Friday, April 04, 2008

Liberalism and conservatism part two

This brings me to an argument that is going on within the community at present about how the community should reach out from its centre. If, as I am suggesting, there is a moral conservatism at the core of religious self-discovery, then a challenge emerges as to how to take that argument out to others. Public advocacy of moral conservatism is not the easiest way to make friends and influence people, and so, many have decided to liberalise in order to reach out to others while remaining true to their core message. The media makes much of this struggle. And no doubt it has been successful. The question is what to do next? Does winning numbers make it right - within the current context of the culture war? Do we need to be careful against unnecessary chauvinism?

Most of those who have become religious have done so through a morally conservative critique of the society around them. This has in many cases been tempered by an approach that feels uncomfortable with isolationism and righteousness. Simultaneously, Muslims have sought to engage with wider society, but this has meant reaching out beyond their ‘home constituencies’.

Thos who are attempting to engage are attempting to do so to a liberal recipient. This is because much of the critique comes from liberalism. So they are responding to the critique by engaging with it, this involves a liberalising of their own approach in order to meet others at some halfway point, but those with a conservative constitution find such manners of engagement difficult, paradoxical even. And this is the paradox that we face today: the transition from protest to engagement is occurring simultaneously through a liberalising mechanism. That many groups are seeking to engage, to break out of the rhetoric of the last ten years or so, but to do so requires a fundamental shift in approach which if acceptable sometimes has consequences and associations which cause discomfort. An example is Yusuf Islam who has recently released a new album which attempts to widen his reach but he has done through the use of musical instruments. Another example is Sami Yusuf. I think it can be avoided in many areas, but I don’t see how it can be avoided in its totality. Some who seek to block the whole strategy of engagement can only seem to think of such paradoxes.

I don’t know the answer to this, except that it has to be taken in a case-by-case scenario. We should recognise the difficulties as a necessary part of this transition, and assess the nature of each attempt at engagement. We should consider how such shifts in strategy change who we are and what we are about, specifically, how such changes affect our stance towards the Divine Command and wider society. That is, why are we Muslim and what does that mean today?