Monday, September 11, 2006

Differing Visions of Islam

Despite the descriptor under my blog banner, I have yet to explicitely discuss religion in any of my posts. The reason is that, to me, faith and spirituality are intensely personal endeavors. It is also an ongoing journey, in which, as a sentient human being, I will question any interpretation of my faith that I cannot reconcile with my basic sense of right and wrong. To some, that attitude makes me a bad Muslim or not a Muslim at all; I could say that it is their problem not mine, but in fact it is both of our problems.

Long before 9/11 inaugurated the East-West civilizational clash, Islam had been at war with itself. The reasons for that struggle are many and beyond the scope of this post. What is undeniable is that the outcome will determine the future of many regions of the world including Syria and the rest of the Levant. Most reasonable Muslims now clearly understand that there is a need for reform, tajdid wa islah, not in the direction of fanaticism but in the opposite direction.

The article below is the story of one such reformer, the Sudanese mystic Mahmoud Muhammad Taha. It is a long, well researched article that is worth reading. One of the conclusions of this article, is that progressive reform will come from the periphery of the Muslim world and not from its overheated Middle Eastern core. I would add that such ideas will come from even farther afield from Muslims living in the West. One such example is the Swiss-born scholar, Tariq Ramadan, who is, interestingly, the grandson of the Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Whether the ideas of such thinkers, can flow back and inflence the wider Muslim world remains to be seen.

A radically peaceful vision of Islam.
New Yorker: Issue of 2006-09-11Posted 2006-09-04

In 1967, a law student at the University of Khartoum named Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim was looking for a way to spend a summer evening in his home town, a railway junction on the banks of the Nile in northern Sudan. No good movies were showing at the local cinemas, so he went with a friend to hear a public lecture by Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, an unorthodox Sudanese mystic with a small but ardent following. Taha’s subject, “An Islamic Constitution: Yes and No,” tantalized Naim. In the years after Sudan became independent, in 1956, the role of Islam in the state was fiercely debated by traditional Sufists, secular Marxists, and the increasingly powerful Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, at the time, were led in Sudan by Hasan al-Turabi, a legal scholar. Politically, Naim was drifting toward the left, but his upbringing in a conservative Muslim home had formed him. “I was very torn,” Naim recently recalled. “I am a Muslim, but I couldn’t accept Sharia”—Islamic law. “I studied Sharia and I knew what it said. I couldn’t see how Sudan could be viable without women being full citizens and without non-Muslims being full citizens. I’m a Muslim, but I couldn’t live with this view of Islam.”
Naim’s quandary over Islam was an intensely personal conflict—he called it a “deadlock.” What he heard at Taha’s lecture resolved it. Taha said that the Sudanese constitution needed to be reformed, in order to reconcile “the individual’s need for absolute freedom with the community’s need for total social justice.” This political ideal, he argued, could be best achieved not through Marxism or liberalism but through Islam—that is, Islam in its original, uncorrupted form, in which women and people of other faiths were accorded equal status. As Naim listened, a profound sense of peace washed over him; he joined Taha’s movement, which came to be known as the Republican Brothers, and the night that had begun so idly changed his life. (Click here for the rest of the article)


Fares said...

Abu Kareem and visitors,

Thanks a lot for your support.
Appreciate your input on this (in fact it was originally written by you) and please feel free to repost it, very important. Thanks
Syrians Refuse to be Silenced

Philip I said...

Abu Kareem

Very interesting topic. I have not yet read the article in full but I will try to do so in the next day and two. I was struck though by this part:

"This political ideal, he argued, could be best achieved not through Marxism or liberalism but through Islam—that is, Islam in its original, uncorrupted form, in which women and people of other faiths were accorded equal status."

How does one detail, explain and prove that "original Islam" accorded women and people of other faiths equal status? Perhaps I'll find the answer in the text.