I would like to thank Atif Imtiaz, editor of the Bookviews section at DeenPort, for allowing me to reproduce a piece entitled "The Muslim Condition". I have serialised it into several parts and made some minor editions for the sake of presentation. May God reward his efforts. This is the last part of six part series.
Part VI: Ways of talking and working
Having outlined the basic parameters for work, I wish to now move on to discuss some of the particulars that affect our manners of engagement in British society. The first point is the style of talking. Political discourse dominates Muslim engagement. The language of rights is prevalent as it mirrors our nationalist concerns. An alternative would be a language of human sympathy that excavates the emotions of everyday life of those who seek the Divine. Instead, our language – the talk of ideology – is the talk of overkill. We jump to condemnations of concentration camps and genocide. The English, however, like to understate. We say: ‘You’re wrong!’, the English say: ‘Well, I’m not sure if I would put it like that’ , and in many instances it is worse to be inappropriate than wrong. Another example of the consequences of cultural delinquency is the failure to recognise rhetoric as rhetoric. There is a tradition within English culture of argumentation that seeks to offend as a way of provocation – to see how the opposing person will respond. They may not mean what they say, they may simply be attempting to test the robustness of our positions, and so, we should recognise their approach as a problem of style and not substance.
Secondly, our method of engagement should be responsive to those from whom we believe the criticism is originating. In the case of the British national sphere, this is mainly the middle classes. As such, the language adopted is attempted as a method of engagement with the middle classes, but the politicised nature of the interaction means that the middle classes are not positively responding to such attempts. They are far more interested in cultural engagement rather than the rhetoric of rights. Alternatively, the working classes share a rather different outlook and therefore require a different form of engagement. The issues that matter to the middle classes do not raise their eyebrows. It is indicative of how far we are from making significant progress that we have failed to develop a useful language for either the middle classes or the working classes.
One of the reasons why neither cultural groups are successfully engaged is cultural illiteracy amongst Muslims. Much of the British Muslim engagement relies upon fairly superficial readings of modernity and the present Western condition. This is because many young Muslim activists have mostly pursued careers in the technical, scientific, medical, financial or legal professions that is, they help work the wheels of British society. There are relatively few Muslim graduates in the cultural sciences. Rumi asks his students in one of his discourses: '... you put forward your excuse, saying, 'I expend myself in lofty tasks...' Well, for whose sake but your own are you doing all these things?’ (p. 28). One consequence is that our expertise on issues of culture and engagement, one of the foremost issues that we face, remains underdeveloped. In the aftermath of September 11, we could not muster one expert in American foreign policy from across the whole British Muslim community. The choice of career by our brightest means that we remain culturally delinquent, unable to notice the subtleties requisite for persuasion. Even in terms of our immediate urban needs, there are few Muslims who have mastered the downward spiralling in trends related to education or crime, a sociological know-how of how certain sections of the community are becoming de-educated and more importantly how to respond to it. Ideological groupings provide a way out here. They suggest that it doesn’t really matter what career path one embarks upon as long as one attends the irregular weekend gathering or the weekly meeting. So if one young man decides that he wishes to contribute to changing his situation and then approaches an ideological organisation, he is then told – at the moment when ideology asserts itself - that he should ignore his immediate situation and focus himself on whatever diagnosis the group is offering. This way, as long as we continue to gather to discuss the problem, while remaining a part of the capitalist architecture within our working lives, then the problem will eventually be resolved, or so ideology promises. The reverse is that we have to begin to choose those career paths that are more deserving of our life commitment as Muslims.
Another consequence of cultural delinquency is the categorical condemnation of all others as enemies. 'We can’t work with anybody'. 'They are all disbelievers anyway'. 'Everything is controlled'. Even amongst Muslims, we can not work with the majority of them, because some of them do such and such and the others are such and such. This is again a problem that plagues the manner of our present engagement though again it is changing. What most of us need to recognise is that of all the non-Muslims, very few are actually outrightly anti-Muslim. Perhaps a similar number are Muslim-philes but don't know who to (or how to) approach. And most are confused, unsure, they have some information provided to them by the media, but are willing to hear the other side, change their mind, even. The refusal by many Muslims to engage perhaps out of shame or lack of know-how means that we have few partners. This has meant that some sections of the left have gone over to the right, whether this is in the form of journalistic commentators or votes for the British National Party. The reasons for this can be summarised from much of the above. As we constantly claim our rights in pursuit of further inclusion, we are in fact becoming further excluded since our claim to legal inclusion is leading to cultural exclusion. It is my main contention that we need to change our manner of engagement from a language of identity rights towards one that seeks to further human conversation – to mirror Rorty’s appeal to fellow liberals – to extend human sympathy, and this can only be done through a non-ideological Islam that ignores the daily media frenzy – that is, through deep religion, an 'inside Islam'.
© S. M. Atif Imtiaz
 H. Eaton makes such a point in "Under Western Eyes", Islamica, Winter 2004.