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April 08, 2003

A lighter shade of green

Zach Latif pointed me to this green-dude that is going to do a series on the "Secularization of Islam." This is on-deck for me, but I have a nasty tendency not to want to write without a reasonable understanding of the issues at hand-and my Islamic education is very sparse, my knowledge of Islam is most definately that of a kaffir. Religiously & politically liberal Muslims like Aziz Poonwalla & the Zack & Amber collective intrigue me (while Ikram Saeed is a Canadian-also, I note that I didn't say Left-wing, there are plenty of socialist Muslims, my parents to extent fall into that camp, but they are not social liberals). My personal perspective from my knowledge of kaffir religious history-which I know better-is that Islam's tendency toward sola scriptura (by scripture alone) will mean that though it seems vital and vigorous now, it will collapse to leave behind a rump of fanatics/orthodox very quickly, unfortunately, we won't see the inflection point coming. This is what happened after the "liberalization" of the Jewry during the Jewish Enlightenment and the rise of "modernism" in European Protestantism [1]. The United States is the last white Protestant country by devotion as well as confession....

On a random note, anyone know anything about the little dancing girls in the new Missy Elliott video? The little white one and the Asian one?

Update: Frontpage has an article on the "Green Menace." Of course, they mean enviros, while I use green for Islam. I will now use faux green for enviros, like I use faux brown for Latinos. There are 1.2 billion Muslims and many enviros are pretty fake in their my personal opinion (not all-even most, but a non-trivial portion), so I think they get the faux even though it is not common usage. Similary, Latinos can be any color, not just brown, and the numbers again, there are 1.3 billion South Asians....

Update II: This article was titled, "Why Muslims are afraid of J-Lo" over at Beliefnet. I think it was kind of deceptive-it didn't talk about what the hadiths had to say on how tight a shawl should flow over her round rump....


[1] Spengler asserts that fundamentalism expresses the dying gasp of one cycle of a civilization. Protestant Christianity-which was more "fundamentalist" in a modern understanding of the term-attempting to return to "primitive Christianity"-might in such a manner be seen as the last gasp of medieval Christendom.

Posted by razib at 11:13 PM




Islam makes very large claims for itself. It claims direct divine revelation and inspiration from the Custodial Papa Above (a.k.a. the Semitic "sky-god"). It claims to offer a total program of personal and social conduct, and depending on which sura and hadith you emphasize, it appears to warrant global, militant proselytism. Muslims can hardly complain if these tenets are subjected to close scrutiny and even strong disagreement. Islam's lack of a formal church order or Catholic-like hierarchy makes the emergence of a "Protestant" or "Reformation" Islam inconceivable. My favourite book on Islam is the rationalist critique "Why I Am Not a Muslim" published under the pseudonym Ibn Warraq. I understand, however, that a mass conversion to philosophical atheism is not a likely outcome of the present situation in much of the Muslim world.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 9, 2003 05:34 AM


Thebit (the green dude) has a fair amount of good stuff on his blog. He's mainstream (though somewhat modernist) Sunni, so his blog is more spot-on than Aziz's, which is very informative, but speaks from a very small minority community (Dawoodi Bohras).

You're right to point out that, in the rich world, only Americans (and Afrikaaners) care about God. To all other rich peple, God's yesterday's news.

As for a "protestant" Islam, this discussion has been done in great detail on Aziz's blog (see "Wahabism is the reformation?" in the sidebar).

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at April 9, 2003 08:00 AM


Stephen Schwartz (in a recent issue of The Atlantic Online) addressed the fallacy of seeing Wahhabism as a "Protestant" version of Islam.

Q. What sort of comparisons would you draw between Wahhabi Islam and puritanical branches of Christianity and Judaism? Are there any similar motivations behind them?

A. Absolutely. This is an extremely complex and paradoxical issue. In Islam, there has always been the argument that Wahhabism arose directly as an imitation of Protestant Christianity. And there are Wahhabis who do make this comparison. They say, "We are creating a Protestant Islam." I used to respond to this by saying to Wahhabis, "If you're looking for models from the Christian world, the Catholics are much better models." If I went to Jerry Falwell and asked him how he thinks the poetry of William Blake relates to theology, it is very doubtful he would even know what I was talking about. If I were to go to Pat Robertson and ask him what he thought of John Milton as a representative of Protestant culture, it's very doubtful he would have an intelligent comment. But I can go to a Catholic priest anywhere in the Catholic world and talk about philosophy and poetry, literature and art, because Catholicism is a whole civilization. If you want a Protestant-style Islam, fine, I can't stop you from wanting that, but Protestantism begins with John Milton and ends with Jimmy Swaggart. A Protestant-style Islam would be stripped down, with no spirituality, no sense of Islam as a civilization or a culture, no love of poetry, of mysticism, of religious philosophy, no beautiful mosques. When you look at Protestantism versus Catholicism, or Wahhabism versus traditional Islam, these are the striking parallels. It's a big cliché in the West: "Islam needs a Reformation." No, Islam does not need a reformation. If Islam needs anything comparable to developments in Christian history, it needs a Counter-Reformation. That is, what the Catholics did. You reaffirm faith, you reaffirm tradition, but you adjust the day-to-day functioning of the Church to the realities of a modern society.

The bottom line is this. I always said to the Wahhabis, You think the world is impressed when someone goes into a bus in Israel and blows up a bunch of kids. That doesn't impress people. What impresses people about Islam is a picture of the Taj Mahal. What impresses people who are not Muslims is Islam as a culture, Islam as a civilization, Islam as a set of beautiful mosques. Wahhabism wants to get rid of all that, it wants to drain all of that out of the religion.

There is one extremely important difference, however. Protestantism did not attempt to enforce conformity. Protestantism fostered pluralism. Wahhabism does not foster pluralism, unlike traditional Islam, which is pluralistic, non-conformist, and allows for a multiplicity of opinions. And that's why, in the end, I now essentially reject the parallel.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 9, 2003 09:39 AM


There is one extremely important difference, however. Protestantism did not attempt to enforce conformity. Protestantism fostered pluralism. Wahhabism does not foster pluralism, unlike traditional Islam, which is pluralistic, non-conformist, and allows for a multiplicity of opinions. And that's why, in the end, I now essentially reject the parallel.

there are many problems with the analogy, but we have to grasp something to communicate, and yes, the "reformation" will never happen in islam, but the tendency toward "primitivism" that is emerging in modern islam resembles the tendency that exploded in the reformation. please note that the reformation was the *successful* revolt against universal christendom-there were others who attempted to tear the moorings away from the christian consensus and become more "pure"-the donatists, albigensians, hussites and lollards come to mind, though all differed on the specifics, they had the commonality of being repulsed by the "worldliness of the church."

the baroque richness of traditional islam is disappearing-stephen scwhartz's sufi-hanafi-nasqshbandiya-turkish influenced mysticism does not have the same appeal to the masses-it is no surprise he is a well educated cosmopolitan half-jew by background. i have seen this and read about in both bangladesh and indonesia-as literacy spreads, the masses need a simple message and are less likely to be reigned in by their religious leaders. my own family served as religious leaders in our local area (outside of chandpur for those in the know)-my father is a rather moderate hanafi, and that is because his own father is-and he is one of the who i have stand up to salafis point by point-but this background is not common, most muslims come to salafism as "near-pagans."

more later (i also disagree with the idea that the new islam will not to lead to sectarianism, the protestant reformation started out as an attempt to *transform* universal christendom, only a few generations did the idea of partial salvation by the elect become accepted as the practical reality)

Posted by: razib at April 9, 2003 12:41 PM


What about the "Gossip Folks" little girls? Do you mean--who are they? Or what they were doing there? What was the point? Because I was wondering about that too. Was it like a conscious attempt to put the two races who don't generally appear in rap videos in a rap video, but in an ironic way? That's such a weird, entertaining video.

Posted by: Justin Slotman at April 9, 2003 03:39 PM


"more later (i also disagree with the idea that the new islam will not to lead to sectarianism, the protestant reformation started out as an attempt to *transform* universal christendom, only a few generations did the idea of partial salvation by the elect become accepted as the practical reality)"

Islam, like other religions, is man-made. So Islam is schismatic to a considerable degree, and contains many more warring subdivisions that the well-known division between Sunni and Shia. Throughout its history Islam has shown to be quite adaptable to local conditions. Its best historical moments, in Andalusia and Alexandria, have involved synthesis with other faiths and cultures. It is that very "plurality" that the the sinister Saudi-Wahhabi alliance would like to see eradicated. The nexus of "charities" and madrasahs through which indoctrination, sectarianism, and frenzied prophecy have been promulgated with the help of Saudi petro-dollars has been well publicized and reported. A less familair story is the resistance to the Wahhabi dangerous fanatics by believers in Central Asia, Bosnia, etc. Let's imagine that the Ku Klux Klan suddenly becomes the rules of Texas, and has all the wealth acquired from the sale of Texas oil. The Klan then use this money to build up a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom to preach their particular wacky brand of Christianity. You will have an approximate idea of what has happened in the Islamic world. Because of oil money, the Saudis established a whole network of vschools and colleges all over the Islamic world. To those who doubt the validity of my comparison between the Klan and the Wahhabi cult, I will respond by stating that it's a fair analogy in the sense that both are radical, violent, and extreme doctrines. Without oil money the Wahhabi cult would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country. Thanks to oil money this extreme, radical, puritan form of Islam has spread all over the Islamic world.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 9, 2003 04:42 PM


Neechy (speling sux) - I get your point (it'S not new, ts the same point many right-wing publications make), and am a little sypmathetic to the ends -- but you are far too polemical.

Instead of Salafis are the Klan (!!), go with a more concrete (less over the top) religious analogy -- Salafis are Calvinists, circa 1630. Or Salafis are Puritans with mega-oil money and have bought out Rome.

Or, Salafis are Opus Dei, but with more power.

The Klan stuff is an American overreach. It's like that 'islam-o-fascism" thing. (Which sounds more like Islam O'Fascism, the Irish muslim convert son of Eamon De Valera.) Not every bad thing is 'fascism'. there are a variety of bad things in the world, each different in its own away. Thing about history, and find the right analogy.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at April 10, 2003 06:29 AM


Unlike the Klan and the Wahhabi cult, Opus Dei does not espouse a radical, violent, and extreme doctrine. Opus Dei (or simply "Work" for its members and cooperators) is a Roman Catholic institution within the Roman Catholic Church. Only recently the founder of Opus Dei (Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer) was canonized by the Pope. Secondly, Opus Dei is an elite organization within the Roman Catholic Church, its members tend to be highly educated professionals. Opus Dei puts great emphasis on learning and its members are strongly encouraged to seek Ph.d's. Although it is true that they are somewhat puritanical, they are not more so than your average Calvinist (with whom they share more than a just few things in common. For example, their doctrine of salavation through hard work, etc.). I stand by my analogy.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 10, 2003 08:52 AM


quibble-"salvation through hard work" is a rather simplification, and for the lay person rather ambivelant in intent, when characterizing the calvinist position. they were after all presdestinationists that believed in The Elect-hard work simply was an indicator who these Elected few were, but it was all preordained....

the debates on theodicy, free will, the-nature-of-god, etc. are why i am more than sympathetic to killing a cow, burying it and jumping around a snake idol shouting about how great the gods are-and would they like a virgin too? wacked out, but at least without excuse....

Posted by: razib at April 10, 2003 02:11 PM


"the debates on theodicy, free will, the-nature-of-god, etc. are why i am more than sympathetic to killing a cow, burying it and jumping around a snake idol shouting about how great the gods are-and would they like a virgin too? wacked out, but at least without excuse...."

Yes, but some of the best western minds were obsessed with the religious impulse. Case in point, Sir Isaac Newton for whom science and theology went hand in hand. As part of his science, he wanted to discover patterns in nature, to find God's will in nature. He brought the same attitude to the study of the sacred Sripture -- he wanted to decode Scripture, because he had a sense that if he could do it, he would have some insight into God that his contemporaries didn't. In other words, Newton's invention of calculus and his explanation of garvity were born not out of secular scientific curiosity but a desire to unravel the mysteries of creation, to get closer to God. Yet Newton's religious faith was radical, even by today's standards. Newton was a heretic. His examination of the Bible led him to deny the Holy Trinity of Father/Son/Ghost team, the most fundemental doctrine of the Christian Church. He considered it polytheistic. He believed the Church had become corrupted in the early centuries after Christ, and he predicted God would unleash Armageddon on the world for the purpose of restoring a pure and primitive Christianity. He believed that following the apocalypse and the abolition of the corrupt Church, Jebus would return to the world with a small cadre of resurrected believers such as himself (how presumptious!) to oversee a 1,000-year Knigdom of God on Earth. Using elaborate time charts based on his readings of the Bible books of Daniel and Revelations (it is estimated by many scholars that Newton spent about 2/3 of his time in his old age studying the book of Daniel), Newton predicted these events would not come to pass in his lifetime, but sometime around 2060. While I'm partial to sacrificing a young virgin and jumping around a snake-idol (sounds like more fun than studying the incomprehensible mumbo jumbo of the books of Daniel and Revelations), such paractices have done little to advance the cause of science and learning.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 10, 2003 06:29 PM


ok dokie

Posted by: ip address at May 4, 2003 01:51 AM