Islam and Muslims in the West

Major Issues and Debates

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Adis Duderija, Halim Rane
New Directions in Islam
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , July
     259 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


When Samuel Huntington introduced the “clash of civilizations” thesis in the early 1990s, most scholars rejected his argument that civilizations are bound, internally cohesive identities that are inevitably in conflict with one another. Then came al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorism in the United States and Europe, US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other hostilities which reignited the debate—particularly in public-political discourse—about the compatibility of Western and Islamic values. This was further amplified after 2011, as hundreds-of-thousands of Muslims sought refuge in Europe from the Syrian war, sparking populist backlash across the continent. Growing numbers of Muslims in Europe meant that Islam was no longer primarily a foreign policy consideration, but also an internal one, touching on foundational identity issues for Muslims and non-Muslims in Western societies.

These circumstances provide the backdrop for Adis Duderija and Halim Rane’s timely and informative volume, Islam and Muslims in the West: Major Issues and Debates. As the subtitle conveys, the book is an overview of important themes and contentions concerning Islam and Muslim communities in the West, both from an empirical perspective and as analyzed within the rapidly developing academic literature. Focusing on the period post-2001, the authors explore “the issues and controversies concerning immigration and immigrant incorporation, the rights and freedoms of Western, liberal, secular democracies, and the challenges these present to and [are] presented by … Islam and Muslim communities” (3). The book is written for non-specialists, and its accessible, concise synthesis of scholarly debates makes it an excellent text for use in university courses on Islam in the West. 

The authors begin with a brief historical survey of Islamic-Western/Christian interactions, with the primary goal of highlighting the processes and patterns of Otherization. They emphasize that, while Islamic and Western civilizations were central to each’s conceptions of Self and Other over the centuries, the post-colonial period witnessed a less exclusively counter-positional set of identities. Chapter 3 continues this line of argument by presenting classifications of contemporary Western Muslim social orientations. Drawing on the work of Abdullah Saeed, the authors identify eight typologies including legal traditionalists, cultural nominalists, progressive ijtihadis, and Sufis. As with any such effort, there is room for debate about the specific categories, but this section is an important heuristic to illuminate the diversity of worldviews and orientations among Muslims in the West, and how these differences manifest in a variety of religious, political, and social organizations. The chapter concludes with short case studies of two influential transnational Muslim groups—the Hizmet Movement and the European Council for Fatwa and Research.

Additional aspects of the construction of Muslim identity in the West are examined in chapters on immigration, conversion, radicalization, and gender roles. The authors discuss the substantial impact on immigrant Muslim communities of shifting from being the majority culture/religion to becoming minorities in the West. Focusing on issues including the relationship between ethnicity and religion, religiosity, and intergenerational dynamics, they report that “a considerable body of evidence suggests that the religious component of immigrant identity takes on added significance when divorced from its original/inherited environment” (59). 

For Muslim converts—estimated to be less than 5% of the total Muslim population in Europe, and about 20% of the total in the United States—a different set of analytical considerations comes to the fore (145). In particular, research on Muslim converts in the West has sought to understand the motivations for conversion, which versions of Islam are chosen, the experiences of female converts, and familial and societal reactions faced by converts. While emphasizing the range of experiences and motivations of Muslim converts, Duderija and Rane also note that “since the turn of the century, an overrepresentation of converts has been found among radicalised and militant Muslims in the West,” a point they return to in a subsequent chapter on home-grown terrorism (158).

A particularly illuminating chapter examines the emerging Islamic jurisprudence for Muslim minorities in the West, or minority fiqh (fiqh al-aqaliyyat). First motivated by seeking justifications in Islamic law for their permanent presence in Western liberal democracies, minority fiqh developed as Muslims sought answers to “how to live a way of life that is faithful to the Islamic tradition in the context of socio-political, legal, and cultural conditions that were significantly different to those prevalent in Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin” (210). This jurisprudence centers around the degree of adaptation and integration into Western societies that is required or acceptable for Muslim minorities, on issues including participation in politics, service in non-Muslim armies, and paying interest on home loans. Debates over these issues mirror the broader divisions in the social orientations of Western Muslims (from salafi literalist-puritan perspectives to more pragmatic wasati approaches), and may also be of little concern for others (cultural nominalists, secular Muslims).

Of course, the other part of the equation of Muslim identity in the West is the social-political environment within which it is constructed. Duderija and Rane devote two chapters to Western responses to Islam, one analyzing multiculturalism and another on Islamophobia. They make effective use of survey data to demonstrate that although the embrace of ethno-religious diversity embedded in multiculturalism has characterized public policy, intolerance and suspicion of Muslims persists among significant swaths of North American, European, and Australian publics. 

The primary cause of this tension, according to the authors, is not rooted in Western liberal democracies, but rather in the rise of Islamism. Distinguished from Islam as faith, Islamism is the ideological politicization of religion, which has, over time, been dominated by a salafism imported from the Persian Gulf. In the tradition of liberal scholars ranging from Ali Abdel Razek to Bassam Tibi, the authors argue that Islamism is a corruption of the faith and the main obstacle to mutual understanding. In the end, Duderija and Rane embrace the emergence of a distinctly Western Islam, presenting it as the normative antidote to the inflammatory influence of Islamism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jeff VanDenBerg is Professor of Political Science and Director of Middle East Studies at Drury University.

Date of Review: 
April 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Adis Duderija is Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society in the School of Languages and Social Science, Griffith University, Australia. 

Halim Rane is Associate Professor of Islam-West Relations in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University, Australia.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.