I'm still offshore and have only had intermittent internet access (thanks to some intelligent soul who decided to place the satellite dome behind the bridge, thus giving us no satellite comms when heading in a northly direction). A round up:
- From God we come and to Him is our return Shaykh Ahmad Deedat passed away recently. Almost all Muslims, certainly almost all English speaking Muslims, will be familiar with Ahmad Deedat, known for joisting with Christian missionaries and scholars in grand public debates and for a plethora of Muslim apologist material. I am sure like many Muslims of my generation, he kept people interested in their religion, which may at times only have been a nominal one passed on to them from their parents. I would not agree with his debating style today, but seen in his context he was defending his faith from wealthier and much more aggressive religious organisations. He gave as good as he got and we shouldn't decry him for that. And I recently read that Zainab al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent female activists in contemporary Islam, has passed away. May God have mercy on their souls.
- The Islamic Reformation Salman Rushdie's call for an 'Islamic reformation' has generated interest by various Muslim bloggers (for example, 1, 2, 3, 4) as well as an interesting response in The Grauniad from Giles Fraser, a lecturer in philosophy and a vicar. Norman Tebbit, (in)famous for his 'cricket test', has also said 'Islam has remained unreformed' for the last 500 years. Most calls for an Islamic equivalent of The Reformation do not take care to fully appreciate what they are suggesting. As with any attempt to transplant one history onto another, how easy is it to cherry pick the Good Bits and gloss over or ignore the Bad Bits? Rushdie says 'Islam needs to be brought to the (post?)modern age'. But the Golden Age of Europe went through not only the Reformation and the Enlightenment(s), but also colonialism and imperialism; how important were the riches of the New World in aiding the rise of Christian Europe? However, I would argue that what should perturb Muslims more than merely calling for an Islamic reformation is what the outcome of the Reformation should achieve. For example if someone suggested that Muslims should reform themselves and create a more humane politics, I would agree. But what champions of an Islamic Reformation, like Rushdie, really wish to do is see the Islamic traditions rewritten in the form of liberal Protestant religion. Muslims are right to resist such a change, the proponents of which sometimes express with just as much zeal and messianic fervour as any millenarian doctrine. What should be pointed out is that tajdid (renewal) and islah (reform) are integral features of Muslim intellectual and social history, so calls for reform are hardly new to Muslims.
- On ijtihad Along with calls for the Islamic Reformation, we also often find calls for a return to ijtihad, or 'renewed thought', which has been forever 'closed' off to Muslims. Howver, this is not entirely true. Ijtihad must occur almost everyday, because Islam as a 'living tradition', faces new situations. That is Muslims practice their faith in ever changing circumstances and so new answers must always be found. The clash between conservatives (in the very real sense of the word, that is those who wish to conserve their traditions, albeit the 'right' traditions) and reformists (that is those who wish to enact change, with or without preserving some intergral features) is the range of ijtihad. Traditional Muslims rely on ijtihad being performed inside set methdologies, which have been (and continues to be?) deliberated and agreed upon; reformists do not see this as a necessary constraint (this is different from merely casting them aside). So the debate should not centre upon merely calls for ijtihad, which occurs anyway, but on how, why and when this ijtihad should occur and what its results should be. Sometimes, it is all too easy for some Muslims to say 'we can be liberal like you; we will perform ijtihad'. This is being just as uncritical of liberal categories, as reformists suggest conservative Muslims are of traditional concepts. See also this post.
- A fetish for all things new The Saudi obsession with shiny new things reaches new heights, as one organisation has estimated that some 95% of historical Makkah has been demolished. There is, of course, no faux outrage from the same people who were quick to attack the Taliban for destroying the Bamyian statues. Now I could quite understand, putting my engineering hat on (although I am a mechanical, and not civil, engineer by degree and a pipeline engineer by profession), the need to renew, revamp or even bring down old (in some cases very old) buildings. I am sure, however, that this doesn't mean the 'Custodians of the Two Holy Places' need to destroy 95% of the buildings and along with it a large part of our heritage.