Sunday, July 24, 2005

Chasing your own axioms....   posted by Razib @ 7/24/2005 12:43:00 AM

Readers who are somewhat familiar with Islam should check out this comment over at Jason Soon's blog by a Muslim named Amir Butler. It is, in essence, a long apologia for "Salafism." After reading Western Muslims and the Future of Islam much of what he is saying is intelligible to me (and I know a little bit about Islam aside from that too!). Amir Butler is not a dissembler in the most direct fashion, but, he fails to remember that his audience does not share his axioms of belief. This makes a lot of what he says totally irrelevant and incomprehensible. For instance, the Muslim fixation with tawhid, is not something that can really be understandable outside of the religion. It is as interesting to non-Muslims as the details of the Monophysite controversies are to non-Christians (or more realistically, non-Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Christians). After reading Ramadan elucidate tawhid page after page, I felt like I was trying to read Heidegger ramble about Being or Wittgenstein whistle at elementary propositions (round and round we go, but the essence of God we never know!). Since the book was aimed at Muslims it made sense that he went on about tawhid, if Muslims can see that tawhid and Western democracy are compatible, all for the good. But many times when interviewed by non-Muslims the more pious of the believers tend to ramble on about Islamic concepts as if the interviewer really cares beyond trying to figure out a) why some Muslims blow themselves up around non-Muslims b) how non-Muslims can convince them not to do this anymore. As far as Amir Butler goes, I think his typological dodges simply seem like bizarre obfuscations, sociologically it is a plain fact that the most prominent Islamic nutsos have been self-proclaimed Salafis.1 This is the point that one needs to start from, the relationship of "Salafism" to the rest of Sunnism, or its difference from Shiism is really irrelevant, no one would care about Salafism if self-proclaimed Salafis hadn't rammed jets into skyscrapers, most non-Muslims aren't interested in what Islam is, they are interested in what Islam does.

Note: Also, let me add that I'm not one to consider pedantry a sin. But it seems to me that the response by Mr. Butler was totally off-base in the context of the question Jason was posing, how did the Salafi-Sufi split play out in Australia's Muslim community. Instead of a sincere, prosaic and plain response Jason was on the receiving end of theo-babble.

1 - Butler either mistakes, or shades, the details a bit as well. He attempts for example to assert that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-Salafi, after dodging back and forth with quotes to obscure the term Salafi in such a fashion as to make it hard to know if he thinks it's valid. The Brotherhood's ideology is hard to characterize because it is an enormous group (Banna and Qutb were certainly influenced by Salafi thinkers if you don't define them as Salafi), and the two primary groups which carried out the most radical Muslim terrorist acts in Egypt were breakaway factions of the Brotherhood which did explicitly espouse Salafi principles (Egyptian Islamic Jihad and The Islamic Group, Ayman Al-Zawahri is the leader of the first group).