Friday, November 20, 2009

from Ebrahim Moosa's "The Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam" 2

Modern Muslim thinkers are not only challenged to be innovative, but they are also simultaneously required to engage with tradition. And yet, the content of tradition is possibly one of the most complex and contentious issues contemporary Muslims face. In the past two hundred years, tradition has been subject to an extraordinary assault both from within Muslim societies as well as from outside. The advent of colonization bought yet another tradition, namely modernity, into a more forceful encounter with Muslim tradition.

On the one hand, there are the pre-modern or traditionalist/"orthodox" accounts of tradition.

[footnote: My use of the term "Orthodoxy" must be distinguished from other uses of this term. I use it the way Talal Asad employs it, in which orthodoxy is not merely a set of opinions but a relationship of power, where this power is used to exclude, correct, and undermine. In short, orthodoxy is a discursive practice. See Talal Asad, "The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam," (Washington: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University Occasional Papers Series, 1986), pp.15-16.]

On the other hand, staunch advocates of Enlightenment rationality within Muslim societies not only challenge the idea of the pre-modern tradition or tradition itself, but propose a version of modernity as a mode of living and thinking for Muslim societies. The poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal was extremely perceptive in understanding the challenge with which the modern Muslim intellectual has to grapple. "The task before the modern Muslim is therefore, immense. He has to rethink the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past...The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us."

[footnote: Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (London: Oxford University Press, 1934; reprinted, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf, 1960), 97.]

from Ebrahim Moosa's "The Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam"

"A great painter does not content himself by affecting us with masterpieces; ultimately, he succeeds in changing the landscape of our minds."

Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 161.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A critique of T. Ramadan

Note: As you might be able to tell, I'm searching, trying to grapple with questions regarding Islam, Muslims especially here in the United States, relevancy and modernity...I definitely haven't figured it all out yet :) but these quotes (and occasional thoughts) are part of my journey...


This is from Ebrahim Moosa's review of Tariq Ramadan's Western Muslims and the Future of Islam in the Winter 2006, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. It's called "Islamic Reform or Designer Fundamentalism?"

Like nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Muslim modernists, Ramadan uncritically equates notions of universality in Muslim thought with Enlightenment universality. Not only is such an equivalence questionable, but it also challenges his ringing allegiance to the "classical" tradition of Islam. Often Ramadan is unable to reconcile the contradictory implications of Muslim and Western universal claims. Indeed, his attempt at platitudinous reconciliation does not resolve the dilemma.

With refreshing clarity, Sherman A. Jackson, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, notes that in their zeal for reform, Western Muslim advocates routinely engage in a number of false universals to illustrate the compatibility of liberal thought and Islam in an attempt to portray the latter as tolerant and pluralistic. The result of this process is something more than a homogenization of time, place, and experience. When read through Jackson's critical eye, Ramadan's book promotes "a chic, prestigious, and powerful universal," but in the end is nothing more than a sophisticated form of "designer fundamentalism." According to Jackson, endemic to the approach adopted by the likes of Ramadan and a generation of Muslim modernists is a "subtle civilizing mission that aims at obliterating one historical consciousness, without altering the history that produced it." In doing so, reformist Muslims embrace another historical consciousness, namely that of Protestant modernity, without questioning its assumptions. (141)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

MLK quote 3

Today, psychologists have a favorite word, and that word is maladjusted. I tell you today that there are some things in our social system to which I am proud to be maladjusted. I shall never be adjusted to lynch mobs, segregation, economic inequalities, "the madness of militarism," and self-defeating physical violence. The salvation of the world lies in the maladjusted.

MLK quote 2

Still, King warned, we must be realistic in our movement. We must avoid extreme optimism - the notion that "we have come a long way" and have nothing to do but await the inevitable. We must also avoid extreme pessimism - the notion that "we have come nowhere" and can do nothing to alter our lives. We must say realistically that we have come a long way, but still have a long way to go. We must realize that change does not roll in "on the wheels of inevitability," but comes through continuous struggle.

MLK quote

And I tell you [tell it, doctor] that any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men [well awright] and is not concerned with the slums that damn them [amen, brother] and the social conditions that cripple them [oh yes] is a dry-as-dust religion [well]. Religion deals with both heaven and earth [yes], time and eternity [uhhuh], seeking not only to integrate man with God [clapping, clapping], but man with man.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lessons from the Pact of Chivalry

From Tariq Ramadan's In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad [sall Allahu aliahi wa salam]

Abdullah ibn Judan, the chief of the Taym tribe and a member of one of the two great alliances of Meccan tribes (known as the People of the Perfume [or Scent]), decided to invite to his home all those who wanted to put an end to the conflicts and establish a pact of honor and justice that would bind the tribes beyond alliances based merely on tribal, political, or commercial interests.

Chiefs and members of numerous tribes thus pledged that it was their collective duty to intervene in conflicts and side with the oppressed against the oppressors, whoever they might be and whatever alliances might link them to other tribes. This alliance, known as hilf al-fudul (the Pact of the Virtuous), was special in that it placed respect for the principles of justice and support of the oppressed above all other considerations of kinship and power. Young Muhammad [sall Allahu aliahi wa salam], like Abu Bakr, who was to become his lifelong friend, took part in that historic meeting.

Long after Revelation had begun, Muhammad [sall Allahu aliahi wa salam] was to remember the terms of that pact and say: "I was present in Abdullah ibn Judan's house when a pact was concluded, so excellent that I would not exchange my part in it even for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I was asked to take part in it, I would be glad to accept." Not only did the Prophet stress the excellence of the terms of the pact as opposed to the perverted tribal alliances prevailing at the time, but he added that even as the bearer of the message of Islam - even as a Muslim - he still accepted its substance and would not hesitate to participate again. That statement is of particular significance for Muslims, and at least three major teachings can be derived from it. We have seen that the Prophet had been advised to make good use of his past, but here the reflection goes even further: Muhammad [sall Allahu aliahi wa salam] acknowledges a pact that was established before the beginning of Revelation and which pledges to defend justice imperatively and to oppose the oppression of those who were destitute and powerless. This implies acknowledging that the act of laying out those principles is prior to and transcends belonging to Islam, because in fact Islam and its message came to confirm the substance of a treaty that human conscience had already independently formulated. Here, the Prophet clearly acknowledges the validity of a principle of justice and defense of the oppressed stipulated in a pact of the pre-Islamic era.

The second teaching is no less essential: at a time when the message was still being elaborated in the course of Revelation and of the Prophet's experiences, he acknowledged the validity of a pact established by non-Muslims seeking justice and the common good of their society. The Prophet's statement is in itself a blatant denial of the trend of thought expressed here and there throughout the history of Islamic thought - and to this day - according to which a pledge can be ethically valid for Muslims only if it is of strict Islamic nature or/and if it is established between Muslims. Again, the key point is that the Prophet clearly acknowledges the validity of adhering to principles of justice and defending the oppressed, regardless of whether those principles come from inside Islam or outside it.

The third teaching is a direct consequences of this reflection: the message of Islam is by no means a closed value system at variance or conflicting with other value systems. From the very start, the Prophet did not conceive the content of his message as the expression of pure otherness versus what the Arabs or the other societies of his time were producing. Islam does not establish a closed universe of reference but rather relies on a set of universal principles that can coincide with the fundamentals and values of other beliefs and religious traditions (even those produced by a polytheistic society such as that of Mecca at the time). Islam is a message of justice that entails resisting oppression and protecting the dignity of the oppressed and the poor, and Muslims must recognize the moral value of a law or contract stipulating this requirement, whoever its authors and whatever the society, Muslim or not. Far from building an allegiance to Islam in which recognition and loyalty are exclusive to the community of faith, the Prophet strove to develop the believer's conscience through adherence to principles transcending closed allegiances in the name of a primary loyalty to universal principles themselves.

-pg. 21-22

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"A Pact of Chivalry"

This is from pg. 31-32 of Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources by Martin Lings

The war helped to fan the growing discontent that every sedentary community tends to feel with the law of the desert. Most of the leading men of Quraysh had travelled to Syria and had seen for themselves the relative justice that prevailed in the Roman Empire. It was also possible in Abyssinia to have justice without recourse to fighting. But in Arabia there was no comparable system of law by which a victim of crime, or his family, might obtain redress; and it was natural that the sacrilegious war, like other conflicts before it, should have set many minds thinking of ways and means to prevent the same thing from happening again. But this time the result was more than mere thoughts and words: as far as Quraysh were concerned, there was now a widespread readiness to take action; and their sense of justice was put to the test by a scandalous incident that took place in Mecca in the first few weeks after the end of the fighting.

A merchant from the Yemeni port of Zabid had sold some valuable goods to a notable of the clain of Sahm. Having taking possession of these, the Sahmite refused to pay the promised price. The wrong merchant, as his wronger well knew, was a stranger to Mecca, and had no confederate or patron in all the city to whom he might go for help. But he was not to overawed by the other man's insolent self-assurance; and, taking his stand on the slope of Abu Qubays, he appealed to Quraysh as a whole, with loud and vehement eloquence, to see that justice was done. An immediate response came from most of those clans that had no traditional alliance with Sahm. Quraysh were bent above all on being united, regardless of clan; but within that union there was still an acute consciousness of the rift that divided them, over the legacy of Qusayy, into two groups, the Scented Ones and the Confederates, and Sahm were of the Confederates. One of the leaders of the other group, and one of the wealthiest men in Mecca at this time, was the chief of Taym, 'Abd Allah ibn Jud'an, and he now offered his large house as a meeting-place for all lovers of justice. From amongst the Scented Ones, only the clans of 'Abdu Shams and Nawfal were absent. Hashim, Mutallib, Zuhrah, Asad and Taym were all well represented, and they were joined by 'Ad, which had been one of the Confederates. Having decided, after an earnest discussion, that it was imperative to found an order of chivalry for the furtherance of justice and the protection of the weak, they went in a body to the Ka'bah where they poured water over the Black Stone, letting it flow into a receptacle. Then each man drank of the thus hallowed water; and with their right hands raised over their heads they vowed that henceforth, at every act of oppression in Mecca, they would stand together as one man on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor until justice was done, whether the oppressed were a man of Quraysh or one who had come from abroad. The Sahmite was thereupon compelled to pay his debt, nor did any of those clans which had abstained from the pact offer him their assistance.

Together with the chief of Taym, Zubayr of Hashim was one of the founders of this order, and he brought with him his nephew Muhammad, who took part in the oath and who said in after-years: 'I was present in the house of 'Abd Allah ibn Jud'an at so excellent a pact that I would not exchange my part in it for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I were summoned unto it, I would gladly respond.' [Ibn Ishaq, 86]

Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus

Just heard about this book: Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus by Andrew F. March, a professor of political science at Yale. His dissertation for his PhD for Oxford (which the book is based upon) won the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, American Academy of Religion (Constructive-Reflective Studies Category).

He has an article online that I just read called "Reading Tariq Ramadan: Political Liberalism, Islam, and 'Overlapping Consensus.'" It's available here as a web page and here as a pdf.