Monday, April 27, 2020

This Ramadan: Resist Rigid Ritualism; Recognise Divine Receptivity

by Adis Duderija 
(Ph.D.) Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society

As a theoretician and proponent of progressive Islam, I often don’t see eye to eye with mainstream expressions of contemporary Islam on a number of ethical, socio-political and theological issues. This became painfully apparent, once again, on the topic of how to approach Ramadan in the time of a pandemic. While a number of traditional clerics and major institutions have, for the most part, taken COVID-19 seriously and mosques in many Muslim majority countries remain closed, there is a lack of appreciation that the various physical distancing restrictions associated with the virus seriously affect the mental, psychological and physical wellbeing of many people — and hence that this factor should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not fasting and the spiritual practices associated with it should go ahead as normal. I have not come across a single religious voice from traditional Islamic institutions that has expressed this opinion in the public.

As I ponder why this is the case, I think that one explanation is the huge emphasis mainstream Islam places on ritualistic forms of devotion, in general — so much so that alternative interpretations or practices which that depart from the “norm” are tantamount to unbelief and are liable for punishment in this life and in the life to come.Therefore, one practice that I think we need to resist — especially in the era of pandemics — is to conflate the spiritual practice of devotion with rigid ritualism. Muslims need to be accommodating of a broader range and variety of forms and expressions of devotion, such as intellectual forms of spirituality that invite us to continue to explore and interrogate our very concept of God.

I do think that the issue of ritualistic devotion is strongly correlated with the concept of God believers have internalised. As process and feminist theologians have maintained for some time now, traditional forms of theism have constructed a concept of God as an “Arbitrary Cosmic Moralist,” an “Unchanging and Passionless Absolute,” an “All Controlling Power” and a “Male” — and have accordingly ignored doctrines and theological depictions that portray God as a creative, receptive and responsive Power who is truly touched and affected by the suffering and ailments of humanity; a God who, amid a pandemic, is our Partner in healing us all and our planet. This, I submit, is a concept of God that we need now more than ever.

Published as a part  in a series of reflections on Ramadan in the era of Civod 19 on ABC Religion and Ethics Website

Monday, December 2, 2019

REVIEW OF Zahra Ayubi. Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society

REVIEW OF Zahra Ayubi. Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society .New York, NY: Columbia University Press, August 2019. 336 pages. $35.00. Paperback. ISBN 9780231191333.
Unedited version .To appear in Reading Religion 
By: Dr. Adis Duderija, Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, Griffith University

Over the last few decades a number of important scholarly discussions on the highly  gendered  ( in a patriarchal sense) nature of Islamic intellectual tradition  have been written but whose focus primarily has been on the Islamic legal tradition (fiqh) ( e.g. K.Ali,  A. Chaudhry, A.Mahellati )  and to a lesser extent Qur’anic commentary (tafsir) ( e.g. K. Bauer , A.Geissenger). Ayubi’s remarkably well written and comprehensively referenced book provides further evidence of the same dynamics at play in the context of exploring three most influential writers of the akhlaq (Islamic philosophical ethics) genre from the  classical  period , namely Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali ( d.1111 CE), Nasir ad-din Tusi ( d.1274) and Jalal al-din Davani ( d.1502). Ayubi ‘s major argument in the book is that “the Muslim ethicists’ gendered understandings of existence and metaphysics compelled them to produce virtue ethics that are rooted in inequality and, as such, are unsustainable by the standards of their own ethics” (p.6). In other words, Ayubi uncovers a paradoxical tension between the classical Muslim ethicists’ deeply patriarchal, androcentric and at times misogynistic approach to virtue ethics and their professed metaphysical commitments premised on ideas of (Divine) justice and human equality.
Ayubi identifies and analyses expertly three central themes that animate gender-related discussions in the classical akhlaq genre, namely: i.) “tension between hierarchical power and justice”; ii.) “the construction of instrumental femininity in relation to rational masculinity, and iii.) the construction of elite masculinity in the context of homosocial relationships among men” (p.7).
She delves deeply into the classical Muslim ethicists’ discussions of virtue ethics of the self, marriage and society and painstakingly deconstructs the assumptions that underpin their concepts of masculinity and femininity informed as they are by highly gendered and patriarchal Islamic cosmology. Here we see many parallels with discussions found in other genres of Islamic interpretive tradition such as tafsir and fiqh from the classical period that associate masculinity conceptually with, among others, religious and political authority and rationality  and femininity with not only the lack of these  but also with a highly potent and  socio- morally eroding  sexuality that is to be tightly controlled and supervised by men through a variety of mechanisms and practices ranging from strict gender segregation to veiling, to curbing of women’s freedom of movement and the placing of strong limits on decision-making power of women in relation to both public and private matters.
The book’s most original part is its final, fifth chapter (which also is its conclusion) that is titled “The  Prolegomenon to Feminist Philosophy of Islam”. Here Ayubi provides a systematic and very erudite analysis of how to move beyond the patriarchal Islamic philosophical ethics and the various pre- suppositions underpinning it that she described so lucidly in the first four of the book’s chapters. In this chapter Ayubi draws superbly upon both authorities on feminist philosophy of religion in general (e .g.Irigary, Daly etc.) and what we could term the proponents of  Islamic feminism specifically ( Shaikh, wadud etc.). Ayubi identifies and brilliantly discusses four “interrelated philosophical problems” posed by “male-centred akhlaq” that include: “i.) the the problem of having an exclusionary definition of humanity based on fixed hierarchy of rational capacity; ii.) the problem of patriarchal, and therefore unjust notions of khilafah(vicegerency) ; iii.) The problem of the emergence of new hierarchies in addressing exclusion on the basis of gender in akhlaq; and iv.) the problem of individual refinement though the utilization of women and nonelite others. “(p.253).  In this respect she argues that feminist philosophy-based approaches to religion can play an important role in “exploring possible resolutions” (p.254). More specifically, Ayubi argues for a redefining of rationality and the need for a “liberating reason” (p.254) that has an inclusive, non-gender hierarchical and non-gender exclusive view of humanity. For Ayubi, like for other feminist-minded Muslim scholars such as wadud and Barlas, the conceptualisation of a non-patriarchal and therefore non-gendered  concept of khilafah  is also necessary to move beyond the limits of elitist male-centric akhlaq. Furthermore, given that patriarchal Islamic philosophical ethics is built on “interlocking hierarchies” ( i.e. gender and class ) ( p.270), therefore, the need to incorporate  insights from the academic study of  intersectionality in general and black feminist philosophers, in particular, is identified by Ayubi as very useful for the purposes of developing the feminist philosophy of Islam. Finally, Ayubi ably argues that to move beyond the male centred akhlaq it is also important to problematise its very goals , which, as noted above, are based on the logic of  instrumentalization of non-elite men for elite men’s ethical refinement(p.275).
In my engagement with gender issues in Islam I have similarly argued that to dislodge patriarchal interpretations of the Islamic intellectual tradition it is important to develop a gender egalitarian paradigm that would involve the following: i.) Engendering alternative conceptualisations of gender cosmologies based on reciprocal and non-hierarchical relationships; ii.) Rethink the very nature and the conceptual relationship between masculinity and femininity where masculinity and femininity are not considered as binary opposites( disguised in form of gender complementary terminology ); and iii.) Reconceptualization of the concept of honour itself that delinks the honour of men from the sexual or sexually-perceived behaviour of ‘their women-folk’(Duderija, 2019).
I think that Ayubi’s book under review has a lot to offer in relation to the first two points in particular but that it lacks theoretical insights in relation to the role of patriarchal understandings of female sexuality and male honour that inheres in male-centred akhlaq. In this author’s view these ideas and concepts are one of the lynchpins that underpin the patriarchal expressions of the Islamic tradition which must be deconstructed and newly reconstructed for any future viable feminist philosophy of Islam.
I recommend this book to advanced undergraduates, postgraduates and academics working in the broad field of Islam and Gender, Gender and Religion and more specifically feminist approaches (philosophy) to religion/ Islam.

A.Duderija. 2019.  “Using Progressive Muslim Thought to Take Down Patriarchy”, Tikkun 34(1):96-102. ( free PDF)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

How to Defeat the Clash of Extremisms: Civilisational Hybridity and Trust Building in the Multicultural West

How to Defeat the Clash of Extremisms:   Civilisational Hybridity and Trust Building in the Multicultural West
 Dr. Adis Duderija
In my talk, I would like to highlight how the concept of civilisational hybridity and efforts aiming at building of trust along  religious lines as exemplified  by the event we are commemorating  this evening can help counter the harmful effects of  the two most prevalent and arguably  most pernicious, but unfortunately not only,  forms of extremism today  namely ethno-nationalism  associated with white supremacist groups  and religious associated with violent Islamic radicalism. I will do so from a historically informed perspective of examining the historical nature of the civilisational interactions between the Arabo-Islamic civilisation and that of the Latin Christian West.

1.     The Clash of Extremisms:
In the 1990s in the the aftermath of the Cold War the concept of the Clash of Civilisations gained traction among some political scientists and historians of international relations in the West that among others postulated that one of the likely future forms  of civilisational conflict will be between the civilisation associated with the concept of liberal, democratic  West and the Islamic Civilisation. While this idea was dismissed by many academics and policymakers as too simplistic and not reflective of the internal diversity and fragmentation of both of civilisational spheres events such as 9/11 and the subsequent so-called War on Terror seemed to have given legitimacy to this idea of the Clash of Civilisations. My position in this regard is that we are currently experiencing what could be called the Clash of Extremist ideologies based on strong ethno-nationalist and religiously supremacist sentiments whose views of the Other are premised on   strongly essentialist and totalitarian perspectives.
For example, on the one hand, as evident in their manifestos, white supremacist groups want us to believe that:

1.Islam is an inherently violent political  ideology bent on world domination;

2.that Muslims in the West all subscribe to this ideology either overtly or covertly;

3.that Muslim immigrants, many of whom (like me) are refugees and have fled horrific conflicts in their own countries of origin, are single-mindedly focused, not  on rebuilding their lives and living in peace with their fellow citizens, but on transforming the West into an ISIS utopia.

Furthermore, white supremacist groups use major episodes from premodern history of  Islam-West relations ― such as the conquering of Constantinople by the Ottomans ― as evidence of the perpetual threat all Muslims pose to the  Western civilisation.
Moreover, an important element in the master narrative underpinning the ideology of these groups is their disdain for multiculturalism and pluralism which they view as avenues of Trojan Horse-like Islamic takeover of Europe.

One the other hand some of the master narratives of the Islamists terrorist organisations such as ISIS are that :

1.there is only one true Islam;

2. that their interpretation of Shari’a― including their understanding of the institution of the caliphate, ― is the only legitimate understanding of the canonical Islamic texts;

3.that it is the duty of Muslims in the West ― in peaceful and, in times of war, non-peaceful ways ― to support the establishment of the universal Caliphate as Islamist militants understand it;

4.that Muslims’ political loyalty to such a Caliphate overrides their rights and responsibilities as citizens of Western democracies, whose values are considered as antithetical to those of the "Islamic" principles.

Last year, my colleague Halim Rane and I published a book in which we tried to provide a comprehensive overview of the most significant research pertaining to various aspects of Islam and Muslims in the West over the last three decades or so. The book among others, documents

1.the complicated history and the nature of the relationship between Arab-Islamic and Latin Christian civilisations;

2.the multitude of ways of being a Muslim in the West and how these different ways of being a Muslim interpret the Islamic tradition very differently;

3.and the various efforts of contemporary Muslims in the West to integrate into Western liberal societies, including the articulation of a conceptually and culturally distinct form of Western Islam.

The book’s findings show how the earlier mentioned views of the extremists and their respective ideologies are significant distortions of the actual reality.
Given the nature of the today’s occasion I would like to spend a little time to first examine the history and the nature of the relationship between Arab-Islamic and Latin Christian civilisations before I offer some thoughts of how to counter this Clash of Extremisms.
There is no denying that the much of the history of the relationship between the Arab-Islamic and Latin-Christian civilisation was dominated by two political-military superpowers which were often engaged in conflict and did so while firmly holding onto their respective religious dogmas and views of the Religious Truth.
But even during the darker periods of this conflict there were examples of positive interactions and attempts at rapprochement and mutual understanding  as evident in the event that is being commemorated this evening. But this is not the only example even within the context of what the historians has called the Crusades.
A  distinguished professor of Middle Easter medieval History professor Suleiman Mourad has shown that  the time period of the Crusades from the perspective of  what the medieval  Muslim sources tell us is not just a mindless recounting of  countless battles that marked this  two centuries-long period , but  also of “ innumerable political and military alliances, systematic sharing of sacred spaces, commercial dealings, exchange of science and ideas, etc., between Muslims and crusaders”. He provides an example of a Muslim chronicler and historian Ibn Wasil (d. 1298) who spent two years in southern Italy on a diplomatic mission in early 1260s. During his stay there ibn Wasil wrote a book on logic in the honour of emperor Manfred of Hohenstaufen, the last King of Sicily.
Mourad also tells us of a story of Emperor Manfred’s father, Frederick II, who  regularly wrote  to Muslim scientists asking for scientific information, and that it was precisely under his command  of the  Sixth Crusade in 1228-1229, that he negotiated a peace  treaty with Sultan al-Kamil that allowed the Muslims and Crusader Christians  to share Jerusalem. According to this agreement “the Christians had full control of their religious places while the Muslims maintained control over their sacred places in the city and the surrounding villages.”
Moving beyond the mere describing of the historical incidents that demonstrate cooperation and mutual understanding between Islam and the West there are strong reasons to argue for the conceptual viability of the  idea of an Islamo-Christian Civilisation as a historical reality as I shall argue later.
The Case for Civilisational Hybridity
As noted earlier the Clash of Extremisms is based, among other things, on the idea of what can be called the defence of civilisational purity thesis according to which The West is very different from the Islamic Civilisation and the values defining these two civilisational entities are mutually exclusive or at least exist in great tension on many very significant  socio-political, cultural and existential issues.  The question that needs to be asked here is to what extent are these views actually representative of the historical realities?
Upon closer reflection on the matter it becomes quickly evident that it is impossible to outline the contours and characteristics behind the historical and intellectual relationship between western-European and Arabo-Islamic “intercivilisational constellations’ in a straightforward and continuous manner.
A contemporary British scholar of cosmopolitanism Gerard  Delanty, in fact, identifies three “modes” of western-European ways of relating to “Islam”, namely the mode of fear and xenophobia; the mode of fantasy and moral superiority; and lastly, the mode of “of borrowing, translation and adaptation.”
Delanty argues further that each of these “modes” have been co-present at various points in time at varying levels of prominence and prevalence.  The worldview underpinning contemporary right-wing radical groups centres squarely onto the first mode, that of fear and xenophobia and completely discards the third mode which here I will term civilizational hybridity. Importantly, the first mode of fear is not simply to be conceptualised in terms of western non-Muslim citizens security concerns from potential terrorist violence perpetrated by minority (immigrant) Muslims. It is a fear that runs much deeper and pertains to the question regarding as one scholar puts it “the essential nature of European culture, and what role the Muslim presence is likely to play in it” (Hellyer 2010:3). This fear has been elsewhere described as fear of Eurabia and/or Islamisation of the West/Europe (Bangstad: 2014).

As one way of countering the narratives and the worldview of both right-Wing and Islamist extremists in the rest of my talk I would like to highlight the work of but one among many  influential scholars who have critiqued the idea of Western/ European civilizational distinctiveness and have emphasised the symbiotic links between the formation of Arabo-Islamic and Western  “civilizational constellations” ( Delanty 2019). 

 One of the most systematic proponents of this approach is Professor Richard Bulliet, a noted historian of the Middle East. His main thesis is that the Arabo-Islamic civilisation should be considered in many ways constitutive of that of a Latin/Western Christian civilisation, because of the numerous, robust, and mutually defining cross-cultural interactions that have been taking place over a period spanning nearly a millennium and a half. For Bulliet these linkages are multifaceted and are evident at historical, scientific, cultural, philosophical, doctrinal, and scriptural levels (Bulliet 2004, 6, 45). As such Bulliet states that:

The past and future of the West cannot be fully comprehended without appreciation of the twinned relationship it has had with Islam over some fourteen centuries. The same is true of the Islamic world (2006, 45).

Furthermore, Bulliet provides ample evidence that there are stronger arguments for the conceptual viability of the idea of an Islamo-Christian civilisation rather than just that of a Judeo-Christian one. The latter is nowadays taken largely as self-evident and unproblematic in the West, although for a very long time this was not the case (Ibid., 5–6).  Indeed, the phrase Judeo-Christian  civilisation as a marker of a Western civilisation was coined in the 1930s  and it took several decades for it to become more widely accepted. Bulliet argues that in addition to having strong scriptural and doctrinal commonalities, the Arabo-Islamic and Latin Christian civilisations have had a long history of civilisational cross-pollination without which our present (post-) modern would not have been/ be possible.  In Bulliet’s own words:

Common scriptural roots shared theological concerns, continuous interaction at a societal level, and mutual contributions to what in modern times has become a common pool of thought and feeling give the Euro-American Christian and Jewish communities solid grounds for declaring their civilizational solidarity. Yet the scriptural and doctrinal linkages between Judaism and Christianity are no closer than those between Judaism and Islam, or between Christianity and Islam; and historians are well aware of the enormous contributions of Muslim thinkers to the pool of late medieval philosophical and scientific thought that European Christians and Jews later drew upon to create the modern West. (Ibid., 6).

Importantly, Bulliet uses this shift in consciousness about thinking in terms of Judeo-Christian civilisation that occurred as I previously  mentioned  as recently as 80 years ago or so  to further argue that historical legacies of long-standing periods of antagonisms between the Christian West and the Arabo-Islamic civilisations ( Duderija and Rane,2019), must not be considered as being tantamount to historical destinies (Bulliet, 2004: 5-6).

Therefore by  affirming the concept of  Islamo-Christian civilisation we emphasise the idea of civilisational hybridity that problematises the worldview  and the metanarratives underpinning both forms of extremism, ethno-nationalist and jihadist.

The Question of Trust and the Robustness of Multicultural Societies:
However , to adequately deal with the challenges  of the Clash of Extremisms  we need to go beyond theory that affirms civilisational  hybridity and  also develop  a practice-based ethic whose foundation is founded on trust as a means of  countering fear and distrust of the perceived Other and related processes such as Islamophobia or what we could call Occidentalism . Here I borrow the definition of trust as defined by one of the scholars of British multiculturalism as   “an investment of belief in reciprocal socially-oriented intentions and actions in another (or others)” (Morey,2018,3). Such a view of trust is based on principles of mutual reliance, accountability, and reciprocity (Ibid) and presupposes that the best interests of others will be compatible with ours”. This approach to trust and specifically trust in diversity and multiculturalism should be viewed therefore as a form of lived experience of cultural diversity and not simply just as a political and legislative policy. This approach to trust is, in fact, essential for the stability and robustness of multicultural and diverse societies such as those in the ‘West’ . As noted by a scholar of British multiculturalism:

All successful relationships are built on trust, as all successful societies must also be. Trust offers an important lens through which one can understand relations between Muslim and non-Muslim at this fraught moment in history (Morey 2018: 2).
Holding events such as the one this evening but also those that promote intercultural dialogue respect and understanding and indeed the civilisational  interconnectedness and interdependence of  entire humanity  is a perfect opportunity to cultivate this  trust, especially in multiculturally diverse societies such as Australia.

In conclusion:
In conclusion what we can we do counter the Clash of Extremisms? I will not pretend that I have definite answers to the often very complex processes that are relevant in relation to this Clash but  I did offer a few pointers.
First, as far as countering Islamicist-based extremism  is concerned, we must dismantle the theology of empire in Islamic fundamentalism and its scriptural/hermeneutical roots, embedded in the pre-modern Caliphate model that is alive among some Muslims that views the world through the lens of subjugation and domination of (certain kinds of) Muslims over non-Muslims and "heterodox Muslims." That kind of thinking will inevitably exacerbate  ethno-nationalist sentiments  as a manifestation of an already existing residual racist/xenophobic worldview among some non-Muslims that reared  its ugliest head in the genocide of Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica in 1995. Second, we have to promote the idea of civilisational cross-pollination and hybridity in contrast to the myth of civilisational purity. We have to understand that no civilisation can emerge, develop or be the product of its own internal dynamics. History testifies to this repeatedly, especially in relation to the civilisational interactions between the Arabo-Islamic and Latin Christian civilisation. Third, as recent studies in the context of Islamophobia have shown, regular everyday face-to-face interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very important way of curbing prejudice. The lack of trust and confidence in multiculturalism and diversity can be found  in both forms of extremism discussed here as evident in the manifestos written by ethno-nationalist inspired terrorists  who repeatedly  condemn  multiculturalism as the Trojan Horse of Islamisation of Europe or the willingness of groups like ISIS to exploit feelings of discrimination and marginalisation present among some Muslims in the West as a lure  to join their totalitarian cause. Therefore, fostering relationships that strengthen trust based on principles of mutual reliance and reciprocity between Muslim citizens of the West and western societies of which they are an integral part of is an additional, and in my view crucial element in helping resolve the phenomenon of the clashes of extremism. Moreover, we ought to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of "the Other" as individual members of their own diverse communities. Finally, we have to remember that diversity and inherent equality of all human beings, underpinned by a set of commonly shared values and principles, is a normal and desirable part of human existence, and then inculcate these principles among our children and youth.

The meeting of St. Frances and Sultan Al-Kamil 800 years ago that happened under very trying circumstances teaches us that at the time when Extremisms are on the rise we also need to rise to the occasion and do our own part in upholding, embodying and promoting the values of trust, diversity and hybridity at both individual and societal levels.