Across the Bay

Friday, July 09, 2004

Sacralize This!

It just dawned on me today that a parallel exists to Juan Cole's "sacralization of learning" apologia (see below, "Cole Nidre" and "Sacrilicious"). It didn't hit me at the time, but that idea sounds awfully similar to the thought of Islamist Ismail Faruqi, mentor to none other than that other apologist John Esposito.

Esposito summarizes Faruqi's worldview in his Makers of Contemporary Islam (Oxford, 2001) which he co-authored with his protégé John Voll. Esposito writes:

"Like ibn Abd al-Wahhab, he was bitterly critical of the corrosive effects of Sufism and outside cultural influences on Islam and convinced of the need to see all of Muslim life as rooted in the doctrine of tawhid, God's unity or oneness.

Islam was to be the primary referent in all aspects of life. At the same time, Faruqi was an heir to the Islamic modernist legacy with its emphasis on Islam as the religion of reason. Reason and revelation were means to knowledge of the divine will: 'knowledge of the divine will is possible by reason, certain by revelation.' We can see in Faruqi's writings the twofold influence of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad Abduh, both of whose works included a study of tawhid. ...
Like Abduh and Abd al-Wahhab, he grounded his interpretation of Islam in the doctrine of tawhid, combining the classical affirmation of the centrality of God's oneness with a modernist interpretation (ijtihad) and application of Islam to modern life. Tawhid is presented as the essence of religious experience, the quintessence of Islam, the principle of history, of knowledge, of ethics, of aesthetics, of the ummah, of the family, of the political, social, economic, and world orders. Tawhid is the basis and heart of Islam's comprehensive worldview: 'All the diversity, wealth and history, culture and learning, wisdom and civilization of Islam is compressed in this shortest of sentences -- La ilaha illa Allah [There is no God but God].'
Islam is presented as the religion of nature, true humanism, ethics and society. Tawhid provides a unity to nature, personhood, and truth that subordinates them to God and, in turn, resolves any concern about a conflict between religion and science, affirms the ethical dimension of Islam, and legitimates the need to rediscover the Islamic dimension of all knowledge through a process of Islamization. Al-Faruqi clearly affirmed the integral or essential relationship of Islam to all of reality: 'The Islamic mind knows no pair of contraries such as 'religious-secular,' 'sacred-profane,' ' church-state,' and in Arabic, the religious language of Islam, has no words for them in its vocabulary.'
" (pp. 29-30. Emphases added.)

The affinities between "sacralization of learning" and "Islamization of knowledge" are clear. The shahada is of course the same. Oh, and just in case it's not known, Abd al-Wahhab is the founder of the notrious movement, Wahhabism.

I had traced some of this thought back to Asharism and al-Ghazzali, especially with regard to reason and revelation, mentioned in the quote above. What neither Esposito nor Cole mention is that the other face of this coin, and integral to Abd al-Wahhab's vision of tawhid (lit. "unification"), is converting the world to this vision. Here's a quote from Adonis' magnum opus Ath-Thābit wal-MutaHawwil ("The Constant and the Variable," vol. 3) on Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine of tawhid:

"For man to believe in tawhid is, therefore, for him to complete himself. This perfection of the self must be in tandem with the perfection of others, i.e. through the call for conversion (da'wa) to the shahada of tawhid: 'la ilaha illa Allah'.
Proclaiming tawhid by itself, or knowning its significance, acknowledging it, and calling others to convert to it, are not sufficient things, since they have to be in tandem with 'cursing what is worshipped beside God' in word and in deed, and to be innoncent of it. This innocence is two-faced: the first is loving the 'unifiers' (muwaHHidīn) and supporting them. The second is hating the polytheists (mušrikīn) and bearing animosity towards them. Thus is the identity between learning ('ilm) and belief, between word and deed.
" pp. 78-79. (Emphasis added.)

Martin Kramer mentions Esposito and Faruqi, along with his "Islamization of knoweldge" theory, in Islam Obscured, a chapter of his book Ivory Towers on Sand. Kramer brings up another crucial point to our discussion:

"Esposito, without choosing Islam, nonetheless became a convert to Faruqi's mission—which, according to the former, consisted of 'present[ing] Islam in Western categories to engage his audience as well as to make Islam more comprehensible and respected.'

Esposito embraced Faruqi’s method. Americans would never understand a presentation of Islam in its own categories—that would take more knowledge and empathy than most students, journalists, and officials could be expected to muster. But they might see Islam and Islamist movements more favorably, were they presented in Western categories. Fundamentalism was one such category, but it had strong pejorative associations, more likely to excite suspicion than respect. Why not place Islamist movements in the political category of participation, or even democratization?

This notion of "lexicon" is of utmost importance. It's at the heart of my use of terms like "dragoman" and it's the basis of my critique of Cole's interpretation of the shahada and Islam's view of prophecy and Muhammad's message. If you remember, Cole placed Muhammad in a universe of prophets, and described Allah in "de-narrativized", one could say multiculturalist, even Jeffersonian, terms. That's precisely what Kramer notes with regard to Esposito and Faruqi. It's evident even to a half-wit that "sacralizationg of learning" is far more agreeable than the blunt "Islamization of knowledge." However, the two are quite similar I would say.

Of course Faruqi and Esposito are not the only figures. More recently you have Yusuf al-Qaradawi (scroll till you find the relevant entries), Azzam Tamimi (PDF), and Tariq Ramadan.

For more, see the following debates between one "Abu Aardvark" on one hand, and Martin Kramer and Lee Smith on the other, on Qaradawi and Ramadan respectively.

There is one thing that all the twists and turns cannot change, and that is squaring tawhid("unification") with Jeffersonian democracy and its "wall" between Church and state is not possible (I am hoping to write on this topic in the near future, basing my post mainly on Arkoun and Hervieu-Leger). To use the title of Sabiha Khemir's novel, Muslims can either continue "waiting in the future for the past to come" in its illusionary authenticity and immutability, and thereby continue to uncritically "Islamize" everything they face in modernity, or they can start "critiquing the discourse of the sacred" (a variation of another book title by Sadiq Al-Azm) and truly join a multiculturalist world, in pursuit of life (not "martyrdom"), liberty (and thereby diversity, not homogeneity/tawhid) and happiness.