Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Muslim Societies and Cosmopolitanism: Devji on Iqbal

The اقبال/ Iqbal website of the Moroccan academic Reda Benkirane, dedicated to 'free and creative thinking in Islam', has posted a series of video interviews with critical Muslim intellectuals and scholars commenting on specific themes and issues that have either contemporary currency or a longue duree intellectual-historical relevance, and sometimes both.

Among those featured is Faisal Devji, a Canadian academic and writer of Zanzibari origin, now based at St Antony's College in Oxford, author of a number of path-breaking studies on Pakistan, and contributor to Open Democracy. In this instance he is commenting on the poet, thinker and spiritual father of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal, and the role of cosmopolitanism in Muslim societies.

You can watch video below:

For writings by Faisal Devji and other relevant publications, click on the widget below:

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Challenging Malaysia's Conservative Islam

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid
In a guest column on the New Mandala website, a Malaysian academic challenges the conservative interpretations of Islam in his country. In the critique he has penned, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a UK-educated political scientist working at Universiti Sains Malaysia, accuses the government of being implicated in advancing, supporting and sustaining intolerant readings of Islam which he considers unsuitable for an ethnically and religiously plural country like Malaysia. Partly this can be attributed to the country's constitution, but in the remainder of the article, he singles out former Prime Minister Mahathir as the main culprit of government manipulation of Malaysia's majority religion.

Here are a few excerpts:
The Constitution was arguably a hybrid document, which was nothing peculiar in view of the new nation state’s eclectic sources of national history. Many analysts have put forward arguments that it had secular intent, but yet it seemed to elevate the religion of the majority of the population to a pedestal unreachable by other religions.

The expansion of the Islamic bureaucracy took place at a relentless pace under Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Islamisation programme in the 1980s. [...] In contrast to his predecessors who had refrained from exploiting Islam as a political tool, whether out of their own ignorance or respect for constitutional niceties established by its secular-inclined drafters, Mahathir unabashedly championed Islam as the most effective way of outflanking his competitors 
Former Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir

The state’s recent repression of unorthodox Islamic groups, as exemplified in renewed crackdowns on the Shiah and Global Ikhwan movements following the Thirteenth General Election, smacks of its inability to intellectually engage discontented elements within its majority Malay-Muslim population, who increasingly find the state’s handling of Islam to be inept and downright hypocritical
 Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid argues that this does not reflect the true state of affairs in Malaysia, where Islam is understood and practiced in a multiplicity of ways.
With its kaleidoscopic provenance as the backdrop, Islam as understood and practised by Malay-Muslims prior to the era of the nation state never bore monolithic traits. On the contrary, accommodation of mores from a variety of civilisational traditions prevailed, as strongly reflected in the assortment of religious practices deriving from various ethno-cultural traditions that eventually assumed the label of being part of Malay-Muslim heritage.
 In addition, it has also dire consequences for the intellectual vibrancy of a religion:
The government acts only on rogue Muslims in such a way that political benefit accrues to the state and its organic linkages. It is utterly unable to fathom that the Malay-Muslims have developed their Islamic horizons intellectually as a result of the shrinking of the ummah into a global village in the internet age, and so are open to the more sophisticated choices of models of Islam offered throughout the world. How could the state isolate the Islamic understanding of its Malay-Muslim population but at the same time urges them to embrace globalisation and modernisation?
The state continues to pursue an anti-pluralist approach to religion, but fails to appreciate that diversity of views and perspectives among the learned, even in theological matters, has been part and parcel of the glorious Islamic civilisation.

By equating unorthodoxy with deviancy, the Malaysian state is killing off intellectual creativity and innovativeness among its Muslim populace, over whom it prefers to exert an everlasting dominance. Ironically, this runs counter to the Islam Hadhari strand of civilisational interpretation of religion which the government once projected itself to be a proponent of [see also the post of 21 January 2012, ck]

To read the full article click here

For further readings click on the widget below:

Friday, 6 December 2013

Bassam Tibi's 'Euro-Islam'

Bassam Tibi
The idea of  'Euro-Islam' is the brainchild of Syrian-born but Germany-based political scientist and international relations specialist Bassam Tibi (b. 1944). First developed in the 1990s, he highlighted it again in his book Islam in Global Politics (2011) as a 'vision for bridging' differences not only between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also in order to overcome internal divides among Muslims themselves.

A recent article revisits the notion and the controversies that surround Euro-Islam: 'For some it embodies the deliverance of Islam from everything that is perceived as backward looking and pre-modern. Others fear that a European Islam is a watered-down religion, a kind of government-controlled "state Islam"'.

Euro-Islam was the developed on the back of Tibi's unsparing criticism of traditional Islam, accusing the Muslim world of having 'experienced nothing akin to the Enlightenment' and therefore in dear need of:
An alternative model to the Islam practiced in the Arab world and to everything that appears deplorable there. [...] Muslims should adopt the dominant European culture as their own, and many considered this to be nothing less than a call to assimilation. Since this inauspicious start, discussions on a European variety of Islam have been sharply polarized. 
In the case of Germany, the country where Tibi has spent his entire academic career, the so-called German Islam Conference initiated by one-time Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble 'has also asserted its desire to make a contribution to European Islam, thereby giving it the air of a project imposed from above' (see also the post of 26 November 2011) This is exactly the point seized by the critics of 'Euro-Islam', who regard it as 'an attempt by outsiders to interfere in an internal Islamic debate'.

In view of these critiques and also considering the fact that upon Bassam Tibi's retirement from his Professorship at the University of Goettingen his Centre for International Studies and Islamology was closed in 2009, it remains to be seen how viable this concept will be in the future as increasingly well-educated, integrated and assertive European Muslims  develop their own ways of articulating their multi-layered identities as European citizens and Muslims.

Click here to read to full article.

For further readings check the selection below

Critical Muslim Perspectives on the Qur'an (2): Abdolkarim Soroush

University of Notre Dame is now posting videos of its Qur'an Seminar online. The initiative is coordinated by Gabriel Reynolds, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies & Theology, and  provides a forum for contemporary Muslim academics and other intellectuals to share their views on the Islamic scripture. On of the most recent contributions was by the leading Iranian intellectual Abdolkarim Soroush (see also the earlier post on this blog, dated 20 March 2012):

For further readings of Abdolkarim Soroush and his work, click on the widget below: