The journal > Year 13 No. 25 September 2017

Who Speaks for Muslims?

Year 13 No. 25 September 2017


In Search of a Leader

Authority – not to be confused with power – is an anthropological constant and no culture, to the extent that it is also tradition, can do without it

Martino Diez


The Qur’an as a Political Programme

The Islamists claim to be restoring the thinking and practices of the first Islamic communities. They appropriate the sacred texts in order to construct their own concept of a theo-democratic government founded on the notion of divine sovereignty. Such a notion would purportedly date back to Islam’s formative period. In this way, the various (and, principally, a-political) interpretations that can be found in the oldest sources are ignored

Asma Afsaruddin

How the Shi‘ite Clergy Entered Politics

Born as a revolutionary movement, Shi‘ite Islam saw the role of the ulama grow constantly and uninterruptedly during the course of its history until a genuine hierarchy, dominated by the authority of the marja‘iyya, was created from the nineteenth century onward. After the Khomeinist revolution, this institution entered into competition with the office of the Supreme Iranian Leader and is, today, at a crossroads: will the Āyatollah al-Sīstānī be its last great exponent in Iraq?

Rainer Brunner

The Sufis’ Soft Power

Friendship with God is the source of authority. In Sufism, it is the Almighty who chooses whom to honour, elect, sanctify and bless with the knowledge and spiritual powers that will make him a guide in his domain. In mystical texts, this holiness is likened to the trunk of a tree with many branches. Each branch produces a force that is transformed into a real form of leadership capable of shaping the culture of the society of the day

Souad al-Hakim

Fatwas as a Weapon against Fanaticism

It is in states’ interests to have strong religious institutions capable of carrying out a profound reform and generating a new discourse on faith

Ridwan Al-Sayyid

Does al-Azhar Speak for All Sunnis?

The Egyptian mosque-university is often called “Islam’s Vatican”. This ancient institution is certainly one of the most prestigious centres of Muslim learning in the world but to accord it primacy in religious interpretation means not to understand the nature of authority in Sunni Islam. If it cannot claim that absolute leadership that the West attributes to it, today it nevertheless aspires to lead Islam’s renewal

Michele Brignone

The Unpublished Text on Islam’s Reform

An Egyptian intellectual has prepared a document for al-Azhar on the renewal of religious discourse, a highly debated subject in Egypt. The text tackles sensitive issues and, partly for this reason, has not been made public

Salah Fadl

Saudi Ulama, Guardians of Change

The theologian Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb guaranteed the Saudi rulers their religious legitimacy. The sovereigns, in their turn, granted the cleric and his followers a monopoly on Islam’s interpretation. Exported throughout the world thanks to the kingdom’s huge resources, even this controversial, ultra-conservative doctrine has had to cope with the modernization that has thrown the founding pact into crisis and generated conflict within the religious establishment

Raihan Ismail

Muslim Authority meets Europe. And Changes

The state of Islamic leadership on the Continent has been described as a “deafening cacophony of voices.” For decades, the various countries’ institutions have been struggling to find interlocutors from amongst an ever-increasing number of organized mosques, religious associations and imams who are either self-taught or tied to foreign nations. Whilst the European authorities find the top-level fragmentation problematic, it is nevertheless a resource for its actors

Abdessamad Belhaj


The Twelve “Keepers” of the Qur’an

The Qur’an needs a "Keeper" as sensory organs need a heart

Martino Diez

The Imam as Divine Proof

In the most important collection of Shi‘ite hadīths, the imams’ pivotal role emerges already from the choice to report not only the traditions ascribed to Muhammad, but also those attributed to his successors. Not a few of these sayings concern the need for an infallible guide inspired by God. This cannot consist solely in the Qur’an, the object of divergent and conflicting interpretations: a “keeper” is needed, just as sense organs need a heart.

Passages from al-Kulaynī

Theology-Fiction: Prophesying the Umma to Come

Into the crisis of authority in contemporary Sunni Islam

Martino Diez

The Erosion of Sharia

Al-Juwaynī imagines an Islamic world that no longer has either a caliph or the unitary government of an “imam of usurpation” or a sultan. Independent jurists capable of deriving new rules have died out and within Islamic Law it is mainly the worship-related precepts and family-law rules that remains alive. The alternatives are clear: either try to revive the independent jurists or recognize the autonomy of worldly realities.

Passages by al-Juwaynī

“Unmasking the Peddlers of Illusions about the Afterlife”

Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt, an Anthology

Pope Francis


Wanted: a German Islam

There is a debate in various European countries about the need to train religious experts locally in order to avoid foreign interference and the influence of do-it-yourself preachers. The spread of ideas opposing the integration of Muslim communities and the growing force of radical ideologies are both giving cause for concern. To prevent all this, Germany has come up with the idea of creating centres of Islamic Theology. We visited them

Rolla Scolari

Book Reviews

The Third Way of the Qur’anic Jesus

Mary’s son can connect the three great monotheistic religions

Rolla Scolari

The Caliphate’s Metamorphosis

Hugh Kennedy, Caliphate. The History of an Idea, Basic Books, New York, 2016

Chiara Pellegrino

The ‘Alawis’ Forgotten Past

Stefan Winter, A History of the ‘Alawis. From Medieval Aleppo to the Turkish Republic, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2016

Martino Diez

Salafism: the History of a Misunderstanding

Henri Lauzière, The making of Salafism. Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century, Columbia University Press, New York, 2016

Rocio Daga Portillo

If Global Doesn’t Rhyme with Universal

Armando Salvatore, The Sociology of Islam. Knowledge, Power, Civility, Wiley Blackwell, Chichester (UK), 2016

Michele Brignone

If a Comedy Explains More than a Theological Conference Does

When films anticipate the debate in the Islamic world and the West

Emma Neri

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