In the post--cold war world, Muslim fundamentalists seem to have
replaced Soviet Communists as the West's bugbear of choice, and the values
of traditionalist Islam are often portrayed as inherently hostile to
those of a modern, pluralistic society. Jonah Blank's groundbreaking book
shatters many of these stereotypes. As the first outsider to gain entry
to the Daudi Bohra community (a unique ShiŽa denomination numbering one
million, concentrated in South Asia but spread throughout the world), Blank
provides a firsthand account of a society that sees no contradiction between
Islamic tradition and full-fledged modernity. The Bohras faithfully uphold
orthodox Muslim practices: in matters of prayer, dress, and even avoidance
of financial interest, they are highly conservative. At the same time,
they eagerly adopt aspects of modern culture not in direct conflict with
their core beliefs. They proudly send their children (boys and girls alike)
abroad for education, exhibit greater gender equality than almost all
communities of the Indian subcontinent, and have become Internet pioneers
uniting members of the far-flung denomination into a worldwide cyber-congregation.
Blank shows how a premodern clerical elite has reinvigorated its
society's traditions--not by rejecting modernity, but by embracing it. In
uncommonly clear language, he paints a vivid, surprising picture of one
community that confounds preconceptions about fundamentalist Islam. Blank's
book also suggests that many values Western triumphalists like to claim
as their own are hardly limited to the West--and that "modernity" is something
far broader than a taste for sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
The University of Chicago Press.