Friday, 5 October 2018

Critical Muslims - showcasing new and creative ideas and thinkers from the Muslim world

Dariush Shayegan & Abdolkarim Soroush
After a long period of neglect, the Critical Muslims blog is given a new lease of life with posts on two Iranian thinkers: The late Dariush Shayegan, who passed away this Spring, and Abdolkarim Soroush, currently one of the most renowned philosophers from Iran.
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Abdolkarim Soroush on Rumi, Sufism and Pluralism in the Muslim World

In a recent interview, Abdolkarim  Soroush (*1946), Iran's best known living philosopher, explained the continuing relevance of the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273). Aside from the power of the poetry itself , Rumi's writings also offers a window on religious knowledge that is different from discursive Islamic theology:
Sufism or mysticism or irfan, as I like to call it, is a way of life that combines this world and the other world. Irfan actually comes from the word marifa, which means, "to know, knowledge". 
Is irfan part of theology? It all depends on the meaning of theology. If you translate theology into ilm al-kalam, it is not part of theology because, in that case, theology means demonstrative science – looking for the footsteps. You work with proof (burhan) and with evidence (dalil). But an arif doesn't look at dalil, he is looking for the thing itself and not the signs of it. Therefore Sufism cannot be part of ʿilm al-kalam in the traditional sense of Islamic theology. In traditional Islamic thought, theology and Sufism are two utterly different approaches.
 In contrast to the prophets associated with the foundation of new religious traditions, Sufis play a different role in the dissemination of religious experience and knowledge, offering interpretations that are more in tune with the demands and challenges of today's increasingly interconnected world.

For earlier posts on the thought of Abdolkarim Soroush on this blog, click here and here

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Dariush Shayegan (1935-2018): The real initiator of the Dialogue of Civilizations

In 2000, the then president of the  Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, surprised friend and foe by launching the Dialogue of Civilizations initiative, when addressing the UN's General Assembly. Clearly intended as a counter narrative to the 'Clash of Civilizations' Thesis which had by then begun to dominate the discourse on post-Cold War world order, its roots can actually be traced to another Iranian, who passed away on 22 March 2018.
Dariush Shayegan
The philosopher Dariush Shayegan, of mixed Persian and Georgian parentage and educated at a British boarding school, before switching to a Francophone university education in philosophy, Sanskrit and Asian religions, brought with him the cosmopolitan disposition and intellectual outlook to explore the avenue of intercivilizational dialogue in late 1970s-Iran. When this trajectory was cut short by the revolution of 1979 and subsequent establishment of the Islamic republic, Shayegan returned to Paris to continue researching and teaching philosophy and Asian religions in self-imposed exile, until again moving back to Iran in 1991. As observed by Stefan Weidner in his obituary of Shayegan:

His thinking was worlds apart from the fashionable, post-colonial theory that rejects the cultural and religious depths of colonised societies. [...] Paradoxically, it was in the West itself – where the question as to the role of tradition and spirituality in the face of materialism and secularism had been posed at a much earlier stage – that Shayegan found the best answers. 

Click here to read the full obituary.

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Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Middle East is not the place to learn about Islam today: Jasser Auda

The Canadian-Egyptian scholar Jasser Auda must have turned quite a few heads with his statement that Muslims from across the world should not look to the Middle East for knowledge about Islam and certainly not send students there for a religious education:

We need to stop the trend of sending people to the Arab world, which is at a really low historical point these days, to learn about Islam 
He made these remarks at a roundtable discussion entitled "Reclaiming the Centre: The Role of Religion in a Multi-Racial Society", organised by the Centre for Nation-Building Studies at Institut Darul  Ehsan in Malaysia.

Auda is one of the leading proponents of so-called "Maqasidi thinking", a strand of contemporary Muslim thought advocating a reinterpretation of Islamic law by returning to its most fundamental philosophical underpinnings encapsulated in a subfield of traditional Islamic legal learning known as the Maqasid al-Shari'a, generally translated as 'Higher Objectives of Islamic Law'.

With a dual academic background in computer sciences and religious studies, complemented with many years of participating in study circles dispensing traditional Islam learning at Al-Azhar in Cairo, Auda first made a name for himself with a book entitled Maqasid al-Shariah as Philosophy of Law: A Systems Approach. For a while he was associated with the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) in Doha, Qatar. He now heads the Maqasid Institute Global, a think tank registered in the UK, USA, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

While touring the world to give lectures and talks, or take part in panels, roundtable discussions and other forums, Auda's ideas find particularly receptive audiences in Southeast Asia: Aside from appearing in Arabic and English, his writings have also been translated in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia. It seems that it is because of his recognition of the importance of embedding Islamic doctrine in the respective cultural settings of different parts of the Muslim world that his thinking has traction in that particular region.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Cultural distinctiveness is no excuse for rejecting universal human rights standards

Morris Ayek
In a recent contribution to the Qantara website, Syrian writer Morris Ayek rejects the idea that Muslim countries have a right to make reservations on grounds of their 'cultural distinctiveness' regarding the applicability of the UN Declaration on Human Rights and other instruments of international law that have been derived from it. With his uncompromising defence of the validity of universal human rights standards, he joins the ranks of other Muslim intellectuals, such as  the legal scholars Abdullahi an-Na'im (cf. also this earlier post on this blog) and Khaled Abou El Fadl. Both would agree with Ayek's observation that:

Abdullahi an-Na'im

Regardless of the culture from which they emerge, universal values apply to all. For example, the concept of universal human rights is universally applicable, even though it has its roots in Western civilisation.

Khaled Abou El Fadl
Click here to read Ayek's article in full.The article also contains a long clip of a lecture by the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush on 'Reason, Freedom and Democracy' -- at the same the title of one of his best known books).