Saturday, March 04, 2006

Islam, Muslims and liberalism

I would like to distinguish between:

liberalism as a conception of state and society that prioritises Enlightenment rationalism and the individuated extra-contextual subject - let's call this 'tough liberalism'.

liberalism as a mutual agreement between differing groups on the manner of relation.

liberalism as expressed through identity politics which inscribes certain liberal ideals into everyday discourse - let's call this 'undercover liberalism'.

humanism as a form of everyday interaction - treating others with an absence of righteousness etc.

'Tough liberalism' though expressed in harsh and strong terms is in fact weak, it has a shelf life of about ten or twenty years within the present context and can only really be articulated in a superficial and contentious manner, i.e. that it does not stand well to scrutiny (e.g. the absolutist stance on freedom of speech, the notion of the abstract individual etc).

Liberalism as a mutual agreement is however emerging in British cities (and I am sure in European cities) simply because it has to by force of circumstance and time (modus vivendi etc.) though this process is being resisted by 'tough liberals'.

Liberalism as identity politics is being taken up by Muslims and is beginning to affect the interpretation of Islam as 'undercover liberalism' steals in Enlightenment notions through the adoption of identity politics in everyday discourse ('everyone is an individual', 'I am free to think what i want', 'it's my right' etc).

And finally to humanism which I believe is possible through the practice of the religion itself as Ibn Ata'illah says 'The tear of the sinner is more beloved to God than the arrogance of the righteous man' - the nurturing of an Islamic humanism can therefore become possible after a serious, personal engagement with the Most Merciful - but this is only a by-product, the aim
itself is to unite the reed with the reed bed because that is in accordance with the nature of things, as they are.

So I would suggest liberalism is problematic in its various guises, some open, some less so. But tolerance is nevertheless possible within an Islamic humanism and can best be termed 'adab' (and is hence not foreign at all). In fact, since it is genuine religion it is not only possible, it is necessary.

(For more on adab, read 'The Way to Sufi Chivalry' by Al Hussayn al Sulami).