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Features of the New Islaamic Discourse (Part 4 of 4)

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12. Reviving Islaamic Relativism:

The new Islaamic discourse is aware of the basic philosophical question in the modern world, that is, the question of epistemological relativism that leads to nihilism. It replaces it with what may be termed “Islaamic relativism”, which asserts that there is only one absolute, the Almighty. But His absoluteness implies the relativism of everything else. However, by virtue of the presence of the absolute God outside relative time, He becomes the centre of the universe, bestowing on it purpose and meaning. This means that while the world is itself relative, it does not fall into relativism, nor does it become meaningless. Islaamic relativism is a “relative relativism”, not an absolute one. Thus, there is a simultaneous awareness of the irreducibility of truth to matter and of the relativity and impermanence of some of its aspects. In other words, there is an awareness of a certain interrelatedness between the absolute and the relative that does not necessarily result in a nihilistic negation of the absolute. Any human discourse, the discourse of the Muslims included, is primarily and ultimately a set of endeavours, assiduously exerted by human beings, living within time and place, to comprehend the world of man and nature, and for each to interpret his sacred text. But human hermeneutics, the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse would argue, is different form the sacred text.

13. Recognising the Dynamism of the World:

All this leads to a belief in the idea of tadaafu‘ (gentle conflict–interplay) and tadaawul (succession or alteration), and to a recognition of the dynamism of the world. Tadafu’ does not necessarily mean conflict, even if it occasionally takes that form. Tadaawul implies that permanence is one of God’s traits and that everything else changes. It also implies that the world is not exclusively ours. On the concrete human level, this means accepting to coexist with “the other” and to search for a common ground. Hence, the emergence of the modern fiq’h of minorities, whether pertaining to the non-Muslim minorities in Islaamic societies or the Muslim minorities in non-Muslim societies. This fiq’h stems from the Islaamic concepts of justice and equality.

14. Recognising the Problems of Postmodernism:

The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse are aware of the danger of postmodernism, which manifests itself in an onslaught on all human and sacred texts. The ’Qura~n, for instance, is seen as a historical text, that can be interpreted in its entirety with reference to some temporal circumstances and events. I believe that Judge Taaiq’ Albishry has made a major contribution in this field. Through his work, he has attempted to assert the stability of the sacred text. He has explained that the disagreement among religious jurists, in most cases, does not stem from their interpretation of the text, but rather from their disagreement regarding the nature of the human incident for which they were asked to issue a fatwa (legal judgment). This is a very important matter, because postmodernism involves an attack on any stability or normativeness and involves a denial of any ultimate foundation.

15. Discovering Middle Analytical Categories:

I believe that there is a concerted effort made by the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse to discover 8
new middle analytical categories that distinguish the Islaamic discourse from the discourse of Western modernity, characterised as it is by a feverish oscillation between two conflicting poles. The discourse of Western modernity demands either absolute certainty or absolute doubt, either a reason fully dominating the world, or a reason completely dominated by it (reduced to fluctuating matter and perpetual experimentation), and, finally, either a full presence (to use post-modernist idiom) or full absence. It is a discourse that shifts from rigidly materialistic rationality to an equally rigidly materialistic irrationality. The new Islaamic discourse, on the other hand, tries to create a human space that goes beyond the materialistic extremes of Western modernity. In human matters, evidence does not have to be decisive and comprehensive, covering all possibilities and filling all gaps, and the chain of causality does not have to be organically or strictly linked. It is sufficient to marshal an adequate number of pieces of evidence, and cause and effect need not be linked in a rigidly scientific materialistic manner. This is what can be called in Arabic “sababiyah fa’dfaa’dah.” The closest equivalent to the word fa’dfaa’dah in English is the word “loose” or the word “wide”, neither of which truly expresses the meaning of the Arabic word, which connotes a level of tolerance and a loosening of rigid organic unity which permit a degree of freedom without necessarily leading to incoherence and fragmentation. This causality, in my view, is the essence of the Islaamic world view; it asserts that A does not uniformly and absolutely lead to B, but that it does so by the will of God. “God willing” expresses the distance that separates the creator from the created, a distance which is actually a human space where man can exercise his freedom and use his reason, becoming thereby a responsible trust-bearing creature. It is an affirmation of what is called in Islaamic jurisprudence bayniyyah, from the preposition bayn, which means “between”.

16. Resolving the Duality of the Idiom:

Dr. Basheer Naafi‘ has pointed to a rather important thing when he said that the Islaamic discourse in traditional Islaamic societies is shari‘ah (religious law). Shari‘ah is indeed the very basis of both the old and new Islaamic discourses. However, the new discourse attempts to resolve the problem of what I call the “duality of idiom”. Shari‘ah, the Muslims believe, is open and has been capable of generating answers to the collective and ultimate questions that have faced both the Muslim community and the Muslim individual throughout history. But the idiom of the shari‘ah, due to the historical and cultural discontinuity caused by the colonial invasion, has become inaccessible to many people. What the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse are trying to do is to decode this idiom, so that it would be possible to extract the wisdom inherent therein and apply it to modern realities. This is exactly what one Muslim scholar has done when he described “enjoining good and forbidding evil” as the Islaamic idiom for expressing the problem of power-sharing. This does not mean that the Western and Islaamic idioms are synonymous. All that the said scholar has tried to explain is that this modern issue, expressed in a modern idiom, is the self same issue that was addressed by the Islaamic tradition through its own idiom. Such an ijtihad would undoubtedly help in increasing the generative power of the traditional religious world view and help the Muslims to stand firmly on their own doctrinal ground.

17. Building an Islaamic Epistemological Paradigm:

Due to the isolation of shari‘ah from our political and social realities, many Muslims have come to view it as if it were a set of disjointed verdicts and opinions. However, the process of generating new answers to new challenges requires an awareness of the interrelatedness and integrity of the components that make up the shari‘ah, as well as of the fact that it expresses a world view. This is what the new discourse is trying to accomplish. Undoubtedly, the traditional discipline of ma’qaa’sid (purposes) deals with this issue. It is through this discipline that it is possible to distinguish between the whole and the part, the final and the temporary, the essential and the contingent, the permanent and the impermanent, and the absolute and the relative. What is needed is to develop this traditional discipline so as to attain an Islaamic epistemological paradigm emanating from the ’Qura~n (the Muslim’s sacred text) and the sunnah (the Prophet’s traditions). Such a paradigm would be hierarchical, its crown is the testimony that there is no god but Allaah, then this is succeeded by the prime Islaamic values such as justice and equality, and then by the various lateral precepts. The scope of ijtihaad can then be expanded without much apprehension of going astray. After all, ijtihaad would take place within the framework of the hierarchical epistemological paradigm extracted (through a continuous process of ijtihaad) from the ’Qura~n and the sunnah. That paradigm would be the only norm on the basis of which judgements are made and new interpretations are formulated.

18. Setting Bounds to the State:

One of the main traits of the new Islaamic discourse is that its bearers realise the complex dimensions of the question of power, its various intricate mechanisms, and the relationship between local reality and international relations. The bearers of the new discourse also realise the complexity of the modern state as well as its power and ability to dominate and interfere in man’s private life. They know it has become an octopus that has its own quantifying logic, which goes well beyond the will of those who are supposed to be running it, be they Islaamists, Marxists or liberals. The role of bureaucracy in decision making, and in manipulating the ruler according to its whims and purposes, is quite clear to them. They realise too that the state has a variety of “security” apparati (information, education, etc.) that maintain a tight grip over the masses through the pleasure industry, the bombardment of the public with information and songs, and the rewriting of history. Thus, taking over the state does not solve the problems of the Muslims, as some of the bearers of the old discourse used to imagine. The heart of the matter is the necessity of setting bounds to the state and trimming its nails so as for the oummah to restore its role as vicegerent. Hence their interest in the notion of the oummah and the increasing attention to civil society and to the role of the aw’qaaf (religious endowment), and their growing interest in the new theories of the state and administration.

19. Developing a Comprehensive Vision of Islaamic Arts:

The new Islaamic discourse, by virtue of its universality and interest in the cultural dimension of human phenomena and on the basis of its awareness of itself as a comprehensive world view, pays great attention to the aesthetic and artistic aspects. It is not content with a ’halaal/’haraam categorisation of things. In fact, the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse endeavour to develop a comprehensive vision of Islaamic arts based on the Islaamic world view. Hence the new theoretical formulations, and hence too the many attempts at application in the field of architecture and in the different arts. This aspect of the new Islaamic discourse is an expression of its creative critical approach to Western modernity and its generative approach to tradition. Many Islaamic artists in the modern age, studying either in the West or in the East, have been exposed only to Western artistic views and methodology. Nevertheless, many of them seek to break away from the modern Western world view. While directing their critique to it and benefiting from the knowledge they acquired thus far, they attempt to generate artistic criteria and norms from within the tradition that translate themselves into Islaamic art works and buildings that follow an Islaamic style, yet respond to the needs of the modern age. It is noticeable that these artists study the Islaamic heritage from new angles; they rediscover it and its theoretical bases, using the analytical tools they learned in the West. They have also started showing interest in the classical Islaamic writings in this field.

20. Rejecting Unilinear History:

One of the important aspects of the new Islaamic discourse is the way its bearers read history. There is a rejection of the idea of unilinear concepts that presume the existence of a single terminal point and a final telos toward which the entire history of mankind is moving. This makes it inevitable to view the histories of all men through a single viewpoint and to judge them through one and the same standard. But this single viewpoint and standard are not in reality universal as claimed, it is actually the viewpoint of modern Western man and the standard used is also his. I believe that Dr. Basheer Naafi‘ has given us a concrete example of this rejection of unilinear history by presenting a reading of Islaamic history from within, without importing analytical categories from outside the system. The reading process here is at once explanatory empathetic and critical. Dr. Basheer has read the documents that Western historians have not read, or probably have read but marginalised for they deemed them unimportant. Thus, he has succeeded in offering a new view. This includes his emphasis on the role of Sufism and Sufi ’taree’qah (guild) which other historians, trained within the secularist tradition, usually unconsciously overlook or consciously disregard. They view Sufism as mere superstition, whereas Dr. Basheer Naafi‘ finds the study of Sufism and Sufi schools an essential prologue to understanding Islaamic history. In some of his studies, Justice Taariq’ Albishry, also explains the importance of studying the Sufi ’taree’qahs in order to comprehend the history of modern Egypt.

One can say that there are scores of the bearers and promoters of the new Islaamic discourse including Malik Bin Naby, Na’qeeb Alattas, Fahmy Huwaydy, Raashid Alghannoushy, Muneer Shafee’q, ‘Adil Husayn, Taariq’ Albishry, Dr. ‘Abd Al’haleem Ibraheem ‘Abd Al’haleem, Dr. Raasim Badraan , Dr. Saleem Al‘awwa, Dr. Basheer Naafi‘, the I.I.I.T. group including Dr. Ismaa‘eel Raji Alfaroo’qy, Dr. ’Taaha Jaabir Al‘ulwaany, Dr. ‘Abd Al’hameed Aboo Sulaymaan, Dr. Hishaam Al’taalib and Dr. Jamal Albaarzinjy, who are the founders of the Institute. Of those associated with I.I.I.T., one can also mention Dr. Muna Aboo Alfa’dl, Dr. Dr. Sayf Yoosuf, Dr. Na’sr ‘Arif, Dr. Ousaamah Al’qaffaash, Ms. Hibah Ra-oof, Dr. Albayoomy Ghaanim, Fu-aad Sa‘eed, Hishaam Ja‘far, Dr. Aly Jumu‘ah and Dr. Lu-ay Assaafy. The bearers and promoters of this discourse also include: Dr. Jamaal ‘A’tiyah (and the contributors to AlMuslim Almu‘aa’sir), ‘Azzaam Tameemy, (and Liberty for the Muslim World group), and Al’habeeb Almukny (and Al-Insan group).

There are, undoubtedly scores of others inside and outside the Arab world who are contributing to the crystallisation of the new discourse. It is also noticeable that many intellectuals within the Islaamic minorities in the West have started to contribute quite creatively to this new Islaamic discourse. One may count in this category Sayyid ’Husayn Na’sr, ’Diyaa- Addeen Sardar, Ali Mazroo‘y, and Parviz Manzur. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. Such a list would be compiled by a research institute that can assign the task to a group of researchers. Perhaps what is required now is to deepen our understanding and knowledge of the central premise of this discourse, and to initiate a process of epistemological condensation by listing the names and publications of those who bear or promote this discourse.

Abdelwahab Elmessiri -

Abdelwahab Elmessiri [‘Abd Alwahhaab Almiseery] is an Arab thinker and writer.Read More >>

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Last Updated on Saturday, 23 December 2006 01:05  

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