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SHARING ISLAM selected articles

www.islaminteractive.info


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CONTENTS

Talal Asad" Muhammad Asad Between Religion and Politics - Page 5

Ziauddin Sardar " A Garden of Identities: Multiple Selves and Other Futures - Page 15

Syed Farid Alattas" On the Future of Islamic Intellectualism - Page 24

Fazlur Rahman" Islamization of Knowledge: A Response - Page 28

Amina Wadud" ‘I Want to Learn Experience of Living Islam in India - Page 34

Seyyed Hossein Nasr" Islam and Music - Page 38

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed " The Myth of Sword and Veil - Page 45

Tariq Ramadan" Reconciling Cat and Yusuf -Page 48


Editorial

DIVERSITY CHRONICLED Islam Interactive is six issue old, which means it is as many months since www.islaminteractive.info has become an active URL. Ours was an aim to fill the existing vacuum in the cyberspace, where the very word generation has a different sense altogether. When Apple launches a new gadget, one generation is forgotten in lieu of another which has a shelf life of a few years. Still, what is lacking in this ongoing march of gadget-monitored communication revolution is the similar expansion of our minds. We live in a world which is being made unipolar by the interventionist globalization supervised by the US and its allies. Its currents are visible across the cultural spectrum. Hatred is the dominant attitude. Suspicion is the mood. It has generated equal and opposite reaction at the receiving end. Muslim anger is now being juxtaposed with the imperial hatred. Islamophobia is countered by Arabized hate speeches. Tradition is not allowed to grow on its own. ‘Either you reform as per our prescriptions,’ they say, ‘or you end up in our ghettos.’ We wanted to fill our pages with diversity in life, opinions and dialogues - diversity fast eroded in the unipolar circus of the superpower, its stooges and imitators; diversity inundated in the monologues in the cyberspace. Also, we wanted to take roots in culture - music, movies, art, photography etc, whose chronicles in the west surprisingly smacks of the absence of Muslim world and which is scarcely chronicled in the Muslim media. Here is a collage of our views and preferences. We present it to you to judge, share and support. KC Saleem Editor


Interactive Editorial Team Managing Editor: KC Saleem Chief Editor: PV Saeed Muhammad Editor: Dr Auswaf Ahsan Executive Editor: Shameer KS Manager - Administration Muhammed Marsook M Asst. Editors Ayoob Rahman, Abdul Basith, Najiya PP Designs Editor Abid Aboobaker Sharing Islam – Layout Ubaid MA


In Depth

MUHAMMAD ASAD BETWEEN RELIGION AND POLITICS TALAL ASAD

Talal Asad reminisces about his father throwing sharp light on the religious and political views of the great Muslim intellectual in the backdrop of the present chaos which the relationship as well as conflicts between religion and politics generated. This exclusive article of the author objectively presents a yet-to-be -known facet of Muhammad Asad's life In April 2011 an international symposium was held in Riyadh, under the auspices of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies as well as the Austrian Embassy to Saudi Arabia, on the life and work of my father. The conference as a whole was entitled “Muhammad Asad – A Life for Dialogue,” but I was asked by the organizers to write specifically on “Muhammad Asad Between Religion and Politics.” Unfortunately I was unable to attend the symposium so I sent in my written contribution to be read out by someone else at the meeting. What follows is a slightly elaborated version of the argument I sent. I should begin by correcting a view that has become common among people interested in my father’s life and work, that his conversion can be seen as the building of a bridge between Islam and the West. He has even been described by some as a European intellectual who came to Islam with the aim of liberalizing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. When he embraced Islam (aslama,

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“submitted,” is the Arabic term) he entered a rich and complex tradition that had evolved in diverse ways – mutually compatible as well as in conflict with one another – for a millennium-and-a-half. Thus in his own life’s work he sought to use the methodology of the medieval Spanish theologian Abu Muhammad Ibn Hazm, he drew often and copiously on the interpretations of the nineteenthcentury Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh, and again, despite strong disagreement on various points of substance with the fourteenth-century Syrian theologian Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, he attempted, like the latter, to integrate reason (‘aql), tradition (naql), and free-will (irāda), to form a coherent and distinctive vision of Islam. His view of Sufism, incidentally, was also influenced by Ibn Taymiyya, for whom it was the excess of Sufis rather than Sufism as such that was the object of reproach. In fact most of what my father published in the early years of his life (Islam at the Crossroads, the translation of Sahīh al-Bukhāri, 5


Road to Mecca was the first publication that was addressed to non-Muslims (as well as to Muslims, of course), a work in which he attempted to lay out to a popular audience not only how he became a Muslim but also what he thought was wonderful about Islam. the periodical Arafāt, etc.) was addressed not to Westerners but to fellow-Muslims. I would say, therefore, that he was concerned less with building bridges and more with immersing himself critically in the tradition of Islam that became his tradition, and with encouraging members of his community (Muslims) to adopt an approach that he considered to be its essence. His autobiography was the first publication that was addressed to non-Muslims (as well as to Muslims, of course), a work in which he attempted to lay out to a popular audience not only how he became a Muslim but also what he thought was wonderful about Islam. His translation of the Qur’an into English, completed in the latter part of his life, was not simply a translation: it was a detailed presentation of his final vision of Islam. My father was not a political but a religious thinker for whom the Qur’an and Sunnah together formed what he called “the most perfect plan for human living.” It was in this connection that he wrote on the idea of an Islamic state, and even prepared suggestions for an Islamic Constitution in Pakistan in the early years of its existence. These 6

suggestions were elaborated in his well-known book, Principles of State and Government in Islam. But his interest in that subject declined in later years when he became preoccupied with his translation of the Qur’an. Like most intellectuals who have lived a long life (born in 1900, he died in 1992) his views evolved and developed through reflection and changing circumstances. I am not able to trace this development here, but I will nevertheless try, by thinking about what he said and wrote two decades after his death, to interpret and reconstruct what I believe was his vision of Islam. In doing so I will sometimes disagree with what he wrote and sometimes try to make explicit what I see as valuable but implicit in his views, and elaborate on it. The first and most important idea in my father’s vision has to do with his conviction that access to Islam is based on reason, and that therefore argument is necessary to becoming and being a Muslim. When I was a boy he used to tell me that one must try to persuade other Muslims and non-believers not by force but by reason: This is what the Qur’an means by saying “There is no compulsion

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The first and most important idea in my father’s vision has to do with his conviction that access to Islam is based on reason, and that therefore argument is necessary to becoming and being a Muslim. When I was a boy he used to tell me that one must try to persuade other Muslims and non-believer s not by force but by reason: This is what the Qur’an means by saying “There is no compulsion in religion” (lā ikrāha fi-ddīn). Muhammad Asad sitting second from left

in religion” (lā ikrāha fi-ddīn). In the Qur’an, he pointed out, God always addresses human beings by appeal to reason. If you read it carefully, you will realize that the Qur’an is continually engaged in argument by means of provocative questions because argument is what it expects its listeners to understand. So when the Islamic message fails to persuade by reason, he insisted that Muslims must live in mutual acceptance with the followers of all “religions,” hence another Qur’anic saying: “To you your religion to me mine” (lakum dīnakum wa liy ad-dīn). God reveals his message at a particular moment in history through Muhammad, “the last of the Prophets,” but he doesn’t control everything in the world. Humans are free to choose what to believe and how to act: “Truly, We offered the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – for, truly, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish.” (Innā ‘aradnā-l-amāna ‘ala-s-samāwāti wa-l-ard wa-l-jibāli fa abayna an yahmilnahā wa ashfaqna minhā wa hamalahā insānu innahu kāna zalūman jahūlan. [Sūrat al ahzāb, 72].) Divine intervention, my father claimed, is not essentially an Islamic idea; the only miracle in Islam is the Qur’an itself. Hence another of his favorite Qur’anic citations: “Truly, God does not change a people’s condition unless they change their inner selves.” (Inn allāha lā yughayyiru mā bi qaumin hatta yughayyirū ma bi anfusihim. [Sūrat ar-ra‘ad, 11].) I recall my father often reciting the following verses: “Truly, those who have come to believe, and those who belong to the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabeians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do what is right – shall have their reward with their God, and they need not fear and they will not grieve.” (Inn alladhīna āmanu walladhīna hādu wa-nnasāra wa-ssābi‘īna

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man āmana billāhi wa-l-yaum-il-ākhiri wa ‘amila sālihan falahum ajruhum ‘inda rabbihim wa lā khawfun ‘alayhim wa lā hum yahzanūn. [Sūrat albaqarah, 62].) There was nothing, he would say, quite like these verses either in the Hebrew Bible or in the Gospels. And the verses expressed the Islamic teaching that followers of Judaism and Christianity, “the people of the book” (ahl alkitāb), belong to the very tradition that culminates in Islam. They were earlier revelations (the Qur’an speaks of earlier prophets, such as Abraham, as muslim) that had become distorted over time but were nevertheless to be recognized as having truth in them. They might be doctrinally mistaken but it followed from the fact of a common tradition that they were to be respected. Unlike the historic Christian view, the continued presence of believers in an earlier “religion” in the same tradition (i.e., Judaism) is not regarded as a scandal in Islam. It is seen as an indication of how easy it is to remain stubbornly attached to a mistaken point of view. In the “real Islamic tradition,” he would say, there is no simple distinction between friend and enemy, no single divide that categorizes whole peoples of the world into good and evil. To my father this meant therefore that the tradition of Islam not only urged Muslims to tolerate the followers of all other “religions,” it encouraged them to consider all as deserving of equal respect. And respect meant being able to listen sympathetically to what they had to say about their deepest hopes and commitments. In that sense respecting someone was a way of including him/her within one’s circle of friends. Although in Islamic history respect was generally accorded to what we now call “monotheistic (or Abrahamic) religions”, my father insisted that the beliefs and rituals of all “religions” should be respected. He acknowledged that there were verses in the Qur’an that mentioned Jews or Christians critically, but he held that these were responses to 7


The so-called “dialogue of civilizations” seems to be based on a double premise: (a) that Muslims should try to reassure Europeans and North Americans that Islam is not a source of violence, and at the same time, (b) that Westerners should help to reform Islam. This is a very condescending notion. specific historical circumstances in the Prophet’s life and they referred to particular groups whose attitude in particular situations indicated the difficulties of an alliance between them and the nascent Muslim community. Some Muslims in our day might invoke these verses but they were not, he insisted, doctrinal statements about Judaism or Christianity within the Islamic scheme of things. In any case, divine truth belonged to the larger tradition within which all three emerged and not to the actual practice of Muslims, because distortion and misunderstanding of the divine message was found not only among Jews and Christians but among Muslims too. For my father, however, reason was important not only for encouraging Muslims to address nonMuslims respectfully and for thinking about their own “religion.” He believed that reasoned discourse was central to the way Muslims should treat disagreements among themselves – whether in public matters or in private life. In his view, deep disagreements should never lead to the denunciation of 8

other Muslims as unbelievers (takfīr), they should produce attempts at persuasion in which each side respects the other even when agreement cannot be reached. Hence he quoted the Prophet’s saying: “Disagreement among the men of learning of my community is a blessing” (ikhtilāf ‘ulamā ummati rahma). He himself disagreed strongly with many other Muslims about the correct interpretation of Islamic doctrine and practice. But he despised religious bigotry (ta‘assub, tashaddud) and religious excess (ghulūww), and he hated cruelty perpetrated in the name of religious conviction – whether by mobs, or by individuals, or by the state. One was a Muslim if one declared oneself a Muslim; the sincerity of that declaration was a matter between him or her and God. My father considered “religion” in general (and as a Muslim, Islam in particular) to be essential for distinguishing between moral right and wrong, and it was in this that he sought the justification for an Islamic state. He once summed this up in writing as follows: “No nation or community can know happiness unless and until it is truly united from within; and no nation or community can be truly united from within unless it achieves a large degree of unanimity as to what is right and what is wrong in the affairs of men; and no such unanimity is possible unless the nation or community agrees on a moral obligation arising from a permanent, absolute moral law. Obviously, it is religion alone that can provide such a law and, with it, the basis for an agreement, within any one group, on a moral obligation binding on all members of that group.” (Principles of State and Government in Islam, 1961, p. 6, emphasis in original.) It is interesting that this argument for the necessity of an Islamic state rests not on what he often called “blind obedience to the past,” but on “reason.” For my father ethics and law were inseparable – especially for Muslims who are required to be obedient to the will of God. He recognized, of course, that not every unethical act was justiciable, but believed that a state had to be built on religious foundations because only a state could give “divine law” the force it needed to be law – and God’s law (God’s will), was the source of all true morality and happiness. But here is my worrying question: If the state is essential for the morality of a community, is it possible for non-Muslims to live ethically within an Islamic state? Like many advocates of an Islamic state, my father maintained that although non-Muslims were entitled to complete protection as citizens they

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No nation or community can know happiness unless and until it is truly united from within; and no nation or community can be truly united from within unless it achieves a large degree of unanimity as to what is right and what is wrong in the affairs of men; and no such unanimity is possible unless the nation or community agrees on a moral obligation arising from a permanent, absolute moral law. Obviously, it is religion alone that can provide such a law and, with it, the basis for an agreement, within any one group, on a moral obligation binding on all members of that group.” could not occupy the highest positions in an Islamic state. He thought that this was not a case of unfair treatment but, on the contrary, a recognition of the fact that non-Muslims should not be required to be “totally loyal” (as he put it) to the state that embodied an ideology quite different from their own. The state, in other words, was entitled to demand total loyalty from those able to obey and secure obedience from others on normative grounds. Since non-Muslims were unable to fulfill this double function in an Islamic state, there had to be some formal recognition of this fact. I want to begin my response by stressing that the state’s demand for absolute loyalty and unity from its subjects is entirely modern. The political unity of all citizens and their unconditional loyalty to the state are principles of the nation state invoked especially in response to national crises (war,

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economic disaster, etc.) but pre-modern forms of rule could not demand them and did not need them. For pre-modern princes it was the loyalty of nobles, generals, and governors that mattered not that of ordinary subjects. In fact the prince had far less effective power over his subjects than the government of a modern state has – partly because of the greater bureaucratic, informational, and technological means at the latter’s disposal and the greater social and geographical impediments facing the former, but also on constitutional grounds. The modern state is a structure distinct from rulers and ruled, and its constitutional duty is to maintain itself as a state by any means necessary; it does not have any space within its territory that is independent of its absolute authority. Debate in the public sphere may crucially influence the formation of authoritative norms, but it is the modern state, through 9


its various agencies, that authorizes them. For this reason alone nothing in the past (including the Islamic past) corresponds to it. Precisely because the modern state’s fundamental rationale is fear of external and internal enemies, it uses its power to demand obedience. In the liberal state certain exceptions to this general compulsion can take the form of “conscientious objection” – so that a citizen whose deep personal conviction prevents him from serving in the military, for example, can legally withdraw from that obligation. The liberal state does not see this as disobedience but as the exercise of a subjective right. However, it makes a sharp separation between “conscientious objection” and “civil disobedience,” where only the latter constitutes an offense against public order. Given this feature of the modern state, it is not surprising that some Muslims consider that total loyalty to the state contradicts the absolute loyalty they are expected to give to the one and only God, and that they refer to it as “the real idol of society” al-ma‘būd al-haqīqi li-l-mujtama‘. (This attitude to the state follows, incidentally, only from strict monotheism, and reflects what might be called “negative political theology.”) Even the Islamic declaration of faith (shahāda) itself specifies absolute loyalty only to God and his Prophet and makes no mention of obedience to earthly rulers or to an earthly organization. Islamic states are, of course, concerned with moral norms. However, whatever one may think of it, strictly speaking the Qur’anic doctrine of “Commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (‘amr bil-ma‘rūf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar) does not logically presuppose a state authority. It does not, in other words, presuppose that only an institution subject to the sovereign can put that doctrine into practice, although it does preclude the logic of a totally individualistic morality. It is true, of course, that in Muslim history rulers have taken on themselves the duty of regulating religious and moral behavior (sometimes more rigorously than at other times), despite the principle of “There is no compulsion in religion” (lā ikrāha fi-ddīn). But the authoritative norms for public behavior were not determined by the historical Muslim forms of rule as they now are by modern state law; communities of jurists, who were independent of the government (professionally and financially) determined them. Like most Muslims, my father considered the identification of God with his creation to be heretical. And since the modern state is a creation 10

of his creatures, it seems to me to follow that it cannot be given absolute loyalty. Of course, those who support the project of an Islamic state also argue that an Islamic ruler should only be obeyed if he himself obeys Islamic norms and applies them properly to his subjects – they invoke the position of medieval theologians such as Ibn Taymiyya who insisted that far from assuming the Muslim subject’s duty of obedience to the Muslim ruler, it was incumbent on the former to combat the latter if he did not follow Islamic norms. That, obviously, opens up questions about the “proper application” of the norms and who is to determine these in a modern state; the brief answer to that is: the modern state itself, either directly through its legislature, administration, and judiciary, or indirectly by bodies that have been duly recognized and licensed by it. The modern state is absolute in a sense that premodern forms of rule never were. It is therefore not entirely clear to me why my father should have assumed the right of the Islamic state – as a modern state – to claim absolute loyalty, and use that as a basis for distinguishing between its Muslim and non-Muslim subjects. In opposition to what I have just said, advocates assert that absolute loyalty derives from the fact that in an Islamic state “sovereignty” belongs not to humans but to God. But since Qur’anic doctrine insists that everything in the universe is subject to God’s authority, it is not clear to me how the state, a human construction, gets its special right to demand absolute loyalty from subjects. Surely, it is precisely because God’s authority cannot be delegated that no human ruler of an Islamic state can speak in his name. The state may be necessary in our contemporary world for carrying out a number of desired functions that only it can perform, and in that context it may claim “sovereignty” by which is meant a set of exclusive rights and powers in relation to other political entities over its own territory and citizens. However, the state cannot acquire a theological title to sovereignty in Islam. Advocates have suggested that non-Muslims cannot provide absolute loyalty to the Islamic state in which they happen to live, and I have argued not that they can but that the very idea of such loyalty derives from the fact that it is modern and not from its ideology. But what else can non-Muslims not do in an Islamic state? My father insisted that all citizens of an Islamic state, including non-Muslims, have the right to public dissent, the right to criticize the government publicly. But to what extent can

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It therefore seems to me that for Muslims the possibilities of “political Islam” may lie not in the aspiration to acquire state power and to apply divinely authorized law through it but in the practice of public argument – in a struggle guided by deep religious commitments that are both narrower and wider than the nation state. non-Muslim citizens in an Islamic state criticize a government that is strictly speaking not their government? I do not have in mind simply a minority’s fear of provoking a majority but also, and more importantly, to the right to be fully involved in the state to be criticized. Because the force of legitimate political dissent depends on the complete involvement of the dissenter in the political life of the state in which he/she lives. More important is the question I raised earlier: If the moral authority of the state is truly essential for individual morality, non-Muslims cannot be regarded as living ethically in a state that is not theirs – and one might argue, therefore, that the modern Islamic state prevents them from doing so. The Islamic state may have an obligation to protect non-Muslims and allow them total freedom in matters of speech and belief, as well as a considerable degree of autonomy. But the state’s obligation to protect all non-Muslims does not entail any right on the part of the latter; they have

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no right to participate fully in the life of the state. A consequence of that obvious fact is the political institutionalization of the distinction between the Muslim majority and the non-Muslim minority with the state seen as belonging by aspiration and identity to the former. My simple point is that if the state is not fully “theirs,” non-Muslim citizens cannot really be represented by the modern Islamic state in which they live – just as the non-Jewish citizens of Israel (whether Muslim or Christian) cannot be represented by the Jewish state – and therefore cannot enter critically or morally into its life. Nevertheless, the question of how ethics can be brought explicitly into public life was central to my father’s concerns. His preoccupation with ethics is at the bottom of his thinking about the Islamic state. But I think on this matter he moved in the wrong direction. In my view what he omitted to address was the difference between the medieval ruler and the modern state, as well as between 11


The struggle for encouraging public virtue is opposed to an overriding interest in material accumulation, in securing what one enjoys as an individual against others who might covet what one owns. politics and the state. Had he done so he might have been less committed to promoting the idea of an Islamic state – and therefore less disappointed in the adventure of the one so-called Islamic state with which he was personally involved (Pakistan). He would have seen that the modern state (whether secular or Islamic) may be necessary for many benefits citizens obtain today but that it is also the source of enormous cruelty and oppression. It therefore seems to me that for Muslims the possibilities of “political Islam” may lie not in the aspiration to acquire state power and to apply divinely authorized law through it but in the practice of public argument – in a struggle guided by deep religious commitments that are both narrower and wider than the nation state. Politics in this sense is not party politics, it is not a duel between pre12

established partial interests: it is about values in the process of being discovered (or rediscovered) and formed (or reformed) within complex traditions. It presupposes openness and readiness to take risks in confronting the modern state that the state (and party politics) cannot tolerate. This politics may confront the liberal state by opposing particular policies through civil disobedience, or even by rising up against an entire political order. I end with a substantive point about my father’s moral vision and its connections to state and politics that seems to me especially important. More than once he recited Surat at-takāthur [102] to me with great feeling: “You are consumed with unending desire for more even until you die” (alhākumu-t-takāthur hatta zurtum al-maqābir). These verses, he would say, condemn the unending consumerism and greed in which humans, especially in our time, are entrapped: The verses that refer to “the knowledge of certainty” (‘ilm al-yaqīn) and that seek to persuade the listener/reader that “Indeed you would see hell” (latarawunna al-jahīm), that hell was actually the way he or she lived in this world, not merely the punishment in the life to come. My father read these verses as arguing that if we could see this truth with clarity we would realize the hellish aspect of our collective life, the damage we do to ourselves and to others. This was a central moral concern for him, but it also points to where the concept of an Islamic politics might begin. Muslims are expected to believe that greed as a collective way of life (the insatiable desire for more) and exhibitionism as an individual style (in which theatrical presentations of the self and consumer choices are confused with moral autonomy) have together seduced people away from an awareness of the objective consequences of the way we live: militarization of societies, growing disparity between rich and poor, continuous destruction of the natural environment, accumulating climatic and nuclear disasters. Yet what is not always appreciated is that the way we live now is dependent on a particular kind of state, not only one demanding absolute loyalty, but also regulating and protecting an economy through the values of consumerism and individualism. The secular liberal state encourages a paradoxical value according to which individual “freedom” (especially the right to expression, assembly, and privacy) is affirmed, and collective “freedom” is to be protected through increasingly intrusive “security” measures. Yet neither individual “freedom” nor collective se-

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curity is immune to the forces of global capitalism that undermine the “sovereignty” of modern states, whether Islamic or secular. To the extent that the state serves a liberal economy (the commoditization of everything in the drive to create an indefinite space of calculability) an “Islamic politics” might try to find spaces outside it – even against it – rather than aiming to replace a “secular” state ideology by a “religious” one. This would require a politics that seeks moral alliances with non-Islamic movements and traditions, among the state’s population and beyond, having similar ethical concerns. The struggle for encouraging public virtue is opposed to an overriding interest in material accumulation, in securing what one enjoys as an individual against others who might covet what one owns. Fear is the dark side of greed, but greed isn’t simply “inordinate desire,” it indicates the disease of a world in process of dissolution. Opposed to it is political struggle in a cause that transcends the fear of death and loss. This kind of politics does not accept the liberal state’s claim to secular neutrality. Politics in this sense arises out of a desire to extend and defend a democratic ethos (that seeks to connect through relations between living things) rather than the liberal democratic state (that seeks to homogenize all that is subject to it). It is only struggle as a moral/religious effort (jihād), a struggle without fear of death but not a struggle for death, that can sustain a concern for the enhancement of common life for Muslims and non-Muslims, animals and humans, and that can confront contemporary global disasters generated by the lust for material gain and military power. One might suggest that an Islamic politics has two aspects: First, inviting interlocutors (trying to win them over) to alter their individual and collective ways of life in a different direction, whether this is done in public or in private. In either case persuasion presupposes particular sensibilities in listeners and it appeals to the manifest character of the person who seeks to persuade, as well as the substance of what is actually said, done, and demonstrated. The sensibilities and qualities of character are together what an Islamic politics might aim to cultivate in its own distinctive way. Beginning with individual faith (imān) – with the recognition that differences among people is an invitation to mutuality – it moves to building civil relationships and friendships with non-Muslims as well as Muslims in spaces within and beyond national territory: the heterogeneity of peoples, envi-

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ronments, and ways of life is seen by the Qur’an as an essential and permanent condition of the world, as my father often insisted: “Truly, we have created you from male and female and fashioned you into peoples and tribes so that you can come to know one another” (inna khalaqnākum dhakar wa untha wa ja‘alnākum shu‘ūban wa qabā’il lita‘ārafu). This does not apply simply to the difference of nation states (in fact there is no reference to states in the Qur’an) but to every kind of difference as such. But there is also another aspect to this politics: it is not competitive (parties seeking electoral victory) but confrontational (challenging the massive power of the state). This politics is “political” not in the sense of a struggle for power, nor in the sense of an attempt to represent the self-understanding of the community’s unity. It is “political” because ordinary subjects demand collectively to be heeded. Hence open disobedience to the state’s law is practiced in response to the state’s exclusive, even if legal, policies, and in which absolute loyalty to it is repudiated as shirk (the major sin of giving partners to God). This politics might be seen as a collective performance of ‘amr bil-ma‘rūf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar, but without drawing on the powers 13


of the state, without presupposing “national unity,” and without the use or threat of punishment that the state can and does employ. Given global capitalism, and the ambitions of Imperial Powers, it is not only the “sovereign” state that is confronted but also the international bodies that work through it to dominate a common world for their profit. The assumption of national unity is a dangerous illusion that can be confronted. Of course non-Muslims too (including religious and non-religious individuals of all kinds) engage in “civil disobedience.” But for most secularists that practice is typically rooted in “a moral conscience” – something they regard as an individual ethical choice. For Islamic confrontational politics, it seems to me, the motive force need not be individual “conscience” (subject to continual redefinitions through history) but an embodied disposition that (a) is cultivated over time, (b) draws its authority from a discursive tradition that repudiates the sovereignty of the individual, and (c) engages in a continuous struggle through “civil disobedience” against the commoditization of the environment, the economy, and human relations, arising from the notion of “thanking the benefactor” (shukr al-mun‘im) – that is, of thanking the divine giver for his bounty to humankind which the Qur’an repeatedly speaks of as his wondrous signs (ayāt). Some may detect an invitation to enchantment in this idea, although the word sihr, which is the usual rendering of “enchantment,” is never used by Muslims in this context. I refer to it here partly to problematize its use in post-Weberian accounts by suggesting that it relates to something rarely noted by social theorists: an encounter with wondrous things and events in the world, a world that, for the Muslim believer, has been made by the Creator. Regarded in this way, “enchantment” is not simply an obstacle to reason, something that has to be shed when modernity is achieved. It becomes the ground for engaging with the world in a particular way. Enchantment “charms” one out of a habitual indifference into wonder made possible by alerted senses. Of course, enchantment may deceive (the sources of self-deception are many), but the loss of enchantment is more than simply the removal of a source of delusion. It constitutes a particular human loss. It seems to me evident that the notion of an Islamic politics should draw one away from the modern project of an Islamic state that is no different in essence from any modern state. I believe that despite all his writing on Islamic government, 14

this is also the larger view implicit in my father’s life and writing, and therefore the most important part of his legacy. And I want to stress, finally, that he was not a lone figure who belonged essentially to Europe as some have alleged; he belonged to a rich historical tradition of thought and practice within Islam, a tradition (like others) that offers a variety of interpretive possibilities. Like all other practicing Muslims, he does not stand outside Islamic tradition but within it, and like them, his life and thought show the different positions that can be taken up within it. Those many people in the West today who decry the singular intolerance of Islam are mistaken not because Islam is really “tolerant” (whatever that might mean), but because it makes no sense to talk about the “essence of Islam” – or of any other “religion” for that matter – if one is not already in some sense committed to it. Talk about the essence of a religious or non-religious tradition is part of a political discourse of persuasion or dissuasion; it is not a neutral exercise of Reason. I would suggest that seeing my father’s life in that way is more important than the idea of “a dialogue between Islam and the West” that has now become fashionable. The so-called “dialogue of civilizations” seems to be based on a double premise: (a) that Muslims should try to reassure Europeans and North Americans that Islam is not a source of violence, and at the same time, (b) that Westerners should help to reform Islam. This is a very condescending notion. Could it be that the recent call for “dialogue” is motivated not by a simple desire to reach out to others but by a fear of “invading” immigrants? At any rate, one hopes that Muslims can open their minds to other peoples and traditions, and so learn from them critically – just as one hopes Westerners will want to learn from Islamic thought and experience in a similar spirit. I do think, however, that such mutual learning is made more difficult for reasons of global power rather than religious ideologies. As for reform, it should be borne in mind that Islam’s history of reform is virtually as old as Islam itself. Of course Islamic reform today will need to be based on fresh thinking, but its effectiveness is partly dependent on simultaneous reform in the West itself, if that is possible. We do, after all, live in a single interconnected world.

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Article

A GARDEN OF IDENTITIES: MULTIPLE SELVES AND OTHER FUTURES ZIAUDDIN SARDAR

So, I desire a future where all the vast and varied ways of being human, all the plethora of different cultures, past, present and the future, exists in symbiosis as though the globe was a well-tended garden. In essence, it is a vision of a globe of pluralistic identities. But the kind of identities I seek, or rather envision, has little to do with identity as we have conventionally understood the term. I close my eyes and think of a future world. A visionary world, thirty, forty years from today. A world not of new humanity but a plethora of old and new humanities. A world where more than one of way of being human is not only the norm but is considered essential for the very survival of our species. This is the world as a garden. Gardens, by the very fact that they are gardens, consist of a plethora of different plants. There are all variety of hurdy perennials that flower year after year. There are the annuals and the biennials that have to be planted in season. There are plants that provide various colours of foliage, or hedges and borders, or climb up fences, or play architectural roles. There are fruit trees, trees that provide fragrant and colourful flowers and trees that fix the soil and provide shade. There are the grasses so essential for the lawns. And what would a garden be without the proverbial birds and the bees? And

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those worms and insects that both enrich the soil and require some form of pest control. The thing about a garden is that all this truly monumental variety of life exists in symbiosis: nourishing each other and ensuring the overall survival of the garden. Of course, the garden has to be tended: the weeds have to be cleared, plants have to be pruned, we have to make sure that nothing grows so much that it ends up suffocating and endangering other plants. So, I desire a future where all the vast and varied ways of being human, all the plethora of different cultures, past, present and the future, exists in symbiosis as though the globe was a well-tended garden. In essence, it is a vision of a globe of pluralistic identities. But the kind of identities I seek, or rather envision, has little to do with identity as we have conventionally understood the term. Philosophically, the concept of identity, as Amartya Sen has pointed out, is based on two basic 15


The symptoms are everywhere. In Northern Ireland, men in balaclavas are not just ‘scum’, they think of themselves as either Ireland’s or Ulster’s ‘finest’ and will unite in violence for the sake of the difference. assumptions. First, the presumption that we must have a single – or at least principal and dominant – identity. Second, the supposition that we discover our identity. The first assumption is plainly wrong: not only do we exist with multiple identities but often invoke different identities in different contexts. So: ‘the same person can be of Indian origin, a Muslim, a French citizen, a US resident, a woman, a poet, a vegetarian, an anthropologist, a university professor, a Christian, an angler, and an avid believer in extra-terrestrial life and of the propensity of alien creatures to ride around the universe in smartly designed UFOs. Each of these collectives, to all of which this person belongs, gives him or her a particular identity, which are variously important in different contexts’ (1). The second assumption is just as erroneous. We discover our identity, the argument goes, from the community we belong to: it is through the relationships within a community that we discover our identity. This argument suggests that we have no role in choosing our identities. But even though the constraints of community and traditions are always there, reason 16

and choice too have a role to play. The point is not that we can chose any identity at random; but ‘whether we do have choices over alternative identities or combination of identities, and perhaps more importantly, substantial freedom on what priority to give to the various identities that we may simultaneously have’ (2). It is because we have a problem with pluralistic identities that we are in the midst of a global epidemic of identity crisis. Most of us do not know who or what we really are. Some of us have impossibly romanticised notions of what we should be. We desperately cling on to an imagined ‘heritage’, subscribe to the preservation of an unchanging ‘tradition’, and are ready to kill and be killed to save some ‘essence’ of our idealised identity. Many of us have altogether abandoned the very idea of a having a fixed identity: we change our identities with as much ease as we change our jackets. All of us are suffering from a disease that is slowly but surely eating us from the inside. The symptoms are everywhere. In Northern Ireland, men in balaclavas are not just ‘scum’, they

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think of themselves as either Ireland’s or Ulster’s ‘finest’ and will unite in violence for the sake of the difference. Britain seems perpetually in limbo not knowing whether to become more American or more European. For much of the 20th century, American identity, and its foreign policy, was shaped in opposition to a ‘communist bloc’. In a post-Cold war world, America has to create imaginary villains (‘Muslim terrorists’, rouge states such as bankrupt and starving ‘North Korea’, ‘the Chinese menace’) in an inane attempt to resolve its predicament of self-identity. The collapse of the Soviet Union has produced a plethora of new artificial, national feuding identities, pitting Azerbaijanis against Armenians, Chechnyans against Russians, Kazakhstanis of one kind against Kazakhstanis of another. The Balkans has just gone through one of the most brutal balkanisation of identities in all its history. In the Muslim world, traditionalists and modernists have been engaged in battles over what constitutes true Islamic identity for decades (3). The very idea of being ‘White’ has now become so problematic

tradition – have evaporated. The sources of our identity have been rendered meaningless. Consider, for example, the territory called ‘England’. It is not the sole preserve of ‘the English’ anymore: the population now is much more heterogeneous, with ‘Englishness’ (however, it is defined) as only one segment in a multi-ethnic society. Moreover, the history and tradition that are associated with this ‘Englishness’ – the Empire, House of Lords, fox hunting, the national anthem – are either questionable or meaningless to the vast majority of new-English who now live in England. Worse: this Englishness becomes quite insignificant when it is seen in relation to a new European identity which itself is an amalgam of countless other cultural identities. Not surprisingly, ‘the English’ feel threatened. While the concrete foundations of identity are cracking away everywhere, the shifting context adds another layer of perplexity. Identity is a label, a toolkit, a compass bearing. It permits us to find not only ourselves but discern similarity and/or

The collapse of the Soviet Union has produced a plethora of new artificial, national feuding identities, pitting Azerbaijanis against Armenians, Chechnyans against Russians, Kazakhstanis of one kind against Kazakhstanis of another.

that ‘Whiteness’ is studied as an academic discipline in its own right. In short, identity is being contested everywhere. That is why the politics of identity has become one of the dominant themes of postmodern time. To ‘know thyself ’, as Socrates put it, is both a fundamental human urge and a basic question in philosophy. Having some idea of who or what we are helps us to determine how we ought to live and conduct our daily affairs. A little self-knowledge also provides us with a little coherence in our metaphysical and moral outlooks. But in a rapidly globalising world, it is almost impossible to have even a modicum of self- knowledge. All those things that provided us with a sense of confidence in ourselves – such as nation states with homogenous populations, well-established local communities, unquestioned allegiance to history and unchanging

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difference in everyone else. When the foundations of our identity crack we lose not only the sense of who we are but essential elements of how we connect to all other identities. All labels become confusing, multiple and problematic. Think of the rather common label: ‘black’. It has no global connotation; there is no universal black identity. Being black has different meaning and significance in different places. In New York, being black is a mark of difference in contrast to the whites, the Italian, the Irish, the Hispanics and a symbol of being cool. In Nigeria, it is not important whether you are black or white but whether you are Yoruba rather than Hausa; and the only way you can be cool is to be totally westernised. In Jeddah, nothing is cool, and what really matters is not whether you are black or brown but 17


whether you are a member of the royal family. In Cape Town, to be black is, almost by definition, to be confused: once excluded, now technically empowered, a dominant group in the rainbow, but still practically marginalised by the history that created and continues to operate practical exclusion. So, from the perspective of identity, context redefines meaning and we end up not talking about the same colour at all. In addition, the very notions and ideas we use to describe our identities are changing radically. What does it mean, for example, to be a ‘mother’ in a world where in vitro fertilisation and surrogate motherhood is rapidly becoming common? What happens to conventional ideas of parenthood in the case of the French baby ‘constructed’ from the egg of a 62-year-old woman, sperm from her

and thoughtful existence. Today, our thought has to be directed toward a more frightening question: how much of the Other is actually located within me? The quest for identity is essentially an attempt to answer this question. And it is the fear of the answer that transforms, in the words of Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese-French novelist, ‘a perfectly permissible aspiration’ into ‘an instrument of war’ (4). This transformation occurs through some basic associations. The first of these is the conventional association of identity with power and territory. Identity always conferred power, defined the essential character distinctive to its own territory, and familiarised people with the proper means of domesticity, living comfortably within the homeland. But an all powerful identity is like an all-powerful tree in the garden:

It really is quite dumbfounding how much of Britishness, and by association Englishness, is based on fabricated history. Consider the whole notion of Anglo-Saxon Britain. Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling were devotees of Anglo Saxon history for a reason.

brother, and ‘incubated’ in a surrogate mother? What does it mean to be a ‘wife’ in a homosexual marriage? Or ‘old’ when you have rebuilt a 65-yearold body through plastic surgery and look like a young starlet? Thus, identity has become a perilous notion. It is not, if it ever was, monolithic and static; but multiple and ever changing. And the most fundamental change is this: all those other categories through which we in the West defined and measured ourselves – the ‘evil Orientals’, the ‘fanatic Muslims’, the ‘inferior races of the colonies’, the immigrants, the refugees, the gypsies – are now an integral part of ourselves. It is not just that they are ‘here’ but their ideas, concepts, lifestyles, food, clothes now play a central part in shaping ‘us’ and ‘our society’. We thus have no yardstick to measure our difference and define ourselves. Descartes could say with some confidence, ‘I think, therefore I am’ because his thought had already defined the Other, the darker side of himself, through which he could confirm his own civilised 18

it sucks the life out of all other plants. When power is skewed in this manner, it is not possible to exist in symbiosis. Take the case of America, which began as a declaration of identity: a new world emptied of meaningful past and ready for migrants who would build an identity based on the power of a new territory. But the very definition of American identity provided power and privilege for those who were conceived as the insiders. The term ‘ethnicity’ has its roots in the American provenance where, apart from the European immigrants, all other immigrants are defined as ethnics. As Dipankar Gupta notes, ethnicity ‘connotes, above all else, the signification of the primordially constituted “Other” as an “outsider” (5). The distinction is between hyphenated Americans – Italian, German, Polish, Irish, Russian – and ethnicity. American identity offers the hyphenated Americans the ideal American Dream of inclusion and opportunity. Thus, only hyphenated Americans have ever made it to the White House. But ethnicity is very different: blacks, Hispanics,

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culinary metaphors have become basic to redefining British identity. The new culinary repertoire are not so much a smorgasbord as alternative choices. Does Britain embrace the global Americanisation of the high street, the merchandised model of individualism, the free market identity of buying into who you want to be in terms of dress, sex and politics? Or is Britain as European as ciabatta and its passion for fine wine? Are the British the kind of people who opt for a common European history of struggle for public ownership and secure, quality public services? Native Americans are ethnics, problematic and different kinds of Americans. Ethnics make excellent domestic servants, a significantly different thing from domesticity. Ethnicity is the politically correct term for race, for a hierarchy within American identity and for the power of definition that is exclusive to white America. Asian too are ethnics. Chinese Americans had their identity neatly stereotyped in the works of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Japanese Americans were the only people interned as real ‘enemies within’ during the Second World War, an unthinkable reaction to German, Italian or any other quisling state Americans. In British identity, power and territory are expressed in hierarchies of race and class. It is a little too glib to argue that British identity had the luxury of seeing race as external, the definition of difference beyond it shores. But the exercise of power that created an Empire on which the

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sun never set, a notion of class that defined and shaped modernity and was not a stranger anywhere in the world, are essential attributes of what it is to be British (6). Without it the British could not be simultaneously xenophobic, internationalist and parochial: the sort of people who go on Spanish holidays to eat fish and chips and drink warm bitter ale. British identity is based on an assumption of authority that makes the world a familiar place, a proper theatre in which to continue being British. It also produced its own internationalist perspective: Britain has had its share of ‘old India hands’, ‘Africa men and women’ – urbane, cosmopolitans who know Johnny Foreigners better than they know themselves. The problem with identity as power and control over territory is what happens when power wanes. Johnny Foreigner is now within, ethnics are demanding the American Dream. Power has been 19


debunked, denounced and vilified. Does all that that identifies the Self go down the plughole with it? How can we be comfortable with accepting the identity of villains? Which leads us to the second association: to exclude the unsavoury foreigners from our identity we have to anchor it in romanticised history and frozen tradition. Collective identity is based on the selective processes of memory. Let me illustrate how this process work, and how the creation of identity can lead to conflict, by dwelling on the notion of British identity. British identity was (is?) the acknowledgement of a common past. Sharing and having been shaped by this common past is what makes the British different from all other identities. The trouble is history is a deliberate human creation, itself another wilful act of power, artificially constructed to support an artificial identity. Europe engineered a cultural identity based on a common descent from the supposed traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and two thousand years of Christianity. British history books always began with the arrival of the Romans. So British history begins by submerging, barbarising and differentiating itself from Celtic history. Celt and Welsh are words whose linguistic roots, one Greek the other Saxon, mean stranger. The history of Britain, as written in the age of devolution, records not a common shared

past but continuous contest and conflict within British isles. Whatever Britain is, it is the creation of dominance by kings and barons and upwardly mobile yeoman who practiced colonialism at home, and after perfecting the technique, moved abroad. It was Oliver Cromwell who noted that Britain had its ‘Indians’ at home in what he called the ‘dark corners of Britain.’ He referred, of course, to the residual Celtic corners. It makes perfect sense that Margaret Thatcher, whom I always regarded as Oliver Cromwell in drag, should propose the solution to the Ulster problem as relocating Catholics to Ireland. It was Cromwell’s policy: if they will not reform, be educated and submit, then they have no place within the identity, history and society that is Britain. That no one seriously proposes sending the Union Jack waving Ulstermen back to where they came from, or removing the Union from them, itself suggests a strong allegiance to a constructed history, the history of irreconcilable difference. As Orangemen so often say, marching with fife and drum to intimidate and demonstrate their dominance is their culture. In an age of the politics of identity, culture has its rights. But how far can you defend the rights of a culture whose only reason for being is to retain dominance? It really is quite dumbfounding how much of Britishness, and by association Englishness, is based

‘Workers of the World Unite’ has been replaced by ‘Liberal Capitalism is the Only Way’. Such championing of similarity can become war on those who fight to maintain their difference. Similarity in such contests becomes an ethos to die for.

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on fabricated history. Consider the whole notion of Anglo-Saxon Britain. Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling were devotees of Anglo Saxon history for a reason. It enabled them to avoid how genuinely European British history has always been. Norman kings hardly ever spent time in Britain, spoke French rather than English, and were most concerned with dominating Europe from their French possessions. Of course, the Saxon bit of the Anglo Saxon has its own problems. After the Welsh Tudors, and Scots Stuarts, a brief quasi native interlude, German monarchs were bussed in to reign over Britishness that was to be marked by Englishness alone, and that wanted nothing to do with Europe. The selectivity of historic memory is part of its inventiveness. History always seeks ancient roots, the better to justify its innovations. Ancient Anglo Saxon liberties were purposefully invented on a number of occasions to fashion the Mother of Parliaments. This foundational institution was not a true popular democratic institution until 1929, the first election based on universal adult suffrage. The statue of Oliver Cromwell quite properly stands outside Parliament. His insistence that ancient Anglo Saxon liberties rested on property owning was the novel twist that secured class hierarchy, made the Restoration of monarchy easy, and enabled manufactured history to continue its work. The pomp and ceremony of the British monarchy was a late Victorian invention. The Royal Family as the model for the normative family, an ideal for a nation, is a post Edwardian invention, Victoria’s son Edward hardly being a suitable candidate for model husband and father. And so it goes on. Thus, the notions of race and class are intrinsic to the self-definition of the English. Without the idea of race there is little left for English identity to hold on to: only being a disadvantaged minority within Britain, the complete inversion of received history. What works well for youthful addicts of street culture does not suit the aspirations of new English identity, and that’s why the appeal to the barricades, sending them back, locking them up has to be made. As recently as 1940,George Orwell could state that ‘when you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing different air’. Identity as difference is less easy to define in a world already awash with globalisation whose most notable feature is rampant Americanisation. Where is the British sandwich? Surely that defined the difference of being here.

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But McDonalds, Starbucks, pizza parlours, doner kebab, chicken tikka marsala, the rise of ciabatta and the pret a manger syndrome have transmuted the familiar air of England in wafts of everyone else’s fragrant confections. These culinary metaphors have become basic to redefining British identity. The new culinary repertoire are not so much a smorgasbord as alternative choices. Does Britain embrace the global Americanisation of the high street, the merchandised model of individualism, the free market identity of buying into who you want to be in terms of dress, sex and politics? Or is Britain as European as ciabatta and its passion for fine wine? Are the British the kind of people who opt for a common European history of struggle for public ownership and secure, quality public services? In facing that choice, Britain has to discover how and in what way the spiced diversity of real curry, as opposed to an invented dish to suit only white tastes, fits into the feast of identities. And, these questions are not just rhetorical: they have a real import in terms of policy. Should Britain align itself with America or look more towards Europe is a question that dominates British politics – some would even argue that it is tearing the nation apart. Much the same can be said about other problematic identities. Like Britain, Islam too has used selective memory in shaping an identity for itself that is posed against a demonised West. And, just like the Muslims, fundamentalist Hindus too have constructed a romanticised past to shape a Nationalist Hindu identity (7). In both cases, the fabrication of monolithic identities has led to conflict and death. The desire to be pure, unpolluted and authentic often leads to construction of identities that are totalitarian in the content and destructive in their nature. So we arrive at the third association: the negotiation of identity between the alternate poles of desire and death. As American scholar Cornel West has suggested, we construct our identities from the building blocks of our basic desires: desire for recognition, quest for visibility, the sense of being acknowledged, a deep desire for association (8). It is longing to belong. All these desires are expressed by symbols – pomp and ceremony, marches, festivals, national monuments and anthems, cricket and football teams, etc. But in a world where symbols are all we are, all we have, holding on to these symbols becomes a matter of life and death. It is for the glorification of these symbols that the bloody tale of national history is written and enacted in na21


tionalists’ campaigns everywhere around the world. Identity not only invokes the desire to be different, it also summons the desire to express similarity. Indeed, there can be no difference without similarity. But similarity is always seen as the opposite pole of difference, as appeals to making everyone the same. It is often posed as ‘our’ similarity against ‘their’ difference. Once the doctrine of similarity was the underlying principle of the communist ethos, now it has become essential to the internationalist-libertarian-individualist doctrine that underpins globalisation. ‘ Unite’ has been replaced by ‘Liberal Capitalism is the Only Way’. Such championing of similarity can become war on those who fight to maintain their difference. Similarity in such contests becomes an ethos to die for. In coming to terms with the contemporary crisis of identity, we need to transcend certain ap-

focus on our common humanity. Living identity, as opposed to the fossilised to die for variety, is always in a constant flux. It is an ever changing balance, the balance of similarities and differences as a way of locating what it is that makes life worth living and what connects us with the rest of the changing world. The challenge of shaping Other futures is to transcend difference and thereby enable it to fulfil its real purpose – to provide variety and diversity in a world that cannot exist with it. This then is my vision of the future. A world of variety and diversity where we are at ease with our identity, know our Selves, and through knowing ourselves come to see beauty and goodness in Others who are not like us. A fragrant world with all the colour and multiplicity of a garden. But, of course, it is more than possible that instead of moving towards my garden of identities, The Platonic idea that truth is same for everyone has no place in my future garden of humanities. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues in The Dignity of Difference (11) this notion of truth sets up false oppositions. If all truth is the same for everyone at all times, then if I am right, you must be wrong.

parent contradictions. To reject the demonisation of difference does not require the abandonment of difference. The desire for similarity is not the same thing as the aspiration for homogeneity. Traditions and customs that do not change cease to be traditions and customs and are transformed into instruments of oppression. Identity has historic anchors but is not fixed to a limited, unchanging set of traditional signs and historic symbols. Identity is not what we buy, or what we choose, or what we impose on others; rather, it is something from which we learn how to live, discover what is worth buying, and appreciate what it is to be different. Just as the flora and fauna in a garden learns to live with each other. What we need is to recover our confidence in identity as the product of various and diverse traditions. We need to recognise that any identity is the means to synthesise similarity through difference and to see difference as discrete means of expressing basic similarity. We need to move away from the politics of contested identities that heighten artificial differences towards acceptance of the plasticity and possibilities of identities that 22

we could go forward to a totally different future. An alternative scenario is reflected in the title of Francis Fukuyama’s book: Our Posthuman Future (9). Here, human identity per se evaporates and genetic engineering, cloning and neuropharmacology lead us to a future of identities manufactured in the laboratory. Eugenics will ensure that we are all much stronger, smarter and resistant to disease and death. Xeno-transplants will guarantee replacement parts for our failing bits of biology. Scientists would isolate biochemicals in an egg and transfer them directly to the skin cell – doing away with the idea and need of the human embryo altogether. So, our sense of ourselves, and how we interact as social and cultural beings, will be fundamentally altered. Identity will acquire a new meaning – or rather meaninglessness as we will all be fashioned in a homogeneous way by standardized technology. There are obvious problems with this scenario. As soon as biotechnology solves one problems, it creates a myriad of others. As Fukuyama acknowledges, it could at best lead to a new class of people – those who could afford the technology – and create a

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whole new underclass of ordinary mortals; at worse it could lead to a Brave New World that Aldous Huxley warned us about. My point is that a post human, bio-technology based future is simply a continuation of the Enlightenment project of progress through instrumental science. One source of Truth, and one Civilisation, continues in its trajectory – the human garden becomes an embodiment of a single, all-powerful identity. There is another scenario that is worth considering. Globalisation may continue on its present course unimpeded for the next two or three decades (10). That would not only mean that the world is dominated and controlled by a single nation – for globalisation is only another name for Americanisation – but also the cultural space for difference would be totally eroded. In other worlds, the world will be awash with a single culture and its products, and difference as such would cease to exist. Diversity as we know it would disappear and cultures trying to retain some semblance of identity and originality would be in perpetual conflict with America. Puritanism and fundamentalism would stalk the earth on one hand, and America’s arrogance will take cosmological proportion on the other. This scenario too leads us to a desolate panorama with a single identity. To undermine these two undesirable scenarios, we need to abandon the idea that a single truth can be imposed on a plural globe. Just as a garden does not function on the basis of a single species, so the single Truth of western civilisation as well as creeds and ideologies that are based on exclusivist notions of truth and seek redemption by imposing this truth on all others, cannot lead us to viable, sustainable future. Both America and the great monotheistic religions of the world must transcend their historic goal of claiming exclusivist notions of Truth just as science must learn to see itself as only one – and not the – manifestation of reality. The Platonic idea that truth is same for everyone has no place in my future garden of humanities. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues in The Dignity of Difference (11) this notion of truth sets up false oppositions. If all truth is the same for everyone at all times, then if I am right, you must be wrong. And, if I really care for truth, I must convert you to my view. We must move forward from the old recipe that ‘truth is supremely important, and therefore all persons must live by a single truth’ to the new formula that ‘truth is supremely important, and therefore every man and women must be allowed to live according to how they see the truth’. Ultimately, my notion

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of pluralistic identities comes down to how we all see the truth differently, according to our historic experiences and perspectives, and how we all live the truth in our lives, as individuals and communities, in our uniquely different and cultural ways of being human. So, I open my eyes and go out to transform the world as I find it into the future world that I desire. A world where more than one of way of being human is not only the norm but is considered essential for the very survival of our species. This is the world as a garden. And you and I, and all of us, urgently need to cultivate our future garden of humanities.

References:

1. Amartya Sen, ‘The Predicament of Identity’ Biblio March-April 2001 48-50, p49. 2. Ibid., p49. 3.Ahmad S Moussalli, Moderate and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy and the Islamic State, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1999. 4.Amin Maalouf, On Identity, Harvell Press, London, 2000. 5. Dipankar Gupta, The Context of Ethnicity: Sikh Identity in Comparative Perspective, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996. 6. R Colls, Identity of England, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002. 7.Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Myths, Berg, Oxford, 2001; and Ashis Nandy, Time Warps: Silent and Evasive Pasts in Indian Politics and Religion, Hurst & Co, London, 2002. 8. Cornel West, Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, Routledge, London, 1994. 9. Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future, Profile Books, London, 2001. 10.Ziauddin Sardar, The A to Z of Postmodern Life, Vision, London, 2002. 11.Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, Continuum, London, 2002. Source: http://ziauddinsardar.com

23


Interview

On the Future of Islamic Intellectualism INTERVIEW WITH DR. SYED FARID AL ATTAS

Dr. Syed Farid Al Attas is the Associate Professor in Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. In an interview with Muhsin Parari, Dr Farid Al Attas speaks on several issues that matter: the east-west dichotomy, decolonization of Knowledge, Islam, the Project of Islamisation of knowledge, Muslim intellectualism etc.

Discussing your personal formation as an intellectual, do you place yourself as part of the traditional dialogue between east and west? That is a good way of thinking. Well, you know I was grown up in a household where there were always intellectual discussions. My father was an intellectual. He was a sociologist. He was one of the leading sociologists in south East Asia, in third world. And he was very strong critic of academic imperialism. He was a strong critic of domination of western ideas over non-western social scientists. He had spoken of this idea and conceptualized this idea in terms of the idea of the captive mind. So I was influenced by that as I was growing up. I remember, always hearing about Ibn Khaldun from my father, when I was a young teenager. Then I was fascinated by Ibn Khaldun even though I didn’t know anything about him. But, later on, 24

when I went to universities I read on Ibn Khaldun and developed a serious interest until I began to write and publish articles on ibn khaldun and two books are also forthcoming. So I have done lots of work on Ibn Khaldun and I think most of this is because of my father’s influence. And my interest in ibn khaldun is part of the concerns in developing ideas form the non-western traditions, bringing them into the social sciences. In that sense, I think it is correct to say that I am trying to bridge between civilizations, because I don’t reject the conventional social sciences from the west. Only thing that I criticize it for being parochial, claiming it to be the universal. And our own intellectual traditions also need to be enriched by the developments took place in the west, in human sciences. Those people who know their own tradition as well as the western tradition are interested in creating something new

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from that. So, is it right to define you specifically as an orientalist or occidentalist? No, I would not accept these categories because one should be neither one. One should neither be an orientalist nor an occidentalist, because an orientalist or occidentalist would be guilty of creating false or problematic constructions of the other. Of course I am not interested in doing that. And I think, we are really cosmopolitan in the sense that we believe in all good ideas wherever it come from. So, we don’t select ideas or concepts on the basis of the ethnic, or national, or civilizational origin. Of course, I am rooted to a particular tradition, Islamic tradition, in terms of my values and in terms of my interest. When it comes to doing sociology, your values may decide your interest or selection of topics, guide the way you put your findings to practice when it comes to bring about change and trying to influence the direction of things…etc. but the scientific aspect of the whole process, to me, is not determined by religion. It is determined by truth. When I spoke about truth I didn’t mean that religion was opposed to truth. What I meant was, when it comes to selection of ideas and concepts we cannot say that we restrict ourselves to Islam, we restrict ourselves to particular tradition, because concepts are tools. And any tool which is useful for the analysis of the society should be used, whether it comes from Quran or does not come from Quran is irrelevant. You cannot reject a particular conceptual tool or theory because it is not based on Quran. The fact that if that theory or concept is useful and brings knowledge, in other words, satisfies the requirements of truth, in terms of level of certainty, then by definition that knowledge is Islamic. But it doesn’t have to be explicitly a knowledge, or idea, or concept that is in the Quran. Being influenced by your identity as a Muslim, how do you define decolonizing the knowledge? Well, decolonizing knowledge of course means….. Reading knowledge from the state of being colonized to one is not colonized. The colonization is that the mind of the scholar, at different levels, is colonized in terms of his attitude, kind of issues he wants to study, the way he prioritize his research, he may pick on issues, pick on topics which are not problems of the society. But, he picks such problems because they are fashionable in the social sciences in the west. So, he picks upon

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those topics. So he is not independent in his choice. His mind is colonized. One may also be colonized in terms of theoretical frame work also. We may choose frame works which are popular because we are not thinking independently. Decolonization can mean creating a mind more independent, autonomous from the influences around the scholar, whether it is western influence or influence from the state. Decolonization of knowledge means liberating oneself from both western as well as the local or national agenda. One has to be rooted in a particular surrounding to understand the problems we see in the society but at the same time you should be autonomous that you are not dictated to. And you can creatively engage in a process and bring up new knowledge and ideas. Decolonization not only refers to liberation of the mind but also to dismantling of the academic structures which encourage colonization. For example, control of journal publishing by American-British publishers. Most of the academic journals are published in the west, especially in US.to some extent, Germany, France and Netherlands. And I believe vast majority of research funds come from western countries, as well. The research funds also have an impact on researchers’ mindscape, sometimes. The terminology of decolonizing knowledge always orients on the eurocentricity of the knowledge. Are you also part of this antiwestern movement? Yea, I think I am. And I am not the first to do it. The older generation, my father’s generation was very active in doing that. The problem is not just of western hegemony. There are some other forms of hegemonies. For example, many third world countries, the state there is very imperialistic. Even that very state may encourage anti-western discourse, on the ground that western discourse is imperialistic. The same state may behave in an imperialistic manner, may control academic engagements, may control discourse…etc. I am interested in autonomy from that western discourse as well as our own governmental control. The notion of islamization of knowledge was also part of this anti-western movement.it has both western and eastern routs. For example, Naqib Alatas is pioneer of that from the east while Ismail Razi Faruqi is from west. What do you see as the role these notions in the whole course? In my view point, for the most part of ‘islami25


zation of knowledge’ entirely, has been unproductive. I mean, with reference to … there are several schools of thought among the proponents of the islamization of knowledge, with reference to Prof. Naqib, as he once told to me as he was really talking about Islamization of mind, not islamization of disciplines. What he meant was the islamization of the mind of the scholars. And I think that is very fair notion of the islamization. I do disagree with those he speak about islamization of disciplines, where they are thinking about having Islamic sociology, Islamic economy, Islamic political science, Islamic theory of international relations…etc. that I think is illogical. Those are illogical propositions. Because the disciplines are tools. They are scientific tools, you know. They are theories, concepts and methods which are universal. The mind of a person engaging in theorizing and conceptualizing be it Islamic or Christian whatever, that is merely a

does not oblige somebody to be a conflict theorist, or a structural functionalist…etc. It does not oblige anybody to follow ibn khaldun. It doesn’t province anyone following the political economy frame work of Marx. Though the metaphysical and epistemological positions of Islam are of high level and universal it does not result imposition of any particular frame work. There is a new group of scholars like Talal Asad, Judith Butler who are striving, on the ground of post secular turn, to give agency to traditional knowledge systems like Islam as independent critical categories; aren’t they part of the decolonizing movement? Yea, there are people who do that. The impact of it is minimal. They are very well known. But they haven’t yet come to the main stream. They have not impacted the way sociology is taught. And they couldn’t have an impact on the writing my interest in ibn khaldun is part of the concerns in developing ideas form the non-western traditions, bringing them into the social sciences. In that sense, I think it is correct to say that I am trying to bridge between civilizations, because I don’t reject the conventional social sciences from the west. Only thing that I criticize it for being parochial, claiming it to be the universal.

concept. That is not Islamic. For example, when ibn khaldun studies rise and decline of states why it is not islamic theory? It wasn’t islamic or unislamic, but it was a theory- a tool to understand something in the history. For example he says, the state is found in the tribal military support and the tribes are bound together by the feeling of communality which he calls asabiyya. Now, what is islamic or unislamic about the concept of asabiyya? It is merely a concept. That concept can be used by a muslim or nonmuslim. It is a tool. On these grounds, can someone say that Islam independently doesn’t have any epistemology? Islam does have an epistemology. That is sufficiently so universal but it doesn’t impose a particular theoretical framework, on any scientific disciplines. For example, any epistemology found in islam does not oblige somebody to be an empiricist, or does not oblige somebody to be a rationalist, or 26

of introductory sociology so that the sociologist might think in the same way. Unless you have to be a student of sociolgy of islam, then you will be coming to contact with the world of Talal Asad. And there will be some impact of Talal Asad on you, but not on mainstream, general sociology. And of course, some of these post secularist trends are part of this decolonizing notion, at large. There has been the notion of affirming that islam has the potential of being an independent critical category, having its own analytical tools, be it social theory or political analysis or philosophy itself. Intellectuals like Ali Shariati, Muhammed Asad were among the pioneers of this idea which was also acknowledged by E.W Said. Do you also agree with that? I agree with that; but I am also saying that those people you mention do not say that islam should be the sole source of the intellectual tradition, or that Islam should be the only source for conceptualizing

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a theory. What they are saying is that the tradition is sufficiently rich to generate these ideas. But they never said, certainly not Shariati, Said and Asad, they restrict our source of ideas only to Islam. In my own work on Ibn Khaldun, I have developed a theoretical frame work based on ibn khaldun’s model applying it to the study of ottoman history and applying it to the rise of Wahabi state and so on. Although the basic frame work was of Ibn Khaldun, I claim that ibn khaldun’s frame work lacks economic conceptualization of the political economy. There is no conceptualization of economy. He talks about two kinds of societies but he doesn’t talk about economic basis of the societies. In Marxist terms there is no more reproduction. So I bring in Marx and Max Weber to bring concepts of economy, to improvise ibn khaldun theory using Marx and Weber. So no tradition is self-sufficient. Marx and Weber cannot be used to explain rise and decline of North Africa. Because they lack certain things ibn khaldun has. But ibn khaldun also lack something. This is an example. I don’t think any tradition can be said to be self-sufficient. But the problem now is that everybody looking at western tradition as the main tradition. And as people as shariati saying that is not the only tradition. Islam has its own tradition. But he himself was deeply influenced by western writers. The idea of sticking only to Islam itself is an unislamic idea. The post arab spring muslim intellectualism has strived toward developing islam’s own academic tools to weave political conceptualization and policy making. The notion of Maqasid-us-sharia (objectives of sharia) was often taken under the consideration of the academia on this ground. Would you comment on it? I find all these as normative approaches. They make claims about what our society ‘should be’. And I don’t see one analytical idea, category, concept or theory has come out of it. People involve in islamization of knowledge, to me, have not created a new theory or new sociological, political theory. The best they have done, I think, is in the field of economics. But Islamic Economics is also very problematic. To a large extent it has inherited the negative aspects of conventional economics in terms of abstract, hypothetical, deductive motives rather than the empirically oriented. And it has adapted the conservative bourgeois economics to some extent, using marxist terms. There is no strong critique of capitalism from their side. So

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Marx and Weber cannot be used to explain rise and decline of North Africa. Because they lack certain things ibn khaldun has. But ibn khaldun also lack something. This is an example. I don’t think any tradition can be said to be self-sufficient. the whole Islamic Economics is actually part of capitalist structure. But there are exception as such as theories by Baqir Sadr and Ayotellah Taleghani, from shia tradition, which is form the beginning of the anti-capitalist notions. Their approach is not islamizing the neo-classical economics but it is more an economical thought from the specific islamic tradition. So they are not to be included in that discipline of Islamic Economics that is really generated by Pakistani economists, sometimes funded by Saudi in seventies to eighties. In conclusion, how do you see the future of muslim intellectualism? I have a very pessimistic view about the future of muslim intellectualism. I think academic dependency, intellectual imperialism are here for a long time. There are pockets of dissents here and there. But main stream social sciences in all the muslim countries are unaware of such movements. The major institutions of research and universities in countries are generally in line with the global trend in social science. At the same time Muslims do not fund research. They fund very little money in the field, whether independent or colonized research. So I don’t take this situation in optimistic terms at all. 27


Critique

ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE: A RESPONSE FAZLUR RAHMAN

Born in Punjab, Pakistan, Fazlur Rahman contributed to the scholarship on Islam through his interventions as an academic, writer, researcher and director of a religious council. In this article, he questions and analyses the proposition of Islamisation of Knowledge

The subject addressed here is obviously not new to the readership. It has been discussed, written about and, I think, debated in this journal and elsewhere for some time. My aim in the following pages is to give this subject a perspective based upon my own experiences in both Islamic and Western learning.

I. Ilm (Knowledge)

`Ilm (knowledge) is, of course, fundamentally important for man. When Allah (SWT) created `Adam (AS), He gave him al-ilm. So, in the case of man, `ilm is as important as wujud (existence) . If man had only wujud and no ilm, he would be of 28

little consequence. The Quran tells us that when Allah (SWT) wanted to create 'Adam (AS), He informed the angels. They, however, did not like the idea. They responded: "Why are You creating this creature on the earth who will sow mischief therein and shed blood? We are here, praising Your Holiness, and exalting Your Glory." In His reply, Allah (SWT) did not deny the charges that the angels brought against 'Adam (AS), but simply said: "I know what you do not know." Then, after creating 'Adam (AS), Allah (SWT) brought the angels and 'Adam (AS) face to face, and asked the angels: "Tell me the names of these things?" It was a test: the original primordial test. The angels replied:

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"Glory be to You! We do not know; we know what You have told us; we do not know anything else." 'Adam (AS), however, in whom God had put the capacity for creative knowledge, was able to name these things. Thus, man, Adam (AS), possesses a great capacity for knowledge. Neither angels, nor any other creature have this capacity. But there is another side to this picture. Because of this capacity, i.e., because of the aql (intellect , reason) that Allah (SWT) has deposited in man, he can discover knowledge and can go on discovering knowledge, as he has done through the ages. Along with this iIm, man also possesses a sense of responsibility. If we give a sword to a child, he may harm himself unless he possesses a sense of responsibility to accompany his possession of the instrument. The Quran repeatedly states that man has not yet developed a fully adequate sense of responsibility. His cognitive faculties are great, but his faculty of the moral sense of responsibility fails most of the time. This is the meaning I derive from the Quran when it says, towards the end of Surath Al Ahzab, (The Confederates): We offered Our trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains (i .e. , the entire creation) , but they refused to bear it and were frightened of it - but man bore it: he is unjust and foolhardy. (33:72) We see then, that while `ilm is there, the sense of responsibility fails. Most of the time when a crucial test comes, man is unable to discharge this trust. Again, in an earlier Sarah in the Quran, it says: Nay? Man has not as yet fulfilled what Allah (SWT) had (primordially) commanded him (80:23) It is because of this s discrepancy between the power of knowledge which man has, and his failure to live up to the moral responsibility arising from that knowledge, that this problem needs to be addressed. The question to be posed then, is: how to make man responsible? This is the basic problem that those of us, who entertain this subject, Islamisation of Knowledge, have in mind. The feeling is that the modern world has been developed and structured upon knowledge which cannot be considered Islamic. Actually, what we should be saying is that the modern world has misused knowledge; that there is nothing wrong with knowledge, but that it has simply been misused. The atom was split" by scientists of the West but before they ever thought of making electricity from the discovery or to put its uses to other things beneficial, they made the Atom bomb. Now, having made the bombs and having piled them

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up high, these scientists now frantically seek ways and means to go back and undo them. Likewise, as man has begun to travel in space, his problems on earth remain ever intractable. In sum, while the presence of the desire for novelty and discovery of someffling new is ever present, the urge to solve problems ethically does not keep pace. The Quran uses the word al 1lm and its derivatives (`allama, ya’lamn, alim) very often. Frequently it opposes this al-Im with what it calls zann conjectural." The Makkans, the opponents of the Quran, are portrayed as simply working with Zann-they have no sure knowledge (al `i1m)~ This sure knowledge (al `iIm) is the one given to the Prophet (SAAS) through wahy. Such is absolutely and unconditionally al `ilm. Of course, the Qur`an uses al-Ilm in speaking about various other kinds of knowledge. It says, for example, that Allah (SWT) taught Dawud (AS) how to make coats of mail (Sann-Labusin) and that is also al-ilm. Even a thing like magic, sihr, which the Quran condemns, is called `ilm. Harut and Marut used to teach sihr to people according to the Qur`an. That is also a certain kind of ilm. although it is bad, i.e., its practice and use are bad. Those people misused sihr, and thereby separated husbands from their wives. Still it is a kind of ilm. Anything that exposes something new to the mind is `ilm. It is not the `ilm that is bad, it is the misuse or abuse of it that is bad.

2. Modern Systems of Thought

The modern West has constructed all kinds of systems: philosophical, theological, sociological and scientific. There is much in it that the Quran will accept as its own, while no doubt, there is much that the Quran will reject as well. Let me give one example. The very famous and influential German philosopher Kant developed a system of philosophy which has been extraordinarily influential since the l8th century. Kant says that the absolutely good thing in the world is good will; that is, the desire to do something good, to help someone. This good will` or iradha is the absolutely good thing, because, he says, that when one tries to execute his iradha in the outside world, he has to face all kinds of impediments and meet with all kinds of problems or `awaiq. So what one is able to do or achieve in the outside world cannot be as good as the will" that is in one`s mind. I am quite sure that Islam will not accept this proposition because Islam teaches and orients man to change things in the world, in the outside world, and for this end, good will is, of course, absolutely neces29


Kant says that the absolutely good thing in the world is good will; that is, the desire to do something good, to help someone. This good will` or iradha is the absolutely good thing, I am quite sure that Islam will not accept this proposition because Islam teaches and orients man to change things in the world, in the outside world, and for this end, good will is, of course, absolutely necessary. sary. Even if this good will cannot be realized completely in the world, whatever is realizable is good. And it is better than just the good will. This is, I believe, the Islamic position. Let us recall a hadith (a tradition): The Prophet (SAAS) said that real and true 1man (belief) is that a person, who, when he sees something wrong, changes it with his hands; if he cannot change it with his hands, then he must speak out; and, if he cannot speak out about it, he must dislike it with his heart; but that is the weakest form of Iman. Now for Kant, this will is absolutely good. Views and theories abound in Western literature in all the fields of knowledge. However, I must also acknowledge that there is an abundance of this kind in the Islamic tradition as well. In a khutbah "speech", given in Chicago, I said that from within the Islamic tradition I could pick out several systems, or several religions. if you like, which will have nothing to do with Islam, with the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAAS). Yet, they all form what we call the Islamic tradition. Ibn Taimiyyah (BAA) reports a statement by the second century Syrian jurist, Al Awzai (RAA), a younger contemporary of Abu Hanifah (RAA). According 30

to this report, Al Awzai said that anyone who takes the legislation of alcohol from the Kufans, the legalization of Muthah ""temporary marriage" from certain Makkan fuqha', the legalization of drugs from other Makkan fluqaha and , the legalization of music from the Madinans, he has collected all the evil that he can. All these opinions are there in the Islamic Fiqh. As Islam expanded, geographically and intellectually, all kinds of new elements became part of the Islamic tradition. But there are a large number of these traditions which have nothing to do with, indeed, which are contrary to the Quran. As I have just said, `ilm, in itself is good. It is its misuse or abuse that makes it bad. But this decision of misuse does not depend on knowledge itself. It depends on moral priorities. Certainly moral decisions yield priorities. If one has atomic power, he should make electricity or isotopes from it for the good of humankind. But if, instead, he makes atomic bombs, that is his decision ' to misuse this knowledge.

3. Early Islamic History and Traditions

In early Islamic history, in the third century (after Hijrah) and even before there were many ideas and practices that entered into Islam from Iran. When Muslim Arabs conquered the neighboring countries, they found highly sophisticated Iranian and Byzantine cultures with their traditional attitudes ideas and practices. Of course, both these empires had exhausted themselves militarily and morally. As a result, the morally fresh and virile power that Islam brought made short work of them. Byzantium, in particular, possessed a great deal of learning: philosophy, science, medicine and literature, etc. The Muslims translated these disciplines into Arabic on a large and systematic scale. They made a decision, however, that they would translate Greek science, philosophy and medicine, but not Greek literature. The reason for this was that Greek literature was full of stories about gods and goddesses. This literature included the great literary and poetic works of Homer and Hesiod, but the Muslims refused to translate them. This was a moral and a religious decision to allow all the Greek science, philosophy and medicine to come into Islam particularly the last; but not the Greek legends of gods and goddesses that filled Greek literature and popular religion. Not long after philosophy entered into Islam, a man of the caliber of Ibn Sina constructed a philosophic system. Ibn Sina, after Aristotle, was the first thinker to create a comprehensive philo-

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sophic system that aimed at explaining everything in the universe including human life in all its aspects. He profoundly influenced both the Muslim and the Western intellectual traditions. He was a systematic thinker; however some of the ideas that he expressed disturbed many Islamic theologians, al Mutakallimun, particularly on subjects bordering between religion and philosophy. Ibn Sina undoubtedly tried to synthesize Greek philosophy with Islam. He remained, of course, basically faithful to the Greek tradition, but he made every effort, unlike al Farabi before him, to accommodate the demands of religion. But, precisely because he had done this, he was attacked by at Ghazali (R) who wrote a book titled Tahafut al-falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers) which actually meant the Tahafut (Incoherence) of Ibn Sina, wherein he condemned certain very important propositions of Ibn Sina from what he saw contrary to the Islamic perspective. This was an attempt to sift what al Ghazali thought to be Islamic from what he thought to be unlslamic. Later Ibn Rushd replied to al Ghazali in a book titled Tahafut al Tahafut (The Incoherence of Incoherence) and so the dispute continued. Meanwhile, the Muslim theologians, the mutakallimun, had started much earlier the formulation of the Islamic creed and a theology to defend that creed. Their speculations revolved around such questions as whether man was free or not; whether man has the qudrah (power) to act or not; and, whether the qadar of Allah (SWT) had prewritten everything or not. These questions have been discussed for centuries. When the philosophic impact came upon this Kalam tradition, however, we note, after al Ghazali, another great scholar, Fakr al Din al Razi (RA) . The achievement of al Razi in the field of kalam is precisely this: while al Ghazali had criticized certain propositions of the philosophers like the eternity of the world (that the world was not created in time), al Razi, following the philosophical system of Ibn Sina, produced a Kalam-system in answer to that system. This was a kalaamic answer to a philosophical system: the philosophers discuss problems of wujud and Adam and their characteristics; so does al Razi. Every problem that the philosophers discuss, theologians also discuss. This was, I believe, al Razi’s tremendous achievement in ilm al Kalam, namely, to produce a comprehensive KaIam- system in answer to the philosophical system. But al Razi did this as an Ash’ari. He believed in the proposition that man has no power to act

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before he acts. In other words, he has no power to raise his arm before he actually raises it. This is called al qudrah al hadithah. When he actually raises his arm, Allah (SWT) creates a temporary power in him to produce that act and then that power becomes non-existent. Likewise, fire has no power to burn a piece of cotton; when it is put in contiguity with a piece of cotton, it is Allah (SWT) who creates in the fire a temporary power to burn the cotton. This fire according to this proposition neither has the power to burn the cotton before, nor afterwards. This is the Ash’ari doctrine. We may accept it; we may reject it; we may criticize it. Nevertheless, the Ash’ari deny causation. Al Ghazali elaborates it at length. Another characteristic of Ash`arism is that of atomism (al Juz alladhi la yathajazza) : according to which the world is all made up of atoms. These atoms are brought together in a certain way, structured in a certain way, so that living beings like us come into existence. Then when a person dies, that atomic structure falls apart. Something of that atomic structure, however, remains and then Allah ( SWT) , on the Day of Judgment will re-create that body around that nucleus. This is the Ash`ari doctrine of resurrection. The philosophers of course criticize it and reject it. I am not concerned. at this moment , with what we are to accept or to reject. My point is that the question of atomism became so important, that al Baqillani, a great early disciple of the Ash’ari school, recommended that every Muslim, just as he/she believes in Allah (SWT) , the Books, the Rusul , the Angels, and the Last Day, must also believe in atomism. Al Baqillani recommended this because he thought it was so basic, so important, that Muslims ought to legislate that every Muslim believe in atomism. Muslims have said all of these things and held all of these views above. But, let us ask this question: what is therein that is fully Islamic and what is therein that is less Islamic and what is therein that is unlslamic? Certainly, we are very much concerned with the West because we find ourselves in a situation where we confront the West. But, we must also ask: Can we confront the West and declare what knowledge is good and what is bad and what is appropriate and what is not appropriate without knowing ourselves?

4. Need for Re-examination and Analysis

The first task, I submit to you, indeed the urgent task, is to re-examine the Islamic tradition itself. I would rather call it the Muslim tradition, which 31


contains of course, many Islamic things, many unlslamic things and many that may be on the borderline. This is extremely important. Is ibn `Arabi reflective of the Qur’an? How far is Fakhr al Din al Razi’s Ash`arism in conformity with the Qur'an? How far is al Ghazali’s teaching in conformity with the Quran? We know al Ghazali was a great man. He had been an illustrious professor in Baghdad, rolling in gold and glory, when he suddenly resigned his chair of theology and law, and imposed exile upon himself. He became for a time a Sufi, spending many years in Masjids (mosques) and zawiyahs (small mosques, prayer room). He wrote brilliant and incisive books where he downgraded theology and law vis-a-vis spiritualism. Later of course, he rediscovered law and he wrote a very important book, Kitab al-Mustafa on jurisprudence. If we want to understand Islam from alGhazali, how do we go about it? Was the teaching of theology and law the first phase? Was his second phase more or less Islamic? How about his third phase? He has written a spiritual autobiography titled Al Munqidh min al dalaI (the Deliverance From Error) in which he tells us that when he became disenchanted with professorship, theology, and law he found before himself four paths from among which he had to choose. The first was the path of the mutakallimutn. the second was the path of the philosophers, the third was the path of the Ismailis (al Batiniyyah), and finally, there was the path of the Sufi. Al Ghazali goes on to say that the Sufis are undoubtedly the best. He said that they have the purest hearts, their actions are motivated with sincerity, and, compared to the rest of the three, there is no doubt that they are the model of piety for humanity. Hence, al Ghazali chose the Sufi path. Ibn Taymiyyah, commenting upon al Ghazali’s statement, says that it is absolutely correct, that from among these four paths, the path of 32

the Sufi’s is undoubtedly the best, and that despite the fact that there are extremist Sufi groups of all sorts espousing strange views and practices, on the whole, the Sufis are very pious people, God-fearing, and genuine Muslims. But then, Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to say that there is another path, a fifth path, and that is the path of the Qur'an and the Prophet (SAAS). He noted that al Ghazali had not thought of this path. Huwa kana qalil al ilm bihi-' (and his knowledge of this path was also not much). Ibn Taymiyyah, in my opinion, is thus correct. We have in al Ghazali a truly great Islamic personality, who in youth, blooms forth into a brilliant scholar of Islam; who attains the highest point in intellectual and worldly success and then resigns in the midst of his glory and takes to the Sufi path. Ibn Taymiyyah rejects al Ghazali’s approach to Islam, saying it led him afar from the Qur’an and the Prophet (SAAS). Al Ghazali, among his numerous works, has written a book called Jawhir al Quran, (The Pearls of Quran). He wrote this book while still a Sufi. It is, in its own way, a great work, full of originality, subtle meanings and fine spiritual points. The question, however, is whether he is faithful to the Quran and whether this work reflects the Quranic teaching. The Quran has come to give us a guidance. In the first instance, it guided the activity of the Prophet (SAAS) and too, it gives us guidance at whatever juncture we are. But if we compare al Ghazali’s Jawahir al Quran with the Quranic teaching, I doubt that one can come up with the conclusion that this is a book which represents the Quran. It represents an entirely individual piety, (taqwa) which is totally silent on the community and on the role of Islam in the world. Let me now come to the more contemporary situation. When a student from the Muslim world comes to the West, he or she may become enamored by Weber or Durkheim or Kant and he or she may want to study one or more of these thinkers. This is fine. These men, in their own right, were great; they have written about the problems of pure thought called philosophy and they have written about human societies, both ancient and contemporary. Similarly, many of us may be enamored by Islamic personalities and say that if we want the truth, nothing compares with Abu-Hamid al Ghazali, Imam Fakhr al-Din al Razi Ibn Sina or Ibn `Arabi Or Muhammad Iqbal. In all such cases, we are beating about the bush; these are the attitudes and actions of confused people who do not know what to do or wither to go. For

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some, Jalal al Din al Rumi is great. All of these are undoubtedly great men. But if we want guidance, we possess a Book, which we claim Allah (SWT) sent verbatim to his Prophet (SAAS) and which actually produced guidance and concrete results in terms of rescuing people from the abyss of the Jahiliyyah, (The State of Ignorance). It gave them guidance and gave them taqwa. It made them capable of not only conquering and governing other territories, but also enabled them to guide others. We claim that this book is miraculous. Why do we then not go to that Book? I would say `iIm is all good. Sihr (magic), on the other hand, is bad. but only because it is inherently misused. Why, for example, would anyone want to learn sihr unless he wants to use it? Sihr very use is its misuse. Nevertheless, sihr is ilm; it has reality. Of course, the Qur'an does not imply, I think, that sihr can change the jawahir al-ashya (the substance of things) . I think, according to the Quran, that sihr influences the psychology of people. When the opponents of Musa (AS) in Pharaoh’s court, threw their sticks, the Quran says "sahara a`yun al nas" (they cast a magical spell on the eyes of the people), but nothing really changed. Also in the verse about Harut and Marut, in Surat al Baqarah (the Heifer), those who learnt sihr separated man from wife by psychological manipulation. Sihr, then, does have a psychological reality. Although it does not change the substance of things it does change psychological attitudes.

5. Conclusion

So far as the problem under consideration( Islamisation of Knowledge) is concerned, I, therefore conclude, that we must not get enamored over making maps and charts of how to go about creating Islamic knowledge. Let us invest our time, energy and money in the creation, not of propositions, but minds. Let us recall that Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, was the first thinker to formulate logic. He formulated the theory of syllogism, the kubra (major Premise) and the sughra (the minor premise) and then the conclusion. He believed that this is how people think; that people conceive in their minds the major premise and then the minor premise, and then draw the conclusion. Absolutely nothing of this sort happens in actual reality. Human thought does not behave syllogistically; human thought has its own mode of operation. We still do not know what the nature of human thought process is. Most of the time we do not even know what we want to know unless we

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are doing some mechanical work. To tell the truth, knowledge is extremely mysterious. Normally, people think knowledge is very easily attained; that one knows what one wants to know and thus attains the knowledge. This is not at all the case. One cannot map knowledge; it is created by Allah (SWT) in the human mind. One can train people for knowledge and then hope for the best. My plea, therefore, is that we create thinkers, those who have the capacity to think constructively and positively. We cannot lay down rules for them to think . As I have pointed out in the case of Kant; one can certainly criticize and reject propositions that seem to us incompatible with Islamic principles. Also, in the case of Western social science, in sociology, anthropology and psychology, etc. , one can always do that. But one can and must also do that with the Muslims thinkers of the past. I have then submitted that unless we have examined our tradition very well. in the light of the Quran, we cannot proceed further with Islamic thought. This is because we must have certain criteria to go by and the criteria must obviously come initially from the Quran. First. we must examine our own Islamic tradition in the light of these criteria and principles and then critically study the body of knowledge created by modernity. We must also remember that knowledge in Islam exists in order to enable us to act to change the current events in the world. The Quran is an action-oriented book. par excellence. We have to seriously cultivate this procedure and first judge our own tradition as to what is right and what is wrong. Then we must judge the Western tradition. There is no mechanical way of doing this. I cannot sit down and undertake to Islamize Durkheim and Weber; I cannot sit down and mechanically judge what Durkheim said about primitive societies. Or what Weber says about this or that form of societies, or what Weber says about this or that form of government. Of course, one can say that certain things are right and that others are wrong but this would not amount to creative knowledge. This would be a mechanical kind of analysis at best. The stage of creative knowledge will come only when we are imbued with the attitude that the Quran wants to inculcate in us. Then we will be able to appreciate and also sit in judgment on both our own tradition and the Western tradition. Even then, however. judgment and criticism is not the end but only the first step in the discovery of new knowledge, which is the true goal of an Islamic intellectual. 33


Talk

‘I WANT TO LEARN EXPERIENCE OF LIVING ISLAM IN INDIA’ AMINA WADUD

Amina Wadud's Quran and Women is a serious attempt to read the holy text of Islam from a feminist perspective. After the book turned 20, she visits Kerala as part of new venture to understand how Muslims live (or how they live Islam). She talks at a venue organised by Other Books which first translated her book. Thank you very much. First I want you to know that I am loving India and I am loving Kerala specially. I have only been here for one week. It is my intention to stay here for as long as possible-may be one year or may be two years. This is the luxury of being retired. I just wanted to come to India, then to Kerala and to Calicut. So that is how I got here. I don't have any programme. People asked me before I left the United States, 'What are you going to do in India.' I said, 'anything I want. This is the luxury of being retired. I have worked very hard in my life. I am a mother of five children, which means I had two jobs. The luxury of being retired is to go to places where I would like to go. I was very impressed with the invitation to translate my first book into Malayalam a few years ago. That was how I ended up here. Quran and Women is 20 years old. It was first published in Malaysia 1992. It was picked up by Oxford University Press in 1999. The research for the book had preceded earlier, when I was a gradu34

ate student. So the book has a history of 25 years. I have not stopped my own research interests and life experiences. Sometimes, it is difficult to speak about the same work again and again. So, sometimes I need to speak new things. It occurred to me that there are people who are interested in speaking new things. It would be good if people come together twice a month to discuss modern literature, sort of holding a book discussion. While it would be possible for me to give occasional formal lecture, I would like to exchange and learn a lot more about Islam and India and Islam and Kerala and to learn how you face issues as Muslims. I can contribute from my research and travel. But not everything is always on me. It happened when I lectured to students who wrote down my notes for exam. And it finished. I would rather be in a space where there is open dialogue. My major interest is in constructions of justice and in how they are actually played out in our lives as individuals and as members of families, as members of small

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communities, members of larger communities and nation states and as citizens of world. I think that the notion of justice has never been static. What was justice at a time when the Prophet received Revelation is not the same as justice today. For example, my family descended from African slaves that means Africans-free people-who were brought to the Americas to be slaves. We were not workers; we were slaves. That is my heritage. Slavery existed during the time of the Prophet and slavery is discussed in the Quran as an institution that existed. There is no question about it. Fair treatment of slaves is the only issue that was raised. The inhumanity of slavery as an institution was never addressed by the Quran. There is a reason for this. And understanding that justice is an active term allows us to believe in the Quran, to follow the Quran, but (at the same time) not to hold slaves in the Year 2012. I am interested in how we understand the Quran in such a dynamic way. It is how we continue to believe in Allah, to love the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and at the same time to contribute to the way Islam is lived today. We call this the construction of knowledge project, in which we actively participate in making Islam and we contribute to its structure, its depth and its breadth so that in future generations will look back on our times and be able to say, ‘You know what happened at the beginning of the 21st century. Kada v kada. So I refer to the active participation we make in the construction of Islam. I believe in the living god, Allah High. So I believe in a living religion. I don’t believe in living the religion of someone else’s past. I don’t believe in living the religion of someone else’s location. I believe that Allah has the capacity to keep Islam alive and dynamic. The only reason why we go back is because of us people. We the people must keep pace. The whole universe is constantly in motion, while we are sleeping. When we have the privilege, the mercy of sleeping, the world goes on. While people are dying, the living goes on. We have the opportunity in our life to contribute from our life towards the life of Islam. And I believe this in particular because of my involvement in gender issues. Sometimes, when you talk about gender issues, people think it’s about women. I am not. I am talking about gender, which is a construct of masculinity and femininity. That means, it has to do with women and men. Because of the practices of injustice, it continues to go on. Sometimes it is justified in the name of Islam. I think it is important to be able to counter that with a living embodiment

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I am a theologist, I am very interested in the notions of god and that is the one area on which we can have exchanges. If you want to discuss theological ideas in modern contexts and of course Quranic hermeneutics-how we understand Quran in our times and how we use it as hudan lil muthaqueen (kind of guidance that leads on a straight path), (you are welcome). of Islamic justice that is appropriate for our time and place. So, that clearly means there is no slavery. It also means there is no patriarchy. Patriarchy as an institution has outlived its usefulness and now it is walking towards its destruction. I think if we lived in caves, it is very nice we come out of caves. We need to be for future. We need to be part of the change. And that is what I considered to be my responsibility wherever I go. It is my responsibility too, when I am here. However, there is so much I don’t know. I don’t know much about Islam in India and Islam in northern part of India and in southern part of India. And I am wise enough to know I don’t know. So there is so much I can learn from and can be actively engaged in. That would be something of interest to me. And I would also be willing to do formal works, depending on who is interested and who is making the investment. I am here on my own financial ticket. There are sills I can share, which I would not offer for free. I do charge. So be careful about what you are going to ask. I will give you bill at the end of the day. But there is so much more that is available for free. And that is the exchange. And that is what I am more inclined towards. That would allow me to be a learner, a student and not just someone who is responsible for someone else’s learning. I have heard that this part of India has the 35


highest level of education among all parts of South East Asia. So I have very high expectation when I compare you will all places I have visited. Hopefully, you would not disappoint me. You have made excellent contribution to knowledge. It will be a very dynamic visit for me and you will be excellent hosts. Brothers and sister, you will make it so that I will not miss family. I have never travelled and stayed long away from my children. I have five adult children and three grandchildren. I am hoping that there will be so much here that a visit home would be enough and I can continue my experience here. I would tell you why I was motivated to come to India. I have lived in five different countries, including my home the United States, where we, I mean, Muslims are minority. We are very small minority sometimes having very little impact on the public

contribute as they citizens? That is a good thing. It is important we are both citizens and Muslims. And I am interested to know how it is related to the notions of spirituality and identity. Are you different as Muslims in a minority country from Muslims in the majority contexts? My experience so far: I have lived in Libya, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia. Twice in Asia, Mid-east and North Africa. I want to believe that when Islam encounters dynamic religious identities, it makes our identity more well-defined. We understand what makes us Muslims and what makes us, say, Keralites. So, I am interested really in the dynamics of identity development. Despite the minority status, in India the number of Muslims are very, very large and the history of Islam is very, very deep. It would give me a sense of a living dynamics of Islam that I could not get in Egypt

idea about Islam. The mainstream perception of Islam especially post 9/11 is that Islam is terrorism. And we work very hard to show that there is diversity in Islam. There are terrorists who are Muslims. We can’t pretend that they are not Muslims. For, when we say that they are not Muslims we don’t have any responsibility towards them.. We are also responsible for Muslim terrorists. But the majority of Muslims in the world are not terrorists. In fact, a large percentage of them are not terrorists. But the impression (that most Muslims are terrorists) is being recapitulated in America. But, besides living in my country, I have never lived in a country where Islam is not majority. India would be my (first) experience in that respect. But I hope there is a dynamic minority relationship here. I am interested to know how Muslims maintain their integrity, identity and spirituality and how they contribute to the GDP. And how Muslims make India a successful country. What it is that they contribute specially from Islam and what it is that they

Slavery existed during the time of the Prophet and slavery is discussed in the Quran as an institution that existed. There is no question about it. Fair treatment of slaves is the only issue that was raised. The inhumanity of slavery as an institution was never addressed by the Quran. There is a reason for this. And understanding that justice is an active term allows us to believe in the Quran, to follow the Quran, but (at the same time) not to hold slaves in the Year 2012. and Indonesia. However, Indonesia is my favorite place of Muslims in the world. Indonesians have a very distinct sense of identity. They are very clear that they are Indonesians and Muslims. And yet, like India, they live in a secular democracy which means they accept the right of other people to believe in other religions without prejudice before the law. So what they construct in terms of living Islam is not same as the age-old tendency to say ‘it is Islam.’ When most people speak about Islam, they are referring to the dead Islam. Islam is very much alive in Indonesia. It is very exciting to live and participate in that kind of dynamic relationship. I am expecting a similar, if better experience of living Islam in India, because you have maintained an authentic Islamic identity through many conflicts across the continent. India is the mother of colonies. But for the India project, colonialism would never have been clear as colonialism. How did you survive colonialism and not come out with scars. You came out so productive as to contribute to the growth of the nation state as citizens and

36

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The mainstream perception of Islam especially post 9/11 is that Islam is terrorism. And we work very hard to show that there is diversity in Islam. There are terrorists who are Muslims. We can’t pretend that they are not Muslims. For, when we say that they are not Muslims we don’t have any responsibility towards them.. We are also responsible for Muslim terrorists. Muslims. How did you do that? These are the kinds of things I would be observing here. I don’t have a book in my mind. I lived in five countries before this. I did not write book about any of those. I might share my experiences there; but I am not a sociologist. I am a theologist, I am very interested in the notions of god and that is the one area on which we can have exchanges. If you want to discuss theological ideas in modern contexts and of course Quranic hermeneutics-how we understand Quran in our times and how we use it as hudan lil muthaqueen (kind of guidance that leads on a straight path), (you are welcome). So other than that I am very informal person, believe it or not. I don’t like to get involved in the media. It is clear that I have something to share. It is never because I want to be here inside for you to take picture of me. I’m not impressed with sensationalism. I am very much impressed with sincerity. You can’t be the mother of five children and not accept the differences of opinion. We grow our children to be independent, to stand up and speak their minds out at the early age. We love this independence and freedom. I have five adult children and am used to listening to more than one opinion. I don’t think I can force my opinion on anyone and I can accept an opinion I don’t agree with. I would always listen, if you have a good argument. And I would discuss with you my disagreement and we can agree to disagree.

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37


Indepth

Islam and Music SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR

There is also the more popular form of music, or folk music as it is called today, which has existed as an integral part of the life pattern of various groups, especially in the countryside and among the nomads throughout the Islamic world and which has been sung or played by peoples who have adhered most strictly to the Sharî‘ah. IT is often said that music is forbidden in Islam and this assertion is repeated by many contemporary Muslims as well as by orientalists. Yet, when one studies the Islamic world, either in its present form or during various stages of its history, one is startled by the presence of music in many of the most fundamental aspects of that tradition. The call to prayer (al-adhân) is almost always sung,[i] as is the Holy Quran whose chanting is the most nourishing of all music for the soul of the people of faith (mu’minûn). During Ramadân, even now in some Islamic cities, one can observe the age old tradition of waking people in time to eat before the dawn and the beginning of the fast by means of chants, drums and sometimes trumpets. Moreover, funeral orations performed under the most strict religious canons are usually sung melodies and in some holy sanctuaries music accompanies religious ceremonies as in Mashhad in Persia at the tomb of 38

Imâm ‘Alî al-Ridâ where drums and an instrument resembling the oboe welcome the rising sun every morning at the earliest moment of the day. Finally it might be mentioned that the Muslim armies performing the holy war (al-jihâd) were accompanied from the earliest times by a type of music which intensified the qualities of bravery and courage within the hearts of the soldiers and that the first military band was created by the Ottomans and later emulated in Europe. Besides these specifically religious instances from the Sharî‘ite point of view[ii] there is of course that ocean of celestial music connected with Sufism, music varying from the playing of drums in the Senegal to elaborate performances including many instruments found in Turkey and the Indian sub-continent primarily among the Maulawîs and Chishtîs. This music is also of a directly religious

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character, although here the esoteric rather than the exoteric dimension of the religion is involved. Furthermore, this type of music overflows to embrace nearly the whole community of believers of certain occasions such as the anniversary of the birth or death of great saints. There is also the more popular form of music, or folk music as it is called today, which has existed as an integral part of the life pattern of various groups, especially in the countryside and among the nomads throughout the Islamic world and which has been sung or played by peoples who have adhered most strictly to the Sharî‘ah. Sometimes this type of music has served as inspiration for various Sufimasters who have adopted it for strictly spiritual ends in their gatherings. Even Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî, the founder of the Maulawî order, often took songs from taverns of Anatolia and converted them into vehicles for the expression of the profoundest yearning for God. Besides all these forms of music, one must mention the great classical traditions of music in the Islamic world such as the Persian, Andalusian, Arabic of the Near East, Turkish and even North Indian traditions which have survived to this day. Although the origin of these musical traditions goes back to ancient civilizations, they became fully integrated into the Islamic universe and took their place among the major expressions of Islamic art. These classical traditions were supported mostly by the courts of various caliphs and sultans or the nobility and were more of an aristocratic and knightly art than anything else as far as patronage was concerned,[iii] but the content of this art remained highly contemplative and spiritual. Often the musicians supported by the court or the aristocracy were themselves members of the Sufi orders as can be seen so clearly in Persia and India during the past three centuries[iv] This classical tradition was in any case closely related to Sufism and in certain cases, such as that of the Maulawî order, the cultivation and preservation of the classical traditionwas directly due to a Sufi order.[v] Many of the outstanding Islamic men of learning especially philosophers, mathematicians and physicians were well-versed in music and its theories and some like al-Fârâbî, Ibn Sîna and Urmawî were notable authorities in musical theory.[vi] Certain Muslim physicians used music to cure ailments of both body and soul and several treatises were written concerning the therapeutic view of music. [vii] Men of letters were also usually acquainted

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Many of the outstanding Islamic men of learning especially philosophers, mathematicians and physicians were well-versed in music and its theories and some like al-Fârâbî, Ibn Sîna and Urmawî were notable authorities in musical theory. Certain Muslim physicians used music to cure ailments of both body and soul and several treatises were written concerning the therapeutic view of music. with music. Poetry in particular has been almost inseparable from music throughout Islamic history as the Kitâb al-aghânî of Abu’l-Faraj al-Isfahânî illustrates for the early Islamic period. In both Arabic and Persian literature, the close wedding between masterpieces of poetry such as the Burdah or the ghazals of Hâfiz and their musical rendition is to be observed in almost all periods and climes. The same holds true of Turkish, Urdu and other Islamic languages. One can hardly conceive of Urdu, Bengali and Sindhi poetry, just to cite a few languages of the Indian sub-continent, without recalling the sessions of poetry (mushâ‘arah) which are usually combined with the singing of poems and the qawwâlîs which are by nature musical performances with instruments but in which the chanting of poetry has the central role.[viii] With all these considerations in mind, it might be asked what is the meaning of the banning of music in Islam? What domain does the banning involve and what kind of music falls under the Sharî‘ite injunctions concerning music? There is no doubt that this question was debated by noted jurists and theologians including such eminent authorities as Ibn Hazm and al-Ghazzâlî.[ix] But the question of the significance and legitimacy of music in the total structure of the Islamic revelation 39


is not merely juridical or theological. It involves most of all the inner and spiritual aspect of Islam, and therefore the answer must be sought above all in Sufism. It is of interest to read, concerning this question, the words of one of the most eminent of Sufi masters, Rûzbahân Baqlî of Shiraz,[x]] who was an authority in both Sufism and the Sharî‘ah as well as on music itself. The words of the patron saint of Shiraz in his Risâlat al-quds are a most telling witness to the significance of music, the conditions under which it is legitimate, the kinds of people who may listen to music, and the kind of music which is worthy of being performed and listened to.[xi] “On the Meaning of ‘Spiritual Music’ (samâ‘)” ‘Know O Brothers—May God increase the best of joys for you in listening to spiritual music— that for the lovers of the Truth there are several principles concerning listening to spiritual music, and these have a beginning and an end. Also the enjoyment of this music by various spirits is different. It can be enjoyed according to the station of the Sacred Spirit (rûh-i muqaddas). However, no one, save he who is among those who reign in the domain of gnosis (ma‘rifat), can be prepared for it, for spiritual qualities are mingled with corporeal natures. Until the listener becomes purified from that filth, he cannot become a listener in the gatherings (majâlis) of spiritual familiarity (uns). Verily, all the creatures among the animals have an inclination toward spiritual music, for each possesses in its own right a spirit. It keeps alive thanks to that spirit and 40

‘Know O Brothers—May God increase the best of joys for you in listening to spiritual music—that for the lovers of the Truth there are several principles concerning listening to spiritual music, and these have a beginning and an end. Also the enjoyment of this music by various spirits is different. that spirit keeps alive thanks to music. ‘Music is in the coming to rest of all thoughts from the burdens of the human state (bashariyyat), and it exites the temperament of men. It is the stimulant of seigneurial mysteries (asrâr-i rabbânî). To some, it is a temptation because they are imperfect. For others, it is a precept (‘ibrat) for they have reached perfection. It is not proper for those who are alive on the natural plane, but whose heart is dead, to listen to music, for it will cause their destruction. It is, however, incumbent upon him whose heart is joyous, whether he discovers or fails to discover the soul, to listen to music. For in music there are a hundred thousand joys, of which with the help of a single joy one can cut across a thousand years of the path of attaining gnosis in a way that cannot be achieved by any gnostic through any form of worship. ‘It is necessary that the passions in all the veins of the seeker after music becomes diluted (as far as the passions are concerned) and that the veins become filled with light as a result of the purity of worship. In his soul, he must be present before the Divine and in the state of audition so as to remain

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free, while listening to music, from the temptations of the carnal soul. And this cannot be achieved with certainty except by the strongest in the path of Divine Love. For spiritual music is the music of the Truth (al-Haqq). Spiritual music comes from God (the Truth- Haqq); it stands before God; it is in God; it is with God. If someone were to conceive one of these relations with something other than God, he would be an infidel. Such a person would not have found the path and would not have drunk the wine of union in the spiritual concert. ‘The disciples of love (mahabbat) listen to music without recourse to their carnal soul. Those who walk upon the path of yearning (shawq) listen to spiritual music without recourse to reason. The possessed followers of intense love (‘ishq) listen to spiritual music without recourse to the heart. Those agitated by spiritual familiarity listen to music without recourse to the spirit. If they were to listen to music with these means they would become veiled from God. And if they were to listen to it with the carnal soul they would become impious (zindîq). And if they were to listen with the power of reason (‘aql) they would become creditable. And if they would hear with the heart they would become contemplative (murâqib). And if they were to listen with the spirit they would become totally present. Spiritual music is the audition and vision of Divine Presence (hudûr). It is terror and sorrow. It is wonder in wonder. In that world canons cease to exist. The man of knowledge becomes ignorant and the lover is annihilated. ‘In the feast of Divine Love, the listener and the performer are both one. The truth of the path of lovers is accompanied by music but the truth of its truth is without music. Spiritual music comes from discourse (khatâb) and the lack of it from beauty (jamâl). If there is speech, there is distance, and if there is silence there is proximity. As long as there is audition, there is ignorance (bîkhabar) and the ignorant dwell in duality. In hearing spiritual music, reason is dethroned; command becomes prohibition and the abrogator (nâsikh) the abrogated (mansûkh). In the first stage of the spiritual concert, all the abrogators become abrogated, and all the abrogated abrogators. ‘Spiritual music is the key to the treasury of Divine Verities. The gnostics are divided: some listen with the help of the stations (maqâmât); some with the help of the states (hâlât); some with the help of spiritual unveiling (mukâshifât); some with the help of vision (mushâhadât). When they listen according to the stations, they are in reproach.

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When they listen according to the states, they are in a state of return. When they listen according to spiritual unveiling they are in union (wisâl); when they listen according to vision they are immersed in the Divine Beauty. ‘From the beginning to the end of the stations (maqâmât), there are thousands upon thousands of stations each of which possesses thousands upon thousands of pieces of spiritual music, and in each piece of music there are thousands upon thousands of qualities, such as change, warning, elongation, union, proximity, distance, ardour, anxiety, hunger, thirst, fear, hope, melancholy, victory, sorrow, fright, purity, chastity, servitude and lordship. If any of these qualities were to reach the soul of the ascetics of the world, their soul would involuntarily depart from their bodies. ‘Likewise, from the beginning to the end of the states (ahwâl), there are thousands upon thousands of maqams in each of which there are a thousand allusions (ishârât) within spiritual music. And in each allusion there are many kinds of pain such as love (mahabbat), yearning, intensive love (‘ishq), ardour, purity, aridity and power. If one of them were to pass within the heart of all the disciples, the heads of all of them would become separated from their bodies. ‘Also from the beginning of spiritual unveiling to its end during the hearing of spiritual music, there is one theophanic display after another. If the lovers of God were to see one of these displays they would all melt away like quicksilver. Likewise, in mystical vision during the spiritual concert hundreds of thousands of qualities become revealed, each of which prepares a thousand subtleties (latâ’if) within the being of the gnostic. Such qualities as knowledge, truth, calamities, flashes and gleamings of the Divine Lights, awe, strength, inconstancy, contraction, expansion, nobility and serenity, will cast him to the Invisible beyond the invisible world, and reveal to him the mysteries of his origins. ‘Through each leaf in the paradise of spiritual vision, and from the trees of the qualities, the birds of light will sing the eternal song with uncreated notes before the soul of his soul. One syllable of that song will annihilate the gnostic from the state of servitude and make him subsistent in the state of Divinity. It will seize the foundations of his being and bestow another foundation upon him. It will familiarize him with himself and make him a stranger to himself. It will make him know himself, audacious vis-à-vis himself and fearful of himself. 41


While he is amidst the assembly, it will transform him into its own colour. It will speak of the Mystery of mysterious with him and enable him to listen to the discourse on Divine Love from its tongue. ‘Sometimes it says ‘thou art I’, and sometimes ‘I am thou’. Sometimes it makes him annihilated in subsistence and sometimes subsistent in annihilation. Sometimes it will draw him near; at other times provide peace for him through familiarity. Sometimes it fatigues him with the scorching of Unity; at other times it brings his soul to life through perplexity. At times it makes him listen; at other moments to flee or to recite. Sometimes it casts him into the state of pure servitude; at other times into the essence of lordship. Sometimes it makes him inebriated with beauty; at other times humbled by majesty. Sometimes it makes him sober, or strengthens him, or makes him inconstant. Sometimes it takes his soul through the languor of spiritual music. At other times, through the eradication of the calamities caused by the unceasing light shining from the dawns of Unity upon the roof of Majesty, it will place him upon the throne of kingship. Sometimes it will make him fly with the aid of the mystery of blessedness through the space of pre-eternity. At other times, by means of the shears of transcendence, it will cut the wing of resolution in the space of self-identity. ‘All these are to be found in spiritual music and still more. He knows this truth who, at the moment of spiritual vision and through the beauty of this vision in the presence of the Divine Presence, acquires from the eternal saki without the toil of non-existence the wine of spiritual familiarity; one who is able to heal the sublime words issuing from the blessed dawn within the invisible dimensions of the “rational spirit” (rûh-i nâtiqah). He will know who is there. Those who are here do not know its exposition. These teachings are neither for the unripe who would fall into a state of doubt through them, nor for strangers who would become stranded by them. For this is the heritage of Moses, the secret of Jesus, the ardour of Adam, the sincere friendship of Abraham, the lamentation of Jacob, the suffering of Isaac, the consolation of Ishamael, the songs of David, the familiarity of Noah, the flight of Jonas, the chastity of Joseph, the calamity of Jacob, the remedies of John, the fear of Zackarias, the yearning of Jethro and the spiritual unveiling and vision of the friend, Ahmad (Prophet of Islam)—May the blessings of God the Merciful be upon all of them. ‘These words are the secret of ‘I am the Truth’ 42

‘Sometimes it says ‘thou art I’, and sometimes ‘I am thou’. Sometimes it makes him annihilated in subsistence and sometimes subsistent in annihilation. Sometimes it will draw him near; at other times provide peace for him through familiarity. Sometimes it fatigues him with the scorching of Unity; at other times it brings his soul to life through perplexity. (ana’l-Haqq); they are the truths which glorify God. The reality of spiritual music belongs to Sarî Saqatî; the speech of this music to Abû Bakr Wâsitî; and the pain of this music to Shiblî.[xii] The spiritual concert is permissible (mubâh) for the lovers of God; it is forbidden (harâm) for the ignorant.[xiii] ‘Spiritual music is of three kinds: one for the common people, one for the elite and one for the elite among the elite. The common people listen through nature and that is destitution.[xiv] The elite listen with the heart, and that is being in quest. The elite among the elite listen with the soul, and that is being in love. If I comment upon music, I fear that it will cause constraint in the world of those with large ears. For I come from the ruins of annihilation and I have brought the mystery of subsistence. If I speak, I speak without foundation.[xv] I speak according to the foundation of the listener. My musician is God and I speak of Him. My witness is God and I see Him. My words are the song of the nightingale of the eternal covenant.[xvi] I hold discourse with the birds in the pre-eternal nest.’ My case has become strange to all strangers, And I have become ‘wonder among all that is wonderous’. * * * The very sobriety of Islam prevented music from becoming an externalized profanation. While on the exoteric level it remains confined to special situations such as those already mentioned in which music is governed strictly by canons to prevent it from arousing animal passions, esoterically music became the means of arousing the sentiments and transforming the soul. But then it was played under conditions that guaranteed the subjugation of the carnal soul before the transmuting effect of music was allowed to enter the arena. Islamic civilization has not preserved and developed several great musical traditions in spite of Islam but because of it. It has prevented the creation of a music, like the post-classical music of the West, in which an “expansion” takes place without

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the previous “contraction” which must of necessity precede expansion in the process of spiritual realization. Islam has banned music which leads to the forgetfulness of God and forbidden those Muslims from hearing it who would become distracted from the spiritual world and become immersed in worldliness through listening to music. But Islam has preserved music in its most exalting and yet sober aspect in its psalmody of the Holy Quran and the like for the whole community, while in its inner dimension it has made of music the ladder to the Divine Presence with a contemplative quality which is an echo of paradise where are combined the sensuous and the ascetic, the otherworldly and the beauty of the here and now. It has made of spiritual music, a vibration and echo of that Reality which is at once transcendent and imminent. The samâ‘ or spiritual music of which Baqlî speaks is the voice of God calling man unto Himself and a means whereby man is led back to his spiritual origin. It is an adjunct to the Path (tarîqah) to God, and only he who is willing to undertake the necessary discipline to become worthy of traversing this Path has the right to listen to this music. As for others, they should not disdain the path which they are not meant to follow, for to negate or deny any of God’s gifts is to commit a sin for which man must ask the forgiveness of Him who alone can forgive. Ultimately man is himself God’s music and Islam as an integral tradition could not but include

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this reality and to provide the possibility for those with the right qualifications to hear the music of the lyre of their own existence being plucked by the Divine Hand. NOTES:

[i] In some regions of the Islamic world such as Indonesia, the adhân is in fact accompanied by drum beats, which carry through the jungle much farther than the voice of the muezzin. [ii] The religious view of course encompasses the inner dimensions of religion as well, if religion is understood in its most universal sense. Therefore, the Sharî‘ite point of view is not synonymous with the religious view in Islam but comprises one of its most important and indispensible elements. [iii] See S. H. Nasr, “The Influence of Sufism on Traditional Persian Music” (trans. by W. Chittick) Studies in Comparative Religion, Autumn, 1972, pp. 225ff. [iv] See J. During, “Elements spirituels dans la musique traditionnelle iranienne contemporaine”, in Sophia Perennis, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 1975. [v] To this day the best performers of classical Turkish music are connected with the Maulawî order despite the eclipse of this order in recent times in Turkey. [vi] See R. Erlanger, La musique arabe, 5 vols., 43


Paris, 1930-1939; the numerous works of H. G. Farmer on both the theory and practice of Arabic music; N. Caron and D. Safvat, Iran (collection Les traditions musicales), vol. 2, Paris, 1972; and A. Shiloah, “L’épitre sur la musique des Ikhwân al-Safâ’,” Revue des Etudes Islamiques, 1965, pp. 125-162; 1967, pp. 159-193, which includes the translation of the important treatise of the Ikhwân al-Safâ’ on music. [vii] Al-Fârâbî wrote a treatise entitled al-‘Ilâj bi’l-mûsîqâ (Cure through Music) and the Ikhwân al-Safâ’ dealt with the effect of music upon the soul in their Epistles. See Shiloah, op. cit. [viii] Traditional treatises on music often contain a section devoted to the relation between music and poetry and to those letters whose sounds are melodies, the hurûf al-musawwatah. See for example, al-Hasan ibn Ahmad al-Kâtib, La Perfection des connaissances musicales, trans. by A. Shiloah, Paris, 1972, pp. 99ff. [ix] Al-Ghazzâlî has in fact dealt with the question in his capacity as authority in both exotericism and esotericism. [x] Rûzbahân Baqlî Shîrâzî was born in Fasâ near Shiraz in 522/1128 and died in Shiraz in 606/1209, where his tomb is a major centre of pilgrimage to this day. He was a master of both the exoteric and the esoteric sciences and the author of numerous works including a monumental commentary upon the Holy Quran. His most famous works, however, are the ‘Abhar al-‘âshiqîn, edited by H. Corbin as Le Jasmin des fidèles d’amour, Tehran-Paris, 1958, and again by J. Nourbakhsh, Tehran, 1349 (A.H. solar); and Sharh-i shatahiyyât, edited by H. Corbin as Commentaire sur les paradoxes soufis, Tehran-Paris, 1966. A shath is

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a paradoxical saying which contains a profound esoteric significance: Rûzbahân assembled the early sayings of Sufis which belong to this category and commented upon them. He thereby gained the title of “Sultân al-shattâhîn”, the king of those who express paradoxical utterances. He has also been aptly called by Corbin one of the foremost among the fedeli d’amore of Islam. On his life and doctrines see the French prolegomena of Corbin to the above cited editions of Rûzbahân and also H. Corbin, En Islam iranien, vol. II, 1972, pp. 9-146. [xi] Risâlat al-quds, ed. by J. Nourbakhsh, Tehran, 1351 (A.H. solar), pp. 50-54, “Fî bayân al-samâ‘.” [xii] These are among the most famous of the early Sufis whose inner spiritual states and outward utterances have been echoed in later chapters of Sufism over the ages. [xiii] This is in reference to the Sharî‘ite division of human actions into the obligatory (wâjib), permissible (mubâh) and unlawful or forbidden (harâm). For example the eating of pork is forbidden, choosing a certain colour for one’s everyday dress is permissible and performing the daily prayers obligatory. [xiv] By “nature” is meant the imperfect nature of most men dominated by the passions (tabî‘at) and not the primordial nature (fitrah) which lies also within the heart of every man but which is hidden and veiled in most cases by the state of negligence, ignorance, and passion or by that condition which is interpreted by Sufis as the state of tabî‘at. [xv] By ‘without foundation’, Baqlî means relative to the audience and not without principles. [xvi] This is in reference to the pre-eternal covenant between man and God mentioned in the Quran, “Am I not thy Lord”? (VII: 172)

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Response

THE MYTH OF SWORD AND VEIL SHELINA ZAHRA JANMOHAMED

By interpreting through its own prism of understanding, the Occident turned the veil into a symbolic issue that defined a ‘barbaric’ and ‘oppressive’ personality of Islam. Again, it was the simplicity of the symbol of the veil that raised it to define everything that the West saw as wrong with Islam and the Muslim world.

Terror and the Veil are two recurrent symbols that appear in Western discourse about Islam and Muslims. But these were just myths created to serve one political view. Why do these potent historical symbols still haunt us today? The Occidental view of Islam has been characterised by two vivid symbols – the sword and the veil. The West built up an image of an Islam that was “spread by the sword”, that forced violent conversion on non-Muslims as the Muslim dominion spread outwards from its origins in Mecca and Medina. The Muslim empire grew quickly geographically and politically as its armies spread both east and westward. Instead of using the sword, the faith of Islam grew more organically, through marriage and trade. The West’s Myth of the Sword crystallised into its definition of the Muslim world, and it was hailed as the rallying cry against what was demonised as a

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violent and barbaric religion. The myth was nothing but political smoke and mirrors, as early as the time of the Crusades. The Church and the kingdoms of Europe cleverly counterpoised the newly created idea of the ’sword’ against the “love thy neighbour” and “turn the other cheek” proclaimed ethos of Christianity, failing to notice the irony of the Crusader hordes that rushed towards the Muslim heartlands to recapture the Holy Land. The conquests and counter-conquests of Christian Europe were not for religious or humanitarian reasons, we should note, but to secure trade and control through the Middle East and to the Far East as well. The irony is not lost till today when the last 500 years have been dominated by ‘Western conquest’ and massive military superiority. Today, the ’sword’ is wielded by the military hyperpower of the Western United States that uses it to spread and enforce its notions 45


The Myth of the Veil in the West has created a Counter-Myth in the Muslim world – that because the basic laws of Islam liberate woman, give her rights and status – then it follows that the Muslim world is de facto implementing these values. The sad fact is that Muslims have a long way to go before the rights they trumpet about Islam with regards to women become social reality. of democracy and enlightenment values. The sword was a simple yet powerful symbol that Christian Europe projected from its own lexicon onto a Muslim world that it did not try to understand, and could not fathom from within the prism of its own ideology. When Orientalists spoke of the ‘exotic’ lands of the Middle East, they conjured up evocative images of harems and mysterious women with dark eyes hidden behind translucent black veils. The Occident was enthralled by the paradox of how women were covered, often hidden in women’s quarters, or at least behind their modest dress. But what was once a healthy, Islamic yet palpable sexuality of the Muslim world was an incomprehensible contrast to the prudish values first of Puritanism and then of the Victorian Age. 46

Again, by interpreting through its own prism of understanding, the Occident turned the veil into a symbolic issue that defined a ‘barbaric’ and ‘oppressive’ personality of Islam. Again, it was the simplicity of the symbol of the veil that raised it to define everything that the West saw as wrong with Islam and the Muslim world. These two symbols have come back to haunt us today and still define the West’s view of the Muslim world. Today’s sword has been replaced by its modern counterpart – terrorist attacks. The veil, the small simple piece of cloth that is so rarely worn, still holds its own. If the veil did not hold such symbolic and historic weight, why has it ignited such a whirlwind? Muslims reacted passionately not because most Muslim women wish to wear the veil – quite the contrary, only about five per cent of Muslim women in the UK wear a veil – but because where ‘veil’ was written, there was a caveat which said “for veil, read Islam”. The same applies to the rhetoric about terrorist attacks, and foreign policies that take Western forces into Muslim countries to ‘help’, but end up creating more strife and destruction to meet their own ends. Indeed, we all agree that there are terrorists out there and their actions are vehemently rejected by Muslims round the world. But Western

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The sword was a simple yet powerful symbol that Christian Europe projected from its own lexicon onto a Muslim world that it did not try to understand, and could not fathom from within the prism of its own ideology. terminology around terror attacks and the War on Terror, has the same resonance to it as the Myth of the Veil. The same caveat applied “for terror (or sword), read Islam”. The Sword and the Veil are once again at the centre of polemics. They uncover the simplistic view that the West holds buried deep inside itself of Islam’s supposedly inherent violence, oppression and barbarism. But they are myths created from icons that have been misrepresented and conveniently fitted to meet a political narrative. The Sword and the Veil are symbols that lie deep within the European narrative, and are therefore easy to hook onto. They were myths on which to build a political vision when they were first created. But the power they hold over Europe is only because they draw on Europe’s own heritage. The myth of the sword can only be meaningful in Europe because Europe understands what it means to use force and violence to further its cause. The majority of Muslims are confused by this myth of expansion of faith through violence. ‘Jihad’ for them is simply a spiritual struggle, military force is for defence. “There is no compulsion in religion” is the clear Islamic edict, so faith cannot be induced by bloody means. The veil too is only potent because of Europe’s uneasy history of social values regarding women and their status. The issues of oppression and sexuality of women that the Muslim world is accused of, are simply a mirror of the schizo-

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phrenic nature of western society with regards to the rights of women and how they should be treated. The West at first could not understand these mysterious women of the Orient who supposedly came from a heritage of liberation, passion and social participation. But this was all hidden behind a veil, behind modest coverings. And this seemingly paradoxical combination, and its contrast with the status quo in Europe where women had no rights till the 20th century, created fear and misunderstanding. The Myth of the Veil was embodied with this recoiling and incomprehension and came to symbolise oppression and mediaeval values. Alas, where once the Muslim world led the world in providing a blueprint for the equality of women through the statements of the Qur’an, the Muslim world today also has little to be proud of with regards to the status of women. The veil was clearly a myth because Islam offered a framework that worked towards rights, status and equality. But now it has become paralysed by the same gender relations and sexual guilt, and the oppression of women that it claims to reject and which it accuses the West of. More worrying, is the fact that the Muslim world is in denial. The Myth of the Veil in the West has created a Counter-Myth in the Muslim world – that because the basic laws of Islam liberate woman, give her rights and status – then it follows that the Muslim world is de facto implementing these values. The sad fact is that Muslims have a long way to go before the rights they trumpet about Islam with regards to women become social reality. If you watch the media and political rhetoric unfold, you will see the discussions about Muslims and Islam punctuated by the leitmotifs of the Sword and the Veil. It seems that the West can only understand Islam and Muslims through these very simplistic and mythical symbols that evoke such deep-seated and irrational emotion. Talking about “markers of separation” and ‘wars’ only entrenches these myths in an historical and irrelevant narrative, instead of allowing new connections to be built and instead of shattering misconceptions and building an honest and open reality. Courtesy: The Muslim News

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Article

Reconciling Cat And Yusuf TARIQ RAMADAN

There was something about his voice; an unmistakable musical talent combined with words that told of a spiritual journey; the poetry of life and suffering, peace and childhood, separation and death. - Remembers Tariq Ramadan

How well I remember the sixties and the seventies, that singular musical era! Styles and genres mixed and mingled in an effervescence of creativity and non-conformism, in a search for meaning and renewal that was as singular as it could be troubling. In the London of July 1975 the songs of Cat Stevens could be heard at every corner. There was something about his voice; an unmistakable musical talent combined with words that told of a spiritual journey; the poetry of life and suffering, peace and childhood, separation and death. Peace Train, Wild World, Lady d’Arbanville, Father and Son: all popular hits, all expressing the rich, complex and often tormented inner life of their creator. Two years later, in 1977, Cat Stevens converted to Islam and turned his back on music. He later explained his decision as driven by the need to make a clean break with his past as a star and as a

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musician. There was no place for music in his early understanding of Islam; nor did music fit with his natural need to separate himself from a world in which he had become an “idol”, with all the inflated sense of appearance and possession that the term implies. He craved silence, intimacy; sought simply to be. His journey had become an inward one, spiritual and demanding. There was no longer room in Yusuf Islam, his newly adopted convert’s name, for the man who had once been Cat Stevens. Over the following years Yusuf embarked on a series of far-reaching initiatives. In retrospect we can see that each bore the seal of Cat’s aspirations and of Yusuf ’s newfound beliefs. He established schools that combined academic excellence with clear-cut ethical objectives. He set up an aid and solidarity organization that financed projects around the world; he was one of the first to travel

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to Sarajevo to defend and celebrate Bosnian culture through art and song. He wrote tirelessly, composed children’s songs and anacheeds (Islamic chants) to be recited with no instrumental accompaniment except percussion, in conformity with the views of several Muslim scholars. The scope of his action was as broad as his gift of self was limitless: Yusuf emerged as a man of spirituality, a man with a cause and a vision. What before he’d expressed in music, he now brought into being in the most concrete way in the name of his faith, through his commitment to education, solidarity, love and peace. Music without music: Yusuf no longer wished to be Cat. Then came his reaction to the Rushdie affair, which shocked many of his friends and admirers. How could a man who had spent so much of his life singing of life, love and the quest for meaning, then taken up the cause of education, solidarity and peace, lend his support to a government’s call to kill a man? I quickly took a stand against Khomeini’s fatwa, arguing that it was more politically motivated than grounded in Islam. When, years later, I met Yusuf Islam for the first time, I asked him two questions: one, on his endorsement of the fatwa, and the other on his position on music in Islam. His response to the first was clear, unequivocal. When asked by the media about the question of blasphemy in Islam, he had answered that the Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible and the Qur’an all prescribed the death penalty for blasphemy. For all its absoluteness, his answer, based on scripture, was by no means an endorsement of the fatwa, which for him was an act of illegitimate vengeance that respected neither British nor international law. On the other question, that of music, we disagreed. I submitted to him other views on the subject, and encouraged him, with all his talent and creative powers, to return to music. Firmly believing that musical instruments were not permitted in Islam, but above all driven to cut himself off from that world, he could not accept my arguments. But though I differed with his position on music in Islam, how could I not grasp his desire to remove himself from such an intense, invasive and often disturbing past? Yusuf could never entirely escape the light or the shadow of Cat, whether in his personal quest, his one-time celebrity, or in the way others—Muslims or non-Muslims—saw him. Cat was part and parcel of Yusuf. Time went by… 28 years. His children had

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Any song, any form of artistic expression that celebrates humanity, love, justice, the quest for meaning, and peace is, in fact, in full conformity with Muslim ethics and needs no further qualifiers. Meaning, hopes and human edification are to be felt and to be lived; they have no need of a normative framework that bridles and ultimately annihilates them. grown up; now they would help their father Yusuf rediscover Cat the child. Yusuf caught a whiff of Cat’s musical perfume in the guitar that his son had left in a room by mistake. It was a beautiful mistake—and our good fortune. That guitar, one of Cat’s old friends, was to summon Yusuf and to represent the reconciliation of past and present, of the star and the believer, of art and the quest for meaning. Yusuf returned to music with all his power, his voice and his humanity. With his guitar he sang of life, love, war, the environment and freedom; he now sang of the human and the universal, never ceasing to be Muslim, speaking the most intimate hopes and dreams of his fellow human beings. Once again he sang his original successes, 49


Then came his reaction to the Rushdie affair, which shocked many of his friends and admirers. How could a man who had spent so much of his life singing of life, love and the quest for meaning, then taken up the cause of education, solidarity and peace, lend his support to a government’s call to kill a man? which even then had so faithfully conveyed his doubts and hopes, and mankind’s universal humanity. At long last, Cat and Yusuf had become one. For Muslim women and men around the world, his story embodies a powerful lesson. We hear of “Islamic chants” (anacheeds) that are supposedly “Islamic” because they express religious themes, or because they employ no instruments, or because they are based on traditional or Qur’anic texts. In this light, only such chants are permissible (halal) in Islam, the only form of creativity recognized. There are indeed scholars who hold such a position, but it is far from unanimous. In To Be a European Muslim (written in 1996) I dealt with these views and took a clear position on music in Islam. Not only is it permitted, but Muslim women and men must also reconcile themselves with art, with creativity, and with the imagination in all its dimensions. Guided by their ethical bearings, they must not

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allow themselves to be enchained by the adjective “Islamic” that ends up isolating them, suffocating them, and depriving them of their creative energy in the universe of art, of music, painting, sculpture and literature. Muslims are constantly justifying themselves; they feel obliged to describe everything as “Islamic” to satisfy and to conform to the norm. But our ethical concerns must not force upon us an obsession with the norms of “licit” and “illicit” (halal and haram). Seen in this light, any song, any form of artistic expression that celebrates humanity, love, justice, the quest for meaning, and peace is, in fact, in full conformity with Muslim ethics and needs no further qualifiers. Meaning, hopes and human edification are to be felt and to be lived; they have no need of a normative framework that bridles and ultimately annihilates them. The expression of ultimate ethical causes in art transcends the narrow limitations of specific ways of belonging, and brings together the universal quality of all that is most precious to humans, who can feel themselves uplifted, broadened, vibrating, becoming more human, more peaceful; who can feel themselves being regenerated by a voice, a hand, a pen or a brush. Music can be a prayer, a painting a path, a song a story: as long as art speaks to mankind of its heart, its wounds, its hopes, tears, smiles and aspirations, it forms the universal language of humankind and can bring about by way of imagination, emotion and the heart what no dialogue of reason or of civilizations can hope to offer. It’s true. Yusuf had been a part of Cat before Cat became Yusuf: a paradox that the Sufi tradition has long taught us. It was necessary for Cat to set out in search of Yusuf for Yusuf to discover and understand Cat’s secrets. Now at last the quest and the path converge: artist and believer now sing with the same voice. For faith and art are friends of the beautiful, and in the end, together create a love story: “God is beautiful and He loves the beautiful,” as He loves those who create beauty, the friends of hope and the seekers of meaning.

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