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(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., April 10, 2007) — Over the past years, the voice of Islamic fundamentalism has continued to grow louder, saturating the media and American minds through a narrow vision of Islam. Mehran Kamrava’s The New Voices of Islam: Rethinking Politics and Modernity—A Reader represents an effort to counter such a narrow perspective on the second largest religion in the world. The New Voices of Islam clarifies popular misconceptions, offering a comprehensive portrayal of the many debates taking place within Islam.
“I was urged to take on this project by a publisher friend during a conference in Tehran back in 2003,” said Kamrava, CSUN political science professor and department chair. “I was compelled by the necessity that people should know there are other voices.”
The New Voices of Islam includes the writings of 13 of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals. Despite their influence in their own countries, rarely have their voices been heard by western audiences. “These intellectuals are arguing for a reform of Islamic theology and Islam’s role in modern society,” Kamrava said.
Kamrava said that Islamic complexity, like many other religions, involves different interpretations of religiosity. He also explained the role of Ijtihad in reproducing internal divisions taking place within Islam. “Ijtijad is a notion of independent reasoning, which addresses a fundamental question in deciding the path one chooses religiously,” he said.
In the introduction to his book, Kamrava stated that the levels of religiosity tend to take one of four turns: popular Islam, political activist Islam, intellectual Islam, and Islamic fundamentalism. But he warned, “these categories are neither mutually exclusive of one another or neatly packaged, separate phenomena.”
Kamrava asserted that intellectual Islam will have the most impact on Islamic reform. He stated that although we are some distance away from an Islamic reform, “there is no shortage of intellectual thought geared toward reformation.”
“I hope I have done a good job outlining these debates and encouraging an ongoing dialogue.”
The New Voices of Islam is accessible for general public interest and scholarly audiences alike. “My intent when taking on this project was to show a wide audience a different approach to old questions,” said Kamrava. “One of moderation, one of modernity.”
Kamrava described the structure of The New Voices of Islam as a collective yet distinctive argument for Islamic reform. “The book provides a solid understanding of the multiple debates in Islam,” he said. “The reader should walk away with an understanding that like most religions, Islam is not monolithic.”
The articles incorporate broad overviews of Islam, its principal basis and the elaborate relationship of Islam and modernity. The writings explore more pointed issues concerning the relationship of Islam with democracy and civil rights. The New Voices of Islam also includes essays by Muslim feminist intellectuals, revealing the intricate perspectives of Islam and the role of women in modern society. The book places the life experiences of these intellectuals in an historical and national context.
“The significance of the book lies in presenting a picture of Islam that is often overshadowed by a loud noise emanating from fundamentalists,” said Kamrava.
Kamrava also stated that his research and scholarship has enhanced the classroom experience. “I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to conduct research on a number of topics related to the Middle East and political science in general,” he said. “One of the most rewarding aspects of it is being able to share the results of my findings with students.”
The New Voices of Islam was published by the University of California Press in February 2007.
Kamrava is the author of nine previous books on aspects of political development and Middle Eastern politics. Among his recent publications are The Modern Middle East: A Political History Since the First World War and Democracy in the Balance: Culture and Society in the Middle East (Comparative Politics and the International Economy).
*This article was first published under the banner of Univerity Advancment's Public Relations and Stategic Communications web page.