The Trouble With Muslim Pundits Part Two

Back in May of 2008, I wrote a post for this blog entitled, The TroubleWith Muslim Pundits Today, in which I, using Irshad Manji as an example, attacked and exposed the self-serving and selfish tendencies of many a Muslim pundit who would seek to “reform” Islam without actually contributing anything to it, let alone actually understanding Islam. Since then, the trend has not lessened and Muslims (so-called) of varied stripes continue to find employment as moles and trojan horses. It appears to be one of the few sectors of the economy that is still growing.

The reason for this short quip is a note that came across my GMail screen from writer and author, Ali Eteraz, in which his status update stated: “I feel bad for the Muslim scholars against Valentine’s Day. One is afraid of the reaction against him, the other one (last line), is just plain lonely”. He then proceeded to link to the following link which gives the standard display of a Muslim country and its army of clerics who seek to subjugate and psychologically terrorize its citizens into some imagined expression of Islamism: http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=270724. As with Manji, my biggest objection is that these attacks and critiques come from a specific mindset that is set on maintaining its own form of hegemony, not to mention its overall mean-spiritedness. Never is there any attempt to understand how and why these scholars come to their conclusions. Nor is there any admittance that the goals of these scholars have very different goals than those of the pundits, if indeed they have any goals at all aside from furthering their careers as “reformers” who pass off their own personal experiences as ontological truths.

The latter part is what I would like to bring to the table here, both for Mr. Eteraz, as well as others like him. Is it not conceivable or permissible that a scholar of Islam might stand against certain practices that s/he may deem unhealthy for Muslims? Can any one of these pundits answer with 100% assurance that the changes and reforms they call for are truly looking out for Muslims? Or are they simply ways to either mock or berate? I am increasingly revolted at this small but vocal constituency within our ranks. Not for their dissenting opinions, but the spirit in which they dissent. I have yet to see from a single so-called pundit a viable alternative or solution to the rulings scholars deliver. For one who has spent 17 years studying Islam in a thorough and systematic way, who is seeking the scholar’s path as a career, I am offended by such cynical treatments of heavy and important matters. For me, it is the lack of respect for, not the domination of, scholars and religious authority that plagues Muslims today. And comments like these only add a bit more gasoline to the fire.

I remember having a conversation this past year with a young Muslim who was quite upset about Halloween. I told him that there have been differing opinions on the permissibility of Halloween from the scholars point of view. I said myself, that I could not see a 100% irrefutable proof that it was not permissible to dress up in a costume, so long as the strictures for dress code were obeyed, and go door-to-door collecting candy. And before he could wag his tongue, I said that while I can’t find a Prophetic reason against it, it still doesn’t mean that I would recommend for Muslims to do so, especially Muslim children. The young man paused with a confused look on his face as asked how I could object to it if I didn’t think it was haram. I explained to him that even though it may not be haram (i.e., irrefutable evidence or unanimous consensus on the subject) still did not mean that I might not consider it detrimental to the health and development of Muslim youth. That I would argue against Halloween, not based on a sound hadith, for example, but because of its context and it being culturally detrimental to young Muslims. The point of this example is that a scholar of Islam has a moral obligation to protect and guide the community. S/he should and must struggle to find ways for Muslims to participate in society. I, though not quite a scholar myself yet, have comfortably signed off on the permissibility of Thanksgiving precisely because it is good for Muslims to spend time with their families.

I do not fear for that scholar or group of scholars who made a decision to protect the dignity and continuity of Muslims within their ranks. Nor do I think they will be lonely. The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophet, may God grant him peace, and will never be lonesome. My challenge to Mr. Eteraz and to other pundits would be this: if you wish for Muslims to participate in St. Valentine’s Day, what will you give them in return? What obligations do you have? And to those scholars who would say no to St. Valentine’s Day, what would will you give the Muslims in return? Ali – I know you will feel this is a personal attack on you but I feel to sit back and watch this mean-spiritedness brew is unacceptable.

The conversation is much deeper than cheap cynicism.

Ali Eteraz can be reached at eteraz@gmail.com.

26 Comments The Trouble With Muslim Pundits Part Two

  1. kattor8@gmail.com'anon

    I am not a scholar nor an aspiring scholar—but I feel that if children are educated correctly, participating in “folk” traditions is fine. Halloween should be taken as an opportunity to teah kids about what we as muslims beleive and do not believe and with a firm foundation, the children can enjoy holidays such as these as social events.

  2. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Anon – I don’t disagree with you but what I was writing about was not to do with the individual conclusions we all come to but it was directed at the subtle hostility that some members of our community have towards Muslim scholars who may come to conclusions that they do no care for. It’s more about the undermining of the scholastic religious tradition and the consequences from it. You or I may feel x, y, or z about a given topic but that should not mean that we mock or belittle people who have dedicated their lives not only to the study of Islam, but whose knowledge serves a vital role in our community. I hope you see the difference.

  3. muslimology@gmail.com'Dawud Israel

    The problematic core of these issues is in the grounding…Valentine days or Halloween, are discussed as just another social event. If its about mechanistically “haram/halal” or do this or don’t do that, than its little more than empty re-engineering your choices.

    Why do practicing Muslims so adamantly oppose these festivals when we take them so light-heartedly?

    The issue is the decisions are grounded in their meaning, the ikhlas to Allah, and therefore, the believer naturally attaches a significance and ascendancy to every action. Until this core is filled, until there is a realization of ikhlas, choosing between one thing or another is seen as arbitrary…who cares about halal/haram or whether this is a good idea or not. Its seen as just another tyranny of religious authority. The value has to shift towards ikhlas, spiritual meaning, and the akhira in order for people to see things in their true light.

    Our method will fail if we advise on choices (do or do not), b/c its stuck in the finite dunya, but our discourse will succeed if we focus on the “beyond-infinite” source of our choices, our inspiration and Guide, Allah SWT.

    As the saying goes, “When you know Allah, difficulty in worship is removed and made easy.”

  4. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @all – let me clarify my point because I think it’s the forest ‘fore the trees scenario here.

    Until this core is filled, until there is a realization of ikhlas, choosing between one thing or another is seen as arbitrary…who cares about halal/haram or whether this is a good idea or not. Its seen as just another tyranny of religious authority.

    This is getting at what I’m talking about. The very idea that one would not care about a subject until an abstract notion of piety is fulfilled couldn’t be further from what I’m talking about here. Additionally, the “tyranny of religious authority” as a mental framework has more in line with Colonial/non-Muslim perceptions of both religion and authority than does a point of view rooted in the tradition of Muslim thought. The post has nothing to do about specific holidays or cores of piety, but about the practice of so-called Muslim pundits who attempt to discredit, mock, and belittle the tradition of religious authority vis-a-vie religious scholars for their own betterment. I hope that makes it more clear than before.

  5. geque11@yahoo.com'Daud

    You’re such a phony, and you need to fear Allaah. You speak from your desires, not from what is legislated,and you are no different than Manji or the other so-called “pundits” you dislike; because you, like them, call the people to falsehood.

    I sent you this hadith as a clear proof against celebrating Thanksgiving and any other holiday, other than our two Eids.

    نلعب فيهوا في الجاهلية فقال رسىل الله صلى الله عليه وسلن إى الله قد أبدلكن بهوا خيرا هنهوا يىم
    الأضحى ويىم الفطز

    The Messenger of Allah came to Al-Medina and the people had two days that they used to take as days to play. So he said: “What are these two days?” They said: We used to play during these days before Al-Islaam, in the time of Al-Jahiliyah. So the Messenger said: “Indeed Allah has replaced these days for you, with that which is better: The Day of Al-Adhaa and the Day of Al-Fitr”

    1 Collected by Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhee, An-Nasaai, and Ahmad, declared authentic by An-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Al-A’sqlaani, Al-Albani, and others.

    You ain’t qualified to make ijtihad on anything, let alone what is permissible or impermissible. Yet you made ijtihad on the celebration of kuffar holidays, which stands in direct opposition to the hadith. When this hadith came to you, it became an obligation for you to back away from your baatil stance. You failed to do this.

  6. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Buzz – I think your observations reflect a common yet misguided understanding of the motivations behind Muslim scholars: their motivations and conclusions are always driven by secular or political desires. I do not believe this to always be the case. This is the typical stance that Western scholarship takes when it looks at the decision making process on behalf of Muslim scholars and the judgments they come to. There is also the tendency of the Muslim rank and file to complain and berate Muslim scholarship simply because they do not offer up articulations that they find pleasing. Part of being a Muslim scholar is to give advice or judgments that are in the best interest of the people, both in this life and in the next. If that decision happens to displease the people, then perhaps they should also look to themselves and ask the question: “Do any of us want to see our Lord?” It’s far too convenient to lay the blame with the Muslim world at the feet of Muslim scholars.

    Perhaps that makes what I was trying to articulate a bit more clear.

  7. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    Perhaps what eteraz and other critics of religious authority are mocking is the plain and obvious: that religious clerics most often have their own secular agenda front and center and do not provide the Ummah with moral, spiritually nourishing guidelines. In esssence, they do not speak for God. They speak for themselves. They speak from the over abundance of rules and regulations and the lack of divine communion. “Does anyone wish to SEE his Lord?” This is a question that the vast majority of these clerics will never discuss or encourage among the people. Because they have nothing to say and no experience.

    So, of course, like most muslims, they busy themselves with dos and donts, halals and harams which protect the adherent from an imaginary goal which never is truly defined nor discovered.

    They are accomplices to the slow murder of the Muslim’s own soul. Sometimes a professional, a paid spiritual hitman who uses illusion as a weapon.

  8. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    This is also why politics is so overbearing in “Islamic” discussion. Because no one has any idea about the religion except the rules and empty rituals. TalkIslam blog is 90% politics. 9% rituals and customs. No exaggeration. Maybe 1% of discussion is really about religious experience or aspirations.

    Should we give the “scholars” credit for this Ummah?
    And I think TalkIslam is very common. Good people actually and normal muslim followers.
    I would be surprised if you would find any difference in other Muslim online discussions (or other religious online discussion groups for that matter).

  9. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Dawud

    I see what your saying…that we are in this trap that unless we become pious, we are somehow dismissed from following these rules, when really the rules help build our eman?

    No…, not exactly. This seems to have all gotten off course. I take most of the blame here as I must have not explained my position very well. The other part is that it is a slippery topic. I’ll do my best.

    Scope. What I am talking about here is the scope of the argument. There may indeed be some scholars that have political ambitions but I do not believe any real scholar worth his or her salt is motivated by the promise of political gain. And Buzz quasi-touched on one of the sub-points I was trying to make: respect for scholasticism. My point, which is often dualistic, is that respect for scholar/scholasticism goes hand in hand. And let me be even more clear: respect does not necessarily entail acquiescing. You may agree or disagree with a scholar, but even in disagreement you should have respect for that person and the dedication that they’ve made to study the religion. That’s why in the post, I was referring to the mean-spiritedness that is prevalent now amongst Muslims. A trend that conflates rudeness for criticism. Again, I go back to the point that there is a difference between criticism and being critically responsible. And my point for writing this was to bring to our attention to never loose sight of the need for and the respect we ought to have for Muslim scholarship. It is my opinion that many Muslims, especially young Muslims, who may be persuaded that it is “cool” to be rude and obnoxious, will not see the important difference that Buzz and company assuage.

    @Buzz – yes, I suppose I should have chosen a different word than misguided. It has such a strong religious connotation. I in no way meant to infer that you were Divinely misguided but mistaken.

  10. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Buzz

    Let me also add:

    if the ideas remind us that we have to become responsible for our own lives and learn our faith deeply and become a benefit to ourselves, our family and our community, we can say it is good and holy advice. If the idea takes the burden of responsibility off our backs and places it on the scholar to rule and decide for us what is good and bad and ultimately makes us completely dependent on them to live our lives and benefit in the next….well….not me, brother

    This statement is a perfect example of what I am getting at. Rank and file Muslims believe they are capable of discerning what is right/wrong based on how it resonates with them. This attitude is not applied equally across the board to all forms of specialized knowledge. If one is sick and goes to his/her doctor and the doctor gives you a prescription that may involve something that you don’t care for, in most cases, people will follow the doctor’s advice anyhow. I am always amazed at how this type of “common sense” is not applied to specialists of Muslim knowledge. As one of you said above, you may want a scholar who would “tell it like it is”, so to speak, to put you on the path to ikhlas and ihsan.

    In sha’Allah, I hope that makes my position more clear.

  11. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    It is a give and take process. We need scholars and yet we cannot have the top-end situation we have now, where a very few people have knowledge and the rank and file are bereft of any. In the khutbah I gave last week I mentioned to those in attendance that it was be much more beneficial for the Muslims community to have all of them more knowledgeable as a whole (and acting on it of course) that it would be for one or two of us to have all the knowledge.

    As for Eteraz – he is guilty of impiety by his own pen. He is a glaring example, in my opinion, of those who espouse knowledge for some type of political gain. I have defended him in the past where I thought it was appropriate. Not out of some notion of free speech, for that’s a whole other can of worms that we cannot go into, but because Islam allows and permits ikhtilaf/difference of opinion, but within bounds. And I believe Ali Eteraz has crossed some very important boundaries, at least as it relates to his critique on Muslim scholarship. He is the epitome of irresponsible criticism. And that, we can do without.

  12. muslimology@gmail.com'Dawud Israel

    @Marc:

    I see what your saying…that we are in this trap that unless we become pious, we are somehow dismissed from following these rules, when really the rules help build our eman?

    What I am getting at is also what Buzz is getting at: Unfortunately, there is very little spiritual and emotional investment in Islam now, on the part of Muslims. There is little attachment, and that is why I was calling to ikhlas, and a consciousness of the akhira. These pundits only have a cultural-political investment in Islam…hence, they feel no guilt in mistreating it, manipulating it and using it for their own whims and aims. Compare for example what Muslims have at stake in Islam to what non-Muslim pro-Islamic commentators have at stake with Islam- and you’ll see their is very little to distinguish the two- often the non-Muslims have done more for Islam than these Muslims!

    And I think thats the real issue of creating a real spiritual/emotional investment or valuing of Islam- to make it our interior. And that is the only reason I blog: to create and add to the Islamic story, not to study or critique it for literary worth.

  13. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Let me say this: I choose to bring up Ali Eteraz as an example, not necessarily because I have an interest in dogging specific people. I found his behavior representative of a modality of thought coming from certain Muslim pundits. So in that spirit, I did and do make judgments on Eteraz’s words and actions. I have a plethora of problems as well but in no way does having personal issues to work on prohibit admonishing or checking behavior that is damaging or misrepresentative of Muslims.

  14. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    Yeah, sorry Marc. It is you who is misguided. And the common mistake is to look uncritically at scholars. This is a very common attitude in the Community and not a beneficial one.

    First, we can dispose of the idea that all scholars are anything. They vary. Some are wise. Some are not. Some are insightful. Some, not so much. Some lead. Some merely toe a line.

    Second is the idea that we owe scholars our respect. No. We owe the scholasticism our respect and that is why the Qur’an advocates that some of our community devote themselves to learning. Some hit the mark, some miss. Our assessment is case by case. Scholar by scholar. Islam’s great quality is no pope and no vatican. No idols of any kind. No sacred cows. This, I believe, is learned from the mistakes of Christianity. Look what the clerics did there….they completely rewrote the story of Jesus to something that suits them. You cannot mess with the Qur’an like that. There are no intercessors between Allah and the individual. The relationship is direct. Many “scholars” contend with these basic tenets of the Deen.

    Criticism is relevant and should not be hushed or dismissed. Of course criticism can be criticized and some critics will have something relevant to say and some will not.

    But when I wrote of the obvious, to be criticized, I meant that there is the inevitable problem. Empires rise and fall. Inevitable. People are born and die. Inevitable. And scholars and clerics who grow popular and serve larger and larger groups of Muslims and become tied to the destiny of large organizations by reputation and financial factors, will become compromised and secular in their orientation and message. Inevitable.

    In Iran, the Mullahs form a literal circle around the faithful and pass their earned money from hand to hand to purify the earnings and remove the evil gains. It is true! This is simply a blunt example of how people get manipulated mentally and spiritually by their fear and dependence.

    We should not blind ourselves to this nor become so jaded that we don’t see the grassroots movements or the simple scholar at the small university who has devoted his or her life to Islam and learning the faith. Asking the advice of these people is like switching on a light.

  15. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    “There is also the tendency of the Muslim rank and file to complain and berate Muslim scholarship simply because they do not offer up articulations that they find pleasing. Part of being a Muslim scholar is to give advice or judgments that are in the best interest of the people, both in this life and in the next.”

    No. There is a tendency among the young and energetic to question the purpose and ploy behind some of this advice. As people get older, more busy or tired from a long, hard life, they just rely on these scholars to make the right decisions for them. This is the conditioning that happends over a lifetime.

    Can one bear the burden of another? Our Religion tells us no.

    So the criterion we can use to look deeply into scholars’ rulings and advice is this: if the ideas remind us that we have to become responsible for our own lives and learn our faith deeply and become a benefit to ourselves, our family and our community, we can say it is good and holy advice. If the idea takes the burden of responsibility off our backs and places it on the scholar to rule and decide for us what is good and bad and ultimately makes us completely dependent on them to live our lives and benefit in the next….well….not me, brother.

    I choose the scholar who makes me uncomfortable and tells me I have to struggle and throws me into battle with myself to become educated and experienced so I can stand on my own feet and not neet any scholars at all. Not someone who tells me I will go to hell if I eat halloween candy or give a box of valentine chocolates to my wife. That is too childish.

  16. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    Marc

    1.If you are going to call people misguided, as you have, you should be prepared to have it returned to you on disagreement. Why be so sensitive? I have not taken baya’at from you, have I? When you called me misguided, I did not get huffy. I attempted to explain myself. Obviously, you may not accept my ideas.

    2. The idea that all scholars are anything is fallacious on its proposition alone. Scholars are individuals who each think for themselves and have differences even where unanimity is asserted. All will agree La illaha illa ‘lah. But if you ask them to break that down, each will nuance the idea with their own understanding. This is obvious and a condition of being a human being and individual.

    3. By saying have a nice life you are asking me to end a conversation which started with a request for clarification about what I meant by something. Maybe it was not a request but simply a statement. That this is not relevant to what you wrote.

    You asked about what is permissible for a scholar and why they should offer their opinions and on what basis is criticism haved against them.(eg. “Is it not conceivable or permissible that a scholar of Islam might stand against certain practices that s/he may deem unhealthy for Muslims? Can any one of these pundits answer with 100% assurance that the changes and reforms they call for are truly looking out for Muslims?”)

    I think my explanation answers the question succinctly and directly.

    One so quick to temper and so easily hurt should not be casting stones.

    You have a nice life too.

  17. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    Yes. Taking complete responsibility for ones self is a slow process and there is a place for scholars along the way. The question is do they gradually teach us to think for ourselves or do they take that burden from us.

    It is not always clear, but it is useful to consider.

    Not that I support all things Eteraz, but intellectuals who are willing to ask “improper” questions and make unpleasant-to-mainstream-Muslims statements are not necessarily bad. Free speech has its place in Islam.

    That is all I really wanted to say.

  18. muslimology@gmail.com'Dawud Israel

    @ Buzz

    If one is truly an independent thinker, then why do you need scholars to legitimate one’s thoughts and tell you ‘think on your own’? That’s a fallacy and contradiction. Your essentially calling for the destruction of the scholarship…not the improvement of it?

    Truthfully speaking, you should realize Islamic scholarship is dying and comments like your own don’t help. There aren’t that many choices of scholars out there- it’s not a supermarket with a sliding scale of quality or flavor…it may have be so undeserved because of the lack of appreciation Muslims have. If people want to learn, the door to Islamic learning is always open. But so few pursue it. Also most of your criticism failed to make a distinction between the preacher-ship (i.e. mullahs, imams, or people with no qualification) and the scholarship (i.e. muftis, qadhis, ‘alims, shaykhs, and more recently PhDs)- there is a difference of training and credibility at play. Note it well.

    @ Marc

    I strongly agree.

    I often find my way into that same mean-spiritedness. It’s the aynal husud (eye of jealousy) that searches out faults. I think a big jump in our development will be in realizing “criticism” (i.e. rudeness) is a false virtue with little gain that has its origins in American counterculture. It’s not easy though, especially when it seems no one is listening, people will just be louder. Only the patient remain while others alienate themselves. I think understanding this is important and shouldn’t be ignored, otherwise the cohesion in the Muslim community will just dissolve.

    In all honesty, it seems there is less and less to be comfortable with in the current situation. It seems everything is done at the pace of the scholarship, which will be slow. You can’t help but think, “Isn’t there a better way?” It’s very disillusioning and frustrating at times and well, who is the easy scapegoat? The scholars take the brunt when they are simply trying their best. At the same time, from the ex-pat scholars I’ve talked to who are overseas, they basically see Western Muslim scholarship today as cultish, misdirected and as a cop-out, especially in light of US foreign policy and “Mahdi-ism”. I can see why they say that, and I can also see why making Islam indigenous to NA is worthwhile.

    I was going to say something else…but now I forget!

  19. buzzterminator@gmail.com'Buzz

    “If one is truly an independent thinker, then why do you need scholars to legitimate one’s thoughts and tell you ‘think on your own’? That’s a fallacy and contradiction.”

    No. This is not the correct interpretation.

    A scholar or a religious leader should be like a guide. They set you on a path and they show the way to walk, not stumble and the correct direction and signs along the way. As long as they do this, they do their job honorably. Most of us are not born ready for survival. We learn to be independent along the way. You have over simplified my point to something mistaken.

    What we see is people who really do not teach us to be independent and of course they cannot follow us all our lives. So they do us a disservice.

    This is my point.

    Eteraz is whatever he is. I make no judgements of another. I have enough problems with myself.

  20. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Wa ‘alaykum salaam, Svend.

    If I may, and please don’t take this harshly, I feel that several of the posters have missed, if not the gist of the article, then perhaps its spirit. I have noticed, both through comments here and through a number of private e-mails on what I wrote, that people often began with, “I”. For example, above, you began with, “I don’t have a problem with Valentine’s Day”. While we are capable of formulating our own opinions, my hope and point was to illustrate that a Muslim scholar may have a legitimate problem with Valentine’s Day, and if s/he does then we ought to give his or her argument the benefit of the doubt and examine it before we condem him or her as just another “browbeating” ‘ālim. I find it disturbing when individuals feel free to espouse any number of opinions yet when a Muslim scholar or judge makes a ruling, then somehow there decisions are either ridiculed or belittled, cast off as part of some secular or political agenda. For you, Sven, I am not saying that is your intention or the crux of your argument, only I have observed a great number of “I’s” before dispelling the validity of any such rulings.

    You also bring to the surface another topic worth of discussion, namely the scope of fatāwa. These legal opinions [and I agree that all may not be wholly sound] are, in the modern context, conflated to be a ruling for all times and in all places. This goes against the very spirit of the Classical School, which mandated that opinions from one locality did not necessarily, and perhaps even couldn’t, impose their legal rulings on contexts outside of which they have no jurisdiction [jurisdiction based on cultural and locality]. In common parlance, what a scholar says in Kuwait, or Egypt, or Malaysia, need not be taken as a word written in stone, to which going against it is akin to going against Islam itself [for further reading in English, see Wael Hallaq’s Sharī’ah and Sherman Jackson’s Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihāb Al-Dīn Al-Qarāfī. What needs to be developed is a local court of counsel of sorts comprised of Muslim scholars and judges who are intimately familiar with the needs, concerns and challenges of the community in which they are to preside over. In other words, we need a legitimate, active, and engaging group of American Muslim scholars who are capable of generating rulings that will have American Muslims’ interests, both this worldly and Next Worldly, in mind and heart. Perhaps then we can begin, as a community to move away from the ahistorical standards, as you noticed, that only continue to hamper the healthy development of Muslims in American.

    And God knows best.

  21. svend777@yahoo.com'svend

    Salaams,

    I don’t have a problem with Valentine’s Day–which I in an ironic and perhaps Freudian twist almost abbreviated as “VD” just now–but then I am from and live in a society where it is woven into cultural life. More conservative and/or culturally dissimilar Muslims shouldn’t be browbeaten into participating in a holiday they fear leads to sin (or just find unfamiliar).

    The thing I do have a problem with, though, is the half-baked pseudo-scholarly arguments that are often used to cast one’s view of this as a referendum on shirk or Islamic tradition because the holiday’s origins are Christian. Today, it’s no more Christian than Mother’s Day, but people think because it has some loose connection to a Christian saint that it’s as Christian as going to Mass.

    I mention that because I think it’s a problem that often pops up in Islamic debates today, this tendency to ignore the historical, socio-cultural and psychological context of life and its many choices, imposing an ahistorical standard to complex matters of personal conscience and needs.

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  23. svend777@yahoo.com'svend

    Salaams, Marc

    Thanks for thoughtful response.

    You raise valid concerns, even I’m not sure how they ultimately apply here. I certainly don’t mean to in any way mock scholars who take a more, shall we say, cautious view on this than myself (not that I mean to imply equivalence between my own unschooled opinions and the opinions of a scholar). When engaging in discussions in the Blogosphere, I sometimes wish there were a special HTML tag, say “” to apply as one would italics so that readers do not take comments in a manner other than they are intended.

    At the same time, that’s not to say that I think one must be a scholar to contribute to the broader discussion. Not that the two intellectual domains are governed by precisely the same cannons, but the scholarly consensus concerning the underlying facts of Fiqh should be no more subject to the whims of popular opinion than those of science. At the same time, even if the facts upon which each tradition aren’t open to much subjective interpretation the fact remains that scholars are (and *should* be) influenced by the broader intellectual debates of their era. So, while agree that most people are not able to able to make a juridically-informed contribution to the discussion, I don’t accept the common assumption that this conversation can or should only be conducted among jurists.

    My quips were off the cuff and perhaps unduly snarky. I get a bit grouchy about the way questions of bida` get constructed in popular Islamic discussions in North America, and old hobby horse of mine. Thankfully, things are getting better and much needed nuance is belatedly creeping into our media discussions thanks to the contributions of scholars like Sh. Sherman.

    Hope this makes sense.

  24. svend777@yahoo.com'svend

    Oh, I see that my mock HTML tag got stripped out and ruined my HTML joke.

    I tried to write:
    “I sometimes wish there were a special HTML tag, say ””
    in the above. Hopefully, the editor will allow this through.

  25. svend777@yahoo.com'svend

    Dang, this editor is strict. The tag was supposed to be “OpinionNotIntendedAsAFatwa”. That’s what I get for interjecting HTML into a discussion of Fiqh.

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