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.
Our community is in dire need of a tune up, especially religious leadership. We need people at the helm who truly have the skills to teach, not just regurgitate textual material. I’m not calling for abandoning texts, just that we need folks who can really and truthfully convey the meanings of the texts, amongst many other things, to our community members.
That’s why I’m always disturbed when I hear people say, “such-and-such can’t be translated from the Qur’an”and then proceed to translate what was apparently locked away in Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets. In my esteem this is nothing other than such a person disqualifying themselves as a proficient educator. But furthermore, I also see it as part of a fundamental misunderstanding of what translation even means:
from the Latin translatus“carried over”,trans, meaning “across, beyond” and latus“borne” or “carried”.
So the meaning of the Qur’an can indeed be “carried over” to other languages. Will those new translations be independent of the source from which they are translated from? No. But intellectual gatekeeping (a symptom rooted in a vanquished self-esteem and identity more than anything else) will never be a substitute for true education.
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?
At the recent CAIR LA banquet, Dr. Sherman Jackson made a speech in which he really hit to heart of the matter so many of us Muslims in America, and other parts, are really struggling with: the credibility gap. This gap is what prohibits us to be able to distinguish ourselves from the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other group or individuals who happen to act in the name of Islam with which we find disagreeable, reprehensible or even barbaric. It is this credibility gap which leaves us on the defensive like the man who is asked if he still beats his wife: if he says no, he admits that he did so in the past; if he says yes, he admits his guilt. Either way, he’s damned if he does or doesn’t.
Take a listen to the short audio clip in which Dr. Jackson summarizes this credibility gap:
“Some images that have been produced about me come between you and me … and so rather than your ability to hear, contemplate, internalize the words that I’m saying, those images come in between us, and they degrade your faculty of human encounter.” — Dr. Sherman Jackson
Amongst many salient points that evening, Dr. Jackson has also highlighted the need for Muslim leadership, whatever form it may take, get out ahead of this crisis and become credible themselves. We denounce non-Muslims who write and or say whatever they wish about Islam, even going to “the sources themselves (Qur’an, fiqh, etc.)” to prove their points, yet many of us lack credentials and even work to subjugate the broad intellectual tradition of Islam under our own personal agendas. In the end, these leaves the Muslim community woefully uninformed and illiterate of their own religion and tradition. So how can we ask non-Muslims to separate the wheat from the chaff of what is and is not representative of normative Muslim thought, morals and ethics, if we ourselves are not committed to higher standards of integrity and scholarship. Until this issue is resolved no amount of distancing or apologizing will remove the collective guilt that all of us are laboring under. May God grant us guidance, mercy and unity.
“Hold fast to the rope of Allah all together, and do not separate. Remember Allah’s blessing to you when you were enemies and He joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by His blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and He rescued you from it. In this way Allah makes His Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” — Qur’an, 3: 103
“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.