Monday, June 29, 2015

Opening of Samira Haj's Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition

Like a specter haunting the Western mind, Islamic revivalism appears in distorted forms, rarely conceptualized on its own terms. Instead, Islam is framed through a particular reading of the experience of post-Reformation Europe, an uncritical self-understanding of the emergence of European modernity. Western definitions of the "modern," which inform the larger body of scholarship on Islam, presume a necessary qualitative break with the traditional past. [1] The modern is defined in terms of European conceptual and institutional arrangements in which religion has been marginalized from civil society, state, and politics. Accordingly, the modern becomes the site of a progressive emancipatory historical unfolding, whereas tradition, its conceptual opposite, is the locus of tyrannical politics and social stagnation. And the political subject who inhabits this space of the modern is necessarily an autonomous, self-constitutive, and tradition-free individual. These categories do not adequately comprehend Islamic imaginaries or the forms of subjectivities that might possibly emerge in a modern Islamic world. Once the institutions and practices of Western liberal societies are conceptualized as the measure of the modern, it is not surprising that across the scholarship on Islamic movements today, Islam is often depicted (either explicitly or implicitly) as a major, if not the principal, contemporary force threatening democracy and individual freedom.
-Samira Haj, Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 1.