Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
As Gadamer observes, [in "The Historicity of Understanding"] "to exist historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete. In this context, only God, whose self-knowledge is essential (dhati) and neither contingent nor experiential, can have true and complete knowledge of self, totally independent of others. We humans, on the other hand, in the absence of interaction between multiple consciousness, including those of oppressors as well as the oppressed, are likely to remain blinded by what is nearest to us, with little appreciation for the multiple layers of contingency, deflection, and projection that define us as the individuals and groups we think we are." (125)
In a strongly-worded statement today, the Congressional Tri-Caucus, which represents three minority caucuses, denounced a call by four GOP lawmakers for an investigation into whether Muslim "intern spies" have infiltrated the Hill.
While my focus in this book is on the nature of black suffering, it is my hope that the broader relevance of the theological questions it raises and treats will not be lost on my reader. Questions regarding God's omnipotence, and this God's prerogative (moral and ontological), as well as God's omnibenevolence, and thus the extent to which God's will may or may not conform to humans' wishes and expectations, are critically relevant to any number of issues presently being debated among Muslim-Americans--from the "gender-jihad" to ethics, liberalism, democracy and human rights to Islam and interreligious dialogue. In this context, one of the ancillary benefits of this book may be its contribution to setting Muslim public religious discourse in America on firmer theological footing. (25)
Each of the classical schools of Muslim theology must be seen as representing its own vision of the Islamic theological ideal. While there is significant overlap between them, there is also sizeable disagreement--often expressed in a polemical tone. These differences, moreover, are often a matter of emphasis, priority, and degree rather than categorical contradiction. This obliges one to recognize that while one might legitimately point to the views of any of these schools as an Islamic position, no single one of them should be taken independently to represent the Islamic position. At the same time, this sustained disagreement highlights not only the pluralistic nature of premodern Islam but also the extent to which a common commitment to monotheism (tawhid) can sustain palpably divergent perspectives on God and God's relationship to Creation. (24)
This book consists of five chapters. In Chapter I, I trace the development of Muslim theology from its embryonic beginnings to its status as a full-blown metacognitive tradition. Part of the purpose of this chapter is to highlight the extent to which history and societal situadedness informed classical Muslim theological discourse. This should go a long way toward vindicating the project of placing American reality at the center of Blackamerican Muslim theological contemplation, not as a transcendent, authoritative source of information about God but as the plain on which God's self-disclosure assumes concrete meaning and practical relevance in validatable form. (23)
William Chittick (among others) has recently argued [in Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World] that "the only universally accepted dogma in the modern world is the rejection of tradition." Indeed, the modern mindset is deeply informed by two regimes of "public reason" (science and philosophy) that have little regard for the role of authority and tradition in conveying, discovering, or preserving truth...This is all reinforced by the contemporary American commitment to autonomous individualism, which is confirmed and refracted through chic and popular aversions to "organized religion."(7)
-from the introduction of Dr. Jackson's Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Oct. 20 - The Supreme Court agreed today to hear an appeal brought by a group of Chinese Muslims (Uighurs) who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for years, though the government concedes they are not "enemy combatants."
The Brennan Center joined a bipartisan group that submitted an amicus brief [pdf]urging the Court to hear the case, which had been overturned on its' latest hearing in a lower court.
His [Jean Toomer's] profound message [in Cane (1923)] to Afro-Americans is that in modernity, where alienation is commonplace, it is important to be aware of roots, but even this provides no assurance of ability to achieve a positive self-image in the ever-changing present. The search for personal identity is never a pleasant one if only because the very need for it connotes a misplacement, dislocation, and homelessness of the self. The act of self-definition forever remains open-ended, with no guarantee of triumph. Indeed, the process takes precedence over the result, since any static self-identity soon disintegrates the self. (88)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book aside. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathise with other lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do, it can change us forever.
Mythology, we have seen, is an art form. Any powerful work of art invades our being and changes it forever. The British critic George Steiner claims that art, like certain kinds of religious and metaphysical experience, is the most "'ingressive," transformative summons available to human experiencing'. It is an intrusive, invasive indiscretion that 'queries the last privacies of our existence'; an Annunciation that 'breaks into the small house of our cautionary being', so that 'it is no longer habitable in quite the same way as it was before'. It is a transcendent encounter that tells us, in effect: 'change your life'.
If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight in to our lost and damaged world. (148-9)
There are a number of issues here. Perhaps the most important is the cultivation of an informed leadership. I mentioned earlier that most Muslim leaders cannot provide the intellectual guidance needed to help intelligent young people deal with the challenges of today...Our heads are buried in the ground...They seem wholly oblivious to the problem.
All this has to change. In my travels in the Islamic world, I found tremendous enthusiasm for Islam among young people, and a no less tremendous disappointment with the leadership. The traditional ulema have the courtesy and moderation which we need, but lack a certain dynamism; the radical faction leaders have fallen into the egotistic trap of exclusivism and takfir; while the mainstream revivalist leaders, frankly, are often irrelevant. Both ponderous and slightly insecure, trapped by an 'ideological' vision of Islam, they do not understand the complexity of today's world - and our brighter young people see this soon enough.
Institutions, therefore, urgently need to be established, to train young men and women both in traditional Shari'a disciplines, and in the cultural and intellectual language of today's world. Something like this has been done in the past: one thinks of the Nizamiyya madrasa in Baghdad where Ghazali taught, which encouraged knowledge not only of fiqh, but of philosophical theology in the Greek tradition. We need a new Ghazali today [or Ghazalis as in numerous capable scholars]: a moderate, spiritually minded genius who can understand secular thought and refute it, not merely rant and rave about it.
The creation of a relevant leadership is thus the first priority.
What needs to be remembered in conclusion is that Islam is a living reality while the modern world is, also for the moment and despite its falling apart from within, still a powerful force to be reckoned with in the arena of history. Muslims, therefore, whether they are among the youth or of the older generation, have no possibility of surviving as Muslims, individually or as members of a great civilization and the ummah of the Prophet, without being able to respond to the challenges which the modern world poses for them. They must understand the modern world in depth and intelligently and respond to its challenges not simply emotionally but on the basis of authentic knowledge of that world by relying upon knowledge of the Islamic tradition its fullness.(251)
Also this quote from Abdal Hakim Murad goes along the same lines: "What Muslims acknowledge, whether traditionalists or modernists, is that most of ulemaa (scholars) in the west really need to know what the modern world is,” he added in this pretty good article on the Cambridge Muslim College initiative.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Today the word 'myth' is often used to describe something that is simply not true...Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event had meant...Mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence, helping us to get beyond the chaotic flux of random events, and glimpse the core of reality.(7)
Our modern alienation from myth is unprecedented. In the pre-modern world, mythology was indispensable. It not only helped people to make sense of their lives but also revealed regions of the human mind that would otherwise have remained inaccessible. (10-11)
There was a new optimism in the West. People felt that they had more control over their environment. There were no more sacred, unalterable laws. Thanks to their scientific discoveries, they could manipulate nature and improve their lot. The discoveries of modern medicine, hygiene, labour-saving technologies and improved methods of transport revolutionised the lives of Western people for the better. But logos had never been able to provide human beings with the sense of significance that they seem to require. It had been myth that had given structure and meaning to life, but as modernisation progressed and logos achieved such spectacular results, mythology was increasingly discredited. As early as the sixteenth century, we see more evidence of a numbing despair, a creeping mental paralysis, and a sense of impotence and rage as the old mythical way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place.(122)
And there's three religious responses to modernity. One is assimilation, another is withdrawal, and the fourth [the third] is confrontation. And so we're seeing a confrontation going on now and we're in a period of what sociologists call anomie where things - the carpets's been pulled out under people and we don't really have grounds for morals anymore. We're just seeing a lot of major changes in society and religion which is often informed by pre-modern concepts of morality which are still very important to many religious people, they're really groping with what's going on. So some of it is growing pains because there's things we need to abandon from the past but others are genuine conflictual experience inside. (1:35:06 - 1:36:02)
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
One night as I was walking home after a party in the Mount Pleasant housing projects, which we used to call “Sparkle City” because it was littered with so much broken glass, a young Puerto Rican girl – she could not have been more than ten years old – ran out into the bitterly cold winter night screaming, “Why doesn’t anyone love me? Why doesn’t anyone love me?” Her cry echoed in my head and penetrated into my heart. I thought about the difficulties so many people were having in these seemingly God-forsaken places. The drugs, alcoholism, teen pregnancies, violence, and broken homes had wreaked havoc on so many innocent lives. Right then I made up my mind to work for a change.-pg. 12 of Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim by Imam Zaid Shakir