Monday, January 13, 2003

Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, 1983. The book is divided into 3 sections. Since it reflects many different viewpoints, I can't summarize it with a single theme.

The first section is Understanding Islamic Identity. The first of the three articles is about American perception of Islam, and is rather out of date by now. The second points out that reformation movements are a recurrent theme in Islam, and claims a perpetual need for ijtihad for interpretation (as opposed to supplementing existing law). The third uses analysis of newspaper articles to establish what we all knew already: there's been a strong Islamist movement afoot.

The second section describes the lives and influences of 6 "Pioneers of the Islamic Resurgence:" Sayyid Qutb (the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue), Mawdudi (Pakistani who tried to theorize about an ideal Islamic state), Qaddafi, Khomeini, Muhammad Iqbal (spiritual father of Pakistan), and Ali Shariati (Iranian who tried to popularize Islam among Western-educated youth by using Western catagories and methods). Qutb is chilling in the extent of his claims and implacable hatred of non-Moslems. Obedience is crucial, there can be no improvement on the old system. Mawdudi devised a theory of an Islamic state, which claimed shura (mutual consultation) as one of its principles--making it look similar to democracy. But it isn't the same: No law is valid unless it is in accord with The Quran and sharia. But who decides this? And who decides who is a legitimate "Islamic party?" The author notes that Mawdudi never came up with good answers for these and other implementation details, and he was clearly a "maximum government" partisan.

Islam in Libya, as in many places in the world, is rather syncretic, with shrines for saints and other features. The ulama did not object to these popular modifications (I wonder: Isn't the ulema {the whole Muslim population} supposed to be infallible--so isn't whatever they want to do OK?). Qadaffi decided to clean this up by abolishing private property and getting back to basics, which he decided consisted only of the Quran (and not the traditions: the Sunna). I found the idea rather interesting; and I wonder what has been the subsequent history of this experiment. Needless to say, chucking the Sunna has a massive effect on sharia.

Khomeini seems to have been even more totalitarian and bloodthirsty than I had heard. I quote from the article:

Two sets of polar arguments about the relation between the ideals and actualization are often debated in Muslim scholarship:

  • 1a--Once each individual becomes truly Muslim, all need for social coercion and oppresssive state structures will whither away; versus
  • 1b--The Quran speaks of justice and iron (the sword) in Sura Hadid (Sura on Iron), ie, force may be required to establish the social conditions to foster the development of true Muslims and a true Muslim society.
  • 2a--Knowledge is accessible to all reasonable men, and so society can rely on consultation among men; versus
  • 2b--Divine knowledge is the privilege of the few (an imam or amir; a body of ulama) and so society must be ruled by a tutelate dictatorship/oligarchy.
Khomeini's writings have increasingly stressed the second of each pair.

Iran implemented a fully Islamic state, according to their best ideas; and made sure that the the deliberative body was supervised in all things by a small clerical committee. The West had no part in shaping this, and whether it stands or falls is entirely its own doing. Many are still watching.

Muhammad Iqbal was a poet and philosopher. He claimed that sharia was dynamic, and called for reopening the gate of ijtihad [note the different usage above]. He emphasized the "international" nature of an Islamic state, but once again was very light on the details of how to implement his ideal state.

Shariati, with a Western education, was able to use Western sociological terms to describe Islamic topics in Iran. He championed a symbolic interpretation of religious language. His insistence that tawhid (unity) in God and in man meant that religious and social/political life were not separable made him rather unpopular with the Shah, and led to his early assassination. Both socialist and Islamic groups claimed him as their martyr, though he would probably have repudiated the former.

The third section is of Muslim Perspectives on a Resurgent Islam. Some of their indictments of the West are quite accurate, but their critiques of their own societies are not always accurate. Ahmad claims that "But the explosion of corruption which is so visible in the present day Muslim World is a new phenomenon." He blames this on secularism, without checking to see if his initial claim is correct (as far as I can tell, it isn't). But this is accurate: ".. I would like to invite my western colleagues to understand that Muslim criticism of Western civilization is not primarily an exercise in political confrontation. The real competition would be at the level of two cultures and civilizations, one based on Islamic values and the other on the values of materialism and nationalism. Had western culture been based on Christianity, on morality, on faith, the language and the modus operandi of the contact and conflict would have been different. But that is not the case.".

Al-Mahdi argues that Islam is dynamic, that the hadith must be governed by the Quran and not vice versa, and that even Umar modified a punishment mandated by the Quran (hand amputation for theft) during a famine or when the thieves had been cheated of their wages. He explains the closing of the door of ijtihad as a reaction to despotic rulers trying to manipulate ijtihad for their own purposes

al-Turabi summarizes the Islamic state, arguing that a consensus-based government is better than a multi-party state, that judges need to review laws, and so on. It may give some clue about his attention to detail to note the following (same paragraph): "Early Muslims were very keen to provide judges with a generous income to protect them against temptation and to allow them a very large degree of autonomy with broad powers to administer justice." followed by "Judges cannot listen to all the complaints and determine the issues. But such a difficulty was resolved in early Islam by the office of a counselor to the judge: an assistant who first heard the parties, ascertained the matters in issue, marshaled all the relevant evidence, and researched the law in preparation for a decision by the judge." OK, now which one is the real judge?

Iqbal attempts to argue that a democracy is not incompatible with an Islamic state, by arguing such points as that "The principle that a person who offers himself as a candidate for any office abuses his position of trust and therefore must be ignored cannot be made applicable universally."

al Faruqi attacks Zionism, with a breathtaking collection of lies about the treatment of religious minorities under Islam.

Ishaque attempts an Islamic Approach to Economic Development, which centers on the principles that all wealth must be earned in useful ways, and spent for general good (not hoarded). He proposes to replace banks, which charge and offer forbidden usury, with shared risk investment firms. Faruki also addresses this interesting point, mentioning the rather specious "guaranteed profit" investments which try to get around the prohibition. It isn't appropriate to charge rent for the use of money, but only for the use of other property... though I recall from a news article of about 20 years ago that somebody in Egypt was experimenting with banks paying "user fees" for the use of money.

I learned quite a bit from this book, not least of which was that some of sharia is based on flimsy hadiths which are under challenge in (some) Islamic regions. I'd only heard of 4 approved Sunni schools of thought; they mention 8. Closing the gate of ijtihad had political as well as religious components: fear of abuse and fear of the effects of proliferating schools of law. I need to find out what happened in Libya. Check it out.

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