Friday, 5 February 2016

Ummah! Revisiting Raji al-Faruqi

The conception of Ummah seems to be a connecting link to the host of ideas he advocated with great force.
Living in a world that appears to be decisively shaped by Enlightenment ideals, how do we theorize the conception of Islamic international community/world order or Ummah, especially in terms that modern political thought would be compelled to take a serious note of? How is it possible to teach to a world wedded to notions of democracy, nation-state, international bodies, like UN, that there is a possible ideal or an alternative to the whole trajectory that has been taken? Today, when political philosophy is exploring afresh once abandoned thinkers or notions to help us manoeuvre the problems and contradictions that have been bequeathed us by Enlightenment thinkers, we discuss a philosopher-martyr, first rate scholar and theorist of Islam and comparative religion and brilliant postcolonial intellectual, Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi who also theorized alternative political approach based on his appropriation of traditional Islamic sources. His institutionalisation of the project of Islamization of knowledge, understood as one of the attempts by postcolonial critics to write back to the Empire, has been an idea that inspired diverse scholars to come up with alternative histories and even epistemologies of history of sciences, and one can see it resonating or echoing in many thought currents that question hegemony of Eurocentrism and Scientism. The conception of Ummah seems to be a connecting link to the host of ideas he advocated with great force. I don’t know of any important Muslim thinker who has deliberated on the idea of Ummah in modern history and has excelled him in comprehensiveness, erudition and mastery of a host of modern disciplines from comparative religion to comparative theology to philosophy of natural and human sciences, that one needs to effectively articulate a much ignored and misunderstood concept.  He has been called a modern Mujtahid and I would like to explore the possibility of dialogue between him, Falzur Rahman (who brought him to Pakistan), Nasr (who was also greatly interested in Islamization or more precisely Traditionalization of Knowledge project) and Ziauddin Sardar (who has insightfully written on Muslim predicament in the postmodern world, but is critical of Nasr and revivalist camp, though  has been active contributor to Islamization of knowledge project). Muslim world needs all of them and many more to add to what Sardar calls a critical mass of public intellectuals who would help articulate an authentic and informed Muslim response to modernity, especially its politics.
      I think methodologically Faruqi is simply brilliant and one might concede his key terms of debate or accept his framing of the issue. Imagine a huge voluntary organization with over a billion members committed to giving witness to truth, reason, tolerance, dialogue and fighting oppression anywhere in the world even at the cost of their lives. It constitutes a community with great resources at its command. This “organization” is funded wholly from internal resources and members are motivated by religious vision they all share. Wouldn’t all well-meaning people push for such a state of affairs and volunteer to serve it or facilitate it? And this is how al-Faruqi has presented the idea of Ummah in modern (though not in postmodern) idiom.
      I briefly mention some basic ideas and principles of the concept of ummah formulated in Faruqi’s work that are relevant to the debate on secularization, Khilafah or Islamic State. To quote him:
  • “The ummah is an order of humans consisting of a tripartite consensus of mind, heart, and arm… In its purview, all men are one, measurable only in terms of piety. There is hence no Tawhid without the Ummah.”
  • “Ummah is necessarily universal, intended to cover humanity. Islam countenances no color, no race, no chosen people complex, no nationalism, no relativism in anything that matters.”
  • “… the Ummah is responsible for mankind. The highest standard is justice. The Muslim is obliged to realize it in his person, his family, his country, the world, or on the other side of the moon. Likewise, he is obliged to redress the balance of justice whenever and wherever it is upset by anyone, be he commoner of king.”
  • “The Ummah is a universal order comprehending even those who are not believers. It is an order of peace, a Pax Islamica, forever open to all those individuals and groups who accept the principle of the freedom to convince and to be convinced of the truth, who seek a world order in which ideas, goods, wealth, or human bodies are free to move. The Pax Islamica is an international order far surpassing the United Nations, that child of yesteryear, aborted and warped by the principles of the nation state and the dominion of the “big powers,”…  and ultimately based on axiological and ethical relativism.”
       Given mystical undercurrent of (post)modern and traditionalist scholarship and sensibility that emphasizes metaphysical-esotericist hermeneutics of Sufis, it might find al-Faruqi’s key ideas regarding the religious other and binary of Islamization vs. Tradiionalization, or his over-stretching of ummatism vs. nation-state binary somewhat problematic, his compelling presentation is needed to be appropriated for better understanding of traditional Muslim theological viewpoint. Al-Faruqi himself is, methodologically, quite open to debate anything under the sun as would appear from his following statements: 
  • “Islamic da’wah is…an invitation to think, to debate and argue. The right to think is innate and belongs to all men. No man may preemptively deny it to any human. … da’wah must be the end product of a critical process of intellection. Da’wah is directed to Muslims as well as non-Muslims.” Da’wah is anamnesis. Da’wah is the call of man to return to himself.”
  • “God, in Islam, is the truth. His unity is the unity of the sources of truth.” “As methodological principle, rationalism is constitutive of the essence of Islamic civilization. It consists of three rules or laws: first, rejection of all that does not correspond with reality; second, denial of ultimate contradictories; third, openness to new and/or contrary evidence. The Muslim is definable as the person who claims nothing but the truth…The third rule, openness to new or contrary evidence, protects the Muslim against literalism, fanaticism, and stagnation causing conservatism. It inclines him to intellectual humility.” 
      Although most of the questions that immediately arise in the modern mind regarding the notion of Ummah are also addressed by him, however, some question that intrigue us receive less attention. For instance, given effective idea of Ummah in force for centuries, would this world have any serious problems still left and would there be need for other people from different organizations without any religious motivation, or motivated by purely secular factors, to be even better known or more zealously involved in similar work than the members of such a community/organization? What would one think if such a huge organization has not been able to even state clearly what it is for and most of its own members are confused regarding its basic mandate and other people fear it and wish this didn’t exist? 
      What is needed is a critical engagement with al-Faruqi, not what he espouses in details but how strictly or consistently he is able to stick to the principles he so insightfully articulates. We need to emphasize open ended nature of rationality, wisdom, intellection, dialogue, tolerance that al-Faruqi emphasizes himself as methodological and hermeneutical principles. It appears to me that there are attempts to foreclose certain possibilities in Faruqi himself and we need to resist. The most surprising is his critique of Sufi understanding of Tawhid. If ever there has been an open, intellectual, objective approach it is Sufi one. Explorations of ideas of justice in Rawls, in Sen and Derrida, for instance, should  not be irrelevant in theorizing the strategies tackled to face challenges humanity – Ummah’s horizon – collectively suffers.  If the fruit of dawah is wisdom, and we can acknowledge that humankind is agreed on pursuit of wisdom, we can, with Al-Faruqi, critique all exclusivist ideological notions that have divided us or have been hegemonic. I wonder if any significant difference would be made if we substitute the word Transcendence centric for Islamic (which Faruqi himself primarily defines in terms that emphasize Transcendence of Divine Principle) but how much would be gained in terms of communicative dialogue with secular and religious fundamentalist. Al-Faruqi’s legacy is relevant in critiquing both ISIS and other ideologies appropriating Islam minus its methodological universalism and secularism ignorant of the First Principles.

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