Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dr. Jackson on formal and informal religious authority in contemporary Islam

This bring me to the following closing thoughts. As the text under review, Initiative to Stop the Violence, clearly demonstrates, the Historical Leadership thoroughly familiarized themselves with the traditional Islamic religious sciences during their tenure in prison. It is also clear, however, that this alone was not the key to their success. As far back as the 1980s and especially the early 1990s, there had been attempts by such luminaries as the Rector of al-Azhar, the grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazālī, Shaykh Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Sha'rāwī, and other nonclerics, for examples, Fahmī Huwaydī, to disabuse radical jihadists of their "jurisprudence of violence" and/or broker a cease-fire. [132] All of these efforts failed. Yet, in their vindication of their Initiative to Stop the Violence, the Gamā'ah drew on a conspicuously traditional set of arguments-indeed, to a large extent, an emphatically traditional universe of meanings, tropes, and articulations -- on which these religious figures would seem to have much greater purchase. This, I think, should alert us to at least three things.
First, religious authority in contemporary Islam is not the exclusive preserve of those commonly identified as the guardians of the classical tradition. Rather, besides mastery of tradition, which is clearly the sine qua non of formal religious authority, other qualities or associations - for example, a "heroic stance" or, if you will, "street credibility"--may be equally or even more constitutive of informal religious authority, depending on the audience. While, generally speaking, the avenues to mastering tradition remain clear and formally regulated (e.g., through the granting of degrees and formal authorizations to issue fatwās), access to this "secondary," informal authority remains open and up for grabs. [133] For radical jihadists (or perhaps even others) the Gamā'ah and its leadership simply have more of this informal authority than do their formally trained (and other) counterparts. As such, they are likely to be far more effective in reaching these types of audiences (and maybe even others). In such light, perhaps their contributions to resolving some of the problems or realizing some of the possibilities confronting Islam and Muslims in the modern world, including East-West relations, should neither be automatically assessed as negative nor summarily dismissed as inconsequential.
Second, the categories through which we have grown accustomed to anticipating or even demanding critical Muslim responses to wanton violence committed in the name of Islam may call for reassessment. As the Gamā'ah'sInitiative clearly demonstrates, "moderates"--or those we tend to think of or identify as moderates--are not the only ones whose ideological commitments can sustain or even compel principled condemnations of promiscuous, political violence. Rather, sharī'ah itself, whether as presided over by traditional clergy, or as adopted and deployed by those who come to that tradition from "without"--including bearded so-called "fundamentalists"--can also be invoked and mobilized against capricious killing in the name of Islam. On this recognition, it may be time to reexamine if not discard the notion, often more implied than explicitly stated, that "Westernization," reduced religiosity, or secularization are the only or most effective means of promoting peaceful conflict resolution with or among Muslims.  
Finally, texts alone are not autonomously self-determinative of the uses to which they are put. The same Qur'ān, Sunna, and writings of Ibn Taymīya that were deployed by 'Abd al-Salām Faraj in his incendiary The Neglected Duty (al-Farīḍah al-ghā'ibah) were deployed by the Gamā'ah's Historical Leadership in promoting and vindicating their Initiative to Stop the Violence. Clearly, in such light, to continue to assign independent, determinative agency to ancient religious texts or authorities, as if existential circumstances-repression, humiliation, prison, occupation, civilizational domination, or intellectual maturation--contribute nothing to the ways in which these are read and pressed into service, is to fall victim to the stricture's of one's own ideological prism, ultimately resulting in what might amount to a form of "reverse fundamentalism," or in Amitai Etzioni's words, a species of "Mutliple Realism Deficiency Disorder." [134]
-from Dr. Sherman Jackson's introduction to his translation of Initiative to Stop the Violence (Mubādarat Waqf al-'Unf): Sadat's Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 46-47.