ideological position and character of Islamic movements are still evolving. Fourth (and finally), pluralist democracy helps moderate the character of an Islamic movement, especially when the latter becomes the part of this process.

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