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Between Ideology and Pragmatism: Fathī Yakan's Theory of Islamic Activism

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Fathi Yakan is the pre-eminent figure of the Sunni Islamist movement in Lebanon. His theory of Islamic activism provides an example of how Islamists try to reconcile radical ideological thought with a pragmatic approach to social and political activism. After tracing Yakan's theory of activism along the concepts of education, mission or da'wa, and community, the article points out some of the tensions inherent in Yakan's thought. It explores the problem of ideological and practical boundary-setting by analysing Yakan's use of the concepts of umma, jahiliyya, and community (jamī'a). Then it highlights Yakan's ambiguous attitude towards the Lebanese polity and his political record as a deputy in the Lebanese parliament between 1992 and 1996. The article concludes with the assessment that Yakan manages to integrate both radicalism and pragmatism into a single theory of activism by shifting between different levels of thought and discourse. The intellectual ambiguity that characterises this approach seems to be partly motivated by the need to preserve the largest possible measure of practical flexibility in a complex and shifting political environment.

Affiliations: 1: Berlin


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