In classical Islam, the Muslim community, or umma, is both a spiritual and political entity, the body of believers that lives, but also rules, by God’s law. Obviously, this conception of Islam is in some tension with contemporary Western pluralism. Lately, some Muslim scholars in the West–Abdullahi An-Na`im and Tariq Ramadan, for example–have offered conceptions of Islam that separate the spiritual from the political. These progressive versions fit better with Western ideas about citizenship, but have encountered resistance from tradition-minded Muslims.
Next month, Fordham University Press will publish a translation of a new book by one such scholar, Abdelwahab Meddeb (University of Paris-Nanterre). Meddeb’s book, Islam and the Challenge of Civilization, looks for inspiration to the Sufi tradition. The publisher’s description follows:
Abdelwahab Meddeb makes an urgent case for an Islamic reformation, located squarely in Western Europe, now home to millions of Muslims, where Christianity and Judaism have come to coexist with secular humanism and positivist law. He is not advocating “moderate” Islam, which he characterizes as thinly disguised Wahabism, but rather an Islam inspired by the great Sufi thinkers, whose practice of religion was not bound by doctrine.
To accomplish this, Meddeb returns to the doctrinal question of the text as transcription of the uncreated word of God and calls upon Muslims to distinguish between Islam’s spiritual message and the temporal, material, and historically grounded origins of its founding scriptures. He contrasts periods of Islamic history—when philosophers and theologians engaged in lively dialogue with other faiths and civilizations and contributed to transmitting the Hellenistic tradition to early modern Europe—with modern Islam’s collective amnesia of this past. Meddeb wages a war of interpretations in this book, in his attempt to demonstrate that Muslims cannot join the concert of nations unless they set aside outmoded notions such as jihad and realize that feuding among the monotheisms must give way to the more important issue of what it means to be a citizen in today’s postreligious global setting.
Islam begins with the hijra, the Prophet Mohammed’s flight from persecution in Mecca to the city of Medina, where Muslims first organized themselves as a spiritual and political community–the Muslim umma. This founding event has led to a debate in Islamic law that continues to this day. Does the Prophet’s example suggest that Muslims may not reside in a non-Muslim polity? The dominant position, according to scholar Andrew March, is that Muslims may reside in non-Muslim states, as long as they are free to practice their religion. A minority tradition, however, holds that Muslims may not reside in non-Muslim states and that migration is a religious obligation. This latter view obviously creates complications for citizenship in pluralist democracies.
These questions are no doubt addressed by a book to be published later this month by Britain’s Islamic Texts Society, Muslims in Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications, by author Amjad M. Mohammed. The publisher’s description follows:
Since the Second World War, there has been a significant migration of Muslims to countries in the Western world. Muslims in non-Muslim Landstraces the process by which these migrants arrived in Western Europe-in particular Britain-and explains how the community developed its faith identity through three particular stances: assimilation, isolation and integration. The findings argue that the assumption that Islam causes Muslims to isolate from the indigenous population and form ‘a state within a state’ is false, and that Islamic law actually gives Muslims confidence and the ability to integrate within the wider society.
On February 5 at Georgetown’s Berkley Center, the always-interesting sociologist Peter Berger will deliver a lecture, “Toward a Theory of Religious Pluralism”:
Renowned sociologist Peter Berger argues that secularization theory—the idea that modernity necessarily leads to a decline of religion—has been falsified. Rather than an age of secularity, ours is an age of pluralism. In other words, the problem of modernity is not that the gods have fled, but that there are too many of them around. Berger will discuss his ideas on religion and modernity, and sketch an outline of a possible theory of pluralism for the modern era.
Details are here.
Rafael Domingo (U. of Navarra) has posted Religion for Hedgehogs? An Argument against the Dworkinian Approach to Religious Freedom. The abstract follows.
According to Ronald Dworkin, the right to freedom of religion is a mere implication of a more general right of ethical independence in foundational matters. For Dworkin, just as a particular religion cannot be treated as special in politics, religion cannot be considered sui generis in the political arena. This article argues that the right of religious freedom should be regarded as sui generis. The epistemological and ethical theories that support a Dworkinian approach to religious freedom are reductive and misconceived. These theories close the door to transcendent meaning and revealed religion, to a conception of religion as a fact and a value. The Dworkinian paradigm does not sufficiently protect the principles of pluralism and self-determination that are at the heart of religious freedom. Finally, this article argues that, when properly understood, the right to religious freedom is based on ethical autonomy and the unity of the person rather than on Dworkin’s theories of ethical independence and the unity of value.
In February, University of Virginia Press will publish Earnestly Contending: Religious Freedom and Pluralism in Antebellum America by Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. (University of California, Irvine). The publisher’s description follows.
In Earnestly Contending, Dickson Bruce examines the ways in which religious denominations and movements in antebellum America coped with the ideals of freedom and pluralism that exerted such a strong influence on the larger, national culture. Despite their enormous normative power, these still-evolving ideals–themselves partly religious in origin–ran up against deeply entrenched concerns about the integrity of religious faith and commitment and the role of religion in society. The resulting tensions between these ideals and desires for religious consensus and coherence would remain unresolved throughout the period.
Focusing on that era’s interdenominational competition, Bruce explores the possibilities for and barriers to realizing ideals of freedom and pluralism in antebellum America. He examines the nature of religion from the perspectives of anthropology and cognitive sciences, as well as history, and uses this interdisciplinary approach to organize and understand specific tendencies in the antebellum period while revealing properties inherent in religion as a social and cultural phenomenon. He goes on to show how issues from that era have continued to play a role in American religious thinking, and how they might shed light on the controversies of our own time.