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Badr-Ud-Din Tyabji

By Maxime Rodinson. Translated by Brian Pearce
Allen Lane, 1974, xviii plus 241, 5.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 2 April - June 1976

Maxime Rodinson has over the years established himself as one of the most discerning—most nonaligned—writers on Islam. A Marxist, born in a Jewish Communist family, former member of the French Communist Party, who left it (or was thrown out) because the party line was too dogmatic, he is an intellectual and a scholar in the best sense. His thorough knowledge of Semitic languages, their background, and three great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam which they gave expression, enables him to deal with the subject with a proper sense of balance, objectivity and relativeness. His biography of the Prophet, Mohammed (pub shed in French in 1968 and in English by Allen Lane in 1971) was a major achievement. Even more so was the large compendium of his writings, Marxisme et le Monde Musulman (Marxism and the Muslim world) published in 1973. They gave ample proof that Rodinson was not what he terms a ‘vulgar Marxist’, but one who believes that while ‘the historical function of Marxism has been to show the limitations imposed on the action of great men by the social milieu in which they live ... one cannot understand any individual if one leaves out of account his particular temperament, his physiological and psychological tendencies as a person, his individual history, which implies his rela­tions with his family, and the micro-milieu in which he has developed.’ The book under review notably succeeds in fulfilling the task the author has set himself: ‘to be of service to intellectuals in the countries that belong to the Muslim faith and civilization by helping them to understand their situation’, and ‘to help European readers similarly’. For this purpose, he has meticulously exami­ned the question: ‘Where does the Muslim world (in the different phases of its history) belong in the general typology of systems of production and distribution of goods?’ His effort, he affirms, is Marxist in orientation, but he has not ‘subordinated (his) research to dogmas’ but tried to ‘think out the problems arising from (his) studies in the light of some very general socio-historical hypotheses that ... give direction to a whole field of study.’ He rightly points out the handicaps from which Muslims working on the subject suffer: they are moved either by piety or nationalism (or both) and are thus concerned to show that nothing in their religious tradi­tion was opposed to the adoption of modern and progressive economic methods, ...

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