Catch-Up Posts: 8,9 and 14

Thank you for the consideration of these late posts.

Week 8:

In trying to discuss whether Progressive Islam is in line with classical jurisprudence we need to analyse what the key aspects of Progressive Islam were as well as define what “natural” and “reasonable” can be seen to be in this context.

Because the other arguments require it, I analyse what natural and reasonable look in this context. Classical jurisprudence within Islam had strong roots and many rulings that created a rigid system that created a very sharp line between what could be done and what was prohibited. These rulings were based upon Fiqh, a well-defined way to try achieve Sharia. Thus anything that broke away from the basic procedure of Fiqh is something out of place and unnatural with regards to Islam.

Afghani argues that the “dead hand of tradition” is what is holding Islam back and that to be able to flourish in the modern era a shift from Taqlid to Ijtihad needs to be made. The idea here is that the social stagnation brought upon by simply imitating past rulings (through Taqlid) can be overcome by using our own reason to adjust and develop Islam for a new time and place (Ijtihad). The issue with his congruency with classical jurisprudence is that he defined Ijtihad as a broader use of reason than was permitted through Fiqh. Classical jurists could have used Ijtihad to apply reason to readings of texts and then apply a limited judgement to this reading whereas Afghani leaves the constraint of textual support. This departure from Fiqh is what sets Afghani apart from classical jurists.

Abduh faced a similar case yet not to the same degree. He argued that the Qur’an existed in history within a certain context and should be read as such. He did not discard the classical definition of Ijtihad but the fact that he historicized it sets him apart from classical jurists in that he was willing to take a step back from simply using the exact meanings found in the Qur’an and Hadith to reach rulings. Applying a second degree of logic was something that classical jurists did not allow themselves in order to stay true to what Allah expected of them so Abduh’s act of placing the Qur’an in a certain context to reach different conclusions was also poles apart from classical jurisprudence.

In Rahman’s “double movement” theory we find the most explicit difference to classical jurisprudence. In the previous two examples it has become clear that Fiqh operated inside a boundary defined by a close reading of accepted texts and limited use of reason on these readings. Rahman places the Qur’an completely in context and allows us to draw two “arcs” to reach new conclusions. The first part is finding what was present at the time of the Prophet and then analysing the Qur’ans position towards this issue. Once we can determine a trajectory the Qur’an seems to endorse the second part allows for a ruling to be made in concordance with this supposed desire. Not only does the expand Ijtihad to the absolute extreme but this system runs in explicit contrast to Fiqh which makes it completely unacceptable by classical jurisprudential standards.

Through looking at the views of three Progressive interpreters of jurisprudence, it is clear that their works are fundamentally contradictory to Fiqh and thus classical jurisprudence as a whole.

Week 9:

Both the Revivalists and Modernists saw the state of Islam as being one of disunity and weakness which required urgent attention. The Revivalists saw the issue as being an internal one that could be addressed by returning to the Islam of generations past. Modernists saw the relative strength of Europe and decided that modernizing the Islamic world would be the only answer to a weaker position.

Some Revivalists believed the social stagnation of the previous centuries could be undone by placing more power in the hands of the people through a move to Ijtihad which would allow people to make sense of Islam within their own lives. Thus these Revivalist perspectives sensibly put a large focus on education and perhaps the best example is Shah Wali Allah who set up a schooling system that succeeded in the short term in providing a religiously based education to the people in areas supported by this system. Don Fudi similarly tried to use education to promote a communal Ijtihad but without buy-in from the government it was not as successful. Mohammad Sanusi proposed a retreat to Zawiyas far away from others that would allow his people to practice Islam in peace and without being disrupted by the French or Italians. In stark contrast to this was al-Wahhab who demanded a fundamental return to the teachings of the Qur’an and a complete dissolution of the juristic system which he believed was corrupt and immoral. This doctrine preached for less Ijtihad and a literalist reading of the Qur’an yet the same idea existed to bring back the people of Islam to an ideal state of being closer to the Prophet and his community. All of these movements were successful yet only on a local basis and thus did not change the course of Islam to come.

Modernists looked outwards to find that Islamic nations were in a weaker position than their European counterparts and found the answer to this disparity in trying to imitate what they saw. Leaders like Sultan Mahmud II and Muhammad Ali tried to modernise their nations through bringing in aspects of European nations like bureaucracy and technology. Whilst trying to stay with classical Islam the question came up as to whether technological change could come without social change and trying to juggle these two imperatives proved too much for Islamic modernization in these two cases. Afghani came into this with the distinctly anti-colonial powers view yet appreciated the value of science and philosophy that Islam could take from them. This lead to the apologetic use of European concepts as already present within Islam.

Week 14:

The Muslim experience within the United States is unique in that its path has converged with that of “black religion” to create a spectrum throughout the united states that ranges from Five-Percenters to the more classical Sunnis. This was set in motion through the start of the Moorish Science Temple which appropriated a number of Islamic characteristics and gave itself ostensibly to the teachings of Islam. While there has always been a presence of Muslims within the US since slavery, their numbers dropped over time due to the difficulties facing the black population that spread it to America. This meant that groups like the Moorish Science Temple could take the name of Islam without being challenged as unorthodox despite their practices being highly different to those found in Middle Eastern Islamic nations. This continued with the formation of the Nation of Islam and, keeping with the spirit of “black religion”, these religions practiced resistance towards White Supremacy and in some cases a segregationist policy. The important aspect here is that these churches were geared towards solving social issues faced by their followers.

Changes to immigration policy in 1965 resulted in an influx of immigrants that had practiced “orthodox” Islam back in their respective nations and took back the unquestioned authority over Islam that the previous generation of US Muslims had. This resulted in deep schisms within faiths and eventually the Nation of Islam split into those who would become traditional Sunni Muslims and those who would continue to follow the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan.

Given this context it is easy to see that the Muslim experience within the United States of America is varied and a product of the history experienced. If one were to be a Sunni their experience would no doubt be closer to that lived by more than a billion other people around the world but a member of the Nation lives a tradition that arose to counter the immediate and local problems faced by the community.

This tradition is made manifest in Hip Hop which served in many ways as an Islamic form of artistic resistance and expression. What makes it powerful and well connected to those it aims to serve is that it is consistent with the “black religion” culture that often uses music to express what the community is feeling. While flying in the face of conventional Islam, many rappers were continuing a tradition of using music to put forward their religion and views towards a society that doesn’t acknowledge their authority in subtle and artistic ways.

Catch-Up Posts: 8,9 and 14

Asad and his book

With a Thanksgiving break that offered me a relatively free weekend I sat down with Mr. Talal Asad to see what he thought about suicide bombing. In a two destructive chapters Asad has given me an interesting perspective into what goes through a suicidal terrorists head and, more importantly, why that previous though just isn’t as important as a few others.

In the first chapter Asad starts by bringing forward many examples of models that try understand the psychological, religious and social circumstances behind this phenomenon. In many cases it seems like he lines them up to knock them down whether is was the three point takedown of Strenski or illustration of how the title “Shahid” is made meaningless in this context through being applicable in too many senses.

All of the previous angling of examples makes sense soon in lining up a critique of liberalism that founds itself in a certain type of sanctioned violence that the state derives its power from. Moving quickly he takes the assertion of the state control of violence and combines it with the mandate to protect its citizens against “the uncivilized, whose very existence is a threat to civilized order” (Asad 59). Very quickly we see where this is going and after Asad explains how modern warfare has lost any vestige of empathy towards fellow humans through “the rise of ‘thing-killing'” he is close to his final posit that “a suicidal war can be legitimate” (Asad 61). After considering how the very foundations of liberalism demand the use of nuclear weapons when faced with an existential danger, Asad’s point certainly comes across powerfully.

The next section comes to deal with horror and how our reaction to suicidal bombing is something worth looking into and understanding. This chapter strongly defines the difference between fear and horror, horror being the change and loss of identity of things that we cannot see without it. Through some hard hitting examples Asad is really able to flesh this out into and illustration of how “combination of ecstasy and unbearable pain” fundamentally shocks the sensibilities that make us human (Asad 89). Indeed liberalism comes up in how unsteadily it takes these blows to both it’s integrity of “an uncoerced interiority” as well as the ideas of crime and punishment (Asad 91).

To conclude, some powerful points made on the nature of suicide bombing and our own reaction to it. Certainly not something I’d choose for light reading but certainly worth the effort put in. 8/10

Sources cited:

Tall Asad, On Suicide Bombing, Columbia University Press, New York

Asad and his book

Dear Chris

From: Chris

O great and knowing Ryan, master of the blog, doer of assignments and reader of readings, I have this to ask of you:

You may have seen of the recent terrorist attacks happening in my home country of France and I now live with an eternal worry about what faces me the next day. I faced the atrocities with as much apprehension and fear at the next man yet I now experience living without the same respect and value from my fellow Frenchman.

Before this we were already subject to rulings that limited our expression of religion (even if many of us chose not to exercise this before it’s restriction). I am not sure as to whether I can stay as an honest Muslim by fears of me not being able to practice my religion. Is my assimilation into this culture angering Allah?

What is your guidance O one-time issuer of a Fatwa?

My reply:

You have done the right thing Chris in seeking out education to follow our sacred religion. I commend you on this example to our brothers and hope it may be emulated such that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Your instinct is right. The entire crux of this matter is whether your ability to practice Islam is prevented by the ruling government and our law demands that you adhere to our rulings regardless of time and space.

The issues you have correctly brought up are the following: restriction of religious expression through the burqa and hijab as well as fear of harm through repercussions from the recent events in Paris.

After consulting the Book I hope to provide you with the proof and fiq that demonstrates why you are allowed and even obligated to stay in your home country of France.

I begin by asking what you mean by assimilation? For while new developments and the advent of minority jurisprudence allows concessions through necessity to be made in order for a sort of modern aman to be maintained amongst us all. This flexibility is not overly tested by the French restrictions on expression through dress or symbols shown in schools. I maintain that you will be able to practice Islam within France under the Sharia that is accepted today. Throughout the Hadith you will find examples of our brothers living in foreign land to promote the cause of Islam. This is why you will find it permissible to stay.

Now many ask me: Is keeping our followers safe from harm not the very reason our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) left Mecca? Does this precedent not demand that our brothers leave the lands of disbelief to assure we avoid the backlash of such terror?

There are many variations of the following argument and there are many precedents that the ignorant may take from the Qur’an. Yet these miss the vital point that analogy between the two situations does not exist. Indeed there shall not be a slaughter of brothers abroad such is the nature of these lands. Nevertheless we do face a sinister backlash that endangers our people as much.

In order to explain this I must first reprimand the acts of terror perpetrated by those claiming to follow Islam. I shall not talk more of this but the clerics may obtain you sufficient literature to admonish such activities. Islam faces a new world that it needs to interact with differently to the past. We have seen that the militant extremists accomplish nothing when compared to those who have become politicised. We are seen in a negative light in yet a strong international presence provides the influence to help our brothers around the world.

How can we accomplish this? Through the majority hardworking and kind Muslims like Chris being the counter to minorities that instil fear. They have seen a perverted Islam so I ask you now to show what we truly stand for. Through the day-to-day examples our teachings demonstrate something the Western world does not understand yet.

Chris, I cannot allow you to endanger your life or religion. If you ever feel as if these are threatened Hijra remains a duty. Yet if you are able to teach those around you of the true version of Islam, there remains an obligation to spread this truth.

Allah Almighty knows best.

Dear Chris

Casual Weststruckness

This was very fun. In my trawl of the interwebs for something to throw up here I came across an interesting “article*”. It is on the website “Biography” and contain a list of Muslim celebrities. Now this isn’t explicit but the whole point here is that click traffic is drawn in by the whole “Oh! I didn’t know he was a Muslim!”. With an idea that this was how it worked I went on and saw Akon was a practicing Muslim apparently (nothing on the validity of crude website ploys) and was surprised.

But why are Muslim celebrities the outlier? Exactly the same reason that white people don’t have stereotypes against them. While it is less simple currently, the vague Christian mix was what was expected and everyone else is different.

Just a neat reminder that I certainly am stuck within the structures Fanon believes corral most of us.

Casual Weststruckness

What does liking stuff do?

This week Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Dr. Ali Shari’ati provided us with eerily relevant perspectives on a few issues, especiallly given the vast gap in time that they overcome. Al’e Ahmad argues that Gharbzadegi (Weststruckness) is the root cause of Islamic problems at the time of writing (early 1960s) and provides a detailed web of political and economic relations that leave the Muslims subjugated by Western technology and practice. Shari’ati introduces the concept of Jihad and Shahadat which deterermines how Muslims should act when in dire straits.

Al’e Ahmad starts by describing where Islam finds itself as a “Weststruck situation in which we await Western alternatives in a daze” (95, Al’e Ahmad). This depiction of Muslims being extremely passive is reinforced throughout the booklet with special attention paid to the “Weststruck man” who “has no personality” and aims to “please everyone” (read the powerful Western businessmen) (117,118, Al’e Ahmad). This dependency on the West is derived from two sources according to Al’e Ahmad: the machines and economics that are brought to the Middle East. His first point is to emphasis that by understanding how the machines work provides the users with control such that the “machines are a means” to “eliminate poverty and to see to the spiritual and material welfare of all humanity” (98, Al’e Ahmad). This is contrasted with uninformed dependency on the machines which constitutes a position of weakness as he likens to a child fearing demons when someone places an ordinary soup pot over their head. Al’e Ahmad finds that contemporary Muslims fall on the side of not knowing enough about the machines that provide their sustenance and cites “the country [having] no framework to support ‘technicians” demands” (98, Al’e Ahmad). This leads to a dependancy on foreign experts which Al’e Ahmad firmly denounces.

Soon it becomes clear that being reliant on foreign experts to run the economy opens up the door to exploitation especially “when the country’s economy is in other people’s hands and those other people build machines” leaving Muslims to be “needy purchasers” (105, Al’e Ahmad). That Western interests have control in how governments choose to sacrifice self-sustainability for “Machinestruckness” is justified because “the seller [Western markets] will be unwilling to give up such an acquiescent customer” (100, Al’e Ahmad). Not only does this affect the Islamic world on an institutional but also individual scale when the products sold reduce people to being “loyal customer[s] of Western industrial products” to the degree that the “shock” of their disappearance “would strike him down” (119, Al’e Ahmad). This results in the Weststruck man who is content to enjoy as many superficial comforts as he can lay his hands on even if it renders him unwilling to prioritize his duties to Islam.

Shari’ati begins by explaining how wise “conquerers” of Islam realised that Islam could never be defeated by force because the essence will live on through the “hearts and minds”. Instead, through an approach that echos both Al’e Ahmads “Weststruckness” and Frantz Fanon’s view of colonialism, he describes how “all values are eliminated” through such steps as the “intellectuals sell[ing] out and the clergy support[ing] the powerful” leaving the true believers of Islam outnumbered by those under a new, false, banner that identifies itself as Islam (180, Shari’ati). What can one do in such an impossible situation? Shari’ati uses the example of Husayn to illustrate the ideas of Jihad (struggle) and Shahadat (martyrdom) within the context of Islam. Shari’ati suggest that it is just by “‘being Husayn'” and having knowledge of the wrongs being perpetrated that he is obligated to rise up as opposed to having “ability” (180 Shari’ati). Yet it not a sad moment when this hopeless struggle occurs and Shahadat provides one of the ultimate acts of faith that “is desired by our warriors” and takes an important place within the religion (194, Shari’ati).

Perhaps it is just a reflection of how Western my own thoughts are, but I believe that Al’e Ahmad’s views provide a more useful lens with which to criticize the current situation. Shari’ati provides a way to understand the motivation of many attacks and actions of the faithful but a deeper look at intercultural relations provides a broader look into how each side may find itself disenfranchised at different stations. While I don’t believe that “Weststruckness” exists to the degree suggested, the recent globalization has not been an equitable process and understanding these imbalances can help explain current situations very well.

Sources cited:

Ayatullah Mahmud Taleqani, Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, Dr Ali Shari’ati, Jihad and Shahadat, The Institute for Research and Islamic Studies

Jalal Al’e Ahmad, Gharbzadegi, Mazda Publishers, California, 1997

What does liking stuff do?