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Features of the New Islaamic Discourse (Part 3 of 4)

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3. Reviving the Islaamic World View:
The bearers of the new discourse, on the other hand, are not content with importing ready made Western answers to the questions posed by Western modernity. They have developed a radical exploratory generative discourse that neither attempts to reconcile Islaam with Western modernity, nor does it preoccupy itself with searching for the points of contrast (or similarity) between the two.

Rather, it sets forth to explore the main traits of Western modernity, presenting a radical, yet balanced critique. In the meantime, the bearers of new discourse go back to the Islaamic world view, with all its values and its religious, ethical and civilisational specificities. They explore it and try to abstract an epistemological paradigm from it through which they can generate answers to the problems raised by Western modernity and to any other new problematics. One can place the modern attempts aimed at reviving fi’qh (jurisprudence) from within in the context of this generative approach.

Rather than impose Western analytical categories on the Islaamic world view, the bearers of the new discourse try to discover its fundamental categories. One can safely argue that the new Islaamic discourse, issuing forth from an Islaamic framework, opens the door of ijtihaad regarding both the modern Western world view and the Islaamic religious and cultural heritage.

4. Constructing Comprehensive Solutions:
Given this radical generative approach, the new Islaamic discourse is by necessity comprehensive. While at the grass roots level the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse raise the slogan “Islaam is the solution”, at the philosophical level they raise a more complex one, “Islaam is a world view”.

Theirs is a discourse that stems from a comprehensive world view from which different ethical, political, economic and aesthetic systems are generated. It is an Islaamic discourse that deals with architecture, love, marriage, economics, city planning, philosophy of law and history, modes of analysis and thinking etc. It deals with the quotidian, the direct, and the political, as well as with the total and ultimate.

Actually, the new Islaamic discourse claims that it is addressed not to the Muslims only, but also to “all humanity.” In other words, it claims that its project for reform is an answer to the crisis caused by Western modernity. (In this respect, its claim is similar to the claim made by the Islaamic discourse that prevailed during the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him).

5. Benefiting from Western Modernity:
By virtue of their open ended critical interactive approach to Western modernity, the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse are able to benefit in a creative way from this modernity without being engulfed by it. Issues such as class conflict, the necessity of an equitable distribution of resources, the woman question, and the influence of the environment on shaping man’s personality had already been debated by Muslims before.

However, the sensitivity and intense awareness of the new discourse vis-à-vis these issues have been enhanced, thanks to the interaction with Western modernity. The bearers of the new discourse do not object to benefiting from this modernity in discovering the mechanisms of the solutions for these problems nor the solutions themselves, so long as such solutions do not contradict the Islaamic paradigm.

6. Realising New Challenges:
Opening up to the modern Western world view and critically interacting with it have alerted the bearers of the new discourse to aspects that would otherwise have been difficult for them to realise. Issues raised by Western modernity such as international relations, globalisation, the menace posed by the media and the central state to the human individual, the increasing amount of leisure time available to ordinary people, and the processes of standardisation and levelling, were never raised by humanity in the past, and expectedly were not raised by the old Islaamic discourse. 

7. Understanding the Crisis of Modernity:
The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse discovered that opening up to Western modernity and studying it in a critical and interactive manner may serve in sharpening the awareness of Muslims who would then come to know the nature of the crisis of Western modernity and its magnitude.

Consequently, this may increase the Muslims’ knowledge of, and confidence in, themselves, and may even help them discover the creative and generative potentials within the Islaamic world view. The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse, having realised the wide gap separating science, technology and democratic procedures from human values, try to address themselves to this issue.

For instance, in the case of science and technology, they try to benefit from the technological and scientific achievements of Western modernity, without adopting its world-view and without accepting the claims of scientific neutrality and value-freedom. An attempt is made to incorporate these achievements within an Islaamic value system (see below).

The same applies to democracy. The attempt to distinguish between democracy and shoora (consultation) is an attempt to incorporate democratic procedures within the Islaamic value system, so that value-free democratic procedures do not become the frame of reference, and do not arrogate for themselves the status of an ultimate value.

8. Islaamising knowledge:
The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse realise that the human sciences are neither precise, nor universal or neutral, that they contain several human biases, and that they are fundamentally different from the natural sciences. But the human sciences do not lose their value on account of this lack of precision and neutrality. On the contrary, their ability to deal with human phenomena is thereby enhanced.

The difference between the natural sciences and the humanities emanates form the fact that the basic subject of the humanities, that is man, cannot be reduced in his entirety to the natural-material system. Human reality is radically different from material reality, in spite of the existence of man in the natural-material world. Thus, the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse attempt to establish human sciences that do not exclude the human element and that are, consequently, different in their basic premises, principles, ambitions and criteria from the natural sciences.

The main characteristic of the human sciences is that they are not, and cannot, be value-free, and that they have to be incorporated within a value system, which is the Islaamic value system in the case of the Muslims. This, indeed, is the basic premise of the Islaamisation of knowledge project, or the project for generating Islaamic knowledge.

9. Establishing an Islaamic Lexicon:
The bearers of the new discourse are quite aware of what is referred to as “the new science” that comprises concepts such as indeterminacy and that does not move within the framework of the concepts of hard causality within which the old (19th century) science moved. The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse realise that the terms in the Western lexicon are not simple, for they are an integral part of a complex cultural lexicon that determines their purport and meaning.

For instance the word ‘a’ql (mind–reason) within the Islaamic context has a specific and definite Islaamic meaning. Having been so impressed by modern Western civilisation, and having failed to master the subtleties of its cultural idiom, the former generation imagined that the word “reason” in the modern Western philosophical lexicon was synonymous with the word ‘a’ql in the Islaamic lexicon. Hence the deep admiration for, and even fascination with, Western rationality and the Enlightenment project.

On the other hand, the bearers of the new discourse have knowledge of the complexity of the category of the mind in the Western lexicon and the contradictions inherent therein. They are also familiar with the Western critique of reason, a critique that divided it into “instrumental reason”, “critical reason”, “functional reason”, “imperialist reason”, “abstract reason”, etc. The critique also talks of “the negation of reason”, “destruction of reason”, “deconstruction of reason”, and “decentring reason”. Thus, it is no longer tenable to suppose that the word ‘a’ql, as it exists in the Islaamic lexicon, is synonymous with the word “reason”, as it exists in the modern Western lexicon. With the emergence of irrationalist absurdist tendencies in the West, the matter has become even clearer and more crystallised.

10. Realising the Cultural Dimension of Human Phenomena:
The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse realise the cultural dimension of most human phenomena, religion included. The bearers of the old discourse stopped at the distinction between what is ’halaal (permissible) and ’haraam (forbidden). The car and the beef burger are undoubtedly ’halaal, and so is canned meat, as long as it does not contain pork. However, the pioneers did not grasp the cultural dimension of the commodity and that it is rooted in a comprehensive world view. (It should also be added that a full realisation, on the part of many Western intellectuals, of the nature of the commodity as a cultural artifact was still quite rudimentary and nascent).

Consider the car for instance: when a driver turns the ignition key, he, more often then not, thinks that he is handling a simple machine that transports him from one place to another, which of course is a fallacy. Driving the car is an act rooted in a whole world view that manifests itself in a specific life-style; it necessitates prospecting for oil then drilling innumerable wells. Huge oil tankers cross the oceans to deliver huge quantities of oil to the hungry gas-guzzlers and to over-heated houses. That of course results into the pollution of the atmosphere, the land, and the sea.

Troops are deployed to guarantee the flow of cheap energy and to protect the “national security” of the consumers. Speed gradually becomes the sole criterion for judging human conduct and city planning. Towns are planned in such a way as to facilitate the movement of speeding cars; and consequently, old traditional districts and buildings are demolished.

The same can be said of the beef burger and the take-away food. The cultural dimension of these commodities, which seem perfectly innocuous, absolutely ‘halaal, and entirely unblemished from the purely religious point of view, is an organic part of a world view that conflicts with the Islaamic world view and Islaamic certainties.

The realisation on the part of the bearers of the new Islaamic discourse of the importance of the cultural dimension of all phenomena is manifest in their acceptance of the nationalist idea, and their refusal to take a confrontationist attitude vis-à-vis it. They accept cultural plurality within the framework of Islaamic values, and realise the importance of forging an alliance with the nationalist elements in a common confrontation with the forces of hegemony and globalisation that try to eradicate autonomy, specificity, and the very idea of absolute values and transcendence.

11. Developing Islamic Theories of Progress:
The bearers of the new Islaamic discourse are perfectly aware of the problem of the environment and the ecological crisis. Concepts such as “infinite progress” (which are central concepts in Western modernity) are deemed by them as hostile to the very idea of boundaries and therefore to the idea of man and nature, and, eventually, to the idea of God. Such concepts are atheistic, not only in the religious, but also in the epistemological human sense.

Thus, the bearers of the new discourse persistently search for new theories of development and new concepts of progress. They argue that Islaamic theories of development should be radically different from the generalist Western theories, promoted by “international” organisations, for such theories have proven to be largely a failure, and have led to an environmental crisis and to more impoverishment of the masses. To this is to be linked the continuous criticism by the bearers of the new discourse of consumerism (the invitation to accelerate consumption, the revolution of rising expectations, etc.) and their realisation of its danger to the environment, natural resources and man’s psychological and nervous systems.

Abdelwahab Elmessiri -

Abdelwahab Elmessiri [‘Abd Alwahhaab Almiseery] is an Arab thinker and writer.Read More >>

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 December 2006 22:13  

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