Injustice in God's name: The corruption of modern Islam

Khaled Abou El Fadl, 24 September 2012

Quotes from the article

[Now-a-days] the normative imperatives and intellectual subtleties of the Islamic moral tradition are not treated with the analytic and critical rigor that the Islamic tradition rightly deserves, but are rendered subservient to political expedience and symbolic displays of power.

[□ comment: We are observing in many places] the predominance of the theology of power in modern Islam [over the imperative of the spiritual dimension, which is / has to be higher.]

Far from being authentic expressions of inherited Islamic paradigms, or a natural outgrowth of the classical tradition, these groups, and their impulsive and reactive modes of thinking, are a by-product of colonialism and modernity. These highly dissonant and defensive modes of thinking are disassociated from the Islamic civilizational experience with all its richness and diversity, and they invariably end up reducing Islam to a single dynamic - the dynamic of power.

Therefore, instead of Islam being a moral vision given to humanity, it becomes constructed into the antithesis of the West. In the world constructed by puritan modes of thinking and their groups, there is no Islam; there is only opposition to the West.

[In premodernity] the institutions of religion and law were supported by a complex system of private endowments (awqaf), which enabled Muslim scholars to generate a remarkably rich intellectual tradition.

Importantly, however, much of this drastically changed in the modern age. The traditional institutions that once sustained the juristic discourse have all but vanished. … Colonialism formally dismantled the traditional institutions of civil society,

Instead of the dialectical and in-determinate methodology of traditional Islamic jurisprudence, Muslim nations opted for more centralized, determinative and often code-based systems of law.

Even Muslim modernists, who attempted to reform Islamic jurisprudence, were heavily influenced by the civil law system, and thus sought to resist the indeterminate fluidity of Islamic law and increase its unitary and centralized character.

The Islamic tradition was re-constructed to fit third world nationalistic ideologies of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, rather than the other way around.

Consequently, persons - mostly engineers, medical doctors, and physical scientists - who were primarily self-taught, and whose knowledge of Islamic text and history was quite superficial, were able to position themselves as authorities on Islamic law and theology. 

The irony, however, was that these self-proclaimed experts, being primarily medical doctors, engineers or computer scientists, were trained only in Western scientific methods and according to Western invented educational curriculums, and therefore, methodologically and epistemologically, they were effectively a part of Western culture. Although defiant and rebellious, in every way they were the children of the West, despite the power symbolisms of resistance in which they engaged.

In this sense, it is accurate to describe the Salafabist orientation as supremacist, for it sees the world from the perspective of stations of merit and extreme polarization. It is important to note, however, that this trend does not only devalue the moral worth of non-Muslims alone, but also those that it considers inferior or of a lesser station, such as women or heretical Muslims.

The essential lesson taught by Islamic history is that extremist groups are ejected from the mainstream of Islam; they are marginalized, and eventually come to be treated as a heretical aberration to the Islamic message. The problem, however, is that the traditional institutions of Islam that historically acted to marginalize extremist creeds no longer exist.

This is what makes this period of Islamic history far more troublesome than any other, and this is also what makes modern puritan orientations far more threatening to the integrity of the morality and values of Islam than any of the previous extremist movements.

From a Muslim perspective, it is arrogant to assume that regardless of the efforts and behaviour of Muslims, God is somehow obligated to save Muslims from the follies of their own deeds. Classical jurists used to repeat that political power is necessary to safeguard the interests of religion, but they also warned that political power is fundamentally corrupting of the human conscience and the mandates of justice.

Mercy and compassion, for instance, are core values in the Islamic faith, but no possible application of Islamic law can by itself establish a merciful and compassionate social order. The founding of such an order needs an extensive intellectual tradition that critically identifies the current points of ugliness and cruelty, and engages in a re-thinking of the Muslim historical experience with the express purpose of promoting these core values.

An intellectual commitment and activism that honours the Islamic heritage by honestly and critically engaging with it, and that also honours Islam by honestly and critically confronting any extreme act of ugliness perpetrated in Islam's name.

The Qur'an consistently emphasizes that the covenant given to Muslims is contingent, and that the failure to do it justice will lead God to abandon those once entrusted with the Divine covenant to their own vices and the consequences of their evil deeds. Looking at the sheer amount of ugliness perpetuated in the past twenty years in Islam's name, only the most deluded or self-absorbed Muslim would remain unconcerned.

The Qur'an explicitly commands Muslims to bear witness for truth and justice, even if the testimony is against themselves or against loved ones. 

The worst injustice, and the one most worthy of Muslim outrage, is that committed by Muslims in Islam's name, because that is more deprecating to God and God's religion than any supposed heresy or legal infraction.

The point is that as Muslims confront acts of extreme ugliness committed in their religion's name, they have no choice but to take a long pause, and to critically evaluate where things might have gone wrong. In essence, Muslims have no choice but to reengage morality in order to generate an effective social (□ comment: spiritual) rebirth.