Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Avi Max Spiegel’s “Young Islam”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th September, 2015

imageWestern media and politicians tend to view the rise of political Islam through a prism of binary opposites: moderate versus extremist, Sunni versus Shia and so forth. But in reality the situation is far more complex. There are as many types of Islamism – the belief that political systems and structures should be based on Islamic teaching – as there are Islamists.

Similarly, young Muslims who are radicalised or who make their religion the foundation for their individual and collective lives do so for a variety of different reasons. Commentators in Europe have focussed on the influence of militant imams and Islamist websites. However, extensive fieldwork by the ethnographer Avi Max Spiegel in Morocco (Young Islam, Princeton University Press, £19.95) suggests that a more common method of recruitment is via the example and encouragement of friends.

Morocco has two main Islamist streams: the PJD, which is a registered political party that has sometimes had Ministers in government, and the more radical underground movement Al Adl. These operate in parallel, in a country whose Head of State is a King who traces his own ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed (thereby validating his own legitimacy).

By mixing with young Moroccans over a lengthy period, the author was able to discover how individuals, male and female, make their choices about which group they favour and which activities to embrace. A fluent Arabic speaker, he lets them tell their own stories, so we see them as people with their own personalities and concerns rather than just statistics.

Avi Max Spiegel is that rare creature, an academic who presents serious fieldwork in a totally accessible form. This book is therefore not only a valuable contribution to understanding Moroccan youth today but has relevance to the entire Islamic world.

(This review was first published in Liberal International British Group’s magazine Interlib) 

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