|Written by Dr. Omar Farooq Khan • April 2013|
|Written by Dr. Omar Farooq Khan • April 2013|
Critical Muslim – Volume 4 is an amalgam of articles and features providing the reader with a variety of styles and opinions on an important issue. It is an achievement on behalf of the editors Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab to compile and present a comprehensive book that makes for interesting reading.
The volume examines Muslim perspectives on many great debates of our times and accentuates “the plurality and diversity of Islam and Muslims” in general. The book “critically examines established conventions” and its authors seek new readings of religion, culture and politics. The purpose of this exercise is stated as the “potential to transform the Muslim world and beyond” and promote dialogue, collaboration, and cooperation between the Muslim world and Western cultures.
The majority of the articles concentrate on the origins and reasons for the recent Arab Revolt termed as the ‘Arab Spring.’ The authors highlight how a simple yet startling act of immolation by a Tunisian citizen sparked into a forest fire of protest, spreading wildly through the Middle East.
Some of the notable features in this volume include ‘Tahrir Square’, ‘Gaddafi and Me’, ‘A Trans-Islamic Revolution’ and ‘Female and Fighting’ which trace the root causes of dissention in the Muslim world and examine how it has compelled the people to demand accountability from the despotic rulers. Equally interesting is the ‘Arts and Letters’ section of the volume; a collection of beautiful poems along with a feature on Najaf, the cultural capital of the Islamic World. Another interesting piece is the feature on the Turkish model that discusses how secularism reshaped Turkey’s role in the world. However, the icing on the cake comes at the conclusion of the book in the feature ‘Ten Towering Fatwas’.
This shares a list on how the supposed wise and all knowing ‘clerics/bearded brigade’ are issuing fatwas and directing the Ummah (Muslim nations) on how to conduct their lives.
Various fatwas discussed include issues such as allowing people to divorce via SMS (writing divorce three times and sending it); the Earth being flat and the sun rotating around it; why women shouldn’t wear jeans, and a Council of Scholars working on the concept of a ‘Halal Yoga.’
The volume titled ‘The Idea of Islam’ concentrates on the juristic interpretations (House of Islam) of the religion. The authors argue that the bulk of classical Islamic jurisprudence aided Muslim rulers in developing effective foreign policies in an age of popes and crusades.
The Idea of Islam highlights that the “House of Islam” has numerous divisions. In fact, the contributors are persistent that clear ideological biases exist and, unfortunately, religious interpretations are dated. Ziauddin Sardar further cements the statement by stating that the scholars have discouraged the notion to think and formulate opinions. Sardar refers to this group as “thieves of free will.” He further attacks the traditionally appointed religious scholars and refers to them as “another prison” that restrains the ability to think and even to imagine religious issues with clarity. Another contributor, Parvez Manzoor, also challenges the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, stating that it is “devouring morality and ethics and stifling spirituality.” Interestingly, Sufism (probably due to its more tolerant approach) is hailed as the savior of Islamic traditions. Manzoor cites it as a voice of reason and tolerance for Islam against the jurists.
The majority of features in this book highlight those who are disillusioned with the orthodoxy and dogma in the mainstream currents of the Muslim world and are seeking alternative avenues of religiosity. The book is a must-read for its power of personal reflection. Moreover, it stresses upon the ‘need’ to hold a debate regarding Islamic legal tradition and the spiritual crisis that currently afflicts the Muslim World. Islamic discourse obsessed with power and emotion, gender inequalities, intolerance, and general intellectual immaturity needs to be resolved, bringing practical and effective solutions to crippling issues facing Muslims around the world.
Despite a strong writing style and effective frame of references, the book lacks in its ability to introduce varied perspectives. Perhaps including intelligent voices amongst the class of jurists and formal scholars would have successfully added to the book’s credibility. It is true that the House of Islam remains divided along ideological lines, which is why the editors included essays from different contributors (including more traditionally inclined scholars) to the book’s content.
Muslim intellectuals need to engage with communities and it might be worthwhile to enter into productive conversations with Islamic scholars and tradition, since people are following traditions for centuries. To negate them entirely would result in exclusion of one’s self from the debate.
Editors: Ziauddin Sardar and
Title: Critical Muslim
- Volume 4
Publisher: Oxford University
Pages: 274, Paperback
Price: PKR 595