The informed observer looking at the situation of the Islamic world at the beginning of the twenty-first century is inevitably struck by the depths of disagreements about the nature and future course of Islam and the vehement certainty with which positions are held. My interest here is particularly with individuals and groups who are actively concerned with Islam and its future, those who are in one sense or another intellectually engaged with Islam and are convinced that the solutions to the problems facing Islam are also the solutions to the problems facing Islamic societies. In other words, they hold that Islam – or at least, Islam correctly understood and correctly practiced – is the solution to the problems of Islamic society.
Such a formulation takes in a very wide range of opinion – revolutionary Iran; Taliban Afghanistan; proponents of Islamic legal, political, social, and economic systems of many sorts; and Islamic modernists. The answer also can be negative, as with those who see Islam as currently practiced or Islam and religion in general as obstacles to development. It does not include all shades of opinion, as there are political groups in the Islamic world that are secular in orientation and for whom Islam is simply a feature of their culture – for example, the Arab Baathists and many of the Palestinian nationalist groups.