Thursday, December 8, 2016

Shahab Ahmed on modern Muslims' disconnect from pre-modern ways of engaging Revelation

Modern Muslims conceive of Islam in terms that are crucially different to how pre-modern Muslims conceived of Islam—different, that is, in terms of the focus, emphasis, and weightage of the hermeneutical engagement with Revelation. Modern Muslims have largely lost the routine hermeneutical habit of making meaning in terms of Islam from Pre-Text and Con-Text of Revelation: modern Islam is, pre-dominantly, Islam of the Text of Revelation. Thus, when modern Muslims encounter statements of Islamic meaning that are made in terms of the hermeneutical engagement with Pre-Text (the ideas of Ibn Sīnā or of Ibn ʿArabī, the poetry of Ḥāfiẓ, miniature paintings, the wine-cup of Jahāngīr, etc .) they are, by and large, unable to recognize or make sense of these statements as Islam . The encounter between Muslims and the force of the definitive constitutive elements of modernity has, in various ways, resulted in the formation of a new species of human being, the modern Muslim , who conceives of his/her-self as a Muslim in terms of Islam that are crucially different to how pre-modern Muslims conceived of themselves as Muslim—precisely because the modern Muslim conceives of Revelation in a manner that is crucially different to how pre-modern Muslims conceived of Revelation. Modernity has resulted in nothing less than a reconstitution of the concept of Revelation that is, perhaps, best characterized in the parlance of business management as a downsizing of Revelation from Pre-Text, Text, and Con-Text, to Text more-or-less alone—or to Text read in highly-depleted Con-text. This modern downsizing of the terms of the hermeneutical engagement of Islam has rendered (the majority of) modern Muslims in a cognitive and epistemic condition where they are largely unable to establish a coherent conceptual relationship between modern Islam and pre-modern Islam: it has, in other words, rendered modern Muslims largely unable to conceptualize human and historical Islam. [230]
-Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic(Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2015, 515-6.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On the call of 'revivalists' for ijtihād vs. taḥqīq

For many of the "revivalists" of the 18th and 19th century, the emphasis fell on ijtihād, rather than on taḥqīq in the sense of rational or mystical-experiential verification of received scholarly opinions. As has been pointed out by R. Peters, the call for renewed ijtihād in the 18th and 19th centuries tended to go hand in hand, not with "rationalism" or "modernism" as is often supposed, but with "fundamentalism," that is, a radically scripturalist and antischolastic stance. [88] The prevalent scholastic tradition was found wanting, not because it was insufficiently "rational" or "flexible," but precisely because it was believed to have been too flexible and rational through the ages and had cease to be sufficiently grounded in the Qur'an and the Sunna. The 18th and 19th century "revivalists," naturally enough, tended to portray their opponents as rigid and unthinking imitators. Less understandably, a host of modern historians, both Western and Eastern, have uncritically adopted this partisan view. Consequently, the very existence of an alternative to both scripturalist ijtihād and unthinking imitation was lost to sight. The age before the 18th and 19th century "revivalist" ijtihād movements was accordingly viewed as marred by rigid and unthinking imitation.
-Khaled El-Rouayheb, "Opening the Gate of Verification: The Forgotten Arab-Islamic Florescence of the 17th Century," Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2 (May, 2006), pp. 275-6.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rorty's prediction of the breakdown...

Richard Rorty, in Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, fears that a breakdown will be inevitable once workers realize that the government has no genuine interest in raising low and substandard wages, halting the exportation of jobs overseas, or curbing crippling personal debt. White-collar workers, who are also being downsized, will turn to the far right, he writes, and refuse to be taxed to provide social benefits:
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodern professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once such a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic. 
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
-Chris Hedges, The Wages of Rebellion:  The Moral Imperative of Revoltp. 148-9.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Blanqui on 'progress'

[French revolutionary Louis Auguste] Blanqui is an important, if neglected, nineteenth-century theorist, for unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, he dismissed the naive belief, central to Marx, that human history is a linear progression toward equality and greater morality. He warned that this absurd positivism is the lie perpetrated by oppressors: "All atrocities of the victor, the long series of his attacks are coldly transformed into constant, inevitable evolution, like that of nature...But the sequence of human things is not inevitable like that of the universe. It can be changed at any moment." He also foresaw that scientific and technological advancement, rather than a harbinger of progress, could be "a terrible weapon in the hands of Capital against Work and Thought." He even decried the despoiling of the natural world. "The axe fells, nobody replants. There is no concern for the future's ill health." "Humanity," he write, "is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march leads it to equality. Its regressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to property." Further, "I am not amongst those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards." His understanding that history can usher in long periods of repression as well as freedom and liberty is worth remembering.
-Chris Hedges, The Wages of Rebellion:  The Moral Imperative of Revolt, p. 13-14. 

Reverence for the sacred

And there will have to be a recovery of reverence for the sacred, the bedrock of premodern society, so we can see each other and the earth not as objects to exploit but as living beings to be revered and protected. This recovery will require a very different vision for human society.
-Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion, 220. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

New Mission Statement of the Cambridge Muslim College (CMC)

The mission of the College is to develop Muslim faith leadership through world-class education, training and research based on a genuine dialogue between the Islamic intellectual tradition and the ideas and circumstances of the modern world.
This is a response to the urgent need for leaders and thinkers capable of articulating and enacting the positive role Muslims and Islam can and should play as part of modern, multi-cultural British society and the world as a whole.
The strategic aims of the College in the furtherance of its mission are:
  1. Developing accredited courses which meet the education and training needs of those working or intending to work in Muslim faith leadership in the context of modern British society;
  2. Developing accredited courses which combine substantial subject knowledge and understanding of the Islamic intellectual tradition with the comparative, critical and historically-contextualised paradigms of the modern academy;
  3. Supporting research that will inform the development of these courses specifically and contribute to the development of Islamic Studies, Religious Studies and Theology as academic disciplines generally;
  4. Supporting the dissemination of the College’s work through other channels for the benefit of the wider community and to encourage greater public engagement with the College’s mission and objectives.
The College is independent of governments and is not affiliated to any Islamic movement. CMC provides a prayerful context for strengthening da’wa skills and scholarly resources to support all who care about the continuing health and dynamism of the Muslim community.
CMC is accredited by the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education.
http://www.cambridgemuslimcollege.org/about/objective/ 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Taqlid, ijtihad, "chaos on earth", flexibility and 'some sort of synthesis'


The redefinition of ijtihad as a lay rather than restricted practice has facilitated radical transformations in the ways Muslims define Islam's unifying ethical ideals. Communities of Muslims became bound by the search for a "true" Islam, and a set of hermeneutical tools for that search, but the hermeneutics of "true" Islam only produce multiple truths and multiple communities. I do not argue that this independence of thought and religious diversity is inherently dangerous, or that law must be as rigid as the nineteenth-century conservatives claimed it was in order to preserve social order. Indeed, the search for religious truth is part of human existence, and legal systems must be able to adapt to changing social circumstances. Although those who sought to preserve the unity of their community by restricting ijtihad predicted the contemporary upheaval in public belief, this "chaos on the earth," a return to taqlid would probably not provide the flexibility needed to maintain a legitimate legal system today. Some sort of synthesis of traditional sources and methodologies that restricts ijtihad and provision of fatwas to specialists, to encourage some measure of social consensus on the definition of the community, and its legal basis, is needed. Attempts so far to create such a synthesis have been given little popular attention. [68]
-Indira Falk Gesink, "'Chaos on the Earth': Subjective Truths versus Communal
Unity in Islamic Law and the Rise of Militant Islam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 108, Issue 3, pg. 15, paragraph 58.

I just read this article for the first time for a class on Islam that I am TA'ing for. I appreciated it for its scholarly historical and political analysis of some changes in the usage of terminology, especially by modernist thinkers like Afghani and 'Abduh, and how they viewed scholarly learning as well as the idea of how welcoming all sorts of lay interpretation as authoritative can possibly lead to "chaos on earth."

Thursday, October 6, 2016

NYT Magazine piece on Marshall Hodgson

The 16th-century Persian painter Dust Muhammad wrote: “Verily our works point to us/so gaze after us at our works.” Human lives are so short; we leave behind so many sad people and so much unfinished work. But creative energy is transmitted down through the generations. For Hodgson, learning was love, and love was endless. In the loveless, waning days of 2016, it feels like a revelation: something we can point to and say, “This, too, was possible.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-the-life-of-marshall-hodgson.html 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"The past is always new;

as life proceeds it changes, because parts of it that may have once seemed to have sunk into oblivion rise to the surface and others vanish without a trace because they have come to have such slight importance. The present conducts the past in the way a conductor conducts an orchestra. It wants these particular sounds, or those – and no others. That explains why the past may at times seem very long and at times very short... The only part of it that is highlighted is the part that has been summoned up to illumine, and to distract us from, the present.
-Italian author Italo Svevo in the 1920's. Quoted in Khaled El-Rouyaheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth Century: Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 202-3, who quotes it from A. Assmann, Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 7–8. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Recording of "The Secular and the Sacred in Higher Education": A Conversation with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. John Sexton, moderated by Rev. Dr. Serene Jones

In case you missed the incredible event last night (9/27), you can now listen to the full audio from The Secular and the Sacred in Higher Education: A Conversation with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. John Sexton, moderated by Rev. Dv. Serene Jones. This lecture was the annual Fritzi Weitzmann Owens Memorial Lecture at the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership at NYU and was cosponsored by the Islamic Center at NYU and the New York Community Trust.
 http://aae251.podomatic.com/entry/2016-09-28T09_40_31-07_00

Friday, September 23, 2016

Jamillah Karim: Terence Crutcher, May God grant him the highest level of Paradise

The Goldziher Prize is an award for excellence in the coverage of American Muslims by an individual or team of U.S. journalists.

http://www.goldziher.org/#home
The Goldziher Prize was created in response to the rising fear and hateful actions toward American Muslims. The Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College, an independent college in the Catholic Augustinian tradition, and the William and Mary Greve Foundation seek to publicly recognize and stimulate stories or opinion pieces about Muslims in the U.S. 
via Hussein

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

England’s Forgotten Muslim History (NYT, 9/17/2016).

It turns out that Islam, in all its manifestations — imperial, military and commercial — played an important part in the story of England. Today, when anti-Muslim rhetoric inflames political discourse, it is useful to remember that our pasts are more entangled than is often appreciated. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/opinion/sunday/englands-forgotten-muslim-history.html

Jerry Brotton, a professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary University of London, is the author of The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Walid Saleh on the centrality of the tafsir tradition in Islamic intellectual history

What should be clear from this summary is that Ibn 'Āshūr was writing a history of tafsīr as an intellectual historytafsīr as part of the religious history of Islam — not as a string of biographies of exegetes. The attention given to the teaching and transmission of tafsīr was for him central. The gloss here becomes a major part of this history; after the 13th century the gloss became the main vehicle for scholarly creativity in tafsīr. These insights into the history and development of the genre are simply unmatched in the field. Ibn 'Āshūr’s analysis once and for all resolves the problem of assessing the cultural significance of the genre of Qur'ān commentary in Islam. It proves that tafsīr was central to the concerns of the scholarly elite, central to the educational system, and central in the formation of the worldview of Muslim intellectuals. The Qur'ān as a hermeneutical concern was central to Islamic culture, and this hermeneutical concern, this intellectual obsession, was independent of any apparent utilitarian function. The Qur'ān as a text was
the abiding concern of the educational system.
-Saleh, Walid. "Marginalia and peripheries: a Tunisian historian and the history of Quránic exegesis." Numen 58, no. 2-3 (January 1, 2011): 284-313, 308.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Peace belongs to one who is inwardly at peace with the Will of Heaven

and outwardly at war with the forces of disruption and disequilibrium. (Nasr)

the spirit and the material

There is no room in Islam for the dualism of a good spiritual realm and an evil material sphere: this world too has been created by God, and He has made it subservient to man...[Quoting Nasr] "The spirituality of Islam of which the Prophet is the prototype is not the rejection of the world but the transcending of it through its integration into a Centre and the establishment of a harmony upon which the quest of the Absolute is based." [...] Therefore the mystic who, completely submerged in the vision of God, wants to stay forever in the realm of spirit without returning hither to the material sphere, has been frequently contrasted in Islamic thought with the Prophet, who returned to this world after his ineffable dialogue with God, in order to ameliorate the world and to implement the fruits of his inspiration for the betterment of society.
-Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985), p. 53.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The focus of the early revelations

The revelations that descended upon Muhammad from about 610 onward spoke primarily of God the One, Who is both the Creator of the world and its Judge. He will call mankind before His judgment unless they follow the commands to love their neighbors, to do justice, and to act honestly. In the early, short suras, as the chapter of the Koran later came to be called, the terrors of the Day of Judgment are depicted in brief and powerful, rhyming sentences that follow each other like sharp lightning and roaring thunder. The Meccans did not find this message very convincing; in particular, the idea of the resurrection of the dead did not make much sense to them. But the revelations Muhammad repeatedly received to counter such doubts argued that even the earth, seemingly dead in winter, could bring forth fresh greenery in the spring, and that the miracle of conception and birth is not less than that of the resurrection of the flesh.
-Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985), p. 12.

[Re-reading for a course on Islam that I am TA'ing for this semester alhamdullilah. I thought she offered this description of the early revelations in a concise and lovely manner.]

Hodgson on the 'Dialectic of a Cultural Tradition' (previous quote expanded)

For historically, Islam and its associated lifeways form a cultural tradition, or a complex of cultural traditions; and a cultural tradition by its nature grows and changes; the more so, the broader its scope. 
Tradition can cease to be living, can degenerate to mere transmission. A recipe for a holiday pastry may be (traditional' in the sense merely that it is transmitted unaltered from mother to daughter for untold generations. If it is merely transmissive, a sheer habit, then any change of circumstances may lead to its abandonment, at least once the mother is gone. But if it is vital, meeting a real need, then the tradition will be readjusted or grow as required by circumstances. A living cultural tradition, in fact, is always in course of development. Even if a pattern of activity remains formally identical in a changed context, its meaning can take on new implications; it can be gradually, even imperceptibly, reconceived. A pastry first made when all foods were prepared at home inevitably becomes something very different when it alone is home-made, though exactly the recipe be used. To cling to the recipe then requires, or perhaps produces, a new point of view toward the pastry. But even without so drastic a change in circumstances, the recipe and its use will prove to have a history. Even in primitive life, over the millennia or even only the centuries, fuel differed, or water, or the quality of the utensils. Eventually, if the tradition was genuinely alive, some cook found that the recipe itself could be improved on in the changed conditions. As she did so, she was not abandoning the tradition but rather keeping it alive by letting it grow and develop. 
Living societies seem never to have been actually static. With the advent of citied and lettered life, this dynamic aspect of cultural tradition was intensified; or, rather, the living tradition-process was speeded up and became more visible, so that generation by generation within each tradition there was a conscious individual cultural initiative in response to the ever-new needs or opportunities of the time. 
-Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977), vol. 1, p. 79-80. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Muslims Do on Hajj, and Why

"My Hajj Reading List: Preparing for Mecca"

Dr. Hatem: Muslim intellectuals and America's imperial project

Increasingly, Muslim American intellectuals call on segments of the community to refrain from engagement or critique of America's role abroad and urge a focus on domestic and "our" own problems. Here, the call is narrowly focused on refraining from foreign policy issues that may constrain the intended integrationist trajectory that might face derailment if serious opposition is mounted. Is the domestic really disconnected from the global? If it is disconnected, then in what way and how should it be navigated?

How can an intellectual argue for a focus on the domestic at a time when U.S. power, in all its manifestations, is on display daily across the globe? Walk to any grocery or department store across the country and you are immediately connected to the global dimension and the heavy impact of U.S. foreign policy, which is wedded to pernicious capitalist consumption. One may choose to ignore the "inconvenient truth" of the heavy weight of U.S. power across the globe because centering it in thought and action will complicate Muslim Americans' ability to "fit-in" and be accepted as the jolly next-door neighbor that patriotically flies the biggest and highest flag on the street.
[...] American Muslim intellectuals are joining the bandwagon and fitting in perfectly as functionaries of this massive and persistent domestic and global imperial enterprise. In 1967, MLK spoke of the internal and external colonial as he moved to critique the Vietnam War and the on-going racism directed at African Americans and minorities in America's cities.
Muslim intellectuals should carefully examine the monumental contribution of African American intellectuals in the 20th century - if not before - so as to understand the American imperial project with which they are being asked to partner. The problem is how to decipher the current state of affairs where Muslim intellectuals are being funded directly or indirectly by various U.S. government institutions to produce a Muslim subjectivity that affirms and rationalizes the empire, non-stop militarism, obscene capitalism, securitization and otherization paradigm. Under various rubrics, integrations, assimilation, patriotism, Americanism, exceptionalism and inclusion, Muslim intellectuals at America's red carpet of power end up reproducing the paradigmatic externalization of the community as a whole and rationalize empire in the process. 
http://www.dailysabah.com/columns/hatem-bazian/2016/09/08/muslim-intellectuals-and-americas-imperial-project 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tariq Ramadan in the Guardian: The politics of fear: how Britain’s anti-extremism strategy has failed

What is needed instead is a plan that deals with the phenomenon at many different levels and, first and foremost, focuses on grassroots education. To do this, local Muslim organisations must accept full partnership. Communication needs to be established with such groups to help build confidence in state institutions. At present, those organisations – the “good Muslims”– which the government collaborates with or finances, frequently enjoy no street credibility: how could they, if they never criticise the domestic or foreign policies of their government sponsor?
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/05/politics-of-fear-britain-anti-extremism-prevent-government-radicalisation

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

a post-formative stage of an attitudinal normalization of the principle of agreeing to disagree

The Balkans-to-Bengal complex constitutes what we might usefully conceive of as a post-formative stage and condition in the history of societies of Muslims—a stage at which earlier foundational elements are brought together in a capacious and productive historical synthesis that, in turn, provides a maniplex yet stable ingrediential base for a further striking forth in a dynamic variety of trajectories of being Muslim. By the thirteenth century (seventh century of Islamic history), the major theological points of dispute which had riven the community of Muslims in its first centuries were for the most part settled, with the theological schools—primarily (in terms of demographics) the Ashʿarīs and Mātūrīdīs—agreeing to disagree over an agreed set of secondary theological questions. [183]  Similarly, beginning from the thirteenth century, the mutual recognition by the scholars of the four Sunnī legal schools of the orthodoxy of each other’s legal method and corpus of legal positions—that is, the acceptance by members of one legal school of the validity of the legal position of another school even when one position directly contradicts the other—exemplifies a larger attitudinal normalization  of the principle of agreeing to disagree. [184]
-Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic(Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2015, 75-76. 

A sample of the 'overlapping curriculum of madrasahs from the Balkans to Begal'

Further, in this period, a set of institutions mark the social, physical and imaginal landscape of the Balkans-to-Bengal societies of Muslims in an inter-relational matrix that structures and configures discourse differently to what has gone before. Exemplary among these is the proliferation of the public institution of the madrasah (made possible by the prodigious application of the legal institution of the waqf endowment) which displaces the private household as the major locus of education and which, in the vast territory of Balkans-to-Bengal, is characterized by a remarkably overlapping curriculum not only of subjects and program of study, but also of books. [185] From the Balkans to Bengal, madrasah students studied similar texts: foundational works of logic such as the the Īsāghūjī (Isagoge) of Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 1265) [186] (whose other foundational text, the Hidāyat al-Ḥikmah, has been discussed earlier) and al-Risālah al-Shamsiyyah of Najm al-Dīn al-Qazwīnī al-Kātibī (d.1204–1277); [187] of dialectics, such as the Risālah Samarqandiyyah of Shams al-Dīn al-Samarqandī (fl. 1303) and the commentaries thereon; [188]  of “argumentative” (that is, dialectical) philosophical theology, [189] such as the Mawāqif  of ʿAḍud al-Dīn al-Ījī (d. 1355), [190] the Maṭāli al-anẓār of Abū al-Thanāʾ al-Iṣfahānī (d. 1349), [191] and the Sharḥ al-Maqāṣid of Saʿd al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī (d. 1389); [192] of Qurʾānic exegesis such as the Kashshāf of the Muʿtazilī rationalist, Jār Allāh al-Zamakhsharī (d. 1144), [193] and the “toning-down”of the rationalism of the Kashshāf in the Anwār al-tanzīl of ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar al Bayḍāwī (fl. 1305); [194] of Hadith (not only the Ṣaḥīḥs of al-Bukhārī and Muslim, but also later Hadith selections, such as the Mishkāt al-Maṣābīh of Walī al-Dīn al-Tibrīzī (fl. 1337); [195] and of fiqh-jurisprudence, such as, in the cases of the Ḥanafī Ottoman and Mughal madrasahs, the Hidāyah of Burhān al-Dīn al-Marghīnānī (d. 1197), and the commentaries thereon. [196]
-Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic(Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2015, 76-78. 

God as the sole Necessary Existent (wājib al-wujūd)

The historical centrality and foundationality to the history of Muslims of the philosophers’ rational striving to know truth-as-it-Really-is can most economically be illustrated by way of the philosophers’ definition of God. Ibn Sīnā conceptualized God as the sole Necessary Existent (wājib al-wujūd) upon W/which all other existents are necessarily contingent. It is this philosophers’ conceptualization of God that became the  operative concept of the Divinity taught in madrasahs to students of theology via  the standard introductory textbook on logic, physics, and metaphysics which was taught to students in madrasahs in cities and towns throughout the vast region from the Balkans
to Bengal in the rough period 1350–1850, and which was tellingly entitled Hidāyat al-ḥikmah, or Guide to Ḥikmah [45] In the discourse of madrasah theology, God is conceptually posited as and routinely referred to as “The Necessary Existent”...
-Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2015, 18-19.

[Chapter 1 is available as a PDF on the Princeton University Press website. http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10587.pdf]

Monday, August 29, 2016

al-Rāzī on love of this world, true love & happiness in the Hereafter

In commenting on this verse [Q3:142], al-Rāzī says,
Know that love of this world cannot coexist with happiness in the Hereafter, and to the degree that one of them increases the other diminishes. That is because happiness in the world only is achieved by the heart's occupation with worldliness, and happiness in the Hereafter can only be achieved by emptying the heart of all that is other than God and filling it with the love of God. Not all those who affirm the religion of God are truthful. Rather, in the difference there is a question of the sway of things that we hate and things that we love. Love is that which does not diminish with difficulty and does not increase through fulfillment. If love survives the onset of suffering, it is shown to be true love.
SQ, p. 169. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Nicholas Kristof: Do You Care More About a Dog Than a Syrian?

Professor [Ebrahim Moosa] launches project to advance scientific and theological literacy among madrasa graduates in India

With a $1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame, has launched a three-year project to enrich scientific and theological literacy among recent graduates of Islamic seminaries in India. 
Working with scholars and teachers at Notre Dame and in India, Moosa will develop a curriculum and online learning program that integrates modern and classical knowledge traditions for young orthodox seminarians in India. 
The teaching team will recruit and train 100 recent madrasa graduates who are eager to acquire scientific knowledge that is indigenous to the Muslim tradition and interested in exposure to comparative theologies and modern humanities and social sciences. 
“Equipped with these knowledge resources,” Moosa said, “madrasa graduates can discover new ways to transform their lives and advance human dignity and the public good.” 
http://news.nd.edu/news/66428-professor-launches-project-to-advance-scientific-and-theological-literacy-among-madrasa-graduates-in-india/

New book: Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World by Shadi Hamid

In Islamic Exceptionalism, Brookings Institution scholar and acclaimed author Shadi Hamid offers a novel and provocative argument on how Islam is, in fact, "exceptional" in how it relates to politics, with profound implications for how we understand the future of the Middle East. Divides among citizens aren't just about power but are products of fundamental disagreements over the very nature and purpose of the modern nation state―and the vexing problem of religion’s role in public life. Hamid argues for a new understanding of how Islam and Islamism shape politics by examining different models of reckoning with the problem of religion and state, including the terrifying―and alarmingly successful―example of ISIS.  
With unprecedented access to Islamist activists and leaders across the region, Hamid offers a panoramic and ambitious interpretation of the region's descent into violence. Islamic Exceptionalism is a vital contribution to our understanding of Islam's past and present, and its outsized role in modern politics. We don't have to like it, but we have to understand it―because Islam, as a religion and as an idea, will continue to be a force that shapes not just the region, but the West as well in the decades to come. 
 “Shadi Hamid provides an invaluable corrective to Western interpretations of Islam, Islamism, and the future of democracy in the Muslim world. Whatever debate remains to be had cannot take place without reference to this insightful and sympathetic document.”–Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower and Thirteen Days in September

 “A riveting account of the Arab Spring and all that followed, by one of the world’s leading scholars on political Islam. Shadi Hamid explains convincingly that Islam and the political movements it spawns are truly exceptional and likely to frustrate the ‘liberal determinists’ who believe that history inevitably gravitates to a secular future. A hugely important book.” –General David Petraeus (Ret.), former director of the CIA and commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan

 “Islamic Exceptionalism is an honest, deeply researched, and at times anguished effort to make sense of the Middle East after the failure of the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS. Particularly rich and subtle on the crisis facing the Muslim Brotherhood, the book offers both a snapshot of a painful moment and a long-view inquiry into the meeting between Islam and democracy. Sobering, urgent reading for anyone who cares about the region, past and future.” –Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School and author of Cool War, Scorpions, and The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

 “Beyond the zero-sum proposals of Islam or liberalism, Shadi Hamid boldly wrestles with how these two can negotiate the future of Muslim polities. Along the way, he educates us, challenging entrenched stereotypes and blind presumptions, especially the notion that the Muslim world must, can, or should go the way of the West. Islam is a constant not a variable. Islamic Exceptionalism suggests that this may be the beginning of wisdom for anyone wishing to understand, let alone shape, the political future of majority Muslim states.”–Sherman A. Jackson, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture, University of Southern California


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dr. Umar: The Perceptible and the Unseen: The Qu’anic Conception of Man’s Relationship to God and Realities Beyond Human Perception

https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/mormons-and-muslims/perceptible-and-unseen-quranic-conception-mans-relationship-god-and

Umar F. Abd-Allah, “The Perceptible and the Unseen: The Qur’anic Conception of Man’s Relationship to God and Realities Beyond Human Perception,” in Mormons and Muslims: Spiritual Foundations and Modern Manifestations, ed. Spencer J. Palmer (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 2002), 209–64.

via Shaykh Omar Qureshi

Video with Shadi Hamid in The Atlantic: "Will the Middle East Ever Be Secular?"


Will the Middle East Ever Be Secular? Jul 16, 2016 |  Video by The Atlantic

In this era of ISIS, many debates in the West center on how followers of Islam will eventually, through a series of steps and growing pains, arrive at liberal democracy. Shadi Hamid, the author of the new book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World, believes that Muslims don’t want that path. In this animated interview by The Atlantic, Hamid explains how not only was the Prophet Mohammed a religious figure, he was a politician. In fact, for much of the Middle East’s existence, there hasn’t been a separation of religion and governance. "Islam has proven to be resistant to secularization," he says. “We don't have to like it or agree with it...but the goal shouldn't be to push [Islam] away or exclude people, it has to be to find ways to accommodate Islam in a legal, peaceful, democratic process.”

Authors: Shadi Hamid, Daniel Lombroso, Caitlin Cadieux

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/491501/will-the-middle-east-ever-be-secular/

Monday, August 8, 2016

Roy Scranton, "The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to 'Redeployment' and 'American Sniper'", LA Review of Books, Jan 25, 2015

American Sniper focuses in tight on one man’s story of trauma, leaving out the complex questions of why Kyle was in Iraq being traumatized in the first place. The Iraqis in the film are villains, caricatures, and targets, and the only real opinion on them the film offers is Kyle’s. The Iraqis are all “savages” who threaten American lives and need to be killed. There’s some truth in this representation, insofar as this is how a lot of American soldiers thought. Yet the film obviates the questions of why any American soldiers were in Iraq, why they stayed there for eight years, why they had to kill thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians, and how we are to understand the long and ongoing bloodbath once called the “war on terror.” It does that precisely by turning a killer into a victim, a war hero into a trauma hero. [...]
The sad fact Klay plays on is that most American readers will care more about a dead dog than they will about a dead Iraqi, and in this way “Redeployment” opens up an emotional conduit for those readers to feel the pang of grief that can come with killing, but without having to connect that feeling to the political reality of the war in Iraq. Whereas an Iraqi victim would have to be reckoned with as a fellow human being, with all the complexity that entails, a dog can simply be pitied and his killer simply empathized with. This moral simplification comes at a cost. [...]
The Yellow Birds, “Redeployment,” and American Sniper may portray a loss of innocence that makes the dirty war in Iraq palatable as an individual tragedy, but they only do so by obscuring the connection between American audiences and the millions of Iraqi lives destroyed or shattered since 2003. Focusing on the suffering of Private Bartle, Sergeant Price, or Chief Petty Officer Kyle allows us to forget the suffering of the very people whose land was occupied in our name. There are almost no Iraqis in The Yellow Birds or Redeployment at all, and where they do appear, they are caricatures. If the point of literature is to help us “recognize [our] own suffering in the stories of others,” as George Packer sententiously asserts, rather than soothing our troubled consciences with precisely the stories we want to hear, then novels such as The Yellow Birdsand stories such as “Redeployment” are gross moral and literary failures. But the failure does not belong to the writers. It belongs to all the readers and citizens who expect veterans to play out for them the ritual fort-da of trauma and recovery, and to carry for them the collective guilt of war. 
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/trauma-hero-wilfred-owen-redeployment-american-sniper/

[brought to my attention by Michiko Kakutani's review in the NYT of Scranton's new novel War Porn (just out this month).]

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pope Francis: Powerful People Don’t Want Peace Because They Profit from War


Francis responded by saying the question should really be, “Why do many powerful people not want peace?” 
“Because they live off war — the arms industry,” he said. “Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms and sell them to one country for them to use against another country … It’s the industry of death, the greed that harms us all, the desire to have more money.” 
“When we see that everything revolves around money,” the Pope continued, “the economic system revolves around money and not around the person, men and women, but money — so much is sacrificed and war is waged in order to defend the money.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Khaled Abou El Fadl on the role of Muslim jurists in a nation state today

The role and function of Islamic law in the modern age has changed dramatically. In the age of the nation-state, the interpreters of the Shari‘ah play a fundamentally different role— they are no longer the maintainers of law and order and functionaries of a living sociologically viable legal system. The jurists of today cannot rely on the authoritative weight yielded by the idea of rule of law because they are no longer the representatives of that principle of law and order. The jurists of Islamic law in the current age ought to be far closer to being theologians and moral philosophers than lawyers. They no longer bear the burden of representing the law of the land, but they do bear the far more onerous and grave burden of being the advocates for the law of God. In other words, they cannot hide behind the functionalities and technicalities of legalism, but they must rise to the challenge of being the voice of conscience reminding people of the primordial, transcendental, and divine. This is nothing short of a complete shift of paradigm and total restructuring of the juristic culture in Islam. This is dictated by the fact that Islamic law in the contemporary democratic state cannot be enforced by the state. By definition, political sovereignty in the nation-state belongs to the citizenry of the state and not to God. The role of the faqih, or of the Shari‘ah expert, is critical— as the Qur’an describes it, [18] the role of those who study the divine law is to act as teachers and reminders to people of the call of conscience and the indicators (adilla) that point to God’s will. This necessarily means that the only method available to them is persuasion by appealing to people’s minds and hearts. If they fail to convince people to do what is good and right, then they have failed to be persuasive. I believe, however, that the function of those who take on the responsibility of witnessing for God is very different from the role played by those who are practitioners of a legal system. For those who witness on God’s behalf, testifying in terms of ethics, virtue, and also the aesthetics of beauty and transcendence is critical. Testifying for God— the very acts of shahada and jihad— is fundamentally about witnessing about godliness as opposed to godlessness. If under any set of circumstances a law or set of laws are attributed to God but the concrete results are unjust, unfair, oppressive, or ugly, this cannot be godly, and what is being perpetuated is a state of godlessness and not godliness.
Fadl, Khaled Abou El (2014-10-23). Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age (Kindle Locations 12529-12546). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. Page 365 in the book.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dartmouth student interviews Wirathu ‘(Myanmar nationalist.’” AKA ‘Burmese bin Laden')


#VQRTrueStory presents @khatrysarah on her encounter with Wirathu (1/5): “Don’t publish the article with any adjective I did not use,” he says. "If you want to use an adjective, use ‘Myanmar nationalist.’” He chuckles. “Don’t use ‘radical’ or ‘brutal.’ ‘Burmese bin Laden.’” // Wirathu, the Myanmar nationalist, sits across from me in a chamber of his monastery in Mandalay, his translator at the end of the desk between us. A monk fills his teacup. Another is stationed to his left with a large camera on a tripod, the lens aimed at me. // I’m in over my head. I didn’t expect to get to speak with him. With a taxi driver as my Burmese negotiator, I awaited him earlier today in this chamber. As he entered, the other monks instructed me to kneel, and from my knees I made my request. He refused me, explaining his distrust—his fear—of American media (TIME Magazine did name him “The Face of Buddhist Terror” in 2013). I promised only what I could: I would hear him out. // Something worked—my youth, my South Asian face, perhaps his own vanity. // A few hours later, I pass my first question to the translator: Why do you love Trump? // At the sound of that name, Wirathu gives an impulsive thumbs up. “He is a nationalist,” he says. “He is not like other people. He can behave toward the Muslims—but he will also protect his country. Most people will not speak the truth about them because the Muslim community is big and powerful. Trump dares to speak the truth.” // “In the past, the United States has been governed alternatively by Republicans and Democrats,” the translator continues. Wirathu folds the four fingers of his right hand down, counting Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. // “Now begins the Donald Trump age.” // Nuance has been lost in translation, of course, but this tale of Trump the truth-teller against the Muslim media is only the first of many he shares with me. // He answers with stories—simplistic, slippery. He elides “facts” but claims to speak for one truth: that of plain hate in his country toward Islam. His stories may have no need to cohere with reality, but he still gets to shape it. #VQRTrueStory #VQR #SarahKhatry #Extremism #myanmar #burma #wirathu
A photo posted by Virginia Quarterly Review (@vqreview) on