2002 BYU L. Rev. 353 (2002)
Contemporary Discussions on Religious Minorities in Islam; Nielsen, Jorgen S.

handle is hein.journals/byulr2002 and id is 363 raw text is: Contemporary Discussions on Religious
Minorities in Islam
Jorgen S. Nielsen*
I. INTRODUCTION
Most public debate on Islam today, as it takes place outside the
Muslim world proper, is locked into views of Islam in its traditional
medieval forms and in particular those specific aspects and forms of
expression which have attracted the attention of centuries of observa-
tion and scholarship. This is not the place to engage again in regret-
ting the impact of medieval European misunderstandings of Islam
and the Muslim world' or in attacking Orientalism.2 It is enough
to recognize that such traditional approaches have had a substantial
effect on public debate concerning the contemporary Muslim world.
Indeed, the position of religious minorities in Islam is one of the
topics that has been especially prone to being locked into a tradi-
tional view. This traditional view of Islam has found renewed vigor
in the public debate about Islam after September 11. I intend in this
paper to point out some of the alternative views which are gaining
ground, especially in the Arab world, and give an indication of some
of the contextual processes which are supporting them, as a coun-
terweight to the strength of the traditional views, in the hope that
this might contribute to a more differentiated image of a religion
and culture which is much more complex than is popularly supposed.
- Professor of Islamic Studies and Director, Center for the Study of Islam and
Christian-Muslim Relations, Department of Theology, University of Birmingham, U.K. Email:
j.s.nielsen@bham.ac.uk. The initial research for this paper was conducted during an extended
visit to Lebanon and Jordan in the Summer of 1995, funded in part by the British Academy.
1. These are surveyed in their complexity by scholarly works such as NORMAN DANIEL,
ISLAM AND THE VEST: THE MAIUNG OF AN IMAGE (1993); MAxINE RODINSON, EUROPE
AND THE MYSTIQUE OF ISLAM (Roger Veinus trans., 1988); and ALBERT HOURANI, ISLAM IN
EUROPEAN THOUGHT 7-60 (1991).
2. See generally EDWARD SAID, ORIENTALISM (1978). For a sympathetically critical
response, see BOBBY S. SAYYID, A FUNDAMENTAL FEAR: EUROcENTRISM AND THE
EMERGENCE OF ISLAMISM, ch. 2 (1997).

353

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