Sunday, June 15, 2008

From the inside, it looks different

Last night CBC showed a docudrama, supposedly about the lives of the 9/11 hijackers and the CIA's sporadic attempts to monitor them. I didn't catch the title, and didn't watch more than 20 minutes of it. As a piece of TV, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either. The politically-loaded content aside, non-Muslim actors can never seem to get their Muslim characters right, unless they've grown up somewhere with a strong Muslim presence.

There's something about the way they stress their "Insha'allahs" and their "Alhamdulillahs" - translating only makes it sound goofier. The words are thrown in for the sake of authenticity, but to anyone who's ever used such expressions conversationally, it sounds so obviously forced, and blemishes whatever talent the actor might actually have. The fact that the "Islamic expressions" vary with language and culture is never captured in North American films very well either, which are still struggling to overcome their confusion between Arabs and Muslims.

I recall hearing an Egyptian (I think) author on the radio, talking about this problem in literature. She said something to the effect of "If you take the literal translation, it means something different. If you write 'Wa'nabi, pass me the spoon,' and translate it without knowing its cultural context, you get 'By the Holy Prophet, Pass me the spoon,' when really it should be 'Please pass me the spoon'."

This lack of mutual understanding leads to bigger problems. Take, for instance, the insistence of many Westerners, conservatives and liberals alike, that Islam needs to be "reformed." Professional warmonger Daniel Pipes recently penned an article in the conservative-zionist Jerusalem Post, offering his weighty opinion on a Turkish project to create a new compilation of Prophetic narrations. Quoth Pipes:

. . .Other observers are more skeptical. Hashim Hashimi, a former MP, for example, states that "There are established views on Islam and how it should be practiced that have been in place for 1400 years. And they aren't going to change any time soon." Even the head of the ministry, Ali Bardako─člu, acknowledges that "we are not reforming Islam; we are reforming ourselves."

What to make of this initiative? Serious efforts to modernize Islam, which this appears to be, are most welcome. At the same time, one has to wonder about agendas when government intercedes in the subtle and even subversive domain of religious reform. . .

. . . By limiting its subject matter, the project might forward Islamism more than modernize Islam. True reform awaits true reformers – not Islamist functionaries but independent, modern individuals intent on aligning Islam with the best of modern mores.
To Pipes's sense of faux-expertise, Bardako─člu's statement seems like a disappointment. "Aw, you mean you're not actually reforming Islam? Dang it, why won't these Muslims learn?"

This is because when many "Westerners" speak of Islam, they are speaking of something deeply, but subtly different from what Muslims mean when they speak of Islam. The European religious experience included the Reformation and Counter-Reformations of the Church, which opened new chapters in Christian theology and in the religious practices of Christians all over the continent.

A church though, is an organization that can be reformed. Islam is not, and that's where the confusion lies.

Islam, in the minds of Muslims, is not defined by what the Muslims do, and its definition is only hinted at in the scripture and secondary texts. Islam, in the end, is defined by God. This is why every religious opinion published by an Islamic scholar ends with the formulation "And Allah knows best" as a reminder of their own human uncertainty. The traditional schools of jurisprudence came to the understanding amongst themselves that contradiction between them had to be expected and accepted - they were only seeking what was praiseworthy in the sight of God; none of them could claim total certainty about the answer.

So how could the Turkish project ever claim to be "Reforming Islam" and maintain any credibility at all? All Muslims understand that Islam is what it is, not what you want it to become. What is recognized, however, is that Muslims must ponder what Islam is, and discard old ways of thinking that they may have thought were "Islamic" in favour of beliefs and practices that are more profoundly so.

With this understanding of Islam, the "reform" that is "required" (required by whom?) sounds like gibberish, if not cultural imperialism. What kind of arrogant pipsqueak would attempt such a monstrosity - to redefine sanctity and morality according to his own whims, or even those of "modernity." The credibility of such sentiments certainly isn't helped by Daniel "Let's Bomb the Muslims" Pipes.

Reform Islam? Astaghfirullah!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: