Friday, April 20, 2007

Haunted by Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny

As I sit this morning, getting ready to prepare my khutba for later today, I have tried four different topics, but keep getting back to a book that's been haunting me ever since I read it two weeks ago on the plane back from DC (after participating at a GMU conference honoring one of my ex-colleagues who is near retirement). The book is Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, NY: Norton, 2006. The book's main idea is obvious (we all have multiple identities, and trying to reduce any individual or group of individuals to a single identity can only lead to trouble).

The book is based on a series of lectures, and therefore it is somewhat simplistic and repetitive, at least as compared to Prof. Sen's more profound writings. Yet, I was captivated -- and still am -- by the book's strong message. Consequently, there is no escaping the topic for my khutbas this month. The first challenge, ironically, is how to make the book's universal message "Islamic" so that it may be appropriate for a sermon, without chauvinistic claims that Islamic principles are necessarily universal, or vice versa. The second challenge is to avoid being excessively critical of my communities of Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, Egyptian expats, Arab expats, Muslims in America, academic economists, etc.

I have been trying to focus in recent khutbas on positive messages, conducive to building the community and integrating it in society in productive ways, and that is -- of course -- difficult to accomplish without attacking the separatist and triumphalist approaches that have plagued many communities and countries (a disease that is not by any means restricted to Muslims, although people usually cannot see the same disease in their own nationalisms and religious chauvinisms, even if you put up a mirror to their faces -- see the movie Borat for a great example of how embarrassing the realization can be). There will not be any shortage of scriptures (Qur'anic and from the Sunna) to support my message. Unfortunately, there will not be any shortage of scriptures to support the opposite message either. So, am I about to commit intellectual (and/or religious) fraud?


Blogger nhusain said...

Religious fraud is when you use Religion to further personal goals. If you are using Religion to promote the welfare of people in this life and the hereafter then most likely it is not fraudulant. Which in fact is the purpose of Religion [Maqsad].

As the Prophet Muhammad said "Actions are verily by intention and a person will get [i.e. be recompensed] according to his intention.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Samar Ali said...

Amartya Sen's book also left me in deep thought. He has the ability to leave the reader in deep thought and with a different pair of glasses for looking at cultures and ones own identity and what it represents.

6:52 AM  
Blogger BD said...

please write more!

4:06 PM  

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