Orientalism and Anti-Orientalism: Epistemological Approaches to Islam and Violence

  • Mohammed SulaimanEmail author
Part of the Middle East Today book series (MIET)


The study of the relationship between Islam and violence has been largely dominated by two epistemological approaches. The first is the essentialist, and predominantly Orientalist, approach, which seeks to explain acts of violence by Muslims with reference to an underlying set of features, beliefs and practices that embody the real essence of the Islamic tradition. According to this view, there is a direct and internal relationship between Islam and contemporary Muslim practices of violence. Contrary to this, the second anti-essentialist approach is critical of the Orientalists’ reductionist epistemology and its inability to account for the complex heterogeneity of Islamic interpretations and lived experience. For anti-essentialists, Islam becomes an irrelevant category in the explanation of Muslim violence. Hence, they seek an explanation for this phenomenon not in the classic texts and medieval history of Muslims, but by reference to external factors, such as material contexts and socio-economic conditions. Nonetheless, this leaves entirely unaddressed the Muslim identity of the actors, and whether it is plausible to disregard the relevance of Islam to the explanation of the phenomenon and identity of the actors under discussion (i.e. violence by Muslims).


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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