Islamism has been one of the critical concepts in describing Middle Eastern states and communities, particularly in the aftermath of events such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979, post-9/11 US military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and finally the Arab uprisings beginning in 2011. However, Asef Bayat introduced the new concept of post-Islamism in 1996 in an article entitled ‘The Coming of a Post-Islamist Society’ to discuss the new sociological trends within Iranian politics and society. Almost two decades after the articulation of the concept and its development in his later studies, Bayat has edited the book Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam. It is a collection of thought-provoking essays which discuss the ‘metamorphosis of Islamism’ in ideas, approaches and practices, from within and without.

Asef Bayat, a professor of global and transnational studies, is currently working in the areas of political sociology, social movements and change, religion and public life, urban life and politics, Islam and modernity, and the contemporary Middle East.

Bayat’s book, along with his introduction and in-depth analysis of the Iranian and Egyptian cases, comprises nine more essays explaining the transformation of the political Islam phenomenon within the context of Muslim majority countries (i.e. Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria). It also represents geographical distribution among modern Islamist thought. Bayat highlights the role of internal dynamics and global forces contributing to the post-Islamist turn since the early 1990s. In this context, he mentions examples of Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Egypt, and Lebanon as an outcome of critique from within, in which they faced their own paradigmatic limitations, external pressure, and the realities of their societies. In contrast, instances in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are evaluated as critique from without in which the main drive for transformation was the urgent necessity to redress and neutralize their approach to the militant and exclusivist Islamism. As a differing approach, the experiences of Sudan and Syria show that the post-Islamist trend is not simply a phenomenon of the new millennium and has a longer history than the aforementioned cases.

As Bayat points out, ‘Post-Islamism’ as a concept originally referred to a transformation in political and religious discourse (p.8) which represents both a condition and a project. Condition dimension refer to the Islamists’ awareness of their discourse’s anomalies and inadequacies making the general Islamist framework susceptible to questions and criticisms. At this point, the attempts to reinvent itself were made at the cost of a qualitative shift from original Islamist discourse and practices. While explaining the project dimension of post-Islamism, Bayat emphasizes the attempts to conceptualize and strategize the rationale and modalities of transcending Islamism in social, political, and intellectual domains without contradicting Islam. According to Bayat, post-Islamism also aims at marrying Islam with individual choice and freedom, highlighting religiosity and rights instead of religion and responsibility.

Bayat’s original essay on post-Islamism was published in 1996[1], in the middle of the global transition era of the 1990s which was dominated by the disputes in the books ‘The End of History?’[2] and ‘The Clash of Civilizations’[3]. This conflicting and revanchist international environment also affected the use of the post-Islamism term in the direction of an end of a historical phase. The remarkable influence of Olivier Roy’s conceptualization of ‘The Failure of Political Islam’,[4] and Bernard Lewis’ famous emphasis on the Islamist revivalism and fundamentalism while describing the post-Cold War relations between Islam and the West[5], have cast a shadow over the post-Islamism concept. This has led to misperception and misuse of the term post-Islamism as a simple variant of Islamist politics.

Bayat acknowledges that the term ‘post-Islamism’ as originally used, pertained only to the realities of the Islamic Republic of Iran and not to other settings and societies (p.7). This was due to sui generis conditions of Iranian society and politics following the state-dictated hard Islamization during the 1980s, and the pragmatist and less ideological policies stemming from the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. As a result of broad generalization for all Muslim majority states, Bayat’s original perspective on post-Islamism weakens while discussing the shift of the Islamist discourse in Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, and other dissimilar societies, as they experience totally different Islamization and secularization processes in their contemporary history.

On the one hand, given that the book was published in 2013, it does not cover the fundamental transformation process of both politics and society across the Middle East and North Africa during much of the last decade. On the other hand, the cases of Iran, Egypt and Sudan were also discussed in-depth in terms of both sociological and political transformation, while in other instances the main focus was on political shifts and fragmentation, ignoring sociological transition. Trans-national interaction of post-Islamist movements and their foreign ties were also largely disregarded. The selection of examples is fair and acceptable in general, however Muslim communities in Europe, the Balkans and post-Soviet geography are not examined, despite their influence on European politics and rapid transformation compared to the Middle Eastern communities. Moreover, Bayat’s book also ignores an early forerunner of post-Islamism at the turn of the 20th century in the form of Jadidism[6] and its modern versions. They have profoundly influenced Muslim societies in Central Asia and Russia, in addition to one of the most successful post-Islamist movements within the Arab world; the al-Nahda movement in Tunisia.

To conclude, Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam addresses the important need for theorization and conceptualization of the different currents within the Islamist movements and their transformation as a response to internal and external dynamics. Additionally, Asef Bayat’s political sociological insights enriched with his regional expertise contribute remarkably to the existing Islamism literature beyond this valuable research.


[1] Asef Bayat, “The Coming of a Post-Islamist Society,” Critique: Critical Middle East Studies 9: Fall 1996: 43-52

[2] Fukuyama, Francis, “The End of History?” The National Interest, (Summer 1989), 3-18.

[3] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer, 1993), 22-49.

[4] Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, trans. Carol Volk (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[5] Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[6] Adeeb Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).