You are on page 1of 2

WESTERN MUSLIM Intellectuals and INTELLECTUALS & 21the Challenge of THE CHALLENGE OF may 2011 Islamic Religious ISLAMIC

RELIGIOUS university of REFORM


westminster Reform 309 regent street london w1b 2uw

ONE DAY Western Muslim CONFERENCE

this conference seeks to focus mainly on the possible contribution of the western-based muslim intellectuals The debate by organised on Islamic religious reform (not to to say the Islamic Reformation) has inten-religious reform, assessing their claims and examining the t h e d e m o c r ac y a n d i s l a m sified in recent years (Binder, 1988; an- evidence from historical experience. the proposed p ro g r a m m e , c e n t r e f o r t h e s t u dy o f conference will invite a selected group of prominent Naim, 1990; AbuSulayman (1993); d e m o c r ac y, u n i v e r s i t y o f w e s t m i n s t e r muslim western intellectuals who are currently at the Kurzman, 1998; El-Affendi, 2001 and 2003; forefront of reform activism, together with a number of i n t e r n at n a l t h eBrowers i oand i n s t i t u t e o f 2004; Al-Alwani, Kurzman, scholars, experts and activists with the hope of islamic thought (iiit london office) 2005, 2006; Abu Zayd, 2006; Ramadan, presenting a candid assessment of both the current 2009). However, with l h r h p r i n c e a lwa l e e d b i n ta l a some particular exstatus of the religious reform endeavour and the c e n tceptions,m i c s t u d i e s , r e o f i s l a such as Indonesia, most of the depossible and desired contribution of western muslim university of cambridge bate has been going on in the West.intellectuals to it. scholars and observers of the scene In addition, there is a perception that the de- also be invited to offer their thoughts and will theme has been driven more by Western bate evaluations. Debate on Islamic taming Islam in the post-9/11 concerns for religious reform has intensified in recent decades. visions, needs debate on Islamic religious reform (not to say the The era than with inherent Muslim This and concerns. Nodominated debate has been less significantly, the deIslamic Reformation) has intensified in recent years (Binder, 1988; an-Naim, 1990; AbuSulayman (1993); by Western Muslim intellectuals,Western Musbate has been dominated by Kurzman, 1998; El-Affendi, 2001 and 2003; Browers and or intellectuals who have moved lim intellectuals, or intellectuals who have Kurzman, 2004; Al-Alwani, 2005, 2006; Abu Zayd, 2006; to the West.to the West, some as exiles after moved Are Western-based Ramadan, 2009). However, with some particular Muslim intellectuals rejection at home. their ideas faced the right exceptions, such as Indonesia, most of the debate has people to lead this debate and been going on in the West. In addition, there is a what has been their contribution? perception that the debate has been driven more by Western concerns for taming Islam in the post-9/11 era fees and info than with inherent Muslim visions, needs and concerns. Attendance by Registration only No less significantly, the debate has been dominated by 25.00 Western Muslim intellectuals, or intellectuals who have Refreshments included moved to the West, some as exiles after their ideas faced rejection at home. For all information please contact:
elkouemo@staff.westminster.ac.uk

This configuration of the reform discourse has raised a number of significant points, including whether the West is the right arena for such a debate given the current tension between Muslim regions and key Western governments? And are Western-based Muslim intellectuals the right people to lead the debate? For a number of Muslim thinkers from inside and outside the West, the answer for both questions is a resoundingly positive one. The Malaysian scholar Osman Bakar went so far as to argue in 2001 that America was about to become the second Mecca for Muslims where a vibrant exchange of Islamic ideas and activities can take place between people originating from many parts of the world. Bakar added: "The United States is the freest country in the world. Historically, Islam flourishes in a society where there's freedom" (Hashim, 2001; Bakar, 2003). A leading Muslim European thinker, the German-born Murad Wilfred Hoffman, made a similar argument in favour of the West as a whole, where he argued that Islam was witnessing an unprecedented renaissance, and where much more intellectual Islamic work was being produced than in traditional Muslim centres of scholarship (Tammam, 2004). Others argued that, while these claims raise some serious points, they are somewhat exaggerated and they tend to miss the point about the nature of the required (or possible) religious reform in general, and not only Islamic religious reform (El-Affendi, 2009). For viable religious reform can only result from the internal dynamics of the community of believers, and is usually driven by zealous, even fanatical, impulses at its inception. In this regard, the urbane, usually secular, Muslim intellectual living in exile, cannot be the tool of such a reform. These claims fall into two interrelated categories. Primarily, the concern is for autonomy, for developing a specifically western version of Islam, or Euro-Islam, which would be more congenial and appropriate for Muslim minorities living in secular nonMuslim democracies. For its proponents, this is a survival strategy:

Muslims in Europe must incorporate the ideals of cultural pluralism, secularism, tolerance and cultural modernity or risk permanent alienation and marginalisation in Europe (Tibi, 2002). As Tariq Ramadan puts it, Muslims have to overcome their double inferiority complex vis--vis the West on the one hand, and the wider Muslim world on the other. However, it is precisely due to the complexity of this challenge that their endeavour would enable them to play a decisive role in the evolution of Islam worldwide. The engagement of Western Muslims with the challenges of integration into secular democracies is the same challenge facing Muslims at large in coming to terms with modernity (Ramadan, 2004). Both claims raise serious issues. There is no doubt that the contribution of indigenous European Muslims, like the British Marmaduke William Pickthall (18751936), and Austrian-born Muhammad Asad (1900-1992), remains significant to this day. Asad inaugurated the dominant neotraditionalist trend among Western converts to Islam. (El-Affendi, 2009, Bakar, 2005a). The influence of subsequent generations is less assured. Their input has become the focus of attention in the media and within western and Muslim intellectual circles, largely due to the glare of publicity these contributions generated in the post-September 11 climate. In this postIslamist era, characterised by disillusionment about Islamic revivalism and its promises (Bayat, 2007), their role has been enhanced by the clamouring for reform in official (and semiofficial) policy circles both in the West and in major Muslim countries. Both Western and Muslim governments have made the promotion of a more moderate Islam a priority to counter various forms of radicalism. There is also, in addition, a genuine grass roots demand for alternative visions of Islam to replace the discredited extremist or ideological schemas now being shunned by an increasing number of disillusioned individuals and sectors.

Selected Bibliography AbuSulayman, AbdulHamid (1993), Crisis in the Muslim Mind, USA: IIIT. _____ (1994) Towards An Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought, USA: IIIT. an-Naim, Abdullahi A. (1990) Towards an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. Al-Alwani, Taha (2005) Issues in Contemporary Islamic Thought, UK: IIIT. _____ (2006) Islamic Thought: An Approach to Reform, UK: IIIT. Bakar, Osman (2003) The Intellectual Impact of American Muslim Scholars on the Muslim World, with Special Reference to Southeast Asia, a paper of The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, June 2003, http://cmcu.georgetown.edu/PDFs/Intellectual_impact_of_American_Muslim_scholars.pdf. ______ (2005a) The Intellectual Impact of American Muslims Scholars on the Muslim World, with Special Reference to Southeast Asia, in Strum (2005), pp. 87-102. Binder, Leonard (1988) Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bayat, Asef (2007) Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn, Stanford University Press. Browers, Michaelle and Charles Kurzman, eds. (2004) An Islamic Reformation? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. El-Affendi, Abdelwahab (2001) Rethinking Islam and Modernity: Essays in Honour of Fathi Osman, Leicester: The Islamic Foundation. _______ (2003) What is Liberal Islam? The Elusive Reformation pp., pp. 34-39, Journal of Democracy, vol. 14, (April 2003). _______ (2009) The People of the Edge: Religious Reform and the Burden of the Western Muslim Intellectual, Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review, Autumn, 2009. Hashim, Salmy (2001) US May Become Centre Of Islamic Activities Bernama, MALAYSIAN NEWS: FEATURES, April 16 , 2001 17:20PM (online at: http://usembassymalaysia.org.my/Bernama0416.html. Kurzman, Charles (1998) Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, New York: Oxford University Press. Nasr Abu Zayd (2006), Reformation of Islamic Thought: A Critical Historical Analysis (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006. Ramadan, Tariq (2009) Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation, Oxford: Oxford University Press. _____ (2004) Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tammam, Hossam (2004), Islamic Renaissance in the West: An Interview with Murad Hoffman, IslamOnline.net, 15/01/2004. http://www.islamonline.net/english/ArtCulture/2004/01/article07.shtml. Tibi, Bassam (2002) Muslim Migrants in, Europe: Between Euro Islam and Ghettoisation, in AlSayyad and Castells, 2002, pp. 31-52.