By Steve Howard
“It was amazing timing then for this insightful American-trained social scientist to observe a modernist nonviolent Islamic movement at the peak of its dynamic campaign. It is even more amazing timing now for this rigorous and incisive study of Islamic modernity to be available to scholars, students, and the public at large. This profound assessment of a fascinating expression of Islam as experienced by African Muslims can contribute to defusing the current global crisis of Islam and modernity. The book is also a pleasure to read.”
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im, author of What Is an American Muslim: Embracing Faith and Citizenship and translator of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha’s Second Message of Islam
“There is much to learn in this memoir, especially given the normalization of extreme Islamophobia in the Western world. The answer to Islamic extremism does not lie in Western belligerence and fear, but within Islam itself. Howard reminds us all of the importance of re-centering these conversations within the communities of people who live this diverse and complex faith.”
Focus on the Horn
“Howard’s account (Modern Muslims) is an excellent tool for undergraduate teaching. It goes a long way in detaching mid-twentieth-century Islamic revival movements … from their characterization as inherently violent. Instead, Howard demonstrates the intellectual vigour exposed by dedicated Muslims trying to argue for the intellectual coherence and applicability of their faith in a world they believed to be epistemologically dominated by Western rationalism.”
“Steve Howard has produced an ethnography of a modern Muslim movement in the contemporary Sudan that is original, informative, and beautifully conceived. It is a unique (and uniquely informative), accessible, and moving journey of discovery that makes a major contribution to our understanding of Islam in the Sudan and in the contemporary world.”
Lidwien Kapteijns, professor of African and Middle Eastern history, Wellesley College
Steve Howard departed for the Sudan in the early 1980s as an American graduate student beginning a three-year journey in which he would join and live with the Republican Brotherhood, the Sufi Muslim group led by the visionary Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. Taha was a religious intellectual who participated in the early days of Sudan’s anticolonial struggle, but quickly turned his movement into a religious reform effort based on his radical reading of the Qur’an. He was executed in 1985 for apostasy.
Decades after returning to the life of an academic in the United States, Howard brings us this memoir of his time with the Republican Brotherhood, who advocated, among other things, equality for women. Modern Muslims describes Howard’s path to learning not only about Islam and Sufism but also about Sudan’s history and culture. When the Brotherhood was thrust into confrontation with Sudan’s then-president Jaafar Nimeiry, Howard had a front-line perspective on the difficult choices communities make as they try to reform and practice their faith freely.
As well as a story of personal transformation, the book offers an insider’s perspective on a modernist nonviolent Islamic movement that thrived and was brutally suppressed. An important book for our times, Modern Muslims yields significant insights for our understanding of modern Islam, African history, and contemporary geopolitics.
Steve Howard is a professor of media studies and African studies and the director of the Ohio University Center for International Studies. A sociologist by training, he has studied and worked all over the African continent. He directed Ohio University’s African Studies Program for twenty-five years and has published several scholarly articles about the Republican Brotherhood Movement. More info →
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