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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Shattering the Myth
Bruce B. Lawrence

(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998)
237pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 17.95; 0-691-05769-9.

Books with the word 'Islam' in their titles have appeared with increasing frequency since the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979. Today, the presence of active Islamist movements around the world, and the United States confrontation with Islamist governments in Sudan and Afghanistan, reinforce popular Western images of Islam as a 'violent' or 'irrational' religion.

In Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence, Bruce Lawrence takes us beyond the headlines and CNN broadcasts and shows us an Islam that is not quite as neat and tidy as is popularly presented. Lawrence argues that Islam is a complex religious system that is shaped by its own ethical and moral demands as much as by the interaction between Muslim peoples and the modern world. Therefore, it is folly to speak of one monolithic Islam or of a single cohesive Islamic 'fundamentalist' movement.

To buttress his case, the author explores ways in which Muslims are engaged in reformist and developmental activities across the world today, especially in the Muslim communities of Southeast Asia. The author is particularly interested in the changing role of women in many Muslim societies and discusses their positions in states as diverse as Pakistan, Egypt, and Iran.

This lively essay is a concise and engaging read. Anyone befuddled by the simplistic images put out by many Western media or those interested in an overview of a number of issues that confront Muslims in today's world would do well to read this work.

Lawrence Tal

Lawrence Tal

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