Wednesday, July 1, 2015

David Brooks (June 30, 2015): The Next Culture War

Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution. 
Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.
Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness. 
We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through. 
Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely. 
The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life. 
This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.

via Dan 

Call for Immediate Halt to Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), Sponsored by Shalom Hartman Institute

This is a public letter in criticism of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), a program designed and funded by the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) in Jerusalem. We are American Muslims who know and have worked with MLI’s architect, Imam Abdullah Antepli. We call for an end to this program that we consider a betrayal to the Palestinian people, and a betrayal of our own highest aspiration towards the loftiest ethics of justice for American Muslims. Furthermore, we call on the previous MLI cohort participants and those invited to take part in the upcoming third cohort to suspend their participation as a moral and courageous act of solidarity with the Palestinians, and also to chart a higher ethical path for American Islam.
Signed: Laila El-Haddad, Kamal Abu Shamsieh, Zareena Grewal, Hatem Bazian, Omid Safi

Building a More Lively Connection to God and His Beloved: Reflections on Ramadan from Istanbul

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MacIntyre on liberalism as a tradition

For, notwithstanding its claim of breaking with tradition, liberalism itself, as MacIntyre further explains, evolved to become a tradition: "liberal theory is best understood, not at all as an attempt to find a rationality independent of tradition, but as itself the articulation of an historically developed and developing set of institutions and forms of activity....Like other traditions, liberalism has its set of authoritative texts, and its disputes over their interpretation." [14]
-Samira Haj, Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 5.

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.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Excerpt from Abdal-Hakim Murad's Spiritual Life in Ottoman Turkey

Another feature of the later Mevlevis, as with many Halvetis, Bayramis, and some others, was a strong devotion to the family of the Prophet, an attitude which some of them pushed beyond the point usually reached in Sunni piety, so that pilgrimages to Karbala, commemorations of the death of Imam Hüseyin and other devotional emphases more usually associated with Shi’ism became widespread. However, this ‘devotional Shi’ism’, a characteristic of Turkish piety even outside the tarikats, almost never stepped over the dividing-line into ‘sectarian Shi’ism’. As the Mevlevi poet Esrar Dede (d.1797) expressed it: 
I am the slave of the lovers of the Prophet,
Neither a Kharijite nor a misled Shi’ite am I;
I am the bondsman of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman,
And I travel upon the path of ‘Ali, God’s saint. 
A. Gölpinarli, Mevlânâ’dan sonra Mevlevîlik (Istanbul, 1953), 227.

Two Quotes on Tradition from Prof. Zareena Grewal's book, Islam is a Foreign Country

Elements of the past are mediated into the present by custodians, individuals in the present who decide which aspects of the past are nonessential to the tradition's future and, therefore, may be deleted or deemphasized. Custodians also decide which elements should be emphasized, highlighted, even added in order to ensure the tradition's survival in the future.[1]

Tradition is dynamic, and it derives part of its dynamism from the transmission process. This transmission process is also subjective and shaped by the needs and assessments of people in the present. As Walter Benjamin put it, "every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.' Tradition is built on the past, and yet its relationship to the past is not natural but discursive, constituted by discontinuities as much as by its continuities. The analogy of a river changing its water captures the way the past operates in a tradition, as a 'continuity of adaptation,' both 'unlike the present and yet continuous with it.' [2]

[1] Grewal, Zareena. Islam Is a Foreign Country, 200.
[2] Grewal, Zareena. Islam Is a Foreign Country, 259.

Dr. Jackson on Muslim souls work

Beyond all the lectures and blogs, Muslims need institutions, spaces and sites of direct encounter that sustain the practices and engagements that refine and educate Muslim souls. And while the mosque would seem to be the natural candidate, the effectiveness of mosques is basically neutralized by the tendency, on the one hand, of the entrenched to universalize and absolutize a single approach or practice (like doing nothing but shooting three-pointers) and by the tendency, on the other hand, of “everyday Muslims” who are so saturated with the value of autonomy and (liberal) freedom (in its popular understanding) that they abhor anything that smacks of discipline let alone constraint (they just want to play schoolyard ball). Attempts to invoke or operationalize even the most basic values or sensibilities of Islam are all too often experienced as negative indictments, whence the ubiquitous refrain, “Don’t judge me.” In the end, we end up with a lot of talent, a lot of dropouts (who still show up for the big game — Eid?), a bunch of pseudo-coaches and countless commentators, but never a team that has a snowball’s chance of winning. As corny as it may sound, all this ultimately brings us back to the simple value of Muslim unity — not uniformity. For only in unity can Muslims establish and give the needed multiplier effect to the knowledge, practices and “soul-support” that can sustain them as Muslims and enable them to face, with dignity and poise, the kinds of challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that any attempt to live a God-centered life is likely to bring. And God knows best. 

Dr. Jackson: Liberalism and the American Muslim Predicament (June 27, 2015)

And here we come to “the Muslim predicament,” especially in the West. Because liberals have largely succeeded in monopolizing the meaning of the fundamental principles through which we negotiate modern life (freedom, equality, tolerance, rationality, etc.), Muslims find themselves only able to claim these when their claims comport with liberal definitions thereof. And when their scriptural sources or traditional authorities appear to be out of sync with these definitions, Muslims find themselves in the position of George Orwell’s Winston: “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” From here they proceed, often on painfully tortuous logic, to try to reconcile every aspect of Islam with the reigning liberal paradigm. In this context, Muslims — and especially Muslim children — can never simply be themselves. Rather, they are condemned to a dark, musty and lonely world of quiet, subjunctive, nervousness (W.E.B. Du Bois’ “double-consciousness” on steroids), as they try to vindicate their identity and commitments — both to themselves and to the world around them — through processes of rational justification over which others preside as owners, even as they themselves continue to be cast as the greatest threat to basic human welfare.