Friday, December 3, 2010
praised Webb as a "proper Muslim" (pucca Mussulman) [sic], one who knew Islam's true spirit and was neither overly rationalistic nor dry, but worthy of Islam's "sacred treasure" as reflected in spiritual masters like al-Ghazali and Rumi. Webb's heart, Ali contended, was filled with the love of God and his prophet.  It was the spirit of Islam, rather than its aberrations, that won Webb's allegiance. In this regard, he truly constitutes an "embedded monument" from the past for the future. Perhaps, his legacy may once again play a role in furthering and protecting an even more pluralistic America, one eager to extend its hand to the world at large and its own growing Muslim community at home in the spirit Webb invoked more than a century ago when he addressed the Muslims of India: "I want to take your hand and carry it across the sea to be seized in an earnest, fraternal grasp by the people of American." -A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 279
that Webb's adoption of Islam did not conflict with his sense of himself as an American. One might even argue that it empowered his sense of himself as an American, by enriching it with a living attachment to the Muslim East and the Ottoman Turks. In this matter, Webb's religious and psychological profile contrasts with that of many Muslim immigrants to the United States. For a number of them, Islam constitutes their greatest cultural and psychological vulnerability, putting them on the defensive in an alien land in what may appear to them as a hopeless cultural battle. Many early immigrants abandoned Islam altogether or "reinterpreted it" so completely that it ceased to be itself and became little more than a species of Unitarian Christianity.  Webb too had a strong affinity for Unitarians but thought of them in very different terms. Instead of him becoming like them, he was convinced they would ultimately become like him. In India, he informed his Muslim listeners of his confidence that Unitarians would "adopt Islam when they really know what it is." -A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 277
For Webb, Islam was not a psychological or cultural impediment, despite the hurdles he and his family confronted because of their espousal of it. Islam did not threaten his self-image as an American but affirmed it, creating a self-confident and optimistic religious vision. Webb refused to surrender his common sense or his own judgment to the authority of others who had no understanding of him or his people. Webb's circles, open to converts and sympathizers, men and women alike, were, in principles, predicated on the same ideal that no one in or outside of Islam should be required to believe what he could not rationally accept. Through Webb's circles, he sought to extend the principle of interpretative control to each follower. Unlike many twentieth-century American converts, Webb's conversion to Islam did not put him in a bind with himself and his American identity, causing him to forsake his heritage and commit cultural apostasy. On the contrary, Webb found in Islam the very fulfillment of the American ideals he believed in. He did not see himself as standing "apart from or superior to his fellow Americans after his acceptance of Islam." Rather, he kept living as an American and was comfortable with that identity, feeling no alienation from surrounding society or seeking to alienate it from himself. 
Webb's "embedded monument" will not be one of an idealized human being. Whatever else Webb may have been, he was very human and had the strengths and weaknesses, virtues and blemishes in inherent in human beings. His true story does not diminish his humanity or undo its potential for edification. Idealized narratives are not only unacceptable to honest people and for sound historical methodology but make up the substance of fable and ideology, providing little good in the real world. When such idealized narratives disembody their subjects - even legitimate heroes - from the reality they lived, they only serve to mislead, disempower, and immobilize because they present fictional figures that cannot be emulated or learned from.-A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 272-273
transpired "in the middle of it all," and to tell his story is to relive one of the most important periods of the American experience. Although Webb was largely forgotten after his heath, historians have renewed his memory in recent decades. For the large and growing Muslim population of the United States, Webb may soon regain his place in the middle of it all, although no longer standing there alone but with a large contingent of other notable figures in American Islam who, like Webb, were long forgotten after their deaths. Webb was not alone among the early representatives of Islam in America in his struggle to persevere in his religion in the absence of a supporting community. Like his precursors and successors, Webb provides the American Muslim community today not only with a sense of the importance of community, but also with a deeper sense of identity and historical community.-A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 20
in late-nineteenth century American was utterly out of the ordinary, but the manner in which he pursued it was not. Webb embraced Islam in the spirit of classical American individual initiative in religion.  Moreover, Webb regarded his conversion as a perfectly natural alternative for himself and any other American who chose it. He never became deeply learned in Islam yet was creative in his application of what he knew. With an instinctive American naturalness, he assumed authority in the interpretation of his adopted religion, rejected "fanaticism" and bigotry, and never felt himself duty-bound to follow any "irrational or backward" formulations associated with the faith wherever he might encounter them. Webb founded his life and his vision for Islam in America on the same broad spiritual ethos through which he himself initially made his journey to the faith.-A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 20
espoused his newly adopted faith in terms that made clear he saw no contradiction between it and his deeply rooted American identity. Many of his Victorian American contemporaries had heard of him in the press and wanted to hear the story of his religious odyssey. Although Webb's speech that morning, as on the following day, was occasionally disrupted by the corpulent and bothersome Boston missionary Reverend Joseph Cook and his followers - whose outbursts proved to be an annoyance for many other representatives of nontraditional religions and purveyors of unconventional opinions at the parliament [the "First World's Parliament of Religions" fair in Chicago,1893] - Webb's audience was, for the most part, "intelligent, sympathetic, quick to appreciate, and applaud."  He identified with them naturally and emphasized his belief in their fairness: "I have faith in the American intellect, in the American intelligence, and in the American love of fair play, and will defy any intelligent man to understand Islam and not love it." Webb repeatedly emphasized that Islam and "the Arabian Prophet" had for generations been misrepresented to Americans, making it difficult for them to comprehend his new faith or why he had chosen it. Still he proclaimed his faith in the American character: "I feel that Americans, as a rule, are disposed to go to the bottom of facts and to ascertain really what Mohammed was and what he did, and when they have done so, I feel we shall have a universal system which will elevate our social system to the position where it belongs." -A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, pg. 4
Conflicts and controversies at home and abroad have led Americans to focus on Islam more than ever before. In addition, more and more of their neighbors, colleagues, and friends are Muslims. While much has been written about contemporary American Islam and pioneering studies have appeared on Muslim slaves in the antebellum period, comparatively little is known about Islam in Victorian America. This biography of Alexander Russell Webb, one of the earliest American Muslims to achieve public renown, seeks to fill this gap.
Webb was a central figure of American Islam during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A native of the Hudson Valley, he was a journalist, editor, and civil servant. Raised a Presbyterian, Webb early on began to cultivate an interest in other religions and became particularly fascinated by Islam. While serving as U.S. consul to the Philippines in 1887, he took a greater interest in the faith and embraced it in 1888, one of the first Americans known to have done so. Within a few years, he began corresponding with important Muslims in India. Webb became an enthusiastic propagator of the faith, founding the first Islamic institution in the United States: the American Mission. He wrote numerous books intended to introduce Islam to Americans, started the first Islamic press in the United States, published a journal entitled The Moslem World, and served as the representative of Islam at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. In 1901, he was appointed Honorary Turkish Consul General in New York and was invited to Turkey, where he received two Ottoman medals of merits.
In this first-ever biography of Webb, Umar F. Abd-Allah examines Webb's life and uses it as a window through which to explore the early history of Islam in America. Except for his adopted faith, every aspect of Webb's life was, as Abd-Allah shows, quintessentially characteristic of his place and time. It was because he was so typically American that he was able to serve as Islam's ambassador to America (and vice versa). As America's Muslim community grows and becomes more visible, Webb's life and the virtues he championed - pluralism, liberalism, universal humanity, and a sense of civic and political responsibility - exemplify what it means to be an American Muslim.
New book "American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism" (2008)
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, many of America's Christian evangelicals have denounced Islam as a "demonic" and inherently violent religion, provoking frustration among other Christian conservatives who wish to present a more appealing message to the world's Muslims. Yet as Thomas Kidd reveals in this sobering book, the conflicted views expressed by today's evangelicals have deep roots in American history.http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8828.html
Tracing Islam's role in the popular imagination of American Christians from the colonial period to today, Kidd demonstrates that Protestant evangelicals have viewed Islam as a global threat--while also actively seeking to convert Muslims to the Christian faith--since the nation's founding. He shows how accounts of "Mahometan" despotism and lurid stories of European enslavement by Barbary pirates fueled early evangelicals' fears concerning Islam, and describes the growing conservatism of American missions to Muslim lands up through the post-World War II era. Kidd exposes American Christians' anxieties about an internal Islamic threat from groups like the Nation of Islam in the 1960s and America's immigrant Muslim population today, and he demonstrates why Islam has become central to evangelical "end-times" narratives. Pointing to many evangelicals' unwillingness to acknowledge Islam's theological commonalities with Christianity and their continued portrayal of Islam as an "evil" and false religion, Kidd explains why Christians themselves are ironically to blame for the failure of evangelism in the Muslim world.
American Christians and Islam is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the causes of the mounting tensions between Christians and Muslims today.
Thomas Kidd is associate professor of history at Baylor University and resident scholar at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America and The Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism.
A review in Foreign Affairs
Article in Religion Dispatches: "Evangelical Islamophobia as American as Apple Pie: The 2010 Elections and the deep history of American antipathy towards Islam" (Thanks Mohammed)
"The road of knowledge is lonely, but the traveler is assured when he finds someone else's footsteps."
-Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, "The Scholar's Road," Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam, p. 326
a re-post from 2/21/2010
a re-post from 2/21/2010
Many White House officials were kept in the dark about the journey, as was the Afghan government. The president’s published schedule for Friday listed him meeting with advisers in the Oval Office and then making a public statement on the latest jobs report, with the schedule reporting that “the location of the statement is T.B.D.,” or to be determined.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/04/us/politics/04prexy.html
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Given the aggressive secularization of American culture, could it be that Catholics are looking at the same consequences that met those 19th-century prelates? Today’s anti-Catholicism hardly derives from that narrow 19th-century Protestantism, intent on preserving its own cultural and political hold. Those battles are long settled. Instead, the Catholic Church is now confronted by a new secularization asserting that a person of faith can hardly be expected to be a tolerant and enlightened American. Religion, in this view, is only a personal hobby, with no implications for public life. Under this new scheme, to take one’s faith seriously and bring it to the public square somehow implies being un-American. To combat this notion, an equally energetic evangelization—with Catholic schools at its center—is all the more necessary.http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12448
For a brief critique, see: "Rewriting the History of Catholic Schools in America The resurrection of “Dagger John”" by Marian Ronan on Religion Dispatches
-Abdal-Hakim Murad, Contentions 16, # 10.
for understanding revelation is the proper intention - to sincerely wish to be guided by God. This does not mean that non-Muslims and even atheists cannot contribute to the factual body of knowledge useful to contextualizing the Qur'an; but you cannot attain what you do not set out to find. The meaning of the revelation can only be accessed by those who believe that ultimate meaning is beyond the limited understanding of any human being and who sincerely turn to the Qur'an for the purpose of finding that meaning. However, attaining the state of humility that is characteristic of a sincere intention is not easy. How many individuals are confident of the purity of their intentions and the soundness of their hearts, yet clearly are deceiving themselves?-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 231-233
We all have emotional scars, spiritual disabilities, and stubborn desires that make us less than perfect mirrors for God's divine light. This is why we need to live our faith in community with others - so they can help illuminate our flaws and support us in our spiritual growth. But our growth will be limited unless our communities reflect the diversity of human experience. [...]
Fear, whim, greed, pride - how many potential barriers exist to block our understanding of the true meaning of God's words! Certainty we need to be exceedingly cautious about claiming to have grasped the true meanings of the Qur'an. How much better would it be if we stopped making declarations for a while and humbly, earnestly, tried to listen to God?
we must use all the intellectual resources God has given us to attempt to understand the true meaning of the Qur'an. [...] God gave Muslims, individually and collectively, sight, hearing, and intellect to put at the service of studying the linguistic and historical context of the Qur'an. It is impossible for any one individual to master all these aspects of Qur'anic learning, even in a lifetime of study. A serious effort to understand the Qur'an, therefore, necessarily includes a deep engagement with the extensive scholarly tradition of Islam.
This is something that many modern activists and commentators on the Qur'an have lacked. Indeed, many of the most influential Muslims (for better or worse) who made claims about the Qur'an in the twentieth century were not trained as religious scholars. Sayyid Qutb was a writer who captured the attention of Arabic readers with his articulation of widely felt frustration with arrogant and repressive Middle Eastern rulers in his extensive commentary In the Shade of the Qur'an. Abul Ala Mawdudi (d. 1979), founded of Jamaat-e-Islami in pre-partition India and prolific commentator on the Qur'an, was a journalist. With the success of the argument that the doors of ijtihad should open and that consensus should be expanded to include the voices of non-specialists, writers like Qutb and Mawdudi did not feel restrained by their lack of scholarly credentials to make claims about the meaning of the Qur'an.
In his characteristically blunt fashion, Fazlur Rahman, an influential twentieth-century scholar of the Qur'an, decried the inability of many activist-oriented Muslims to develop a relevant, coherent, and systematic approach to the interpretation and application of the Qur'an:-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 230
The traditionalist ulema, if their education has suffered from a disorientation toward the purposes of the Qur'an, have nevertheless built up an imposing edifice of learning that invests their personalities with a certain depth; the neorevivalist is, by contrast, a shallow and superficial person - really rooted neither in the Qur'an nor in traditional intellectual culture, of which he knows practically nothing. Because he has no serious intellectual depth or breath, his consolation and pride both are to chant ceaselessly the song that Islam is "very simple" and "straightforward," without knowing what these words mean. In a sense, of course, the Qur'an is a simple and uncomplicated, as is all genuine religion - in contradistinction to theology - but in another and more meaningful sense a book like the Qur'an, which gradually appeared over almost twenty-three years, is highly complicated - as complicated as life itself. While activists and revivalists are limited by their superficial understanding of classical Islamic learning, staunch traditionalists must be aware of the severe limitations of the inherited tradition. Our search for the true meaning of the Qur'an and its application to our lives cannot be a narrow, partisan following of a particular school of thought, for it certainly possible that groups, like individuals, can engage in self-interested exegesis. In a previous study of slavery and social status in Islamic law, I argued that such a tendency is evident in the deliberations of early Muslim scholars.  Only a truly open-minded, critical engagement with the diverse schools of thought and approaches to the Qur'an will be sufficient to claim the exercise of due diligence.
The interpretation of the sacred text is true
if it stirs you to hope, activity and awe;
and if it makes you slacken your service,
know the real truth to be this:
it is a distortion of the sense of the saying, not a true interpretation.
This saying has come down to inspire you to serve -
that God may take the hands of those who have lost hope.
Ask the meaning of the Qur'an from the Qur'an alone,
and from that one who has set fire to his idle fancy and burned it away,
and has become a sacrifice to the Qur'an, bowing low in humbleness,
so that the Qur'an has become the essence of his spirit.
The essential oil that has utterly devoted itself to the rose.
You can smell either that oil or the rose, as you please.
[fn 2: The Pocket Rumi Reader, ed. Kabir Helminski (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2001), 171; I have made minor changes to the translation.]-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 221
the issue of how notions of orthodoxy or heresy are constructed, the challenge remains for sincere Muslims to arrive at a consistent methodology that determines how much context is relevant to an interpretation and when it is proper to set aside specific rulings for general principles. One has to acknowledge the risk of overcontextualizing the Qur'an and relying too heavily on the general principles it expresses. This could lead to a complete relativizing of the content of the Qur'an, so that is explicit norm would apply only to the era of its revelation. Nevertheless, the line between relevant context and self-interested or careless relativization is not easy to discern. We will finish this chapter with an exploration of an issue that illustrates this dilemma....-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 216
however, that textual literalism is not necessarily connected with intolerance, political radicalism or violence. On the positive side, the insistence of the Salafiyya on comparing societal practices with the practices of the early Muslim community allowed for the abandonment of some unjust customs, like the exclusion of women from the mosque. On the other hand, this approach can degenerate into a simplistic and literalist reading of the Qur'an and the Sunna. In particular, fundamentalist readings often diminish the relevance of historical context for understanding the true meaning of the Qur'an and the Prophet's Sunna. Such readings also give little attention to the need to reconcile particular rulings with general principles and values articulated in the Qur'an and the Sunna. Finally, literalistic readings can efface the role of the human interpreter. Decrying "man-made" institutions, literalists seem unaware of their own roles as human interpreters when they select particular passages to justify their positions.-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 212
in classical Islam was supported, displayed, and transmitted through institutions of religious learning - the seminary (madrasa), the "cathedral mosques," the ijaza system, etc. These institutions provided not only a locus from which religious authority could be projected, but also a substantial framework within which the great diversity of Sunni thought could be expressed and organized. To this extent, I suggest that "tradition" was a stabilizing element in premodern Muslim societies to the extent that it was manifest in actual institutions and practices rather than just a body of ideas transmitted over the centuries. This does not mean that premodern Muslim societies were always peaceful and stable. Scholars regularly came into conflict with one another and with political authorities. At the same time, as a group, the scholars exercised a certain authority within designated institutions; thus, their corporate identity superseded any internal dissent, and ensured that there was a place for "scholars" in every Muslim society.-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 208
However, when these institutions were disrupted, destroyed, and disconnected, first under colonialism and then when they were placed under the bureaucratic order of separate modern nation-states, Sunnism underwent a radical transformation and experienced a significant blow to its sense of a unified community. This is one of the reasons why scholars from the early modern period until today have tried to find an institutional mechanism to revive a form of consensus that could be relevant to society. The late twelfth-/eighteenth-century Indian reformer Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi, for example, argued that in a town or locality when it was comprised of "the ulema and men of authority."  Later, Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938 CE) suggested that consensus could be instituted by forming a legislative assembly from representatives of the different schools of law. In the mid-twentieth century, the shaykh of al-Azhar, Mahmud Shaltut, pointed out that such a body would be authoritative only if all constituents were granted freedom of opinion and were protected from the arbitrary exercise of political power. Here, the efficacy of consensus is wedded to the process of ijtihad - the continual exertion of the intellect to search for new information or previously unexamined factors that could contribute to different judgments or perspectives.
Qur'anic rulings and principles have been extended by scholars to ensure that the revelation remains relevant to new situations and circumstances. Scholars have also recognized that while it is important to analyze individual verses for their vocabulary, syntax, grammar, rhetorical style, and cultural and historical references, the Qur'an will be left in disjointed pieces if one does not have a broader framework that goes beyond these particularities. To this end, scholars have invoked general principles and universal values found in the Qur'an to connect, reconcile, and balance divergent rulings obtained through deductive reasoning from particular Qur'anic texts. in the early centuries of Islam, legal scholars referred to concepts such as istihsan (setting aside a particular ruling if it will have a negative impact), istislah (choosing a ruling that benefits people), and ma'ruf (what is "fair" or "reasonable") to empower them to set aside a judgement arrived at through narrow legal reasoning for the sake of another judgment that is more in keeping with the overall spirit and values of the Qur'an.
A more comprehensive and holistic framework for assessing legal rulings was fully developed by the middle period of Islamic history. Imam al-Ghazali, once agian, emerges as an influential figure in Sunni Islam with his convincing and emphatic demonstration that all rulings found in the Qur'an and Sunna aim to promote a limited number of universal goals. Other scholars, including, most famously, Abu Ishaq Al-Shatibi (d. 790/1388), joined al-Ghazali in arguing that the primary purpose of Islam was to promote and preserve five or six fundamental values: religion, life, property, intellect, family, and honor.  Theoretically, any exegesis or ruling that contravenes these "goals of the Sharia" (maqasid al-Shari'a) must be set aside.-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 205-206
Reference to the goals of the Shari'a have become more frequent since the advent of modernity, when Muslim scholars have been trying to find a consistent and holistic approach to legal reasoning that can replace, to some extent, the narrower, technical, and case-by-case deductive approach of much traditional legal reasoning. According to many contemporary scholars such as Mohammad Hashim Kamali, this approach is more consistent with the message of the Qur'an:
A cursory perusal of the Qur'an would be enough to show that the Qur'an pays much greater attention to values and objectives such as justice and benefit, mercy and compassion, upright character and taqwa, promotion of good and prevention of evil, affection and love within the family, charity, camaraderie and other redeeming values. The Qur'an may thus be said to be goal-oriented and focused on the structure of values that have a direct bearing on human welfare. The Qur'an is for the most part concerned with the broad principles and objectives of morality and law, rather than with the specific detail and technical formulas that occupy the bulk of the usul [juridical] works. While emphasizing the importance of the goals of the Shari'a, Kamali also stresses that they in themselves are not a methodology, but rather "serve the purpose of opening up the avenues of ijtihad." After all, to determine whether a ruling furthers or hinders a goal of the Shari'a, scholars must assess the "benefit" (maslaha) of the ruling. This assessment is, to a large extent, an empirical determination. Who is qualified to make such an assessment? Is it only scholars of the Qur'an and other religious scholars? In any case, this new legal thinking will only be productive if it occurs within an interpretive framework that is consistent, and within a context that can be accepted as legitimate and authoritative. At this point, it is therefore necessary to consider the way in which authority has been constructed in an Islamic exegetical and legal context and what challenges entail for arriving at authoritative rulings in a modern context.
is valuable because it is a process whereby children come to embody the Qur'an (or parts thereof)....Qur'anic memorization has been portrayed as a process of mindless rote learning and indoctrination into Islam. My research suggests that viewing it in this way reduces it significance in the lives of Muslims by implying that the process of learning ends with the process of memorization. Embodiment theory facilitates a description of the ongoing learning process that begins with Qur'anic memorization. Memorization, then, is an investment in a lifetime of potential learning, one that will provide guidance and direction to the student beyond the school years. The Qur'an is living as an oral text through the mental and physiological capabilities of the students' bodies, to translate what has been engraved in their minds to their lips, where it comes forth living, to be shared as recitation or in prayer and to be reflected upon over a lifetime, as a source of understanding, inspiration, and learning.
fn. 57: Helen N. Boyle, Quranic Schools: Agents of Preservation and Change (New York and London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004), 97-98-from The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, pg. 123-124
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Thanks to Khalid from long ago :)
Thanks to Khalid from long ago :)
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
But both rallies, for all the commotion they generated, have already faded to the status of quirky historical footnotes. The reason is that neither addressed the elephant in the room — or the donkey. That would be big money — the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who’s in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.