Sunday, February 27, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 8

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 7.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

This is the last installment of this series. It will be a short one, because I will have nothing to say. You really should quit reading now. I'm only doing this because of consistency. Because I listed all the previous articles, I will list the rest of them as well.

"Part Two: Islamic Fundamentalism" contains two sections. The first of them is "III. Islam and Western Civilization". It contains the following five articles, the titles (given by the editors) of which give some idea of the content:

  1. "Critical Attitude Toward the West and the Idea of Western Decadence" by Ali Shariati (1933-77).
  2. "Self-Destructiveness of Western Civilization" by Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (1903-79).
  3. "Granting Capitulatory Rights to the U.S." by Imam Ruhullah Khomeini (1902-89).
  4. "Islam and Its Adversaries" by Abd al-Latif Sultani (d. 1984), and
  5. "Westoxication" by Jalal Al-i Ahmad (1923-69).

The book's final section is "IV. Women and the Hijab". Unfortunately, it is not as interesting as one might think. It contains only two articles:

  1. "A Moralizing Fundamentalism" by Abd al-Latif Sultani (d. 1984), and
  2. "On the Islamic Hijab" by Murtaza Mutahhari (1920-79).

All the articles in these last two sections of the book are pretty boring. They are made up of bad rhetoric and seem to have very little of relevance now. And what relevance they might have, is repulsive, dogmatic, and conservative drivel, lacking in argumentation. It was my intention to seek interpretations of Islam compatible with the 21st Century global, secular, humanistic civilization. These texts are not helpful, even as something to argue against. There is so little here to argue about. The dogmatics who accept the views of these articles will not listen to reason, and those who have an open mind won't learn anything new from them.

This project may continue in the future, with different sources.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Three short videos about the Qur'an

A YouTuber calling himself "Ozmoroid - pronounced Ahulzmoroiyd" has made a trilogy of short videos concerning the Qur'an (and also Islam a bit more generally). He has done a bit more study of the Qur'an than I have, and has the same motivations for studying it as I do for studying Islam in general. Namely, to see if Islam is or can be interpreted in a way that makes it compatible with 21st Century globa, secular, humanistic civilization. He's titled his videos as follows:

The Qur'an through godless eys

Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - The Good

Part 3 - The Bad

I highly recommend watching these videos.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 7

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 6.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I continue reading "Part Two: Islamic Fundamentalism". The second section of this part is about "Islam and Politics".

Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) begins this section with an article on "War, Peace, and Islamic Jihad". He attacks the Modernists' interpretation of Jihad, and continues to reveal goals of his militant, fundamentalist type of Islam:

It is the result of this defeatist mentality that these people maintain that "Islam only believes in defensive war." On top of that, they are laboring under the misconception that they have rendered some good to the religion by this discovery, although by this incorrect deduction they want religion to surrender its distinctive method. In other words, religion should relinquish its ideal of destroying all the Satanic forces from the face of the earth and making human beings bow down their heads before one God, relieving them from the servitude of the servants and making them enter the servitude of the Lord and Creator of the servants. But Islam, in order to translate this ideal into reality, does not corcibly compel people to accept its faith but provides them with a free atmosphere to exercise their choice of faith. It either completely dynamites the regning political systems or, subjugating them, forces them into submission to and acceptance of Jizyah. Thus it does not allow any impediment to remain in the way of accepting the belief. Thereafter it allows complete freedom to people to accept or reject belief. (p. 226.)

It would be interesting to know what exactly are the "Satanic forces" alluded to here. I wonder if any critic of this form of Islam can avoid being placed into that category? The notion that destroying such forces and making everyone bow to God are ideals of the religion Qutb clearly promotes is horrible and scary. It shows how little he has learned from history. It clearly implies the use of force to convert people, which he seems to quickly backtrack from, as if only realizing a bit late how disgusted his readers must feel at that point.

It seems clearly hypocritical of Qutb to claim that his religion qould not forcibly compel others to accept it if it were in power: there certainly would be a lot of incentive to do so, and at least social cost to not doing so. It doesn't seem to bother the Islamist fanatic that other people might actually prefer their non-Islamic political systems, which he is eager to "dynamite" (how metaphorically this can be taken at this time, I am not sure). Qutb manages to show that like some others, Fundamentalist Islamists can also play the "Liberator card" in politics, and use double talk about removing obstacles "from accepting the faith". Even if other religions besides Islam would be tolerated in Qutb's ideal Islamic state, I suspect there would be no such freedom to refuse to accept any faith.

It is especially ironic that a proponent of a religion the very name of which means "submission (to God)" pretends it to be a liberator of mankind. Of course, he cannot hide very long what this "liberation" really means:

This means that religion is an all-embracing and total revolution against the sovereignty of man in all its types, shapes, systems, and states, and completely revolts against every system in which authority may be in the hands of man in any form or in other words, where he may have usurped sovereignty under any shape. [...] In short, proclamation of the sovereignty of Allah and the declaration of His authority connotes the wiping out of human kingship from the face of the earth and establishing thereon the rule of the Sustainer of the world. [...] The establishment of God's rule means that the laws of God whould reign supreme and all the affairs should finally be decided accordingly. (p. 228.)

The idea here is that instead of man-made political systems, an Islamic state would be based on a God-made political system. That is, it would be a theocracy, with some sort of priest class ruling by divine mandate. Just exactly how this differs from the medieval European idea that kings rule by divine mandate. Oh yes, of course, that belief was false. But this Islamist idea is obviously true. No need to prove it, except by a show of force. How enlightened.

It matters little to such Islamists that the actual rulers in a theocracy would be those who get to interpret God's allegedly revealed will, those who get to decide for everyone else, what reality is like. And those people would be humans, just like everyone else, and presumably fallible as well, unless he wants to claim that religious authorities are infallible in matters of religion. But I thought only the Pope of the Catholic church could be that silly. And no one in their right minds believes that piece of Catholic dogma. The fact is, achieving the Islamist goal would (and has) put a tremendous power in the hands of a few humans, exactly the situation Qutb claimed his religion would liberate people from. The only way people could be liberated from the rule of a few humans is if the chosen political system and the policies of the government are based on frequently checked consensus (or something near enough). Religion that cannot exist within such a political system cannot be accepted at all. It follows in a pluralist society that the society must be secular, i.e. there will have to be a separation of State and Mosque. But this Qutb would not accept:

Whatever system of governance may be established in the world, it should be based on the worship of God, and the source of authority for the laws of life should be God alone, so that under the shade of this universal system every one may be free to embrace any faith one likes. (p. 231.)

I cannot resist to urge to phrase Qutb's wish a little differently: One religion to rule them all, and to darkness bind them. That captures rather well, I think, what any theocracy would amount to (at best). It is incredible that someone not completely ignorant of world history could even desire such a regress in the 20th Century. That some people still want the same in the 21st, is incomprehensible. How can anyone fail to see how disastrous the rule of religion has been throughout the middle ages, or better yet, thoughout all history? Progress in thinking and in society has only come from freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of inquiry, the latter two being impossible without the first. It simply follows that society must be secular, or it will regress rather than progress. Religions, if they wish to survive, must find a way to adapt to and exist within secular states.

The militant nature of Qutb's Islamism is shown in its imperialism, as seen in the following quote:

The peace Islam desires is that the religion should be established in its entirery in the world. All the peopole should bow in submission before One God, and should not take their fellow men as lords in place of God. [...] Thus the entire people of the world stood classified under three categories: first, the Muslims who had reposed belief in [Muhammad]; second, those peace-loving who had been granted peace by the Holy Prophet [...], and third, the opponents who were afraid of him. (p. 233.)

For Qutb, Islam would bring peace to the world by dominating it. This is such a stupid view that it doesn't deserve a response. It is just another form of imperialism, and just as any other, the only justification for it is that happens to be the proponent's own style of imperialism. It cannot be taken seriously, except as a violent threat. Clearly the modernist interpretations of Jihad do not fit this imperialist form of Islam very well, so Qutb attacks them and supports a far more dangerous interpretation:

Thus according to the explanation by Imam Ibne Qayyim, first all Muslims were restrained from fighting against the polytheists and unbelievers, then permission was accorded them to fight, then they were commanded to fight against the aggressors and, ultimately, they were commanded to fight all the polytheists and the unbelievers. These verses of the Holy Quran, the traditions of the Holy Prophet [...] prompting and inciting to Jihad, the Islamic wars of the early period, rather the entire Islamic history replete with the description of Jihad, are eloquent testimonies in the presence of which every Muslim's heart will abhor to accept the commentary about Jihad conceived by minds having been defeated by the pressure of unfavorable conditions and the treacherous propaganda [of] the orientalists. Can such a person claim to be an intellectual who may have listened to the clear commandments of God, pursued the distinct sayings of the Prophet of God [...] and seen the historical records full of Islamic victories, but still labor under the misconception that the scheme of Jihad is a temporary injunction, related to changing conditions and transient circumstances and only that aspect of the scheme has a perpetual effect which is concerned with the defense of the borders. (p. 234.)

One could answer by asking, how can anyone read the Quran and take suitable quotes from it out of context to justify one's own violent fantasies? This obviously is what Qutb has done in this article, but unfortunately, it must be left for scholars of Quran to provide Muslims with a better, more accurate, and more acceptable interpretation of Islam. Here it is enough to show where the violent interpretations of Jihad come from, and that they do exist and must be refuted, if Islam is ever to co-exist peacefully with other worldviews. Qutb doesn't hide the aggressive nature of his interpretation of Islam, which is quite contrary to to views recently and frequently presented about Islam being "a (or even the) religion of peace":

It is the inevitable demand of the nature of Islam that it takes strides from the very beginning to pull mankind out from the servitude of others than God. Hence it is impossible for it to abide by geographical boundaries and bind itself within racial limitations. It cannot be brooked to leave the entire sprawling mankind from East to West to be devoured by vice and corruption and servitude to others than God, and, leaving it, take to seclusion.

It may happen with the opponents of Islam that, deeming it expedient, they may not commit aggression against Islam provided it allows them to continue the leadership of human beings over others within their geographical limits, leaves them to their lot and does not force them to follow its message and its declaration of freedom. But Islam cannot declare a "cease-fire" with them unless they surrender before the authority of Islam and they will no more place impediments in its way by virtue of any political power. Exactly this is the nature of this religion and, being a declaration of the universal lordship of God and a message of deliverance from the servitude to others than God for the people living in the East and West, it is also the inevitable duty of Islam. (p. 243.)

It seems to this reader, at least, that Qutb is advocating an interpretation of Islam, according to which it is the duty of Islam to wage war against all countries that do not submit to it, in order to "liberate" their peoples. He could be understood, perhaps, as saying that this only applies to countries that use "political power" to "place impediments" in the way of Islam. But it seems likely to be referring to impediments on the way of the unified Islamic State becoming the only state in the world.

Imam Ruhullah Khomeini (1902-89) writes about "The Pillars of an Islamic State". He states that "the head of the Islamic State must know the Law thoroughly" (p. 248), referring presumably not only to the Quran, but also the shari'ah. It seems a bit redundant in my view, for the head to know every single law himself, rather than just the laws that deal with governing the people. But it is just one of his strange ideas for an Islamic State. He also states that the Islamic state would "enforce an Islamic character, Islamic prayers, and an Islamic penal code so that Muslims can remain as Muslims and their next generations also" (p. 249). As Qutb before, Khomeini is also using the double-talk some of us have learned to associate with cults (and others perhaps with politics): he uses the word "can", when in fact he means something far more constrictive.

It is strange to say this, but even Qutb seemed liberal when compared to Khomeini's views, for the former at least spoke of religious freedom, whereas the latter seems to be opposed to it. Khomeini wants the State to enforce Islam on the people, and make sure following generations will remain Muslims as well. This is totalitarian control. Precisely what theocracy leads to. Those who hold power to define the truths of religion become the masters everyone else must serve. There is no room in the world for interpretations of religion like this.

The same author continues with another article, on "The Necessity of Islamic Government". In this one, he reveals just how totalitarian his interpretation of Islam is:

First, the laws of the shari'ah embrace a diverse body of laws and regulations, which amounts to a complete social system. In this system of laws, all the needs of man have been met: his dealings with his neighbors, fellow citizens, and clan, as well as children and relatives; the concerns of private and marital life; regulations concerning war and peace and intercourse with other nations; penal and commercial law; and regulations pertaining to trade and agriculture. Islamic law contains provisions relating to the preliminaries of marriage and the form in which it should be contracted, and others relating to the development of the embryo in the womb and what food the parents should eat at the time of conceptiopn. It further stipulates the duties that are incumbent upon them while the infant is being suckled, and specifies how the child should be reared, and how the husband and the wife should relate to each other and to their children. Islam provides laws and instructions for all of these matters, aiming, as it does, to produce integrated and virtuous human beings who are walking embodiments of the law, or to put it differently, the law's voluntary and instinctive executors. (p. 253 - 254.)

In other words, this form of Islam seeks to control every aspect of every individual's life, destroying their individuality and making them all brainwashed clones. They also become a "militia" eager to point out anyone who fails to conform as they have, and to punish them -- and not just with social punishments, I'm sure.

Khomeini doesn't seem to think that Muslims could differ in their aspirations, or their political views. In fact, all Muslims must clearly think alike, which greatly reduces the need for separate Muslim countries:

In order to attain unity and freedom of the Muslim peoples, we must overthrow the oppressive governments installed by the imperialists and bring into existence an Islamic government [...]. (p. 257.)

At this point the irony of an Islamist such as Khomeini writing about "imperialists" is no longer funny. It is easy to accept that the populations of the countries he speaks of do indeed need liberation, but merely replacing one form of imperialism with another is hardly good enough for them. They deserve something better. Khomeini's hostility to Western culture is not shared by all Muslims, as he acknowledges (p. 261). One can then only wonder at his audacity at claiming a position from which to tell these other people how and what they should behave, believe, and like.

Next in turn is "The Political Theory of Islam" by Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (1903-79). He writes much about the evil of "domination of man by man" and how "the effect of godhood is so intoxicating that one who tastes this powerful drink can never keep himself under control" (p. 268), but clearly fails to see that theocracy is no safeguard against these, quite the contrary. He opposes men making commands in their own right (p. 270), but fails to see that men can very easily make commands in the name of God. History (and the present) provides depressingly many examples of precisely that. As long as the final authority is placed upon God, it follows that the interpreters of God's alleged will are placed above all others and they will become the new tyrants.

There are three more articles in this section, but each of them of little concern here. The first of them is "All-Encompassing Program of an Islamic State" by The Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria, originally published in 1989. I will leave the analysis of the viability of that program to those better qualified for it, except for one single, saddening point about the education:

A reassessment of educational content to remove any ideologies and concepts that have contrary values to those of Islam; this is to preserve our personality, realize authenticity, and stimulate creativity. (p. 290.)

It is unbelievable how censorship of unwanted ideas can be combined with the stimulation of creativity in one sentence. Also, it is far too obvious that the purpose of this censorship is actually to rear uniform citizens, no matter what kind of euphemisms they want to use to say so. One can only hope that contemporary Muslims see value freedom, individuality, and creativity more than this Salvation Front.

Second to last in this section is an article on "Boycotting the 1997 Election in Jordan" by the Society of Muslim Brothers, published in 1997. It seems irrelevant now, so I will skip it except for one curious note. In the very end they mention "the policies of the New World Order" (p. 307). "NWO" was not mentioned anywhere else in the article, and one is left wondering if this is intented as just as referring to the political economic powers of the present, or whether it should be taken as an indication that the Brothers actually believe in Grand Conspiracy theories involving NWO. The latter, unfortunately, seems somewhat more likely to me, for reasons I will not go into here. But if that is the case, one can only hope such paranoia to be rare and receding among other Muslims.

This section ends with an interview of Dr. Ishaq A. Farhan by Mansoor Moaddel, conducted in 1997 and titled "Islamic Action Front Party". The only point of interest in the interview is when (p. 311) Dr. Farhan is forced to accept, though he of course won't do so directly, that the Islamic injunctions against usury have to be "worked around" in modern society. This implies that the Quran is not such a perfect book of advice for all situations and times, as fundamentalists claim. The placement of this interview in Part II of this book seems a little strange, actually, since Dr. Farhan does not seem to be a fundamentalist.

Continue to Part 8.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 6

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 5.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I begin reading "Part Two: Islamic Fundamentalism". It begins with section "I. Jurisprudence, Bases of Law, and Rational Sciences".

The first of the two articles in this section was written by Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), and is translated tellingly as "Islam as the Foundation of Knowledge". Qutb is clearly an Islamist of the fundamentalist type, as his article shows:

What Islam calls Divine Law, covers the entire scheme that God has devised for regulating human life. It includes within its sphere the regulation of thoughts and views, fundamentals of statecraft, principles of ethics and culture, laws of transactions, and regulations of knowledge and the arts. The Divine code of law circumscribes every angle of human thought and opinion. (p. 198.)

I think it's appropriate to call this view absolute totalitarianism. Qutb and his brethren would have all Muslims bow in absolute servitude to God's will as interpreted by the fundamentalists. This would, in practise, make the fundamentalist leaders the absolute and totalitarian rulers of Muslims, in the name of God, of course. To make sure no Muslim would stray from the path of "true religion", Qutb does what cult leaders usually do, i.e. restricts inquiry to "acceptable" sources:

A Muslim has not the authority to seek guidance and light from any other source and well-head except the Divine one in any matter that pertainst to faith, the general concept of life, rituals, morals and dealings, values and standards, politics, and assemply, principles of economics, or the explanation of human history. (p. 199.)

According to Qutb, a Muslim is not allowed to consult non-Muslims (actually, non-fundamentalist Muslims, I'm sure) about any of those things. It is acceptable in some other things, with limitations, of course:

[A] Muslim is allowed to imbide abstract learnings from all the Muslims and non-Muslims alike, for example, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Astronomy, Medicine, Industry, Agriculture, Administration (to the extent of technical aspects only), Technology, Arts of warfare (from their technical aspect only), and other like learnings, arts, and technology. (p. 199 - 200.)

The main reason why he allows the consultation of non-Muslims in these areas is obviously the fact that Muslims don't have (did not have at the time of his writing at least) enough knowledge of these things themselves, yet such knowledge is required to govern a society. He also makes it clear that he is interested in such things only for their "profitable results", not merely for the ske of knowledge, for example.

The most significant limitation to the study of any subject is that it must not have anything to do with anything covered by Islam, as interpreted by Qutb -- which does cover a lot, as seen above. Qutb of course has to believe that things like the natural sciences, social sciences, history or philosophy "do not pertain to matters related to Muslims concepts about life and the universe or discuss man's responsibility and the nature of man's relations with the universe and his relations with the Creator of life. [...] They are also not connected with morals and manners, customs and traditions [...]" (p. 200). This is certainly not very plausible: even the natural sciences now have much to say about things like morality, while customs and traditions, as well as beliefs can be critically evaluated in the light of social sciences and history. It follows that whenever and wherever science intrudes on religious ground, the devout (fundamentalist) Muslim must ignore science and stick to Islamic dogma. The more advances are made by the rational approach, the clearer the contradiction between that and the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam becomes. The following quote makes this pretty obvious:

But as regards reason of human struggle, whether it is individual or collective in form -- and this sturggle is directly connected with human self and concepts of human history -- similarly as regards the reason for the beginning of the universe, inception of life and man's own beginning and its interpretation, since all these matters pertain to Metaphysics (and are not related to Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, and Medicine) they have as such the same position as the principles and regulations, laws and canons organizing the human life and human efforts. They are indirectly related to faith and concept [sic]. It is, therefore, not permissible for a Muslim to acquire these learnings from anyone else except a Muslim; rather it should be acquired from only such a Muslim in whose religion and righteousness he may have full confidence. He should have the thorough conviction that he seeks guidance from God alone in all these matters. (p. 200.)

Of course, God does not talk to people, so one is left with "holy" (or rather, holey) texts, and those who claim to have the True interpretation of those texts. This attitude about the limits of human abilities is truly detrimental to honest truth-seeking, which should never be limited by taboos and dogma. There is not even hope of progress if one denies out of hand the possibility that man could progress. Qutb's negative and pessimistic (and anti-humanistic) attitude is certainly not limited to the natural sciences: he believes that philosophy, history, and the social sciences have been influenced by non-Islamic "beliefs and fetishes" in such a way that they have caused these fields to be "at loggerheads with religion in their fundamental principles, and nurse an explicit or implicit grudge against the concept of religion ordinarily and Islamic concept particularly" (p. 201). It is unthinkable, of course, that they might instead have had valid reasons behind their criticisms of religion in general and Islam in particular. Unthinkable, because the devout Muslim must deny such possibilities as a requirement of faith, in order to properly be a Muslim, as shown above.

After limiting all acceptable rational activity to the pursuit of profit (for Muslim society, I presume), as long as it in no way contradicts religious dogma, Qutb shows his anti-Jewish paranoia:

But this concept of culture [as common human heritage] is, in fact, one of the many contrivances of world Zionism whose purpose is to demolish all limits and bounds on top of which is the list of the bindings and limitations of religion -- so that the position of Jewry may easily pervade within the body of the enrire world when it has become lethargic, intoxicated and half-alive, and the Jews should have full liberty to pursue their diabolic activities in the world. Topping the list among these activities are their dealings in usury and moneylending, whose purpose is to channel the hard earning got out of the sweat and blood of the entire mankind into Jewish institutions rund on the basis of usury and interest. (p. 201 - 202.)

I fear this kind of ridiculous propaganda is still common among Muslims. It is very much the same as what Christians used to say about Jews over the centuries -- leading to the horrible suffering of the Jews in many cases, of which the Holocaust is only the most recent. It does not matter how stupid and baseless the accusations are when a people is being demonized. Because of certain passages in the Quran, the Jews are an easy target. Add to it the notorious hoax known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and you have Qutb's dangerous beliefs about the Jews.

Quoting a passage of the Quran and another of the hadith, Qutb argues why a Muslim should only trust Muslims when seeking knowledge:

When God [...] had explicitly and categorically stated this hazardous determination of the Jews and the Christians about the Muslims, it would be a peak of foolishness and short-sightedness to nurse this good-will even for a moment that the discussions made by them about Islamic faith or Islamic history or proposals offered about the system of Muslim society or Muslim politics or Muslim economics could be based on any good intention, or they have Muslim's wellbeing in view, or in fact they are sincerely in search of guidance and light. Those wro entertain this good opinion about them after the clear declaration and categorical verdict of God, their reason and intellect are worth lamenting. (p. 204.)

The strong distinction between ingroup (true believers) and the outgroup (non-Muslims, especially Jews) is usually a bad sign. It is used to create cohesion within one's group by creating mistrust and even fear of the outsiders. The group's leaders obviously benefit from this, as the underlings are less likely to think for themselves, seek more objective views, or even acquaint themselves with the views of outsiders.

Qutb also ridiculously claims that "Europe's empirical sciences are the product of the Islamic period", but since little in the way of history is offered, I will ignore the claim, and move on to the next article.

Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (1903-79) is the source of the latter half of this section, called "Fallacy of Rationalism". The rationalism under attack here is "Western rationalism", the idea that humans could use their own reasoning to decide what to do, even which religious beliefs to uphold.

When our new generation completed their studies in western-oriented educational institutions they came out fully trained and groomed in the western way of thinking and with their minds totally changed. Their hears were no doubt Muslim, but their minds had turned secular. (p. 209.)

The problem with this kind of rationalism is that it's not really rational, according to Maududi:

Speaking on Islam, one is either a Muslim or a nin-Muslim. If he speaks as a Muslim, may he be orthodox, a liberal thinker, or a reformer, whatever be the case, he is expected to talk within the orbit of Islam with the Quran as the final authority and within the fundamentals of religion and the laws of Shari'ah as enunciated in the holy Quran. Whoever does not believe in the holy Quran as the final authority, and considers its injunctions as open to discussion, automatically goes out of the pale of Islam and thus loses every right to speak as a Muslim. [...] But, speaking as a non-Muslim, he will have no right to pose himself as a Muslim and try to explain to the Muslims the meanings of Islam and the ways and means to promote Islam. (p. 210.)

Maududi defines Muslims as those who believe the basic tenets of Islamic fundamentalism. The problem, from the point of view of my project here, is that it makes too much sense. It is much easier to deny the authority of the Bible in Christianity, than it is to deny the authority of the Quran in Islam. It's easier with the Shari'ah, as seen in the previous articles by the Modernist Muslims. But the Quran is a tougher nut. It would require Quranic exegetics, and I don't know if that would help either. If it can be shown that the Quranic texts were plausibly handed down by Muhammed, then the non-fundamentalist has to justify his way of reading and use of the Quran; that he doesn't take it as the infallible, perfect word of God for all times.

If you do not see eye to eye with the Divine book, you are free to differ but only after denouncing faith in Islam. Whoever feels dissatisfied with the teachings and injunctions of a religion and soubts its veracity, fails to understand its logic and needs, and considers its views and concepts objectionable, has only two options. Either he may clearly denounce and disown it and then criticize its tenets and teachings as bitterly as he likes or, if he does not want to say good-bye to his religion in spite of his doubts and apprehensions, he must avoid projection of his disagreement. (p. 211.)

This kind of dichotomous, black and white, view is appealing in its simplicity, of course. It hardly makes sense to speak of a holy book if one doesn't believe the contents of the book to be of divine origin. One can dilute the divinity of the words, reducing the status of the book, for example by appealing to the human fallibility of the medium (prophet) used in putting the words in writing. Or one could find reason to doubt the early phase of the tradition: perhaps there were miscommunications at some point? But where to draw the line? How far can one go in this and still consider the text holy in any meaningful sense?

Still, the dichotomy between fundamentalists, and non-fundamentalists, is dangerous. The certainty that one's interpretation of religion is the only true interpretation, coupled with clear hostility towards those who disagree and hold different interpretations to be true, is a cause for worry. "The West" especially is something Fundametalists Islamists seem to despise pretty generally. Maududi certainly doesn't seem to have a very good opinion of it:

[A] critical study of western civilization shows, beyond doubt, that it is based on either rationalism nor naturalism. On the contrary, its entire structure stands on feelings, lust, and urges. The western renaissance was nothing but a revolt against reason and nature. Discarding logic and reason, it turned toward whims and feelings and material urges. It relied on moods instead of reason, rejected rational guidance, logical reasoning, and innate intuition, and made perceptible material results its real criterion. Rejecting nature's guidance, it preferred to be guided by desires and urges, regarded everything as baseless that cannot be measured and weighed, condemned everything as negligible and worthless that did not produce any perceptible material gain. (p. 215.)

Since no argument for all this is provided by the author, I will not be bothered to refute it. I will just note that Maududi seems to think that ever since the renaissance, western culture has been corrupted and irrational, being controlled by feelings, lust, and urges. I can only assume that this has something to do with the rise of modern empirical science, and the secularization of Europe (and academic culture in general). I suppose he thought it better when Christianity ruled the West. I think his views are ahistorical, and in any case too vaguely expressed (and without arguments and evidence) to warrant further comment. It is unfortunate that such hostility toward whole cultures exists, but other Muslims can disagree with him, as there is nothing in Islam that would require such an attitude. It is thus an obstacle among the fundamentalists that can be overcome.

The worst thing about religiosity, in my opinion, is the dogmatic nature of religious beliefs. Maududi provides good examples of dogmatic thinking, when he argues why it is necessary for a Muslim to submit to the authority of religion (or, as the case will actually be, although he of course fails to say it, religious authorities). He mistakenly implies that a person who practises law (or perhaps he means only a person who is a judge at a court of law) will not criticize the legal system within which he works. Even worse, he thinks that a person within a school of thought would not criticize the fundamentals of that school. (p. 210.)

Perhaps the translation here is inadequate. Perhaps he means more than criticize, for the claim does make sense if we replace "criticize" with "discard": a person who has discarded the fundamentals of a school of thought is no longer a proponent of that school of thought. But then the analogy with moderate and liberal Modernist Muslims might fail. They don't necessarily discard any "fundamentals" of Islam, although what they consider those fundamentals to be might differ from what the Fundamentalists think. This is a question of interpretation of religion.

For Maududi, Islam is clearly something similar to a country's government, and even more chillingly, an army:

No government can stay even for a moment if every person starts demanding rational justification for its orders and refuses to submit to any order without getting its satisfactory justification. No army can be called an army if every soldier starts seeking the reason for his commander's orders and demanding his satisfaction before compliance.

Anybody who joins a system or organization does so only when he accepts and believes in the authority of that system as supreme authority, and as loing as he is a part of that system, he is duty bound to obey its supreme authority, may he be convinced and satisfied with any order or not(p. 217.)

This kind of authoritarian "thinking" is not what democracies are about. Speaking of religious believers as unthinking, uncritical soldiers who simply follow orders is especially telling, and shows why Maududi's brand of Islam is so compatible with terrorism.

Unconditional faith is the first and foremost requirement of Islam. It calls people to believe in Allah and His Prophet first, instead of issuing injunctions. (p. 218.)

In order to make Islam compatible with the global human society, non-fundamentalist Muslims must change this. As long as one follows Maududi's thinking this far, it becomes impossible for one's religion to progress. Once one submits to this cult, and accepts that from that point onward the dogma of the cult cannot be criticized, but simply obeyed, one has made also progress impossible. Closedmindedness like this will guarantee the ridicule of future generations, while the "true believers" will remain medieval in their thinking. I hope reformers will keep coming, and that they will have minds sharp and open enough to recognize the mind-numbing propaganda of the likes of Maududi, and to discard it, in favour of more intellectually friendly interpretations of their religion.

Continue to Part 7.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 5

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 4.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I continue reading the book's "Part One: Islamic Modernism", specifically that part's section "IV. Islamic Modernism and the Issue of Women".

This section begins with an article on "Polygamy" by Moulawi Chiragh Ali (1844-95). According to Ali, the "general tenor of the Quran is to establish a perfect equality between the male and female sex, in their legal, social, and spiritual positions, except in physical strenght, and possession of wealth" (p. 149). That exception aside, this interpretation of the Quran seems useful. Ali also usefully notes that if in "Western" countries women have more liberty and have been elevated to a higher social status, it is not due to religion:

It is only the influence of the codes of the Roman Law, and the innate respect felt by the Teutonic nations for the female sex, and centuries of civilization, that have raised women to their proper position [...]. (p. 149.)

As for the alleged acceptance of domestic abuse in Islam, Ali has this to say:

(1) That Muhammad had authorized the corporal punishment of refractory wives by their husbands in extreme cases (Sura iv. 38), is true, but it is also a fact worthy of note that this had been the case only during the early stage of the patriarchal form of government at Medina, when there were no established tribunals of justice or judges, and the head of the family was the only domestic judge. But as soon as the form was changed, when tribunals were created, and when a systematic administration of justice was carried on, the power given to the husband was abolished, and the contending parties, ie.e, husband and wife, were required to appeal to the judges, prohibiting the former from taking the law into his own hands. The very next verse, 39, abolishes the former system of husbands having power of beating their wives. [...]

This is then one of those things that show how the Quran is not an eternal book for all times, but a collection of texts intimately connected to the time of their writing. Beating one's wife was accepted at one time, but prohibited the next. A Muslim should obey the prohibition, as the Prophet did not change that part anymore, thus leaving it valid. Good enough.

Ali contains on another form of abuse of women common in Muslim societies:

(2) Muhammadi did not allow or enjoin seclusion of women. He made some improvements in their general dress and demeanor, giving them greater honor and respectability; and he made provisions to save them from the insults of the rude and uncultured common folk, while going out in the streets. [...]

The Muhammadan Common Law also takes particular care as to leave the face and hands of respectable females open and unmasked; for these parts of the body are not called "Aurah," or nakedness. The whole person of a female, except the face and hands, as well as the feet according to some, are "Aurah," and ought to be decently covered. (p 151 - 152.)

Here the issue is obviously the veil, and other forms of hiding women from sight. A later article will continue on this. Here it is enough to note that Ali's interpretation of the religion precludes the seclusion of women, and it does not require of women the wearing of a completely concealing garb (burqa). What he does not emphasize, though, is that this the Muhammadan Common Law he is talking about, so this it can be modified without having to contradict Islam.

The article on "The Rights of Women" by Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) is unfortunately just un outdated piece of apologetics of Islam based on dubious claims about the superiority of Islamic culture with regard to the status of females. I will comment on it no more.

"The Liberation of Women" by Qasim Amin (1865-1908) is much better. Amin discusses the issue of the veil in detail, and connects it to broader social issues:

Among the most important [causes of criticism] are the firmly established tradition of veiling among the majority of the population, and the inadequate socialization of women. Were women's socialization effected in accordance with religious and moral principles, and were the use of the veil terminated at limits familiar in most Islamic schools of belief, then these criticisms would be dropped and our country would benefit from the active participation of all its citizens, men and women. (p. 169.)

Amin states that the "revealed law of God indicates that women were endowed with minds in the same manner as men", implying that the status of each gender in society should be equal as well. Curiously, he still defends the use of the veil by females. But he adds:

I would recommend, however, that we adhere to its use according to Islamic Law, which differes from our present popular traditions. Our people are ostentatious in their caution and in their interpretations of what they velieve to be the application of the law, to the extent that they presently exceed the limits of the shari'ah and have harmed the nation's interests. (p. 173.)

Amin would like to see a compromise between how Western women dress, and how his contemporary Egyptian women were veiled. He is, unfortunately, dogmatic about obeying "heavenly orders", but gladly this does not prevent him from suggesting an improvement. This is because the contemporary custom of veiling he would reform is not based on religion:

Muslims were attracted to the use of the veil, approved it, exaggerated its use, and dressed it up in religious raiment, just other harmful customs have become firmly established in the name of religion, but of which religion is innocent. (p. 174 - 175.)

He points to verses XXIV, 30-31 to show that Islam "permits a woman to expose some parts of her body to strangers, even though the specific situations are not spelled out" (p. 175). At least the face and hands, possibly also arms and feet are parts of her body she is allowed to show, according the religious leaders Amin quotes. He argues that because Islamic law gives women the same rights as men (such as the right to take care of their own finances), and makes them equally responsible in civil and criminal cases, women must also be allowed to reveal themselves as necessary for these situations, such as in a court of law, or when doing business, or even during manual labor (p. 176 - 177). He continues further on the issue of segregation of the sexes:

God created this world and gave human beings mastery over it so that they could enjoy the benefits according to what they can achieve. God granted human beings privileges for administering this world, but He also placed limitations on them. Thus God established equality between men and women regarding their obligations and privileges. God did not divide the universe, making one part of it to be enjoyed by women alone and another to be enjoyed by men, working in it segregated from women. In fact, He created the burdens of life to be shared and controlled by both men and women. How can a woman enjoy all the pleasures, feelings, and power that God created for her, and how can she work in the universe if she is banned from the sight of any man except a blood relative or some other man to whom she cannot be married according to Islamic law? Undoubtedly, this is not what the shari'ah meant, and it should not be allowed by either law or reason. (p. 177.)

This is something Muslims living in "Western" countries must agree with. Back on the use of the veil, Amin writes:

Furthermore, I do not believe that the veil is a necessary part of desirable behaviour for women. There is no basis for such a claim. What is the relation between desirable behaviour and exposing or veiling the face of a woman? What is the basis for discriminating against women? Is not good behaviour in reality the same for both men and women? Is it not a product of an individual's intentions and work rather than of external appearances and clothes?

[...] The instructions that appear in the precious verses about averting one's gaze apply to both men and women. This proves clearly that it is no more appropriate for a woman to cover her face than for a man to cover his.

[...] If men feared that women would be tempted, why were not men ordered to wear the veil and conceal their faces from women? Is a man's will considered weaker than a woman's? Are men to be regarded as weaker than women in controlling their desires? Is a woman considered so much stronger than a man that men have been allowed to show their faces to the eyes of women, regardless of how handsome or attractive they are, while women are forbidden to show their faces to men, from the fea that men's desires may escape the control of their minds, and they may thus be tempted by any woman they see, however ugly or disfigured she be? Any man who claims this viewpoint must then admit that women have a more perfect disposition than men; why then should women always be placed under the protection of men? If, however, this viewpoint is incorrect, what justifies the this traditional control over women's lives? (p. 178.)

Clearly, as has been alluded to before, many Muslims make a big show of their faith, instead of keeping it a private matter, as would better suit a secular society -- or one where religious faith is genuine. This is most obvious in the daily prayers, but can of course be done with clothing.

It is reprehensible for the men of a family force the women of the family to be segregated from other men, or even from society in general. In my opinion Amin argues well against such behaviour here: the veiling of women seems at least to be in contradiction with the segregation and "protection" of women. If women needed such "protection" (rule) by men who allegedly had superior strenght of will, then it would be the men who should be veiled in order to protect the women from lust. But if women indeed need to be veiled in order to restrain men's lust, then perhaps it is men who need to be supervised by women, who then apparently have the stronger mental faculties?

Amin also explains how women may actually use veils to attract men (to flirt and in fact improve their appearance), rather than to conceal what men might find attactive in them. He makes another good argument to show that in fact the use of the veil enables her to behave in ways that I guess I can call immoral here, without getting caught, as no one can recognize her. Thus it follows that those who are afraid of the potential immoral behaviour of women should rather demand that they show their faces in public, so that they will be recognized. This will keep them under social control. (p. 178 - 179.)

From the point of religion the more important point, though, is that the use of the veil is actually just a non-religious tradition predating Islam. There are verses in the Quran that speak of the veiling of the Prophet's wives, but Amin emphasizes (and appeals to Islamic scholars) that they were considered very special, and that the rules relating to them do not apply to other women (p. 179 - 180).

* * *

Section "V. Style of Living" is useless for this project. The content of the short articles therein are obsolete. Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) writes about "The Way of Life" and "The Way to Eat a Meal". Rifa'ah Rifa al-Tahtawi (1801-73) writes about "Civil Rights" in France, and the Revolution of 1830 there. None of these articles seem to contain anything of relevance now.

This means that I have finished Part I, and will next get into what could be more relevant to the present. That is, Part II - Islamic Fundamentalism. Continue to Part 6.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 4

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 3.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I continue reading the book's "Part One: Islamic Modernism", specifically that part's section "III. Islam and Western Civilization".

This section consists of only two articles. The first is "Social Liberalism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism" by an "anonymous Mu'tazilite Muslim". It was originally published 1877-1880. The author of the article argues for changes in Muslim societies that would mimic the so-called Western culture. He is clearly worried about the economic situation of Muslims, and blames it on Islamic customs and the Islamic (Common) Law.

It has never been understood by the great majorit of the people that the apparent benefits that the poorer classes get from a rich man's expensive style of living are only temporary and, in the end, wholly illusive. They do not understand that the fund, which goes to the remuneration of labor, is the result only of saving and economy, and that profuse expenditure is therefore in the end injurious to the laboring classes. [...] And Mahomedan theologians and moralists, while they say nothing against extravagance in expenditure, have invariably held up thrifty and economical habits to contempt and derision. So that, from a desire to deserve and preserve the respect of their neighbours, Mahomedansa have, in the course of time, acquired the character of spendthrifts. (p. 125.)

In Muslim culture, if I have correctly understood it, spending lots of money on lavish parties, gifts, and charity, as well as other similar things, has been seen as a way of distributing wealth to the poor, the workers, and the community in general. This was the customary expectation also in medieval Christendom. Unfortunately, it was bad for business, as that requires capital. The article's writer is making a case for long-sighted capitalism, as an improvement on the culture that short-sightedly opposes saving.

Wherever there is a Musalman [sic] family possessing wealth from the time of the Moslem government, the wealth was originally either a religious or a political grant. It was never acquired by havits of economy: in the one case the wealth was acquired by administrative, political, or military activity; in the other, it was gained by selfish piety and pompous ascetism. (p. 126.)

In other words, Muslims have not been businessmen. They have not been investors. They have simply acquired grants from those in power, and presumably the wealth from those grants has been fundamentally tied to the productivity of cultivated land, or some other basic production.

Our habits of listlessness and inactivity are also partly due to the peculiar belief in predestination that we hold. This doctrine prevails amonts other people and in other countries, but owing to moral and historical causes its hold is not so strong as among Musalmans. (p. 126.)

The lack of (economic) activity, innovation, capitalistic hoarding of wealth, and in general lack of a business-oriented attitude seem to be the author's targets. What exactly is meant by predestination here is unclear, but I would guess it more likely means something like determinism in mundane matters, rather than something like the doctrine of the predestination of the soul, such as in Calvinism. Those Christian protestants, after all, were well suited for business, were they not?

[O]ne large source of wealth is entirely closed to the Mahomedans -- I mean interest on money lent. [...] When we see how the business of banking facilitates commerce and how it renders possible the creation of new trades and industries, it becomes apparent how, amongst the Mahomedans, the connection of religion purely so-called with subjects altogether foreign to it -- with criminal law, civil law, laws of inheritance, laws of property, laws of contracts, laws of bequests -- has acted most injuriously on their material interests. And as material interests act as well as depend largely upon mental and moral interests, it follows therefore that we have suffered mentally and morally as well as in a wordly point of view from the connection of our Religion with law. (p. 126.)

The Medieval Christians had the same problem, because of the condemnation of "usury" in the Bible. They circumvented that with in my opinion amounts to sensible rhetoric. The anonymous writer of the article argues for interests rates by appeal to basically the same things the Christians appealed to -- because it clearly makes sense:

The capitalist of trader must obtain a recompense for his abstinence -- for having refrained from spending away the capital on his own gratification. Every trade has some or other risk incidental to it; the capitalist must indemnify himself for this risk. Lastly the capitalist must be recompensed for the labor and inconvenience that her undertoes in conducting and managing the business. Reward of abstinence, insurance against risk, and wages of superintendence make up the profits of a trade. (p. 127.)

It is my understanding that the Biblical condemnation of usury was based on the understanding that only the poor have to borrow money, and even they only borrowed because they needed to feed themselves and there was no alternative. Thus demanding that they pay interest in addition to paying it back was a way of taking an unfair advantage of the weak, a despicable thing to do. The morally excellent thing to do would have been to simply give the poor what they needed, without requiring any kind of compensation for it.

Possibly this kind of social situation is behind traditional Islamic views on the matter as well. But in the present era, it is not only the poor who want to borrow money. In order to start a business (or buy a house), you usually need more capital than you own, so you have to get a loan. This way, economic activity often requires loans. But, as the author points out, "if lending money or any trade offered comparatively inadequate returns to the abstinence, risk, and exertion, persons engaging in it would give up their business and invest their capital in trades that yielded better returns" (p. 127). In other words, the one giving the loan must also benefit from doing so, or else no one will do so. Which in turn will stiffle economic activity.

We have seen how the prohibition of interest, instead of relieving those classes for whose benefit it is intended, does actually injure them; but what is much more serious is that it retards the formation of the habit of abstinence and economy and that of postponing immediate gratification to future happiness, and prevents the development of the spirit of self-denial and self-control and that of prudence and self-responsibility. (p. 128.)

Instead of protecting the poor from exploitation by the rich, the prohibition seems to actually be a major cause of poverty for Muslim societies, according to the anonymous writer. There is another religious reason for that poverty:

Another and a more active cause of our poverty is to be found in our laws of inheritance -- both testamentary and intestate. A large estate is under our laws of intestate succession so divided and subdivided that in two or three generations each share comes to represent the barest subsistence. And, what is worse, there is no proper law of testamentary disposition of property to control and modify operatin of this minute subdivision. (p. 128.)

Again, this situation is reminiscent of that of Early Medieval Europe, especially the Franks. But primogeniture was adopted throughout Christendom (as far as I know) by the High Middle Ages. It was pretty much continued to the 19th Century, unless I'm mistaken, although along with the use of legally valid "last will and testaments" to ensure some controll of one's property after one's passing in the way of all flesh. Of course, the majority of people have always been so poor that there has been little point in trying to divide one's property among one's survivors.

The existing laws of inheritance are practically unjust. For when a person dies, some of his children may be old and educated enough to earn a respectable livelyhood; others may be too young or inexperienced to be able to earn anything -- to give equal shares to both is decidedly an unjust apportionment. (p. 128.)

The writer could have added to this the inequal treatment of females under that same law, but what he does mention already seems clearly unjust.

And, what is worse than all, these and all other similar laws have been taken out of the domain of progress by being improperly connected with Religion. They have been made part and parcel of Revealed Religion and are believed on the authority of an ignorant, superstitious, and intolerant priesthood to lie beyond the limits of progress. In truth, however, there is no real connection between Religion and the laws, social, civil, or political, under which a community lives. Religious truths transcend the powers of human understanding, while laws, being phenomenal relations, are amenable to experience. (p. 129.)

I readily agree that religion will prevent or at least hinder progress in social issues as in other areas, if it claims to tell the absolute truth about matters related to those areas. Laws must be amenable, and chosen in accordance to the best arguments available -- in other words secular.

The writer continues to argue that the law of bequest must be altered not only into a more just form, but also to enable to creation of larger properties, instead of forcing their subdivisions into minute portions:

There are thus three ways in which a larger property acts favorably. First, by strenghtening habits of diligence and economy and developing the sense of self-responsibility, in other words by raising the character and elevating the moral nature of man. Second, by increasing the desire for wealth and therefore by increasing wealth and establishing a high standard of comfort and living. And, third, by increasing the resources available for education and therefore by diffusing knowledge and establishing a high standard of education and mental attainment. (p. 130.)

To some extent this is easy to agree with, but in the present era one can ask if this really works out quite as nicely as imagined by the anonymous writer? I believe there is much greed involved with large property and wealth. It is surely not a sign of elevated morality. It seems that education is not at all of interest to the contemporary affluent, who only see it as a means to economic gain. It seems that education is considered an intrinsic value only by academic professionals these days.

In any case, the writer believes that wealth is key for the benefit of society, and Muslims desperately need to change their attitudes, customs, and laws, in order to achieve economic progress. This is quite possibly true even now, 130 years after the article was first published. This requires the severing of religion from such political and economic matters. (p. 132 - 133.)

The second article in this section is "Islam and Civilization" by Muhammad Fard Wajdi (1875-1954). I cannot comprehend the choice of including this article anymore than I can comprehend its title. It is some of the worst religious apologetics on the subject of science & religion that I have seen, and completely useless. And not only because it is so badly outdated. Because my desire in this project is to find common ground with Muslims, I will let this useless article pass without further comment.

Continue to Part 5.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 3

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1 and continued in Part 2.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I turn to the book's "Part One: Islamic Modernism", and that part's section "II. Islam and Politics".

The first chapter in this section is "War and Peace: Popular Jihad" by Moulavi Chiragh Ali (1844-95).

All the defensive wars, and the verses of the Quran relating to the same, were strictly temporary and transitory in their nature. They cannot be made an example of, or be construed into a tenet or injunction for aggressive wars, nor were they intended to be. Even they cannot be an example or instruction for a defensive war to be waged by the Muhammadan community or commonwealth, because all the circumstances under which Muhammad waged his defensive wars were local and temporary. (p. 72.)

Nice. Let's hope all Muslims agree: the Quran can in no way be used to support any kind of war. All mentions of war were temporary, none were meant for future guidance.

[I]n the first place, Jihad does not literally and classically mean warfare or fighting in a war. It means, as used by the classical poets as well as by the Quran, to do one's utmost; to labor; to toil; to exert oneself or his power, efforts, endeavors, or ability; to employ oneself vigorously, diligently, studiously, sedulously, earnestly, or with energy; to be diligent or studious, to take pains or extraordinary pains. (p. 80.)

This definition has been cropping up after 2001-09-11. It makes jihad sound like something good, a commendable attitude, something more of us good use in our own lives. Nothing violent or aggressive about it. Wether or not that really is a historically and linguistically accurate definition, one can at least hope that it would be the definition adopted by Muslims.

There is neither such a division of the world in the Quran, nor are such words as "Dar-ul-Islam" and "Dar-ul-Harb" to be found anywhere in it. There is no injunction in the Quran to the True Believers to fight against the infidels till they accept Islam, failing which they are to be put to death. The words "Dar-ul-Islam" and "Dar-ul-Harb" are only to be found in the Muhammadan Common Law, and are only used in the question of jurisdiction. No Moslem magistrate will pass a sentence in a criminal case against a criminal who had committed an offense in a foreign country. The same is the case in civil courts. All inhabitants of Dar-Harb are not necessarily infidels. Muhammadans, either permanently or temporarily by obtaining permission from the sovereign of the foreign land, can be inhabitants of a Dar-ul-Harb, a country out of the Moslem jurisdiction, or at war with it. (p. 91.)

Among other important things here is the point about jurisdiction which I take to be reciprocal in nature: a "Muhammadan" outside of Moslem jurisdiction is under the jurisdiction of the local rule - she cannot expect to be judged by Muslem law. This is a very important point. It can (and should) readily be understood as saying that acting against local laws in countries outside the Moslem jurisdiction (and even customs, matters of civil courts) is actually against the teaching of Islam.

The Muhammadan Common Law is by no means divine or superhuman. It mostly consists of uncertain traditions, Arabian usage and customs, some frivolous and fortuitous analogical deductions from the Quran, and a multitudinous array of casuistical sophistry of the canonical legists. It has not been held sacred or unchangeable by enlightened Muhammadans of any Moslem country and in any age since its compilation in the fourth century of the Hejira. (p. 92.)

This is an important point all Islamists should take to heart. The Common Law, at least, should definitely be open to criticism and change, even by devout Muslims, even by those who believe the Quran to be the infallible word of God, because it is not based on, or even derived from the Quran. In fact, given the sources of the Common Law, there really is no reason to hold onto it. The laws of any community should of course be reasonable, the ones with the best arguments in their favour. Therefore, whatever laws that are seen to surpas those of the traditional Common Law should be adopted. Surely there can be no disagreement on this?

Ali Abd al-Raziq (1888-1966) has made two interesting remarks that I can quote from his excerpts published under the title "The Problem of Caliphate". The first is the claim that "Islam would never favor one community over another, one language over another, one region over another, one time over another, or one generation over another except according to their piety" (p. 95).

Clearly many disagree with that. I believe most Muslims are taught to believe that the Quran must be read in Arabic, because all translations are less perfect. I agree with them to a point. Going to the orginal sources is necessary for historians, surely, but not without a good deal of knowledge about exegetics and the relevant languages. I'm almost certain that very few even of Muslim scholars actually have that requisite knowledge. But the fact remains that Arabic certainly seems to be an important language for Islam, unlike say, Finnish. Same goes for the rest of the claim, mutatis mutandis.

The other remark is longer:

[...] all that Islam has made lawful and that the prophet has made the Muslims observe included conduct, manners, and customs that had nothing at all to do with methods of political rule nor anything to do with a civil government. After all, if we put all of these together, they do not amount to more than a very small fraction of what is necessary for a civil state as regards political principles and laws. (p. 97.)

It clearly follows that there can be no such thing as a purely Islamic State. The necessary laws have to be devised somehow, and that means human decision making, also known as secular politics. (It could also be pointed out that the usefulnes of the Quran as a guidance for us mortals is obviously questionable, but let's forget about that for now. As long as Muslims accept that secular politics are necessary for a functioning State.)

I will have to pass over "Authority and the Problem of Succession" by Amir Ali (1849-1928) in silence, as I can find little of interest or relevance to "Western" states in it at present. I might return to it, if I change my mind about it later.

This section ends with Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) defending "Intellectual Pluralism and Freedom of Opinion", but unfortunately his article is of general nature, and he does not argue from a specifically Islamic point of view, or in a way that would especially appeal to Muslims. He does not provide an interpretation of Islam that would be of use for us in convincing the Muslims that adopting such "Western" notions would be in accordance with their religion. His arguments, of course, are such that any sensible person will accept them, but that is not enough at this point, so I will have to ignore the article here.

Continue to Part 4.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 2

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I turn to the book's "Part One: Islamic Modernism", and that part's section "I. Jurisprudence, Rational Sciences, and Differentiation of Knowledge".

Some excerpts from Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97) follow, concerning "Religion versus Science":

All religions are intolerant, each one in its way. (p. 24.)

In truth, the Muslim religion has tried to stifle science and stop its progress. It has thus succeeded in halting the philosophical or intellectual movement and in turning minds from the search for scientific truth. A similar attempt, if I am not mistaken, was made by the Christian religion, and the venerated leaders of the Catholic church have not yet disarmed so far as I know. (p. 25.)

It is permissible, however, to ask oneself why Arab civilization, after having thrownsuch a live light on the world, suddenly became extinguished; why this torch has not been relit since; and why the Arab world still remains buried in profound darkness.

Here the responsibility of the muslim religion appears complete. It is clear that wherever it became established, this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvelously served in its designs by despotism. (p. 27.)

Religions, by whatever names they are called, all resemble each other. No agreement and no reconciliation are possible between these religions and philosophy. Religion imposes on man its faith and its belief, whereas philosophy frees him of it totally or in part. [...] It will always be thus. Whenever religion will have the upper hand, it will eliminate philosophy; and the contrary happens when it is philosophy that reigns as sovereign mistress. So long as humanity exists, the struggle will not cease between dogma and free investigation, between religion and philosophy; a desperate struggle in which, I fea, the triumph will not be for free thought, because the masses dislike reason, and its teachings are only understood by some intelligences of the elite, and because, also, science, however beautiful it is, does not completely satisfy humanity, which thirsts for the ideal and which likes to exist in dark and distant regions that the philosophers and scholars can neither perceive nor explore. (p. 28.)

The Enlightenment has clearly influenced al-Afghani. It is very easy to adopt such a pessimistic view of mankind, but I believe recent history shows there is still hope. Certainly Europe has become very secularized. With the help of the Internet, knowledge is spreading faster and more widely than ever before. The great challenge at present is how to reach the Muslim masses, and to convince them of the superiority of the modernist version of Islam? This is no time to lose nerve and give up.

The following are excerpts from Maulavi Cheragh Ali (1844-95) on "Islamic Revealed Law versus Islamic Common Law":

The Muhammadan states are not usually considered theocratic in their system of government. The first four or five khalifates were of a republican nature, and after them, the system of government was changed with the Ommiade dynasty into monarchy and despotism. (p. 29.)

The common code of Islam, or the Muhammadan system of jurisprudence, is the unwritten law of the Muhammadan community, compiled at a very late period, so that it cannot be considered as essentially and eternally unchangeable; nor can it be binding on any other nation than the Arabs, whose customs, usages, and traditions it contains, and upon which it is based. The Muhammadan Common Law is not to be confounded with the Muhammadan Revealed Law. The Muhammadan Common Law is the unwritten law that has been compiled from a avery few verses of the Quran, as well as from the customs and usages of the country, supported by traditions contradictory in themselves, and based on the Ijmaa, or the unanimous consent of the Moslems. (p. 31.)

Those writers are greatly mistaken who either confound the Quran, the Muhammadan Revealed Law, with Fiquah or Cheriat (Cheri), the Muhammadan Common or Civil Law; or think that the Quran contains the entire code of Islam; or that the Muhammadan Law, by which is invariably meant the Muhammadan Common Law, is infallible and unalterable. The Muhammadan law books, the fundamental codes of Islam, take very little or nothing from the Quran, and all the Muhammadan jurists, casuists, mooftis, and moojtahids, have by a tacit consent removed the law points from the text of the sacred book to the jurisdiction of the canon or civil law. Muhammadans rely principally on the latre lego-religious books instead of the Quran. (p. 31 - 32.)

As I see it, Ali makes there a historical case for the separation of the Mosque and State in the so-called Islamic countries. He argues against theocracy, and the idea that Islamic laws could be unchaning. What he fails to note is the interesting admission that the Quran actually is pretty useless, or I should say irrelevantwhen it comes to morals and laws. This is good news for the project of secularizing the Islamic countries, because it allows the moderates to keep revering the Quran while adopting (more) secular morals and laws.

Ali then makes these encouraging claims about his religion:

Islam is capable of progress, and possesses sufficient elasticity to enable it to adapt itself to the social and political changes going on around it. The Islam, by which I mean the pure Islam as taught by Muhammad in the Quran, and not that Islam as taught by the Muhammadan Common Law was itself a profress and a change for the better. It has the vital principles of rapid development, of progress, of rationalism, and of adaptability to new circumstances. (p. 33.)

There's, among others, that mention of rationalism in Islam that I have mentioned. I can only hope that this kind of progressive attitude becomes ever more popular among Muslims. It is sad, though, that in Ali's article it is followed by this dogmatic statement:

The only infallible law is Leges Scripta, or the Quran. (p. 33.)

One can hope that this dogmatism will fade and Ali's view on the acceptability (from the point of view of Islam) of changing laws to fit the times wins over the stupid, dogmatic traditionalism still prevalent in some countries. He argues that:

[...] the fact that Muhammad did not compile a law, civil or canonical, for the conduct of the believers, nor did he enjoin them to do so, shows that he left to the believers in general to frame any code, civil or canon law, and to found systems which would harmonize with the times, and suit the political and social changes going on around them. (p. 33.)

Sayyid Amir Ali (1849-1928) is trying to present a case for "The Rationalistic and Philosophical Spirit of Islam", but this is all he really has to offer (in the excerpted article published in the book):

Like all other nations of antiquity, the pre-islamic Arabs were stern fatalists. The remains of their ancient poetry, sole record of old Arab thought and manners, show that before the promulgation of Islam the people of the Peninsula had absolutely abandoned themselves to the idea of an irresistible and blind fatality. Man was but a sport in the hands of Fate. This idea bred a reckless contempt of death, and an utter disregard for human life. The teachings of Islam created a revolution in the Arab mind; with the recognition of a supreme Intelligence governing the universe, they received the conception of self-dependence and of moral responsibility founded on the liberty of human volition. (p. 35.)

Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) writes about "The Necessity of Religious Reform" but is even less useful: he is mainly doing so in the context of Egypt at the end of the 19th Century; also, he seems uninterested in actual secularization of the state. Rather, he is merely interested in purging the people of harmful beliefs promoted by such groups as the Sufis:

Sufis have introduced one of these opinions: faith in God [...] is in contradiction with saving and making money, seeking work, and utilizing modern medical care. The believer in God, they would have us accept, would not be a true believer until he "cut off all means of livelihood." Faith in God is also in contradiction with precaution, prevention, and carefulness. In their opinion, faith in God implies a disregard for the consequences of one's worldly actions and a rejection of carefulness. (p. 48.)

It is clear that Abduh admires the West, and wants to (re)vitalize the Muslim people(s) by what to him at least would probably be a return to orthodoxy. He is, unfortunately, of the opinion that religion is necessary for the people, so he is not interested in reforming society by the separation of religion and state, the from the public sphere. On the contrary, he merely seeks to purifying Islam from harmful superstitious. In reading about this, I got a chilling feeling when I thought of what this might entail to minority groups. But he seems to trust that his reform would succeed through merely the education of judges, teachers, social workers, and other key people.

The next piece is on the "Methodology of Historical Writing", by 'Allama Shibli Nu'mani (1851-1914). This writer seems to have issues with European history, and a very high opinion of traditional Muslim history. While amusing, I will not dwell on these. He has some of the methodology right, but he should have been more critical. He is far too biased to see some glaring problems with the methods. Also, I think the article is outdated, because it deals with the Hadith and similar texts, with the purpose of pointing out that much of this tradition is false - but surely this is common knowledge among Muslims by now? The good thing about this kind of approach then, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend, is the embracing of critical, historical exegesis of the important texts of Islam. If (moderate, or modernist) Muslims can agree with this, then we are clearly on the same track.

Continue to Part 3.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1

I am fairly ignorant of recent history (from the 19th Century onward), and of social issues in general. That's not self pity - I'm trying to fix that bit by bit by reading what I can. I'm just stating this upfront so I wouldn't be thought of as some sort of an authority on the issues I'm about to write about. For the same reason, I want to state that I'm even more ignorant when it comes to Islam and the social issues connected to that religion.

I did read the Quran some years ago, in a Finnish translation, and I have read some books about the history of Islam, so I'm not totally ignorant of these issues. But to get to the point, I just picked up a book titled Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader from the library. Edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002, it seemed like a book I should read.

After all, Islam is a very popular religion on a global scale, and (so far) since at least the beginning of this millenium, it has been the subject of news headlines almost daily. And usually not in what might be called "a positive light". Most of what I've heard about the religion and its adherents has been scary and/or depressing. Yet, it is a popular religion. If the religion is really as bad as it seems, it sounds like getting rid of it altogether would be a good idea. But also, a very implausible one.

So, if all the Muslims of the world are not going to discard their religion, and that religion seems to be hindrance to the development of their societies, and a global threat to the security of individuals and even to world peace, is there something we could more realistically strive to achieve to remedy the situation? Well, at least according to some defenders of Islam, it is a rational religion. I am unwilling to go as far as to accept that oxymoron, but I want to grasp on the hope that at least it could be more reasonable than it often seems in the depictions of the various media, and possibly it could even be compatible with reason and science somehow. The same way that the most common form of religion in Europe, i.e. (very much secularized) moderate, liberal Christianity can, when cleaned up of the most blatant irrationality usually associated with that religion.

Wanting to understand Islam and hoping to find interpretations of the religion more suitable for this global era and for a better future than the versions of the religion usually presented in the media, I decided to start reading this book and blogging about what I found in it. What follows should be a series of short blog texts based almost completely on this one book. If I choose to use any other sources, I will make that clear. If not otherwise indicated, references will be to Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates. In fact, I will begin by quoting the very first lines of the introduction:

This book presents a series of articles, treatises, and exposés on historically significant issues written by prominent theologians, scholars, and academics in the Islamic world from the last quarter of the nineteenth centyry to the late twentieth. (p. 1)

The articles were selected "to represent two distinct and contrasting episodes in Islam's historical development". The first period (from the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century) covers discourses that "sought to bridge Islam with modernity". This work was done mostly by Muslim theologians in India and Egypt. I think I'll just have to quote at lenght this next bit, because it's fairly important:

These scholars critically examined the classical conceptions and methods of jurisprudence and decised a new approach to Islamic theology and Quranic exegesis. This new theological movement, which was nothing short of an outright rebellion against the Islamic orthodoxy, displayed an astonishing compatibility with the nineteenth-century [sic] Enlightenment. The central theological problem that engaged its thinkers revolved around the question of the validity of the knowledge derived from soureces external to Islam and the methodological adequacy of the four traditional sources of jurisprudence: the Quran, the dicra attributed to the Prophet (hadith), the consensus of the theologians (ijma), and juristic reasoning by analogy (qiyas). They resolved to reinterpret the first two sources and transform the last two in order to formulate a reformist project in light of the prevailing standards of scientific rationality and modern social theory. Such prominent intellectuals and theologiansa as Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Chiragh Ali, Muhammad Abduh, Amir Ali, and Shibli Nu'mani, and their associates and disciples presented Islamic theology in a manner consistent with modern rationalist ideas and deist religion. These theologians were impressed by the achievements of the West, ranging from scientific and technological progress, the Newtonian conception of the universe, Spencer's sociology, and Darwinian evolutionism, to Western style of living. They all argued that Islam as a world religion was thoroughly capable of adapting itself to the changing conditions of every age, the hallmarks of the perfect Muslim community being law and reason. (p. 1 - 2.)

As you might guess, I was happy to finally hear that such ideas actually had been advanced more than a century ago. There are those who still try to present interpretations of Islam along those lines, and possibly the majority of Muslims actually adhere to views similar to those. But there are those other views too, the opposite views held by terrorists, radical islamist organizations and preachers that usually make it over the threshold of what qualifies as newsworthy in "Western" media. They are the offsprings of what the editors of the book call the "second period" (from between 1930s and 1950s depending on the country to at least the end of that century). It was connected to the decline of liberal nationalism and usually came about "through right- or left-wing military coups".
In marked contrast with the previous ideologies, this new discourse categorically rejected the Western model and outlook. Such precursors of fundamentalism as Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Motahhari from Iran, Hasan al-Bana and Sayyid Qutb from Egypt, Abul Ala Maududi from Pakistan, Mustafa as-Siba'i from Syria, Abbasi Madani, Shaikh Nahnah, and Ali Belhaj from Algeria insisted on unconditional fealty ti Islam and questioned the validity of any sources of learning that were outside the Islamic cosmological doctrine. Ayatollah Khomeini advanced a theory of Islamic State based on the governance of the jurisprudent. While Islamic modernism aimed at rationalizing religious dogma to show its consonance with modernity, fundamentalism aimed at Islamizing all social institutions. And, while Islamic modernism had a predominantly social orientation, a distinctive feature of the fundamentalist movement was a high level of political activism aiming to seize state power. In fundamentalism, the political reorganization of society is the necessary step in its overall Islamization project. (p. 2.)

The editors note the problem with using the term 'fundamentalism' in this context (as opposed to the Christian context, where it is obvious at least to those familiar with the relevant discourse), but stick to it for lack of a better term. For, as they point out, other suggested terms have their problems as well. For example, 'Islamist' can equally refer to pro-West and anti-West Islamic thinkers. I suppose we'll have to just use the terms 'modernist' and 'fundamentalist' here, even if we only have a vague idea (based on the above quotations and what follows) of what they mean, instead of a clear-cut definition. That is how it is with most things anyway (to the chagrin of philosophers). Some further elucidation of what the ideas of these two opposed views espoused is provided by the following quote:

Generally, the Islamic modernists: accepted an evolutionary view of history with the West being at the pinnacle of th eworld civilization; praised the Western model; in varying degrees subscibed to the Newtonian conception of the universe; reformulated Islamic methodology in a manner congruent with the standards of nineteenth-century social theory; and affirmed the validity of the scientific knowledge, even though it was not based on Islam; favored democracy and constitutionalism, and the de facto separation of religion from politics; and formulated a modernist discourse on women by rejecting polygamy and male domination. The Islamic fundamentalists, in contrast, rejected the notion of social evolution and portrayed the West as having an aggressive political system, exploitative and materialistic economic institutions, and decadent culture. Rather than attempting to reform and modernize Islam, they aimed at Islamizing virtually all social institutions. They rejected the separation of religion from politics, defended Islamic political hierarchy in society, and male domination and polygamy in the family. (p. 3 - 4.)

Islamic modernism originated with the breakdown of traditional order of the old regime, and the formation of modern states in India, Egypt, and Iran. "It involved the integration into the world economu, the development of capitalism, and the emergence of the modern social institutions" (p. 5). Islamic fundamentalism was produced in Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Pakistan "following the military coups that effectively ended the period of somewhat liberal nationalism" (p. 6). Those countries were now authoritarian states. The exception to the revolution model is Jordan, where the Society of Muslim Brothers was kept peaceful by a government that maintained a working relationship with them, instead of blocking their political participation, as happened in other countries, with violent repercussions (p. 7).

The Introduction also contains short introductions for the books "contributors in context" that should be useful for anyone with more than passing interest in this subject. I will continue writing about what I learn from this book as I read on, unless it gets too boring.

Continue to Part 2.