​Kuru, Ahmet T (2019) Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 303 pp. + xvii.

​ISBN: 978-1-108-40947-6

Therese Sefton

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Read more about this book: www.cambridge.org

​Muslim civilization had a precious intellectual and scientific experience between the ninth and eleventh centuries, but gradually lost its progressive momentum. Seen through a historical lens, this book analyzes the contemporary problems of violence, authoritarianism and underdevelopment in Muslim-majority countries. Unlike most Middle Eastern scholars, Kuru argues that Islam, Western colonialism and extractive institutions are inadequate explanations of these problems. Rather, they are better explained by long-reaching historical roots. Thus, to enhance our understanding, we must focus our attention on the actors and analyze changes in the relationship between the religious, political, intellectual and economic classes. According to Kuru, such analysis not only illuminates the economic and intellectual stagnation in the Muslim world, but also enables the reader to think critically about commonly held beliefs that 'Islam itself' or Western imperialism fully explain contemporary challenges. Moreover, such explanations overlook the agency of various Muslim actors and their contributions to these developments. For instance, Kuru's thorough analysis of the emergence of the alliance between the Islamic scholars and the military state (ulema-state alliance) from the mid-eleventh century demonstrates how the military state and the ulema became increasingly inter-dependent, while merchants and intellectuals were gradually marginalized. The sidelining of the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie combined with the concentration of religious, economic, intellectual and political power in the ulema-state alliance led to both intellectual and economic stagnation, and gradually created a vicious circle of violence, authoritarianism and underdevelopment in the Muslim world. This book conveys a refreshing and nuanced historical analysis which emphasizes that understanding the historical roots of these problems leaves us better equipped not only in comprehending their full extent, but also in solving them.