Saturday, October 2, 2010
Just read this (from back in '91!)
nineteenth-century European Orientalist scholarship tended to focus on what scholars saw as Islam's "classical" period, from its rise to the period in which it had supposedly reached its zenith and attained its purest form; everything thereafter was regarded as largely a story of decline and degeneration, or at least cultural and social rigidity and stasis. Moreover, a view of Islam as a coherent and distinctive civilization with an essentially unitary culture led many Orientalists to assume that the dominant ideas and institutions of all Muslim societies, and the ways in which Muslims behaved and interacted in all places and times, were at bottom expressions of Islam's unchanging cultural essence, its core values and ideas, which could best be understood by studying texts from its classical period. As a result Orientalist scholars tended to be less interested in the ways in which the thinking and behavior of Muslim communities varied from place to place or changed over time - that is, in the persistent diversity and complexity of Muslim belief and practice - or in what contemporary Muslims actually did and thought and how they lived.
In other words, the implicit or explicit premise of much of nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship was that there was indeed a homo islamicus, a distinctive "Islamic man" with a more or less fixed mindset that was fundamentally different from, indeed absolutely opposed to, the mindset of "Western man." The essential characteristics of the members of this subspecies could be identified by the use of philological methods to study certain key texts which were regarded as embodying the core principles of Islamic civilization. The Qur'an was naturally deemed to rank first among these, followed by a relatively limited set of religious, moral, philosophical and legal writings generated by the learned elite before Islam's decline set in. Through the study of these key texts scholars believed that they could deduce the characteristics of "the Muslim mind," on the assumption that all Muslims, from the rise of Islam until the present, were constrained to think and believe and act within the rigid limits set by the essential character of the civilization to which they belonged. The upshot of the prevalence of this paradigm, and of the philological methods which underpinned it, was that, despite the enormous erudition of the best of the nineteenth-century Orientalist scholars and the very important contributions they made to scholarship on Islam, over time the field would become rather isolated and introverted, unwilling or unable to change in order to make better sense of a changing world and of new intellectual perspectives.
-Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism (The Contemporary Middle East) by Zachary Lockman, pp. 76-77
The thing that strikes me is how I think Muslims have also internalized/subscribe to this mentality as well!
Friday, October 1, 2010
"The life of the mind is about a sense of awe, wonder, openness, exploration. It's an adventure in exploring different views and viewpoints, different arguments and perspectives. There's a certain spaciousness that goes with it, an expansiveness of heart, mind and soul that has its own exhilarating joy."
-pg. 29 Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom by Cornel West
-pg. 29 Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom by Cornel West
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist. These cartoons tapped into the all-too-familiar tropes of violence and gender oppression. This time the situation was a bit different: millions of people around the world could see the offensive cartoons on their computer with the click of a button. In a perfect postmodern twist of irony and self-reflexivity, some of the cartoons poked fun at the obscure Danish paper's attempt to generate self-serving controversy. The editors who had commissioned the cartoons claimed that "the cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions."  This turned out to be another lie. The hypocrisy of the editors' championing of "freedom of speech" was eventually revealed when they confessed that they had earlier turned down cartoons lampooning Jesus Christ because they deemed them offensive.  Furthermore, the editors had traveled to the United States to meet with some of the leading Islamophobic leaders who had been leading [e: a bit repeating of 'lead' there, editors? :)] the attacks against Muslims.  The editors tried time and again to pose these cartoons as a litmus test for Danish Muslims: those who could stomach them were genuinely committed to being a part of Danish society, and those who could not would never be truly Danish. In reality, Islamophobes from the States, allying themselves with right-wing, anti-immigration factions in Denmark, had led a campaign against Muslims in that country for years. One example is the cooperation between the noted American Islamophobe Daniel Pipes and the right-wing Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard in writing "Something Rotten in Denmark?" There is indeed something rotten in Denmark, and in much of Europe - the rising tide of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that shows up in France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. 
In other words, the cartoons were not really about Muhammad: they were about the anxieties of some Danes about the changing demographics and nature of Danish society. The cartoonist used Muslims' sensitivity and devotion toward the Prophet to create a combustible and antagonistic situation that, by default, would end up marking Muslims as permanent outsiders. -Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi, pgs. 15-16
Sunday, September 26, 2010
To acquaint himself with what various traditions had to offer about the law, he purchased the most recent and accurate translation of the Qur'an available, a work by George Sale called The Koran: Commonly Called the Alcoran of Mohammed, which had been translated from the original Arabic in 1734.  Jefferson's personal copy of the Qur'an eventually became part of the holdings of the Library of Congress, and it recently gained a great deal of attention when it was used in the swearing-in ceremony of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to the U.S. Congress. Many modern-day bigots and alarmists, viewing the choice of the Qur'an (instead of the more common Bible) as yet another slippery slope that would lead to the implosion of American identity, called Ellison unpatriotic and a threat to American values. Ellison was making a deft point through his use of the Qur'an as the scripture on which to be sworn into Congress: if Thomas Jefferson owned and studied the Qur'an, if he saw no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, why should we?
-Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi, pg. 11 - I'm feeling the introduction to this book as you can tell ma sha Allah! :)
is found in the way Islam is used as a weapon against Muslim prisoners in U.S.-run jails. In the mountains of evidence that has cascaded out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, two forms of prisoner abuse come up again and again: nudity and the deliberate interference with Islamic practice, whether by forcing prisoners to shave their beards, kicking the Koran, wrapping prisoners in Israel flags, forcing men into homosexual poses, even touching men with stimulated menstrual blood. Moazzam Begg, a former prisoner at Guantanamo, says he was frequently forcibly shaved and a guard would say, "This is the part that really gets to you Muslims, isn't it?" Islam is desecrated not because it is hated by the guards (though it may well be) but because it is loved by the prisoners. Since the goal of torture is to unmake personalities, everything that comprises a prisoner's personality must be systematically stolen - from his clothes to his cherished beliefs. In the seventies that meant attacking social solidarity; today it means assaulting Islam.-The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, pg. 113
Benjamin Franklin famously stated that the standards of religious freedom in America had to be so broad that, when he was placed as a trustee of Westminister Hall, "even if the Mufti [chief jurist] of Constantinople [from the Muslim Ottoman Empire] were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service." [13: Quoted in Paul Leicester Ford, The Many-Sided Franklin (New York: Century, 1899), 159.]-Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi, pg. 10
that a century or two ago were directed against Jews now being directed against Muslims. In particular, in some of the same ways in which Jews were questioned regarding their "loyalties" to Europe as well as to Judaism, many now view Muslims with great suspicion and question their loyalties as citizens. Muslims have become the target of a new version of anti-Semitism. One of the most bitter and ironic aspects of this new anti-Semitism is that at least some of these attacks are being led by largely secular Jews whose ultimate concern is the preservation of the current status of the state of Israel, with all its profoundly problematic policies toward the native Palestinian population there.  One small though influential example would be that of the largely discredited neoconservative movement, which provided the ideological support for much of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush regime. Much of the neoconservative ideology involved the simultaneous advocacy of a muscular defense of Israel and the demonization of Islam. It boggles the mind that many of the children and grandchildren of Jews who themselves were the targets of anti-Semitism could now be directly engaged in spreading a variation of the same poison of anti-Semitism against other members of the human family, especially other children of Abraham. One of the conclusion that one can reach is that often the prejudice against Islam is not the actual disease. It is the symptom of a deeper malaise - prejudice and racism.-Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi, pgs. 5-6