Friday, 23 January 2015

Is there a right not to feel insulted? Or freedom to offend? A critical Muslim's view

The Paris shootings of 7 January 2015, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket, have rekindled the debates on how contemporary multi-cultural societies can reconcile the freedom of speech and expression with respect for other people's beliefs and convictions.

The Malaysian-born British activist and academic Farouk Peru, who divides his time between the Muslim Institute in London, pursuing postgraduate studies at King's College London, and maintaining the Quranology Blog, responded with a provocatively titled and thought-provoking essay, published under the title "Why I support the freedom to offend me". Originally published on The Malaysian Insider website, it deserves to be posted her in full:

"I grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.

They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride.

The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.

Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?

Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.

The Muslim themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?

Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?

If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?

We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?

Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.

Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.

This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.

If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.

We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion."

This opinion article appeared first on the website of the Malaysian Insider – January 9, 2015.



grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf
grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf
grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf

Monday, 12 January 2015

Has Sunni Islam as a 'Community of the Middle' died?

Herunder are some excerpts from an article that appeared in The Islamic Monthly. It is from the hand of Mohammad FadelAn established scholar, currently associated with the University of Toronto, Fadel is also a prolific author and critical debater on things Islamic.

Mohammad Fadel

In the intriguingly entitled 'ISIS, Islamophobia, and the End of Sunnism', he criticizes both media-savvy Islam (or religion in general) bashers such as Bill Maher and Sam Harris, but also presents an introspection into the shortcomings of the Muslim intelligentsia
Saying that their description of Islamic doctrines is reductionist is not responsive to the legitimate concern that certainly some Muslims hold to the doctrines that Harris and Maher criticize, nor does it provide an answer to the question that many people genuinely wish to know, namely, what is the content of authoritative Islamic teaching regarding a familiar range of contentious issues that are held to be important by mainstream liberals?
In a lucid and boldly argued piece, Fadel not only takes 'new atheists' to task for the misconceived views of Islam, but puts the blame also on Muslim intellectuals. He criticizes the latter for failing to come up with convincing counter arguments as a result of their own uncritical rehashing of outdated texts and over-reliance on authority figures from the past.
The profound weakness, or even the non-existence, of a credible institutional expression of Islamic teachings in the modern world means there is no source from which an outsider (or even Muslims) can know what authoritative Islamic teaching is. In the absence of such an expression, one can hardly blame non-Muslims — who wish to “know” what Muslims believe — for turning to the same sources that Muslims themselves do, such as pre-modern treatises of Islamic law that continue to be taught in seminaries in the Muslim world and are also  used by Muslims in the West.
While appreciative of the argument that there is no such thing as 'Islam', and that it makes more sense to talk of 'Muslims', it is methodologically impossible to give exhaustive representative accounts that accurately reflect the full diversity of opinion among the believers:
Such an empirical investigation, at its extreme, would require surveying of millions of Muslim individuals all over the world before conclusions about Islam could be reached. Not only would such a study be practically impossible, we generally don’t demand such precision in empirical studies before we accept the results of social scientific studies
Pointing at the cheap shots taken by new atheists such as Sam Harris, Fadel observes:
It is a trivial exercise to pick up standard works of Islamic law and find ideas that are repugnant to the modern world. But, it is also a trivial exercise to pick up classics of Western philosophy and law and find the same thing. Even Thomas Jefferson the most egalitarian of America’s founders, expressed views on gender equality that would disqualify him today from entering public office, or might even get him dismissed from a public office were he to express them openly. 
It is not just a matter of 'tit-for-tat' in debating the likes of Harris and Maher, the  lack of critical engagement with the Islamic heritage on the part of Muslims themselves is preventing any real tangible change in the generally deplorable political condition of the Muslim world. For example, in relation to the contentious issue of the application of Islamic law, Fadel observes:
..if Sunni Muslims are too indifferent to their law that they fail to articulate a meaningful expression of its content in the modern world, then the best that Sunnis can plead in their own defense is that historical Islamic law is irrelevant to their beliefs and actions. But it is this very nihilism that produces the ethical and political vacuum that authoritarian political regimes, corrupt oligarchies and religious millenarians have filled and created the political circumstances justifying Islamophobia.
Why, after more than a century of theological and legal reform that has generally moved toward greater recognition of rights of women and non-Muslims, for example, has a brutally atavistic movement like ISIS found a home (even if one hopes it is only temporary) in the Nile-to-Oxus region, which was once called the heartland of the Islamic world by the great American historian of Islam, Marshall Hodgson? In my opinion, this is not because a reified Islam is teaching Muslims to reject liberal values as such, but is a simple and predictable reflection of the fact that political orders prevailing in the Islamic heartland have no interest in promoting liberalizing political values. 
Cutting to the heart of the matter, according to Fadel's diagnosis, Sunni Islam has failed to live up to its claim as representing the umma-alwasat -- the 'community of the middle':
Sunnism was historically a centrist tradition that rejected the messianism of Shiʿism and the unforgiving puritanism of the Khawārij. Its centrism, however, was not born of a kind of ad hoc reasoning that called on Muslims simply to take middle positions between extremes. It was a centrism based on firm adherence to certain moral principles, including rejection of armed rebellion with a refusal to recognize as valid the illegal conduct of rulers; a readiness to overlook moral shortcomings of individuals constituting the community, whether rulers or ruled, combined with an insistence on holding each person accountable before the law for their conduct
The consequences are dire, because in his conclusion Mohammad Fadel minces no words:
In short, the political theology of Sunnism was centered on the sovereignty of law and respect for authority (not power as such). The historical tradition of Sunnism, however, assumed a certain kind of relationship between political leaders, religious leaders and the public that no longer exists and will not return. Until a new political theology is established that adapts the historical principles of Sunnism to the realities of a democratic age, we can continue to expect the persistence of groups like ISIS and the Islamophobic New Atheists. 
For the full article, click here

Friday, 21 November 2014

Abdelwahab Meddeb (1946-2014): The disloyal loyalty of a critical Muslim

The French-Tunisian literary writer and essayist Abdelwahab Meddeb passed away on 6 November. Born into a North-African family of religious scholars, he moved to France in his youth to pursue a literary career. In the course of his life he became increasingly fascinated with his Muslim roots, but re-interpreted these in his own original manner. His re-readings of the Islamic heritage were often considered controversial by Muslim traditionalists and certainly outrageous and unacceptable to narrow-minded literalists on the reactionary side of the Muslim spectrum. Earlier posts about Meddeb and his work on this blog can be found here and here and here. The following excerpts are taken from an obituary that appeared on the Qantara website. 
Meddeb's act of crossing boundaries did not extinguish or deny the traces of his roots, which remained for him a powerful reference point and source of creative interplay. Again and again, Meddeb made reference to his dual ancestry in the East and the West, especially in the light of his origins in the Maghreb, which from an Arab perspective is the "West". He saw himself as a decidedly secular, Arab-European cosmopolitan individual whose chief concern was a revival of the intellectual convergence of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian history of thought that had been lost for centuries.
He set himself the long-term task of carving out an image of Islam that does not accentuate dogma and norm, but divergence, and of issuing insistent reminders of the critical, bold and even blasphemous thought that has also existed within Islam and among Muslim thinkers.
In this regard he saw points for launching a fruitful dialogue between the freedoms of the Western modern age and the polyphonic, multicultural legacy of Islamic societies.

Meddeb never tired of bemoaning the cultural amnesia fostered by westernisation and fundamentalism, a condition that affects both Western and Islamic societies in equal measure. What remains is the fatal polarisation of totally entrenched identities perpetuated by phantasms of supposed purity and clarity that are blind to history.
Like few others, Abdelwahab Meddeb made a convincing case for the argument that creativity, development and vitality are only possible through free thought, the crossing of boundaries and "disloyal loyalty" – and not through rigid morals, the pressure to conform, or the other extreme of denial and contemptuous rejection of tradition.
The full obituary can be read here.

For those who read French, here are a few excerpts from the 'In Memoriam' that appeared in Le Monde
 « Je porte en moi la maladie de l’islam », disait-il encore [...]Une position singulière, qui lui valut d’avoir des adversaires dans chaque camp. Mais aussi de nombreux amis et soutiens, tels l’islamologue Christian Jambet, le philosophe Jean-Luc Nancy, l’historien d’art Jean-Hubert Martin, l’essayiste Olivier Mongin, ancien directeur d’Esprit, qui lui proposa d’entrer dans le comité de rédaction de la revue. Ou encore le musicien Michel Portal, qui vint jouer Mozart et Schubert et improviser à la clarinette dans sa chambre d’hôpital, afin d’apaiser les souffrances de cet irréductible amoureux des arts. 
The rest can be read here.


French philosopher and friend Jean-Luc Nancy wrote an hommage, in which he noted that:
Tu es parti pour ton dernier voyage, Abdelwahab. Comme tous tes voyages il a déjà son retour en lui [...] De tous tes voyages tu reviens, à Paris, Tunis ou Tanger, à Rome, Le Caire, Berlin ou Résafé (souviens toi) parce que dans tous tu rencontres le retour éternel du même, de ce même qui n’est jamais identique, chaque fois nouveauté d’une même présence, chaque fois inscription d’un trait de la même présence. Dans la suite de tes poèmes son nom est Aya, une femme, quelqu’une, toutes, nous tous. « Tu es parti avec le poème / et tu resteras avec nous à jamais » - c’est toujours toi qui le dis et nous le récitons avec toi.»
Just three weeks before his death, Abdelwahab Meddeb recorded his last radio contribution for Medi Radio, where he had a series on Islamic civilization, broadcasted every Saturday evening. His last meditation can be heard here.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hasan Hanafi on the Arab Spring and Muslim ambiguities towards Secularism

In a brief interview with Moncef Slimi on the aftermath of the Arab Spring posted on the Qantara Website, the Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi made some interesting observations on Muslim attitudes towards secularism.
Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi
In response to the question whether it is possible at all to establish a secular order in Muslim countries without religious reforms, he noted that  'in the Arab world that's partically impossible. The concept of secularism is generally rejected by the majority of the population'. The reasons for that are the long-time effects of the defeat of the 1882 uprising of Egyptian officers led by Ahmad Urabi (1841-1911) against British tutelage; the impact of Ataturk's hardcore laicism and abolition of the caliphate in 1924; as well as the continuous and continuing repression of progressive Muslim intellectuals by successive autocratic Arab nationalist regimes.

In effect, Hanafi thinks that Muslims -- and Arabs in particular -- need to start from scratch, returning to the ideas of the nineteenth-century Islamic reformers Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905).
We should remember the reformist legacy of this movement, and realise that back then, the rejection of worldly thought was a reflexive reaction by influential progressive thinkers to the failure of efforts by the Islamic peoples to achieve liberation from European colonialism. 
This also corresponds to the points of departure of Hanafi's own lifelong mission for defining and establishing an Islamic way of progressive thinking. Known as the Heritage and Renewal Project, the evolution of this project is discussed in great detail in my book Cosmopolitans and Heretics. Where al-Afghani and Abduh represent the first and second phases of trailblazing and breaking ground for the development of an Islamic philosophical method, Hanafi sees himself as following in the footsteps of Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), taking up and implementing the final and third phase of this reform process which the poet and philosopher from British India had laid out in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.

Throughout his career, Hanafi has oscillated between this philosophical project and more engaged writings on current affairs in the Arab world. In the interview, he brings up the hostility of many Arab regimes against religious activism, even if it is strictly intellectual. These state interventions are not helpful in moving the Arab world forward:
The aggressive banning of religion from the public sphere by the state, and the introduction of a kind of "State Islam", is not going to lead us out of this dilemma. The tension between religion and politics would remain even then
Religious reforms in the Muslim world will need to take place within their appropriate context and its own terms, because as Hanafi observes:
Islam actually has no structures like the Church. Neither the Sunni Al-Azhar University nor the International Union of Muslim Scholars functions as an authority for the whole of Islam. In my view, the only Islamic authority comes from open, unbiased, scholarly discourse. And this is why is it quite simply structurally impossible for Islam to undergo the same kind of reforms as other faiths
To read the full interview click here

For some earlier critical observations on the role of Muslim intellectuals such as Hanafi in the Arab uprisings, read the post of 31 July 2011.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ethnicity and Religion: Navid Kermani's visit to Iraq

The German-Iranian academic, writer and intellectual Navid Kermani spent a week traveling in war-torn Iraq. Here are some excerpts from his interview with the Muslim world news website Qantara about his findings. It paints a depressing picture of what once was a cosmopolitan country.

Relations [among Iraqis] are increasingly characterised by ethnicity. The old multicultural Baghdad – up until the 1940s, the Jews represented the largest and leading intellectual population group in the city – this multicultural Baghdad no longer exists. Now, people rely on the other members of their denominational group. Solidarity prevails within the group; people help each other. On the other hand, people are less likely to help members of other denominations. The sense of togetherness has dwindled to almost nothing.
Regarding the role of religion, in this instance Islam, Kermani stresses the prominent role played by people from 'secular' backgrounds (by which he means scientists and professionals), including members of the former Baathist regime, who use and manipulate religion for their own political objectives and who are willing to associate with organisations such as ISIS for these purposes.
One should take the religious façade seriously. Many European jihadis, many jihadis active on the ground and Wahhabism, which has contributed to the fact that this ideology was able to spread: all of that is religious; it should be taken seriously. It's a religious thought process. However, this process is turning against its own tradition. It is – and this is the protestant element involved – doing away with tradition in order to return to the basic scripture. It is, therefore, an anti-traditional movement.
To read the whole interview, click here.

For more on Navid Kermani and his work, visit  his website.

Links to some of his publications can be found by clicking on the widget below.