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The second entanglement occurs between understanding the diverse and often contradictory expressions of individual practitioners, despite the presence of law. The third entanglement lies in understanding the impact that Western scholars have had in reconciling the relationship between this diversity and the law, which has confused the study of Islam as stagnant, when is fact it has always been evolving.

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Further complicating these tensions is the presence of scholars in the conversation about lived versus codified Islam. It inextricably involves the interfering phenomena of the dominant narrative, which scholars have wielded to effectively change the expressions of Muslims as well. Similarly, modern scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are fundamentally constrained by the nature of our understanding of the modern state, which is founded on the basis of strict and fairly predictable codes of law, and not divine ordinance or patrimony as it has been for the majority of civilizational history Dominant narratives rarely recognize diversity in the subject dominated.

Yet, Ahmed demonstrates that he does know the right questions to ask; both for critiquing the vast corpus of knowledge produced about Islam from a knowledgeable position, and for inquiring further into the interior characteristics of human expression within Islam, in order to elucidate its coherent diversity. The King is presenting the wine as being meaningful in his experience as a Muslim, with an authority similar but not necessarily equal to the Book — and even more importantly, that this is not an aberrant practice, but a normative expression of a Muslim living and believing at a certain time and place in history.

Islam, Humanitarianism and everyday religion #MUHUM

Islam is not, therefore, a force that binds its believers through immutable doctrinal shackles, but is something that rather relates one to another in a looser recognition between all believers as having a similar faith in the same God and his messenger. After all, Ahmed argues, Islam has historically resisted becoming institutionalized, and therefore there has never been a monopoly on truth-claims; on the contrary, historically Islam has been rife with a diffuse, non-regulated conversation about what is right and wrong in the life of Muslims Just as Hamid Dabashi claims in his book, The World of Persian Literary Humanism that the great cosmopolitanism of Islamic art and poetry were not constrained by borders and language, especially as Islamic empires expanded and proliferated in art, and while all societies found a common medium of expression through Islam p.

As a formulaic expression of lived tradition, the following argument is extremely sensible and simple: if Muslims believe that they are invoking Islamic mores in their activities and mutually recognize one another, they belong to a greater community, regardless of whether it exists in contradiction with literal edicts of the Book.

Life of Muhammad and beginnings of Islam part 1 - World History - Khan Academy

Such a practice has not always been a normalized aspect of certain locales of Muslims, but the headscarf is made meaningful now because hijabis believe that they are encountering the pleasure of God by wearing it. The evident and observable phenomenon of a celebrated diversity in contemporary Muslim societies has often been obscured by Western media and other forms of popular coverage, which have its own political interests in mind when relegating the adherents to a disorganized — even chaotic — state of bitter infighting, liturgical violence, and pervasive human suffering.

Combined with popular media and governmental enterprises that would erase the lived traditions of Muslims past, the most available work on Islam only presents an entirely non-nuanced, time-bound confinement of the study, which does no favors to finding the truth of what Islam is.

In any discussion about Islam, the deliberate leaving out of such voices is concerning, and is actually unusual in any respectable work surveying the breadth of post-Oriental literature on Islam. Additionally, Ahmed himself experiences some apparent difficulties in expressing his new framework for conceptualizing Islam in a simple and understandable precept.

Throughout Chapter Three, wherein he is tasked with exploring and critiquing the major works of scholarship, Ahmed seems guilty of implicating that Muslims are in every moment reproducing Islam in whatever act they are engaged in, by implying that every act that a Muslim does can necessarily be related to Islam.

What Is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic by Shahab Ahmed

Is this ultimately different than the claim he critiques, in which Islam is defined so broadly that it could mean anything — and thus, nothing? It is understandable when he insists that there is no space between the secular and religious in Islam, but it is difficult to believe that Muslims are and were always actively harkening to God — in social wine-drinking, for example. Would it not be more accurate to say that some Muslim artists, such as Hafiz and Rumi, sometimes utilized wine drinking as a metaphor for connecting to God, and yet that it did not necessarily mean that all Muslims everywhere in the Bengal-to-Balkan complex considered the act religiously meaningful at all times?

Perhaps his major claims could have been made more profoundly and had they been worded more directly, with more impact. After all, the arguments he extrapolates both from exposing the weaknesses of Islam-centric literature, and from his own analysis of the religion as a lived tradition of many different people, are strong and sensible.

There are further fallacies to consider in the arguments developed in What is Islam? How can we as scholars account for the continued diversity of these sects, even when each adherent occupies a place on a hierarchical ladder? Furthermore, in his literature review, Ahmed consistently insists that Islam is entirely unique from any Abrahamic faiths — a diversity borne from many factors, but mostly due to its individual spatial diffuseness.

There is some merit to this argument, as it inherently resists becoming passively reliant upon a Eurocentric paradigm that has done — and perhaps would do here, in this book — further injustice to Islam, which deserves to be at the center of its own story. There is a dawn of a new era on-hand for historical studies on Islam, in which creative and breakthrough works such as Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaki , and Giancarlo Casale are, in their own slightly sensationalist ways, doing innovative work by pushing into historical intellectual territories previously owned and dominated by European thought.

The true faith, based on God's final revelation, must be protected from insult and abuse; other faiths, being either false or incomplete, have no right to any such protection. There are other difficulties in the way of accepting imperialism as an explanation of Muslim hostility, even if we define imperialism narrowly and specifically, as the invasion and domination of Muslim countries by non-Muslims.

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If the hostility is directed against imperialism in that sense, why has it been so much stronger against Western Europe, which has relinquished all its Muslim possessions and dependencies, than against Russia, which still rules, with no light hand, over many millions of reluctant Muslim subjects and over ancient Muslim cities and countries? And why should it include the United States, which, apart from a brief interlude in the Muslim-minority area of the Philippines, has never ruled any Muslim population? The last surviving European empire with Muslim subjects, that of the Soviet Union, far from being the target of criticism and attack, has been almost exempt.

Even the most recent repressions of Muslim revolts in the southern and central Asian republics of the USSR incurred no more than relatively mild words of expostulation, coupled with a disclaimer of any desire to interfere in what are quaintly called the "internal affairs" of the USSR and a request for the preservation of order and tranquillity on the frontier. One reason for this somewhat surprising restraint is to be found in the nature of events in Soviet Azerbaijan.

Islam is obviously an important and potentially a growing element in the Azerbaijani sense of identity, but it is not at present a dominant element, and the Azerbaijani movement has more in common with the liberal patriotism of Europe than with Islamic fundamentalism. Such a movement would not arouse the sympathy of the rulers of the Islamic Republic.

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It might even alarm them, since a genuinely democratic national state run by the people of Soviet Azerbaijan would exercise a powerful attraction on their kinsmen immediately to the south, in Iranian Azerbaijan. Another reason for this relative lack of concern for the 50 million or more Muslims under Soviet rule may be a calculation of risk and advantage. More to the point, it has not hitherto been the practice of the Soviets to quell disturbances with water cannon and rubber bullets, with TV cameras in attendance, or to release arrested persons on bail and allow them access to domestic and foreign media.

The Soviets do not interview their harshest critics on prime time, or tempt them with teaching, lecturing, and writing engagements. On the contrary, their ways of indicating displeasure with criticism can often be quite disagreeable. But fear of reprisals, though no doubt important, is not the only or perhaps even the principal reason for the relatively minor place assigned to the Soviet Union, as compared with the West, in the demonology of fundamentalism.

After all, the great social and intellectual and economic changes that have transformed most of the Islamic world, and given rise to such commonly denounced Western evils as consumerism and secularism, emerged from the West, not from the Soviet Union. No one could accuse the Soviets of consumerism; their materialism is philosophic—to be precise, dialectical—and has little or nothing to do in practice with providing the good things of life. Such provision represents another kind of materialism, often designated by its opponents as crass. It is associated with the capitalist West and not with the communist East, which has practiced, or at least imposed on its subjects, a degree of austerity that would impress a Sufi saint.

Nor were the Soviets, until very recently, vulnerable to charges of secularism, the other great fundamentalist accusation against the West. Though atheist, they were not godless, and had in fact created an elaborate state apparatus to impose the worship of their gods—an apparatus with its own orthodoxy, a hierarchy to define and enforce it, and an armed inquisition to detect and extirpate heresy. The separation of religion from the state does not mean the establishment of irreligion by the state, still less the forcible imposition of an anti-religious philosophy.

Soviet secularism, like Soviet consumerism, holds no temptation for the Muslim masses, and is losing what appeal it had for Muslim intellectuals. More than ever before it is Western capitalism and democracy that provide an authentic and attractive alternative to traditional ways of thought and life. Fundamentalist leaders are not mistaken in seeing in Western civilization the greatest challenge to the way of life that they wish to retain or restore for their people. The origins of secularism in the west may be found in two circumstances—in early Christian teachings and, still more, experience, which created two institutions, Church and State; and in later Christian conflicts, which drove the two apart.

Muslims, too, had their religious disagreements, but there was nothing remotely approaching the ferocity of the Christian struggles between Protestants and Catholics, which devastated Christian Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and finally drove Christians in desperation to evolve a doctrine of the separation of religion from the state.

Only by depriving religious institutions of coercive power, it seemed, could Christendom restrain the murderous intolerance and persecution that Christians had visited on followers of other religions and, most of all, on those who professed other forms of their own. Muslims experienced no such need and evolved no such doctrine. There was no need for secularism in Islam, and even its pluralism was very different from that of the pagan Roman Empire, so vividly described by Edward Gibbon when he remarked that "the various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.

It did, however, accord to the holders of partial truth a degree of practical as well as theoretical tolerance rarely paralleled in the Christian world until the West adopted a measure of secularism in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At first the Muslim response to Western civilization was one of admiration and emulation—an immense respect for the achievements of the West, and a desire to imitate and adopt them.

This desire arose from a keen and growing awareness of the weakness, poverty, and backwardness of the Islamic world as compared with the advancing West. The disparity first became apparent on the battlefield but soon spread to other areas of human activity. Muslim writers observed and described the wealth and power of the West, its science and technology, its manufactures, and its forms of government. For a time the secret of Western success was seen to lie in two achievements: economic advancement and especially industry; political institutions and especially freedom.

Several generations of reformers and modernizers tried to adapt these and introduce them to their own countries, in the hope that they would thereby be able to achieve equality with the West and perhaps restore their lost superiority. In our own time this mood of admiration and emulation has, among many Muslims, given way to one of hostility and rejection.

In part this mood is surely due to a feeling of humiliation—a growing awareness, among the heirs of an old, proud, and long dominant civilization, of having been overtaken, overborne, and overwhelmed by those whom they regarded as their inferiors. In part this mood is due to events in the Western world itself.


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One factor of major importance was certainly the impact of two great suicidal wars, in which Western civilization tore itself apart, bringing untold destruction to its own and other peoples, and in which the belligerents conducted an immense propaganda effort, in the Islamic world and elsewhere, to discredit and undermine each other.

The message they brought found many listeners, who were all the more ready to respond in that their own experience of Western ways was not happy. The introduction of Western commercial, financial, and industrial methods did indeed bring great wealth, but it accrued to transplanted Westerners and members of Westernized minorities, and to only a few among the mainstream Muslim population. In time these few became more numerous, but they remained isolated from the masses, differing from them even in their dress and style of life.

Inevitably they were seen as agents of and collaborators with what was once again regarded as a hostile world. Even the political institutions that had come from the West were discredited, being judged not by their Western originals but by their local imitations, installed by enthusiastic Muslim reformers. These, operating in a situation beyond their control, using imported and inappropriate methods that they did not fully understand, were unable to cope with the rapidly developing crises and were one by one overthrown.

For vast numbers of Middle Easterners, Western-style economic methods brought poverty, Western-style political institutions brought tyranny, even Western-style warfare brought defeat. It is hardly surprising that so many were willing to listen to voices telling them that the old Islamic ways were best and that their only salvation was to throw aside the pagan innovations of the reformers and return to the True Path that God had prescribed for his people.

Ultimately, the struggle of the fundamentalists is against two enemies, secularism and modernism. The war against secularism is conscious and explicit, and there is by now a whole literature denouncing secularism as an evil neo-pagan force in the modern world and attributing it variously to the Jews, the West, and the United States. The war against modernity is for the most part neither conscious nor explicit, and is directed against the whole process of change that has taken place in the Islamic world in the past century or more and has transformed the political, economic, social, and even cultural structures of Muslim countries.

Islamic fundamentalism has given an aim and a form to the otherwise aimless and formless resentment and anger of the Muslim masses at the forces that have devalued their traditional values and loyalties and, in the final analysis, robbed them of their beliefs, their aspirations, their dignity, and to an increasing extent even their livelihood. There is something in the religious culture of Islam which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equalled in other civilizations.

And yet, in moments of upheaval and disruption, when the deeper passions are stirred, this dignity and courtesy toward others can give way to an explosive mixture of rage and hatred which impels even the government of an ancient and civilized country—even the spokesman of a great spiritual and ethical religion—to espouse kidnapping and assassination, and try to find, in the life of their Prophet, approval and indeed precedent for such actions.