in category Other Sciences

How do Western scholars answer the question, what is Islam?

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Masters in Education from Nottingham University in the UK. Also studied Masters in Islamic Studies and Islamic Banking & Finance. Political activist with interests in Geopolitics, History and Phil ...
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Here's a brief summary of the different ways thinkers, researchers and scholars speak about Islam:

1. Bruce Lawrence speaks of Islam as a civilisation

2. Richard Eaton sees Islam as a world system as to analyse Islam as a cultural system is problematic because a system implies rigidity and tends to overshadow human agency

3. For Ahmed, there is “a dialectic: Islam makes Muslims and Muslims make (and continue to make) Islam.“

4. Talal Asad speaks of it as a discursive tradition, full of “dynamics of accommodation and expansion” (p.274).

5. Marshal Hodgson uses the term Islamicate to refer to everything cultural and worldly other than Islamic faith, the religious, or Muslim identity

6. Gustave E. von Grunebaum, identified Islam as a “system which aims primarily at regulating all and everything in the life of the individual...”

7. Ernest Gellner, characterized Islam as a scripturalist religion . . . which holds that the divine truth is not only a matter of doctrine about the nature of the world, but also, and perhaps primarily, a matter of quite detailed law concerning the conduct of life and society... “Islam is the blueprint of a social order. It holds that a set of rules exists, eternal, divinely ordained, and independent of the will of men, which defines the proper ordering of society.”

8. Brinkley Messick advises us to conceptualize shariʿa in a manner that facilates its analytic operation both as totalizing and as Islam: Caution must be attached to the conventional gloss for the shariʿa as “Islamic law.” The shariʿa . . . is better characterized, to adapt a phrase from Marcel Mauss, as a type of “total” discourse wherein all institutions find simultaneous expression: religious, legal, moral and economic. Political should be added to this list, for the shariʿa also provided the basic idiom of prenationalist political expression.

9. Jacques Waardenburg's “Normative Islam” is that form of Islam through which Muslims have access to the ultimate norms that are valid for life, action and thought . . . In classical Muslim terms, normative Islam is the Sharīʿa.

10. Dale F. Eickelman pointed out that “The Islams approach [was] inspired as a reaction both to the orientalist search for an ahistorical Islamic ‘essence’ and to the somewhat parallel venture of . . . unitarian Muslim fundamentalists who regard their interpretations of Islam as definitive”

11. Clifford Geertz - the way in which anthropologists have attempted to resolve the problem of diversity is to adapt the Orientalist distinction between orthodox and non-orthodox Islam to the categories of Great and Little Traditions, and thus to set up the seemingly more acceptable distinction between the scripturalist, puritanical faith of the towns and the saint-worshiping, ritualistic religion of the countryside. For anthropologists, neither form of Islam has a claim to being regarded as "more real" than the other. They are what they are, formed in different ways in different conditions - fit nicely into the two kinds of social and political structure: shari'a law in the cities, variable custom among the tribes; 'ulama in the former, saints in the latter

12. Aziz al-Azmeh’s book, Islams and Modernities, the monograph itself contains little conceptual or terminological discussion beyond al-Azmeh’s opening “contention that there are as many Islams as there are situations that sustain it..." which seems to posit a plurality of “Islams” without either negating or confirming the singular “it.”

13. Anthropologist Abdul Hamid el-Zein asked, “In the midst of this diversity of meaning is there a single, real Islam?” Consequently, all [approaches] claim to uncover a universal essence, the real Islam . . . Ironically the diversity of experience and understanding revealed in these studies challenges the often subtle premise of the unity of religious meaning.

14. For Ahmed Shahab, scholars should approach whatever Muslims say or do as Islam as a potential site or locus for articulation for being Muslim. Ahmed agrees with seeing Islam as a process, but one needs to locate what makes this specific process Islamic. Islam, Ahmed writes, “is a shared language by and in which people express themselves so as to communicate meaningfully in all their variety.” Ahmed proposes using the concepts of Pre-Text, to refer to the larger and prior dimension of Divine Revelation; of Text, that is the Revelation in its written form; and of Con-Text, that is the whole field of Revelation produced in the course of the human and historical hermeneutical engagement with Revelation to Muhammad. The spectrum of Revelation to Muhammad is therefore broad and deep, external and internal, and hierarchical (elite and commoners), literal and metaphorical, and private and public.

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