Islamic Exceptionalism: An Interview with Shadi Hamid

In the past half-decade, Shadi Hamid has established himself as one of America’s leading experts on Middle Eastern politics, political Islam, and democratization. Bolstered by an impeccable academic pedigree, including degrees from Georgetown University, a stint as a Fulbright scholar, and a PhD from Oxford, his knowledge of Islamist politics is almost unrivaled. His knack for formulating his insights in a lucid, accessible style is well known to readers of The Atlantic, where he is a contributing writer; his articles have also appeared in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New Republic, among other publications. Hamid is very much at home in today’s media environment, regularly taking to Twitter or Reddit to defend his positions. He puts his singular mix of scholarly skill and communicative ability on full display in his latest book, Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World. Al Noor sat down with him in October 2016 to explore some of the issues discussed in his book.

Al Noor: In your words, why is Islam exceptional?

Shadi Hamid: All religions are different from each other, so it kind of goes without saying that Islam is different than Christianity and Christianity is different than Judaism. That’s a banal observation. What I’m saying here is something a little bit different, that Islam is exceptional in particular ways that have a profound impact on how we understand the Middle East and our world today. It’s not just an academic argument or intellectual exercise. It’s more like: what happened fourteen centuries ago really matters all this time later. In particular, Islam has proven to be resistant to secularization, and I would argue that it will continue to be resistant to secularization. Part of what I want to do is challenge a broader issue in our culture, especially in the bastions of Northeastern elite liberalism, where a lot of us come from secular back- grounds. I think sometimes it can be hard for us to relate to the power of religion and what it means to people in their everyday lives in the Middle East and elsewhere in Muslim majority countries. I want to find a way to bring religion back into the conversation and to take it seriously as a factor, as a source of motivation, as something that causes other things instead of being a product of other factors. There is this argument that religion or religiosity is just the outcome of changes, like economic issues. People are poor, they’re angry, they’re looking for something to believe in, it’s a crutch: we are always looking for ways to explain religion away as if we can’t take it seriously on its own terms...

To read the full interview, please click here.


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