In Islamic Exceptionalism, Brookings Institution scholar and acclaimed author Shadi Hamid offers a novel and provocative argument on how Islam is, in fact, "exceptional" in how it relates to politics, with profound implications for how we understand the future of the Middle East. Divides among citizens aren't just about power but are products of fundamental disagreements over the very nature and purpose of the modern nation state—and the vexing problem of religion’s role in public life. Hamid argues for a new understanding of how Islam and Islamism shape politics by examining different models of reckoning with the problem of religion and state, including the terrifying—and alarmingly successful—example of ISIS.
With unprecedented access to Islamist activists and leaders across the region, Hamid offers a panoramic and ambitious interpretation of the region's descent into violence. Islamic Exceptionalism is a vital contribution to our understanding of Islam's past and present, and its outsized role in modern politics. We don't have to like it, but we have to understand it—because Islam, as a religion and as an idea, will continue to be a force that shapes not just the region, but the West as well in the decades to come.
Starting with the premise that Islam is distinctive among all other world religions due to the primacy of transnational political goals, Hamid (Temptations of Power) attempts to untangle the knot of current Islamist statecraft throughout the Middle East. While considering different models of political formulations of Islam in Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq he problematizes simplistic conceptions of Islamism (which he defines as a project reconciling "the premodern Islamic tradition with the modern tradition of the nation-state") and delineates how Islam and democracy might coexist in an age of insurgent ideology and the current "clash of values" between Islam and "the West." Hamid believes the path forward is complex and messy, contending that Islam is exceptional in its political manifestations and must not be compared to secular notions of liberal democracy. Hamid's work offers a tempered, well-researched analysis of Islamism in its current state and offers tentative hopes for those seeking a new way through the intricacies of Islamic politics in the Middle East.