Islam 2000

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Islam Views: 2443

Murad Hofmann is a German convert to Islam. He has had a distinguished career as a scholar-diplomat. He has graduate degrees in law from Munich and Harvard, and has served for over thirty years in the German foreign service; for several years he was Germany's ambassador to Algeria and Morocco. He embraced Islam in 1980. He is retired, and makes his home in Istanbul. Islam 2000 is one of his several works on Islam. 

In the Preface, the author states the thesis and approach of his book: He intends to describe 'where the Muslim world is at the threshold of the twenty-first century and what it takes to make Islam the relevant religion for that century - worldwide', and to this end he has had 'to be severely critical of both the Occident and the Muslim world'. Seven pithy chapters follow. The first, entitled 'A Bit of Muslim Futurology,' outlines three Muslim views of Islamic history: one pessimistic (Islam has constantly been declining since the Prophet's period), one optimistic (Islam has constantly been progressing), and one middle-of-the-road (there have been ups and downs). Each view, he says, can be supported with reference to the fundamental sources of Islam. Hofmann himself leans towards the optimistic view, for the next chapter is entitled 'A bit of Optimism', in which he cites several facts to show that Islam, whose viability as a religion was doubted by nineteenth-century Western thinkers, has in the twentieth century become 'the most topical media subject of the last quarter of this century' (p. 7). In contrast to Islam, 'Christianity is going through a virtual change of paradigm, and the so-called "project of modernism" is failing under their own very eyes' (p. 9). 

In Chapter 3, 'Christology Revisited', Hofmann holds Christianity responsible for the rise of atheism and agnosticism in the West, and, citing the radical interpretations of the status of Jesus by several modern Christian thinkers - Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Karl Rahner - speculates that 'For the first time in fourteen centuries there is a very real chance that Christian teaching will conform to the Jewish, Christian and Qur'anic images of Jesus' (pp. 15-16). 

Chapter 4, 'What Islam is Up Against,' opens with the statement that it is 'likely that the imminent collapse of the established Christian churches will increase, in our multi-religious supermarkets, the demand for esoteric experiences' (p. 17). This possibility leads him to think that 'Islam in the United States and in Europe ... will most likely have to face in the twenty-first century the very mixture of attitudes so typical of Makkah at the time of our Prophet: neo-paganism, agnosticism, atheism, neo-polytheism, and ethnocentrism ('asabiyyah), namely, people who worship idols like cocaine, astronomy, Boris Becker, or Claudia Schiffer' (ibid). The new battle line will be between 'a minority of God-believing people - Muslims in the original sense of the word -- [and] the majority of people for whom the notion of God has increasingly become irrelevant and meaningless' (ibid). After the collapse of communism around 1990, we are witnessing the rise of a monoculture - Western in origin. 'If the Islam world does not want to live in such a monoculture it must make a monumental effort to realize, against so many odds, a twenty-first century Daru'l-Islam, i.e., a theo-centric - not Eurocentric - society in which God's word is law and Islamic civilization can again be brought to a flowering' (p. 20). Muslims can accomplish this goal by reconstructing Islamic thought and practice 'to a point where the Muslim world can withstand the tide of postmodernism on all fronts: education, communications, political science, law, economy, and technology' (ibid). Hofmann dismisses the notion that the West wants a dialogue with Islam: 'Why should the West be interested in reopening questions of transcendental character with Muslims after it has succeeded so splendidly in banishing such questions from its own agenda?' (p. 21) Hofmann develops this view further in Chapter 5, 'Islam and the West: Another Showdown?' Here he observes that, in the West, 'Islam is the only religion that cannot count on benign neglect or sincere toleration'. (p. 27; author's emphasis). The West, he says, continues to be implacably hostile to Islam and Muslims. 'Bosnia', he says, 'is not the last but only the most recent crusade... In fact, the age of the Crusades never ended' (p. 31: author's emphasis). 

In Chapter 6, 'How to Avoid Catastrophe and Serve Islam,' the author outlines his program of reform for the Muslim world. Reform effort needs to be made in the following areas: 'education technology, women's emancipation, human rights, theory of state and economy, magic and superstitious practices, and communication (p. 41). The reforms are predicated upon a clear distinction between 'Islam as a religion and Islam as a civilization,' between 'sound and fabricated Ahadith,' between Shari'ah and Fiqh, and between 'Qur'an and Sunnah' (ibid). Among the issues that are harming the Islamic cause in the West are the issue of women's status and rights in Islam and the issue of human rights. Hofmann writes several pages to discuss these issues (pp. 44-51). He also touches upon aspects of the Islamic political and economic doctrines (pp. 51-56), and takes a critical look at Sufi cultic practices and divination among Muslims (pp. 57-59). He makes a call for Muslim unity, but adds that he is not calling for Muslim uniformity (p. 61). He allows different interpretations of Islam that might be offered by Muslims of various geographical regions, but he warns that there can be no German or American Islam, even though one may speak of an Islam in Germany or the United States (p. 62). He concludes the chapter by observing that 'the Muslim world would seems to be particularly inept to portray itself attractively. An unshaven Yasir Arafat with a pistol on his belt on television is about the best propaganda anti-Arab forces could wish to have, and that for free' (p. 63). He thinks that only Muslims who have been raised in the West can competently engage the Western audience in conversation (p. 64). 

Chapter 7 is entitled 'The Task ahead of US: What a Task!' Here Hofmann stresses the need to distinguish between the essential and the marginal in Islam (p. 66), 'to distinguish between the small number of eternal and unchangeable divine decrees found in the indisputable text of the Qur'an from the bulk of rules and ordinances, man-made and based on less secure textual material, found in the legal treatises of the venerable Fuqaha' (p. 70). He is of the view that the most important work for the rejuvenation of Islam in the twenty-first century will be done by Muslims living in the West (pp. 71-72). 

I have provided a rather detailed summary of the book because I consider it an important work. The book contains a valuable analysis of the religious and intellectual scene of the Muslim world. The author seems to have a sound command of the traditional Islamic sources, and he is obviously at home in the Western intellectual tradition. Not everything he says is new; and he himself acknowledges his deep debt to Muhammad Asad (the Austrian covert to Islam, formerly Leopold Weiss, who distinguished himself as a Muslim scholar) and others. But Hofmann has a gift for aptly summing up religious trends and intellectual movements, and his comments on a number of subjects - such as issues in Christology and modernity - are worth pondering, just as his program of reform for the Muslim world powerfully reinforces similar programs proposed by other modern Muslim thinkers. True to the promise he makes in the Preface, he is unsparing in his critique of both the West and the Islamic world. His observations, which are often perceptive and trenchant, are made with a candor that must evoke the reader's admiration. A few criticisms are offered below. 

1. Hofmann represents those Muslims who believe that the possibility of genuine dialogue between Islam and the West does not exist - not because Islam is unwilling to hold such a dialogue, but because a secular West, having already gotten the better of one religion - Christianity - would be least interested in discussing with Islam issues of a transcendental nature. But here one might ask whether such issues are the only possible subject matter of such a dialogue. Is it not possible for Muslim civilization (assuming that such an entity exists and can be identified as such) to interact with Western civilization on other grounds and work for a common cause? Second, if Western culture is unwilling to take the initiative and meet Islam half way, can Islam take the initiative and meet the West half way? Must Islam be reactive? Does it have, or can it evolve, a creative or proactive agenda of its own? Third, even though Western culture today is the dominant culture in the world, it is not the only culture Islam has to contend with. How does Islam propose to deal with such non-western cultures as Buddhist or Hindu? One might argue that what Muslims need is a 'general theory' of non-Muslim civilization - a theory whose factual base does not consist solely of data gathered from the study of a single - Western - civilization. 

2. The category of the West is problematic. In reading Islam 2000, one cannot escape the impression that Hofmann regards the West as monolithic. But if Islam may not be stereotyped as a monolithic entity, the West may not be stereotyped as such either. For one thing, there is a noticeably strong movement, in the West, of conversion to Islam - as Hofmann himself is proof. For another, one might ask, Which civilization in history has always taken a thoroughly compassionate and conscientious view of others? Put differently, whose responsibility is it to present a favorable image of a civilization? The West may be responsible for stereotyping Islam, but have not Muslims through their apathy and inaction, aided and abetted that stereotyping? And, incidentally, have Muslims not stereotyped the West? If stereotyping stands in the way of true understanding between the West and Muslims, then perhaps more than one party is responsible for creating the problem. 

3. Equally problematic, at least in the context of this book, is the category of Islam - or, rather, of the Islam world. Hofmann seems to pit the abstract theory of Islamic religion against the empirically lived reality of the Western system of life. Needles to say, any such confrontation - or comparison - can be manipulated to the advantage of theory, which can be presented as a coherent whole as opposed to a system in operation that can be shown to the contradiction-ridden. But, quite apart from the fact that the lived reality of Islam in different parts of the Muslim world is not exactly marked by a high degree of coherence or consistency, one can say that the Islam and Western worlds do not, perhaps, exist as discrete entities. Westernism does not flourish somewhere beyond the borders of the Islamic world; it exists right in the midst of the Muslim world, and Western technological models and intellectual systems have, whether we like it or not, become part and parcel of the life of hundreds of millions of Muslims. An important part of the homework for all Muslim thinkers is to figure out how Western modes of thought and culture penetrated the Muslim world in the first place. The West would not have become dominant had it not been stronger, but, conversely, the Islamic world would not have come in last had it not had a few chinks in its armor. 

4. Hofmann speaks of radical development within Christianity - developments that, according to him, have undermined the very foundation of Christianity. The implication is that Islam has stood its ground against the winds of modernity. But if Christianity has been battered by modernity, then it may be because it was this religion that bore the brunt of the onslaught of modernity. What are the grounds for predicting that Islam will emerge unscathed from a full-scale war with modernity? It would be unfair to charge a serious thinker like Hofmann with triumphalism, but it may be a little early to reach definitive conclusions about the relationship between religion and science. Twentieth-century physics may be different from nineteenth-century physics, but it is a moot point whether modern science has, to use Hofmann's words 'reopened the door for the entry of religion into science' (p. 23). Anthony Giddens, author of The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, 1990), powerfully argues that 'we are moving into [a period] in which the consequences of modernity are becoming more radicalized and universalized than before' (p. 3; see also 47 ff.). As a side note, one may say that Christianity, in its conflict with science, may appear to be down, but it is certainly not out, as can be witnessed by the enormous amount of literature that is continually being produced by deeply committed Christian scholars on issues arising from that conflict. 

In spite of the above criticisms to which it may be subject, the book is a worthy contribution to the still small body of what may be called the Muslim literature of self-reflection. Hofmann raises a number of important issues, and a candid debate on these issues, both inside the Muslim community and between Muslims and non-Muslims, can only help to clarify the vision of Muslims as they move into the new millennium. 
(Courtesy 'Studies in Contemporary Islam', vol 1, no 2, fall 199

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
  Topics: Islam
Views: 2443

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