News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Britian as New Islam Laboratory?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Britian as New Islam Laboratory?

There might be some irony in the image of a former colonial nation becoming the laboratory in which a new brand of modern Islam is to be born. Many rabid anti-Moslems would say that a moderate, modern Islam is a contradiction in terms. The paranoid visions they perpetrate on the popular imagination is of a monolithic monster that gives the facade of peace but is really waiting to bare its teeth and consume the west in Islamic theocracy.

But this caricature of Islam is not only simplistic, it's also a lie since most of these anti-Islamists would impose a Christian theocracy or something like a Christian normalcy on the rest of us.

But, again, what would a modern Islam look and feel like?

In his artcile "Muslims in Britain after 7/7: the problem of the few,", Tahir Abbas tries to give us some pointers of the issues, problems, and a potential answer to that question. The main problem to be faced by Moslems in Britain is the one that most anti-Moslems refuse to face, as well: the inherent divisions within Islam.

Most people forget that there are at least two main branches of Islam, Sunnism and Shiism. Add on to this the cultural and tribal accretions, and you have a diverse religious landscape. It is this diversity that is perhaps the main problem faced by Moslems in Britain. The efforts by Moslem leaders must address this issue if Moslems are to gain political power, asserts Abbas.

But this does not address the larger question, as I see it, of what will happen to Islam as secularism and consumerist values seep slowly into the bones of the young. They will face the question of either rejecting the faith outright, watering the faith down to a shell of its former self, or reacting in fundamentalist rage at the surrounding profane society.

Abbas opts for a political solution, perhaps out of despair of any other option. He calls for intellectuals who can navigate the complexities and contradictions of modern social conditions, as well as a faithful response to those conditions. These intellectuals will then train religious leaders who can channel such answers to the believers.

I am skeptical of such a plan. Certainly, the political aspects must be taken seriously, if simply to protect individual Moslems from the kinds of racist attacks we have seen in Australia lately. Yet, this political gesture itself will exacerbate a continual fragmentation of the political frameworks in secular, liberal societies. A world in which political blocs separate along ethnic/cultural/religious lines is a tinder-box scenario.

From the faith angle, on the other hand, Moslem religious leaders will increasingly face the same problems that Christian denominations have faced for almost a hundred years. That question is, how to maintain religious sentiments in the face of a secularized society that continually colonizes the feelings, imagery, and dispositions that religion once held in sway. Religious leaders of all stripes still have not figured out the answer to that riddle.

There is one hopeful note to Abbas' essay, I think. He concludes by saying that Moslems must not simply rely on institutional solutions to their problems. Instead, he suggests, there must be some soul-searching to find, perhaps, the source of the problem as not so much being from outside as being from within.

I have perhaps put my own color on Abbas' statement. If so, I apologize. Yet, I do not wish to reduce his statement to the one most critics of Islam would give to his words: that instead of blaming the west for all its problems, Moslems should take some responsibility for themselves and see the source of their difficulties as resting in their own way of dealing with the world.

While that formulation has some truth to it, its neatly self-righteous tone does not take into consideration the complex interplay between western hypocrisy and its ability to blame the victims for their own problems. Nor does the formulation give sufficient depth to the reality of the spiritual sources of renewal. A renewal that would not only change Islam as it is known but also change the world as we know it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you say linguistics will not lead to truth when Wittgenstein, the man whose work you study so much, was concerned with many of the problems of language his entire life.