Monday, June 19, 2006

Tolerant, or still separatist and triumphalist?

I am sure that by now most people interested in modern Islam would have read the New York Times feature of Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir. They were protrayed as the face of emerging Muslim moderation -- showing discomfort with their pre-9/11 anti-American rhetoric.

Underneath the veneer of tolerance and the merchandising acumen of Muslim Deepak Chopras, one wonders if there lurks the same separatist and triumphalist view of Islam that inspired their previous glorification of violence and anti-Americanism.

It is the same separatist triumphalism that I sensed in "Islamic finance" circles: Those in the know recognize that all they have produced is an inferior analog of convnetional financial products, and yet there is no denying the triumphalist boasting about the rate of growth of the "industry".

Likewise, in the NYT article, the closing quotes by Mr. Shakir show unquestionable separatist triumphalism:

He said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, "not by violent means, but by persuasion."

"Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country," he said. "I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community."

Like the Amr Khaleds of the Islamic world, the new discourse of the Hamza Yusufs does not seem to find adequate solutions to the difficult questions. First and foremost, can you even call yourself a Muslim if you do not hold a separatist and triumphalist view of Islamic hegemony over other religions? You can avoid the issue, and talk about tolerance "in the interim", but that is no more tolerance than the Christian Zionists' tolerance of Jews (they are only supported to bring about the second coming of Christ, when they all either die or convert).

Are they really a face of tolerant Islam, or just better packaging of their older selves?


Blogger Unknown said...

I've been reading your blog for a while - it's nice. Keep up the good work.

In regard to this post, I disagree with your take on the article and the definition of tolerance.

You are saying that, if Shakir were truly tolerant, he should not wish that more Americans convert to Islam.

If we follow this definition of tolerance, then Howard Dean would be intolerant: Dean is a Democract, and he wishes that all Americans become democrat.

And, all Democrats & Republicans would be intoletant. And, all environmentalists would be intolerant. How about professors who wish all their students to get an 'A'? How about parents wanting their kids to be better?

I think you're mixing "intolerance" with "indifference" on this point.

I think that it's OK to be tolerant of others and at the same time wish they become "better" - whatever way you define better.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Mahmoud El-Gamal said...

As you can see from my later posting, the point is that one cannot tell the surrounding society that he is tolerant by his (Islamic or other) standards. The important benchmark for countering attacks of intolerance is defined by the society's standards of tolerance. For better or worse, worse I suspect, the recent history of Muslims makes Mr. Shakir's discourse -- albeit nonviolent -- just as intolerant, and possibly more dangerous, than his previous discourse.

A number of other people sent me private email to the same effect as your comment. That is why I wrote the longer following posting on Muslim-Western discourse. It is important in this discourse to speak the same language. Unfortunately, theological-loaded assumptions about what constitutes tolerance do not lend themselves to such common language the way Democrats and Republicans have in the political sphere.

Of course, theological issues have gotten in the way of that political discourse in recent years as well, where one party wishes to discuss religious convictions rather than public good. That is not a good example to emulate.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think I'm starting to udnerstand your point of view, yet, I'm still unclear what you mean by "tolerance". Can you define it? and then explain what you would have loved Shiekh Shakir to say?

5:45 PM  

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