the great escape

I look around and eye the **exit** my great escape, the red flashing sign, the word EXIT, written up, loud and clear, I eye it. And I make a run for it. The two hosts grab me before I even take a step, each with one arm locked into mine, they **crack a joke** about me, the audience laughs. They hand me a metal statuette, I hold it --the heaviest thing I’ve ever held on to-- it falls through the stage, through the wooden floor, with me holding tightly onto it, through and through. “Ladies and gentlemen we just witnessed **a great escape** for the first time in the history of this event, has the winner escaped in such a dramatic fashion, and without giving a speech either.”

Thursday, May 28

No God But God -- a critique

Reza Aslan's book 'No God But God' can, at most, be seen as a feeble attempt to redeem the religion's tattered image in the eyes of the liberal West. Aslan takes the battle for the interpretive cohesion of Islam under a grand unification back to the familiar battle ground of progressivism versus traditionalism. Indeed, the public image of the religion has been dismembered in this post 9/11 climate, and any smear campaign waged by both the left and right quarters of the Western intelligentsia targets the obviously obese sitting duck represented by the oligarchic Islamic clergy the contradictions it disseminates and the shocking contradictions to liberal and modern sensibilities. While the right wing hawks are busy aggravating the masses by dehumanizing the Islamic other, the flaming left is out to show Islam as an archaic and borderline barbarism. Aslan is attempting to turn the tables on this debate by enlightening the liberals and discrediting the conservatives on both sides of the Islamic membrane within organized monotheism.

Although his intentions might be noble, while dissecting his arguments it becomes more obvious that Aslan is trying to dismantle the standardized and regulated Islam while trying to salvage a universally applicable 'Islamicness' from the all the clutter. In order to accomplish this daunting task, Aslan takes a historical approach, where Islam is seen as a phenomenon that is bound within the historical-material course of progress. Aslan seems to imply that the way of life prescribed by Islam for its followers is fundamentally distinguishable from the norms, customs, traditions, language, and culture prevalent in Arabia during the time of Muhammad, and that after the death of Muhammad certain cultural nuances have seeped over time into the religious discourse of Islam.

Continuing the same line of argument, Aslan redefines the sayings and actions of the Prophet from the traditional view of anecdotes and quotes that shed light on the many ambiguities of the Quran to vehicles used by power brokers to garner political and cultural influence at various points in the history of Islam. Aslan goes on to declare the Hadith irrelevant in any interpretive pursuit of what was revealed in the Quran, while citing different examples of how the sayings and actions of the Prophet were used to attain different objectives be it subjugation of women, or reallocation of capital. According to Alsan, the cookie cutter Islam preached by the clerical institutions, the Ulemah, and freelance preachers is nothing but an abstraction motivated by socio-political ends.

Aslan looks towards a pluralistic Islam which is broad enough to accomodate for all the cultural diversity of the area and the historical course it spans, arguing in effect for a cross-board liberalization of the religion's most identifiable tenets. The problem with this approach is that on the one hand it is declaring culture as irrelevant in the formation of a cohesive Islamic thought, while at the same time elevating the importance of a cultural understanding of Islam. If the cultural interpretations presented by post-Muhammadan Arabia are irrelevant, then the Sufic aphorisms must be considered as irrelevant to any understanding of the complexities presented in the Quran as they too are also bound in a cultural-materialism.

Similarly, Aslan's take on the irrelevance of the Hadith is also a tap-dance act where he is discrediting certain accounts of the Prophets life and times based on other accounts of the Prophet provided by those around him. In this approach he is again making a value judgment on the nature of accounts and stories based on their rational value. Essentially he is attempting to remove the mask of conservative traditionalism and replacing it with yet another mask of progressive liberalism. By taking out the Hadith and the cultural aspects of life in the day and age of divine revelation, Aslan is attempting to extract an intrinsic value of Islam. He does not realize that pealing the onion will only result in no onion at all. If Islam is to boil down to a personal assessment of values and morality then one is tempted to ask why Islam is even necessary, and what value does any stand-alone interpretation of the Quran provide us in this day and age where morality, culture, and customs relate to diversity through relativism.

1 comment:

Bhai Chod said...

This piece needs time to chew upon. It's excellent how you've gone beyond the limit where most Muslim liberals reach their conclusions. I promise to get back to this once the mastication is complete.