Islamic Authority in the Modern World

The coming of colonialism put paid to an arrangement that for over a millennium governed Muslim societies: the co-habitation of Muslim faith and political power. How did the qaum respond to the changes wrought by Empire? This paper, which spans, temporally, the two centuries from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt to Erdogan’s ascent, and spatially, from Ankara to Chittagong, argues that Islamic authorities, informed by the great movements of reformism and revivalism, adapted to the modern world in creative ways, forging, as it were, a Protestant Islam; fashioning a new social role for the ulama; establishing madrasas in ever-increasing numbers; defending the autonomy of the sharia, and co-opting, and at times being co-opted by, the state. Seen together, these innovations from below have helped reinvigorate Islam, according it sustained relevance in the modern Muslim world.