Friday, 28 December 2007

Islamic Pluralism vs Monoism

Having been inactive as a blogger over the last month, there are a great many things which I want to write about. We live in, alas, interesting times and there has been plenty of grist for the mill in this last month of 2007. But first up, I want to draw attention to a recent article at the Pak Tea House on the 'Dynamics of Change in Islamic Law'.

Here is a quote:

In my view, the most important crisis that Muslim society miserably failed to handle during Islam’s sojourn into modernity is diversity. By diversity, I mean religious heterogeneity in any form, may it be the pronouncement of legal injunctions, opinions regarding societal norms or something as personal as individual religious practices.

Therefore, whether it is the abundance of contradictory fatwas on issues as diverse as women leading prayers to Muslims attending Christmas celebrations to Islamic prohibition of images to what constitutes death, Pakistani brothers arguing about the bare heels of a Chinese sister during Hajj or my grandma’s queasiness while watching me pray in a manner other than our family’s religious school, there is an invisible urge to see a kind of religious monism; a CONSENSUS based on an almost Utopian unity of intelligibility, opinion and action.

I would go as far as contending that pluralism, when it manifests itself in any of the above forms does not resonate well with the conventionally perceived absolute nature of religious discourse. And this perception, while breeding religious exclusivism and thus extremism, also undermines the true rationalistic nature of Islamic legal tradition.

Its an interesting article about an important [perhaps even 'key'] issue in Islamic societies. I left the following in the comments section of the post:

Thanks for your post - you have addressed a very important issue. However you should also try to see this attempt to 'see a kind of religious monism' in its historical context - part of the attempt to bureaucratize and rationalize a wide variety of norms in to one acceptable set is about trying to build an Islamic 'identity' in the modern sense. I am not sure if this has always been the case.

Reading about Ibn Batuta's travels in the Islamic world of the middle ages, one is struck by the sheer variety of norms of dress, behaviour, interaction between sexes and ritual in different parts of the Islamic world. Nowadays many would view this diversity through the lens of an idealized 'correct' form of rituals and norms, with the different societies being placed on a scale of being more or less religious. But this strikes me as a very modern conceit.

If there is such a thing as an 'Islamic civilization', then it must embrace its own diversity. It was the pluralism of Islam in the classical age - which causes so much confusion and division amongst those seeking a 'pure' Islamic law - which is its most striking feature, as well as, perhaps, the foundation of its greatest achievements.

I'll try and flesh out these ideas here on my blog later.

1 comment:

Raza Rumi said...

Many thanks for visiting the Pak Tea House..
Please keep on visiting and also add us to the blogroll.

Raza Rumi (Editor - PTH)