Unsophisticated and naive? Fragmenting monolithic understandings of Islam

Jawad Syed and Edwina Pio


Mainstream academic literature and media use the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ in a monolithic manner that implies internal homogeneity. However, the Islamic faith is subject to multiple interpretations, with multiple types of Muslims who practice Islam based on their ideological interpretations, sect, ethnicity and gender. Drawing on a review of literatures on Islam and Muslims from diverse fields such as religion, gender, diversity and extremism, we present a taxonomy of different types of Muslims, and highlight implications for management, organizations and governance. We trace ideological sources of divergence among variants of Islam and analyze how certain doctrinal and jurisprudential associations may reflect intolerance and extremism.


In the mainstream academic literature and media, the Islamic faith is often presented as a monolithic religion, ignoring the internal diversity or heterogeneity based on denomination, ethnicity, gender and religious practice. The monolithic understanding of Islam may be attributed to a possible lack of sophistication on the part of non-Muslim analysts as well as the general insistence of Muslim scholars that Muslims worldwide belong to one collective community, that is, the Muslim ummah. However, although there are two broad sects within Islam, that is, Sunni and Shia, the diversity within Islam is much more nuanced and heterogeneous and can be traced to different interpretations of the texts, opinions of narrators, jurisprudence and different milieus where such interpretations are enacted. For example, interpretation, geographical location and culture intersect in how gender practices such as the veil/hijab are linked to gender segregation, and injunctions on inheritance, commerce, leadership and treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, and how they are proclaimed, legislated and endorsed (e.g., Moghadam, 1994; Warde, 2000; Aitchison, Hopkins, & Kwan, 2007; Hamid, 2016). The need for research on different understandings of Islam has been recognized for some time and a few scholars have pointed out the multiplicity of Islamic perspectives rather than ‘the Islamic perspective’ (Jackson, 2000; Alak, 2015). In addition, scholars signal the need to situate research on management and organizations within contextual perspectives and multiple levels of analysis (Härtel & O’Connor, 2014).

In our guest editorial, we draw on literatures from religion, gender, diversity and terrorism, to delineate different versions of Islam and Muslims and consider implication of such diversity for organizations and societies across the globe. We conclude by outlining an agenda for future research.

Citation: Syed, J., & Pio, E. (2018). Unsophisticated and naive? Fragmenting monolithic understandings of Islam. Journal of Management & Organization24(5), 599-611.