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Abstract

Contemporary Islam is struggling within itself over its values, identity, and place in the world, with rivals contending for spiritual and political dominance--as well as with the "outside" world. In Western eyes, the ideal Islamic community would be democratic, economically viable, politically stable, and socially progressive and would follow the rules and norms of international conduct. But as the international community strives to understand all this and, possibly, influence the outcome, the best approaches--or even whom to approach--are not always easy to determine. As an aid to the process, this report compares and contrasts the subgroups within Islam. The author recommends careful deliberation in deciding how to proceed, taking into account the symbolic weight of certain issues, the meaning likely to be assigned to any positions U.S. policymakers might take on these issues, the consequences for other Islamic actors, and the opportunity costs and possible unintended consequences. With all that in mind, the author then makes her own series of recommendations.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Mapping the Issues: An Introduction to the Range of Thought in Contemporary Islam

  • Chapter Two

    Finding Partners for the Promotion of Democratic Islam: Options

  • Chapter Three

    A Proposed Strategy

  • Appendix A

    The Hadith Wars

  • Appendix B

    Hijab As a Case Study

  • Appendix C

    Strategy in Depth

  • Appendix D

    Correspondence About the U.S. Department of State's Portrayal of Islam

Book Review Excerpts

"In this extremely short work, Benard seeks to structure a design that will allow for better interaction between the West and the Islamic world. Her credentials are worth noting: she is a senior political analyst at the RAND Corporation, former associate professor of political science at the University of Vienna, and is a specialist in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Her approach is certainly commendable. She offers a useful seven-part typology of Muslims: radical fundamentalists, scriptural fundamentalists, conservative traditionalists, reformists, traditionalists, modernists, mainstream secularists, and radical secularists. She rightly points out that the fundamentalists and traditionalists have a good infrastructure upon which to rely. And she astutely notes that some aspects of U.S. culture work to the traditionalists' advantage since this group, with its view of its Islamic garb, better fits the image most Americans expect… This is far too important a subject for Benard to leave here. Let us hope that, in conjunction with the many capable specialists on these issues, she will broaden the scope of her study."

- Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2005

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Smith Richardson Foundation and performed within the RAND National Security Research Division.

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