There was some conversation at the 2nd Annual Defining Islamic Psychology conference this weekend about the de-colonization of knowledge and producing Islamic knowledge (psychology), versus merely Islamicizing knowledge (psychology) and again, the solution lies more in regaining confidence in Islam itself for it is this—our confidence in what we believe to be right and true that colonialism successfully undermined—that will give us the most bang for our buck in terms of what we “spend” of our various resources in the quest to produce a genuine Islamic psychology. Without dealing with the elephant in the room (our lack of confidence in Islam) virtually all other gestures and efforts will be nothing other than maintaining the position over us colonial mindsets and epistemologies hold by either confirming they are our masters in that we must focus exclusively on fighting the specters of colonialism or deeming them our masters to which we must capitulate lock, stock, and barrel.
The following is an excerpt from Charles S. Maier’s Levianthan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. It paints a painful but unflinching account of what the history of this country—this civilization—has been built on: the erasure, or as he puts it, “success stories” of European/American settlers, not simply the defeat of those indigenous peoples.
“Communities we used to label casually as nomadic or tribal—whether (to cite only a few generic cases) of desert Bedouins on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire, the villagers of the Causasus or the highlands of Central Asia facing the tsar’s administrators, the Indians of North American arid lands, and the peoples of the African savannas—were slowly but inexorably subjugated. Their long and difficult retreat, of course, had started well before the late nineteenth century: when Europeans reached the Americas, the Portuguese and Dutch pressed inland from the coasts of Southern Africa, the French and British sought to control the North American Great Lakes, or the Qing and Romanov dynasties established adjacent imperial control over Xinjiang and Mongolia. By the twentieth century they survived as depleted units, allowed legalized or de facto tribal habitations, sometimes even subsidiary states within the empires, but their earlier confederations and international roles were just a memory— often neglected by the later anthropologists who studied their local customs and family structures but not their politics, or ignored by historians who were encouraged by all the resources of the victorious states to focus on their nations’ success stories.”
Now all we are left with are the “noble” depictions of defeated peoples. Something tells me they weren’t considered “noble” when they were having war waged against them and being slaughtered.
Yesterday I made a post on Twitter which sparked some difficult but worthwhile conversation about the topics of colonialism and decolonization. The following are some additional thoughts I had on the topic:One reason why the Muslim world was so ripe for conquering is because they were overly invested in symbols and not The Truth. In other words identity politics and I sort of crass conservatism mixed with a simple minded symbolism is what contributed to the ease of them being conquered. This is why large tracts of the Muslim world will flip when one white dude draws a cartoon but will either turn a blind eye to, or participate in, corruption. Instead of the Qur’anic
(رب إني ظلمت نفسي)
“O God I have wronged myself” — Qur’an, 28: 16
it’s “the West is bad”. And the ulama’ have in large part enabled this line of thinking particularly from the vanquished lands of the Muslims.
If identity is not subservient to The Truth then you’ll have a people who espouse The Truth while contradicting it in their every day lives. Additionally, symbols and identity are easily hijacked, whereas The Truth remains aloof, an independent arbiter.
Daniel Haqiqatjou, of the Yaqeen Institute, brings to light an important topic challenging American Muslims: the pressure many feel to be on the “right side” of a whole cadre of subjects ranging from Darwinism and eurocentric science to homosexuality. Paraphrasing Marwa Elshakry1 from her Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, Haqiqatjou says,
“…accepting Darwinism was due less to a careful intellectual assessment of the theory and more to Muslim intellectuals, politicians, and elites simply signaling their social and political alignment with modernization, secularization, and Europeanization. Likewise, the rejection of Darwinism by traditional Muslim scholars and their students was at times a marker of their general opposition to colonialism and its cultural and religious impact on Muslim society.”
What’s important to note here is that while Haqiqatjou’s article speaks to the question of will American Muslims adopt Darwinism wholesale or not, the phenomenon he outlines is even more critically important. The bigger question is not the embracing Darwinism “inevitable”, but more urgently, is the abandoning of an independent skepticism — regarding all that is western and its implied bias that that which is western is inately better — inevitable? Will Muslims, due to pressure from their society as well as a collapse of a relevantless leadership in the face of these challenges, relinquish the ability to think on their own? If this happens, the question not only becomes “how will Muslims thrive in the West”, but also how can they contrinute to it as Muslims, with any sort of Muslim genius, if intellectually Muslims cast themselves into the dustbin of bygone ideas?