Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MacIntyre on liberalism as a tradition

For, notwithstanding its claim of breaking with tradition, liberalism itself, as MacIntyre further explains, evolved to become a tradition: "liberal theory is best understood, not at all as an attempt to find a rationality independent of tradition, but as itself the articulation of an historically developed and developing set of institutions and forms of activity....Like other traditions, liberalism has its set of authoritative texts, and its disputes over their interpretation." [14]
-Samira Haj, Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 5.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Opening of Samira Haj's Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition

Like a specter haunting the Western mind, Islamic revivalism appears in distorted forms, rarely conceptualized on its own terms. Instead, Islam is framed through a particular reading of the experience of post-Reformation Europe, an uncritical self-understanding of the emergence of European modernity. Western definitions of the "modern," which inform the larger body of scholarship on Islam, presume a necessary qualitative break with the traditional past. [1] The modern is defined in terms of European conceptual and institutional arrangements in which religion has been marginalized from civil society, state, and politics. Accordingly, the modern becomes the site of a progressive emancipatory historical unfolding, whereas tradition, its conceptual opposite, is the locus of tyrannical politics and social stagnation. And the political subject who inhabits this space of the modern is necessarily an autonomous, self-constitutive, and tradition-free individual. These categories do not adequately comprehend Islamic imaginaries or the forms of subjectivities that might possibly emerge in a modern Islamic world. Once the institutions and practices of Western liberal societies are conceptualized as the measure of the modern, it is not surprising that across the scholarship on Islamic movements today, Islam is often depicted (either explicitly or implicitly) as a major, if not the principal, contemporary force threatening democracy and individual freedom.
-Samira Haj, Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 1.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Excerpt from Abdal-Hakim Murad's Spiritual Life in Ottoman Turkey

Another feature of the later Mevlevis, as with many Halvetis, Bayramis, and some others, was a strong devotion to the family of the Prophet, an attitude which some of them pushed beyond the point usually reached in Sunni piety, so that pilgrimages to Karbala, commemorations of the death of Imam Hüseyin and other devotional emphases more usually associated with Shi’ism became widespread. However, this ‘devotional Shi’ism’, a characteristic of Turkish piety even outside the tarikats, almost never stepped over the dividing-line into ‘sectarian Shi’ism’. As the Mevlevi poet Esrar Dede (d.1797) expressed it: 
I am the slave of the lovers of the Prophet,
Neither a Kharijite nor a misled Shi’ite am I;
I am the bondsman of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman,
And I travel upon the path of ‘Ali, God’s saint. 
A. Gölpinarli, Mevlânâ’dan sonra Mevlevîlik (Istanbul, 1953), 227.

Two Quotes on Tradition from Prof. Zareena Grewal's book, Islam is a Foreign Country

Elements of the past are mediated into the present by custodians, individuals in the present who decide which aspects of the past are nonessential to the tradition's future and, therefore, may be deleted or deemphasized. Custodians also decide which elements should be emphasized, highlighted, even added in order to ensure the tradition's survival in the future.[1]

Tradition is dynamic, and it derives part of its dynamism from the transmission process. This transmission process is also subjective and shaped by the needs and assessments of people in the present. As Walter Benjamin put it, "every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.' Tradition is built on the past, and yet its relationship to the past is not natural but discursive, constituted by discontinuities as much as by its continuities. The analogy of a river changing its water captures the way the past operates in a tradition, as a 'continuity of adaptation,' both 'unlike the present and yet continuous with it.' [2]

[1] Grewal, Zareena. Islam Is a Foreign Country, 200.
[2] Grewal, Zareena. Islam Is a Foreign Country, 259.

Dr. Jackson on Muslim souls work

Beyond all the lectures and blogs, Muslims need institutions, spaces and sites of direct encounter that sustain the practices and engagements that refine and educate Muslim souls. And while the mosque would seem to be the natural candidate, the effectiveness of mosques is basically neutralized by the tendency, on the one hand, of the entrenched to universalize and absolutize a single approach or practice (like doing nothing but shooting three-pointers) and by the tendency, on the other hand, of “everyday Muslims” who are so saturated with the value of autonomy and (liberal) freedom (in its popular understanding) that they abhor anything that smacks of discipline let alone constraint (they just want to play schoolyard ball). Attempts to invoke or operationalize even the most basic values or sensibilities of Islam are all too often experienced as negative indictments, whence the ubiquitous refrain, “Don’t judge me.” In the end, we end up with a lot of talent, a lot of dropouts (who still show up for the big game — Eid?), a bunch of pseudo-coaches and countless commentators, but never a team that has a snowball’s chance of winning. As corny as it may sound, all this ultimately brings us back to the simple value of Muslim unity — not uniformity. For only in unity can Muslims establish and give the needed multiplier effect to the knowledge, practices and “soul-support” that can sustain them as Muslims and enable them to face, with dignity and poise, the kinds of challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that any attempt to live a God-centered life is likely to bring. And God knows best.

Dr. Jackson: Liberalism and the American Muslim Predicament (June 27, 2015)

And here we come to “the Muslim predicament,” especially in the West. Because liberals have largely succeeded in monopolizing the meaning of the fundamental principles through which we negotiate modern life (freedom, equality, tolerance, rationality, etc.), Muslims find themselves only able to claim these when their claims comport with liberal definitions thereof. And when their scriptural sources or traditional authorities appear to be out of sync with these definitions, Muslims find themselves in the position of George Orwell’s Winston: “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” From here they proceed, often on painfully tortuous logic, to try to reconcile every aspect of Islam with the reigning liberal paradigm. In this context, Muslims — and especially Muslim children — can never simply be themselves. Rather, they are condemned to a dark, musty and lonely world of quiet, subjunctive, nervousness (W.E.B. Du Bois’ “double-consciousness” on steroids), as they try to vindicate their identity and commitments — both to themselves and to the world around them — through processes of rational justification over which others preside as owners, even as they themselves continue to be cast as the greatest threat to basic human welfare.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Expose yourself to the gentle breezes of your Lord’s mercy.

It is related in a prophetic tradition, “Seek goodness in all the time you spend on earth…” [2: Ibn Abi al-Dunya, al-Faraj ba’da al-Shiddah, no. 27] 
Expose yourself to the gentle breezes of your Lord’s mercy. Verily Allah has gentle breezes of mercy that He touches with whosoever He wills. Whoever is touched by [one of those breezes] experiences happiness so intense that he will never know sadness for the rest of eternity. Among the greatest of His (Allah’s) breezes of mercy is to be blessed to pray at a moment when the prayer is instantly answered, and during that moment the supplicant is asking Allah for Paradise and protection from Hell ̶ and his prayer is answered and he attains to eternal bliss! God says: Whoever is pulled back from Hell and entered into Paradise has achieved the great victory. (3:185)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kalief Browder and Black Suicide

Kalief Browder committed suicide this past Saturday in his home after losing a battle against depression that intensified during years of abuse inflicted upon him by guards and fellow inmates at Rikers Prison in New York.

NYT: "For Ramadan, Courting the Muslim Shopper" (6/24/2015)

A time of fasting and contemplation alternating in the evenings with festive gatherings of family and friends, it has emerged in recent years as a month of extravagant spending that is rivaled, some say, only by Christmas....
Continue reading the main storySlide Show

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dr. Jackson: On the Back-Breaking Jihad of Speaking Truth to Pain

The truth of the matter is that when God says, “We will try you with something of fear and hunger and depletion of money, souls and foodstuffs,” [2:156] this is real: some of us will be visited with these afflictions. Of course, our infatuation with modern utopias makes this extremely difficult to accept. For if we worship a God who is supposed to be all-powerful, we should be able to guarantee at least as much wellbeing as scientism, secularism or Marxism do. 
And many of us believe that we can, if only we are pious enough to keep God on our side. But the legacy of the Prophet teaches us that this is simply not the way things work: “Say, I control the ability to bring neither benefit nor harm to myself, except as God wills. And if I but knew the unseen I would augment nothing but good for myself and bad would never touch me…” [7:188] All of the Prophet’s children except Fāṭimah died before him! Yet, he remained the most certain of men. 
Such truths are hard to express in times of tragedy. For it is easy to mistake them for a fatalism that leaves us asking, “What’s the point?” But instead of fatalism what this should point us to is that life is a mysterious gift from God. And we worship God not as divine Santa Claus who gives us everything we want as long as we are “nice” but because we recognize the fundamental truth that God is the Gifter of Life. 
This fact alone, however, is not what gives life “meaning”: children, money, sex, our reputations and the Super Bowl give life meaning. This fact gives life urgency, hope, passion, value, fear and mystery beyond the pale of mere “meaning.” Tragedy, like good fortune, reminds us that life is ultimately not governed by fixed, unchangeable laws. It is governed by the irresistible will of God, who disposes as He pleases. And “We will show them our signs on the horizons and in their souls until it is clear to them that this is the truth.” [41:54]