Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

A Kurdish Perspective on Islamism

Posted: July 29, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Islam, Politics, The World-Wide World
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Sabah A. Salih, professor of English at Bloomsburg University, writes in his review of Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals that Islamism is actually a movement for Arab domination, rather than the pan-Islamist movement of Islamist rhetoric:

Islamism, which is markedly different from the way most practicing Muslims in Kurdistan understand the faith, as something spiritual rather than political, has never been a friend of the Kurds. Despite its noisy claims of universality and rejection of national boundaries, Islamism is sectarian through and through. In fact, its actions and programs are intended to put non-Arabs under the political and cultural hegemony of Arabs. Historically, Islamism has been just another name for Arab imperialism. To conceal that, Islamism has been relentless in insisting in its usual totalitarian fashion that its program comes straight from Allah.

This is how most people in Kurdistan view Islamism. There, clerics like Al-Jazeera Television’s wordmonger-in-chief Yusuf Qaradawi or Muslim Brotherhood’s point man in Europe Tariq Ramadan carry no weight. In Kurdistan, a person trading in dogma and medieval irrationality, as these men do, is not considered a person worth listening to. But outside Kurdistan, especially in the heart of Western democracies, as Paul Berman points out in this valuable new book, these are the very people a great many intellectuals embrace as moderate, mainstream, even authentic.

Thus Islamism, which Salih believes is a false interpretation of Islam, poses a threat to Kurds and, presumably, others.

He also agrees with Berman’s argument that many Western writers who have given up on Enlightenment values protect Islamists like Tariq Ramadan and bash ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  This makes a difference in the realm of public debate:

Projects like regime change in Iraq and the struggle of the Kurds for cultural and political rights get largely defined these days by Islamists and their Western intellectual backers; these have much easier access to the media and public spaces than anyone from Kurdistan or liberated Iraq. You may recall how tirelessly the two groups worked in tandem to protect and legitimize Saddam’s brutal occupation of Iraq and prevent its liberation. Even today when an Islamist like Tariq Ramadan, a man with no ties whatsoever to Iraq, declares in London and New York that the removal of tyranny in Baghdad was illegal, he gets rousing applause, as if the geopolitical makeup of the world has been simply a legalistic affair rather than the product of conquest, political machinations, luck, among various other things. By contrast, those who have legitimate ties to Iraq and Kurdistan but do not subscribe to this lazy piece of nonsense and have a counter story to tell, find themselves ignored. The implication of Berman’s book for Kurdistan is that its story in the West cannot be told because the intellectual market these days favors Islamism over secularism, the dogma of multiculturalism over honest discussion.

Salih’s comments don’t account for non-Arab Islamists like the Islamic Courts in Somalia or the Taliban (although the original leaders of the Taliban were educated in Saudi Arabia).  Pakistani Islamists don’t fit in here either.  At the same time, Islamism does seem to be strongest among Arabic speakers.  I wonder if there are studies that show where Islamism is strongest.

Hat tip: Michael Totten

Sayyid Qutb on Islam’s Role in the Modern World

Posted: April 16, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Islam, Politics
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Preparing for my Middle Eastern history class, I read an excerpt of Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, written while the author was imprisoned by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s secular regime.  Qutb was extremely influential in modern Islamic radicalism, arguing that the reduction of Islamic influence in the modern world had created a new period of Jahiliyyah, or ignorance, that was similar to the time before Muhammad.  Thus, even those who called themselves Muslims were considered ignorant.

Qutb believed that only Islam could address the world’s crisis.  Lawrence Wright notes in the first chapter of The Looming Tower, his history of al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks, that Qutb believed (wrongly, I would say) that Christianity was only spiritual and therefore could not confront the modern world.  Islam, on the other hand, was a comprehensive system that could answer all of the challenges of modernity, and thus Islamic revival was necessary. (more…)

Misreading the Qur’an

Posted: April 16, 2010 by joelmartin in Islam
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A lot of work is being done on what the Qur’an refers to [it is largely incomprehensible without exegesis]. Gabriel Said Reynolds has helpfully summarized some of these developments in this article. Another helpful source is this Wikipedia entry on the Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. I came across another example of this dependence on the Bible today in an article about the Corpus Coranicum project:

Gerd-R. Puin, a retired professor of Arabic studies at Germany’s Saarland University, has been working for decades on a trove of Korans from a mosque in Yemen — possibly the oldest ones in existence. Because they were primarily memory aids, early Korans were written in a vowel-less “skeleton” language. Deciphering those clusters of consonants requires a sense of what languages and what cultural and religious traditions Mohammed and his earliest followers were borrowing from and reacting against. Much of the wording and imagery of the Koran are borrowed from Christian and Jewish texts, Puin argues. In fact, he says, much of the Koran is incomprehensible unless read alongside those earlier texts. As an example, he points to the term “sakina,” which Muslim scholars have translated as a spirit of calm — Puin argues that it only makes sense as a descendant of the Hebrew term “shekhinah,” which means the presence of God. The more one studies its historical context, Puin argues, the harder it is to resist the sense that the Koran itself was, at least in part, pieced together from parts of other religions.

I would love to see a version of the Qur’an in the future that fully cross-references these notional Christian sources: liturgies, Creeds and the Bible itself. That should be fascinating.

The Qur’an and the Bible

Posted: March 14, 2010 by joelmartin in Book Reviews, Islam
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After weeks of waiting I received my copy of Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation by John Wansbrough. This book is not a light read. It needs to be read with a copy of the Qur’an close at hand and it requires flipping to notes and translations at the back of the book all the time. This does not deter me, because many great works have difficult gateways to get through.

Wansbrough is arguing that the Qur’an does not make sense without the Bible as a backdrop. The Qur’an takes many Biblical narratives and turns them into parables. It expects the reader / hearer to know the Biblical story already, or else much of what it says would not make sense. He sees the Biblical motifs of election (not all Israel is Israel) and the remnant in the Qur’an; for example:

And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain commands he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make thee a leader of men. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the wrongdoers, said He. (2:124)

He goes on to list many more examples of borrowing and transfer from the Biblical story.