“A ‘selective’ presentation and analysis of Islam and events in the Muslim world by prominent scholars and political commentators too often inform articles and editorials on the Muslim world. This selective analysis fails to tell the whole story, to provide the full context for Muslim attitudes, events and actions, or fails to account for the diversity of Muslim practice. While it sheds some light, it is partial light that obscures or distorts the full picture”.
Islam is not a new social phenomenon which belongs only to our century. It is a historical phenomenon which, in one form or another, has accompanied and to an extent, defined the world’s cultures as friend or foe since the 7th century. It is a phenomenon which has not been limited to a specific place, culture, or historical period. Different Muslim societies have redefined their relation to islam in ways which are most suitable to their socio-historical conditions. This means that throughout its historical peregrinations, islam has been a dynamic, multifaceted, changing, and adapting phenomenon. However, it would be wrong to deny based on this descriptive historical fact that another timeless dimension of islam exists. This dimension (beyond the ever changing cluster of descriptive features) has constantly been the subject of controversies in various scholarly and non-scholarly circles. The question of what is temporal, contextual and particular on the one hand, and what is timeless, transhistorical and universal in islam on the other, is an unresolved question.
The preliminary conclusion to draw from these debates in all its historical manifestations is that this question has been answered in conformity with and directed by the immediate circumstances and the interests of the people concerned. When needed for certain political or social reformist purposes, universal doctrines have been considered particular and at other times the particular has been treated as universal.
What this shows is that it is not easy to speak of islam as a single entity which can be neatly defined and subsumed under certain categories. It is an extremely difficult issue, more so because the interpretation of islam is very much conditioned by who does the interpreting and what purposes they want to achieve by interpreteing islam this way rather than that way. Looked at from this temporal and historical perspective, it is difficult to assume that anyone can say something representative about islam and Muslims.
The failure to define islam once and for all is owed, I believe, to the simple fact that such islam does not exist. It is an attempt to define a ghost. Moreover, the attempt is doomed to fail because it separates islam as a set of abstract doctrines and principles from the historical continuity of islam as embedded in the socio-historical consciousness of people who identify themselves as Muslims.
It is important to consider a set of relevant questions before passing moralizing judgement on islam and Muslims about certain actions they perform and beliefs they hold. These questions include: to what extent do Muslims put forward islam as the main organizer or signifier of their identity? In other words, is islam the first marker which comes to mind when we question Muslims as to who they are? Put differently, to what extent does islam hegemonize other markers of identity and begin to speak on their name? Supposing that islam is the first and hegemonic marker of identity, the next question to ask is why do they identify first as Muslims and then as something else, i.e., in terms of gender, ethnicity, profession, ideological orientation, etc? That is, why do they elevate islam from a contingent historical to an a priori transcendental hegemonic element which overdetermines the form and the content of all other identity signifiers? The last but not least relevant question to ask is what do they exactly mean by (the signifier) islam? Do they mean islam in its totality as a way of life or merely a certain aspect (i.e., juridical conception) of islam? Is their understanding of islam representative of all Muslims or do they speak from a certain particular subject-position?
Prior to dealing with these questions, every attempt to speak of islam in singular is futile. Moreover, every attempt to single out islam as the main driving force which explains Muslims’ actions is the most irresponsible form of ideology which passes as scholarship. Ideology not in the sense of providing a false answer to a real problem (bearing in mind the problem of Islam today is real enough of course.) Rather, the formulation of the question to be redressed, the mode of its presentation, and the medium through which it is delivered, is what is and what mystifies the problem. Ideological mystifications regarding Islam have been abundant both within and outside the Muslim logosphere. However, instead of seeking to redress the real causes of certain phenomena, a number of scholars have attempted to explain them by referring to the Koran or some other religious text.
It is in this series of mystifications that I would like to situate the polemical debate which went on for a while in October 2008 between Iffit Qureishi, Orientalistiske fantasier, – Qureishi was replying to an article of Lars Gule, Islams elendighet, published in Klassekampen on the 11 October-, and Lars Gule, Qureishis useriøse kritikk. This clash of misconceptions and consequently, the critical intervention of others, has brought the debate about orientalism back on the table. The debate was as interesting, though certainly not for intellectual reasons, as it was polarizing.
In his article Islams elendighet, Gule has portrayed islam as a doomsday religion with its all too vivid representation of heaven and hell. A religion that puts an all-powerful God at the centre of its universe of meaning. Islam legitimises the social and gender discrimination and oppression in Muslim societies. Islam, moreover, is a religion of fatalism. Gule exemplifies this by referring to the way Muslim drivers drive their cars. They drive irresponsibly and attribute the responsibility for the possible consequences, i.e., accidents, to God. Islam being as it is, a miserable religion, Gule says that the world would have been better off without Islam.
Qureishi on her part accuses Gule of spreading orientalist fantasises and supporting them with banal arguments. Qureishi maintains that Gule is driven by arrogance, eurocentrism and hatred of religion. Further, she states that Gule, at a time of increasing islamophobia, destroys the possibility of a constructive dialogue. She maintains that there are other reasons hindering the development of the Muslim world, such as continuous Western military aggressions and the double standards of Western foreign policy, and the instability of Muslim countries where many are ruled by dictatorship or suffer from war and hunger. Given this terrible situation in which Muslims find themselves in, it is not surprising that Qureishi feels that Gule is being unfair to both Islam and Muslims?
The significance of this debate is not so much for what it accomplished or the number of the responses that it got. It is a totally minor and insignificant incident. Rather, its significance lies in the fact that it raised some important questions which were completely overshadowed by the ensuing total failure to induce any critical debate and move the islam-debate beyond the demeaning generalizations and stereotypical clichés and to re-think many of our cherished orientalist conceptions and categories with which we study islam and Muslim people. The recent debate about islam more than anything else reveals the depths of an intellectual malady regarding islam. One is dumbfounded by the ignorance displayed and the low level of discussion that is taking place in the public debates regarding the ever-occurring problem of Islam, this hallucinatory figment of a ‘non’-orientalist imagination.
The first step toward any way out of this impasse is the simultaneous discrediting of both positions, namely that the world would have been better off without islam and the position which sees islam as the pinnacle of beauty and goodness and thereby discourages the recognition of any critical instance. No doubt they are both ideological and vulgar. There is no denying that islam, as it is practiced today by the majority of Muslims all over the globe, tolerates little or no critique of its fundamental assumptions, imageries, and fantasies. Indeed, this is a dimension of islam and Muslim practice that cannot be hidden under the carpet for us to pretend that it does not exist or that it has no bearing on the way Muslims act both locally and globally.
From the outset I would argue that the problem should be framed differently for the simple reason that islam does not work the way these two positions envision. Islam is not constructed according to a preconceived plan. This vision of islam with capital I, which is nothing more than a text written by God or the prophet and blindly carried out by Muslims, is untenable. Islam is a discourse constructed in a dialectical process in which there is no invariable ontological stability and the outcomes are undecided. There is no inevitability to understanding islam as a simple monolithic construct. Like all discourses, it is made of human efforts and it cannot be studied apart from the realities of Muslim people.
Orientalist fantasies or intellectual misery?
For a while we were beginning to think that the orientalism-debate had been resolved or at least, the representation of the other through the orientalist lens had become more nuanced. We could not have been more wrong. The October polemic has shown us otherwise. Orientalism has gone underground; repressed to a ‘collective scholarly unconscious’, which from time to time bursts out in the form of a symptom. Gule’s article Islams elendighet, despite his protestations to the contrary, is a case in point.
Gule is well aware of how orientalism has helped to perpetually create and reinforce a reductive black and white view of ‘us vs. them’. Nevertheless, he acts as if he does not know that. He may well argue, as he does, that he does not feed, with ‘expert knowledge’, the popular imagination and thereby the negative reception of islam and Muslims or that his critics fail to grasp his finer points. However he may view the issue, the unflattering portrait he paints of Muslims in his Islams elendighet is what orientalism is all about. In a nutshell Gule attributes to Muslims consistent patterns of behaviour and lampoons them as fanatics, irrational, primitive, puerile, decadent and dangerous. All this because they are Muslims. Because they believe in islam. No doubt if islam is that bad there is little hope or prospect for change and now, with the waves of Muslim imigration to the West, for integration.
I will not tackle the orientalism problem here or whether or not Gule is generalising about Muslims as Qureishi and Mcmillion maintain. Gule is not generalising as much as he is disseminating rampant negative stereotypical thinking about Muslims. Be that as it may, I am more concerned in this article with his understanding of islam than his generalizations.
The way we understand islam, what we understand islam to be and stand for, and how we see the relation of Muslims to islam, impacts the way we perceive Muslims in their alterity. Whether we subsume and objectify them under certain reductive analytic concepts, or whether we seek other more complex ways to understand them in their irreducible otherness. It has consequences on how we set to work regarding the presence of Muslims in Europe and Norway and their integration into the predominant societies. Among other factors taken into consideration regarding Muslims presence on European soil, our understanding of islam certainly influences the political decisions we take and the priorities we set to work on. If it is true that islam, for example, is the main cause that hinders the integration of Muslims, then we certainly would seek to find ways to reform or subvert islam. Is islam a real or false problem?
Let me be clear: I think Gule would have written the same article about Western Christians had they had as strong religious convictions as their Muslim counterparts do. It seems indisputable that the majority of Muslims have much stronger religious convictions than their Western Christian counterpart. All studies to the extent I have been able to follow, point in that direction. One cannot deny either, at least not form a post-metaphysical point of view, that there is as much intellectual misery and obscurantism in islam as there is in all other religions.
Gule is also right in maintaining that religion – or theological theoretizations – cannot be taken out of equation and we cannot pretend that it has no bearing whatsoever on how religious people live their lives and orchestrate their individual, familial, national or international relations. There is no good reason to suppose otherwise.
If religious people act in a certain way and justify their actions on religious ground, we cannot dismiss their claims as some form of “false consciousness”, or that these people don’t know what they are talking about. This dismissive attitude seems to me to be a greater form of cultural and religious disrespect than simply taking them at their own word. We cannot, however, be satisfied with this explanation only. We would also inquire into the material conditions that made possible the existence and prevalence of certain beliefs, their historicity and the actions legitimized on the bases of these beliefs. Clearly, the actions carried out under the justificatory presumptions of religious grounding, or the hermeneutic space which legitimizes and makes this grounding possible, lies beyond the sphere of religious dogma and convictions. That is, the prevalence of certain belief and the actions that it grounds cannot be explained solely by reference to the religious doctrine itself. It would be naïve to maintain otherwise.
Having studied in the Middle East for several years, my first reaction to Gule’s article ‘Islams elendighet’ was an unqualified yes. I know what he is talking about. I know that it is common for people to use the expression ‘inshe Allah’ (God willing) in order to designate a state of affairs which looks very much like a fatalistic acceptance of one’s fate. That one cannot do anything to change what is going to happen and that what has already happened is the result of the infinite wisdom of an all-powerful God. There is a certain a priori structure in the form of divine DNA which is written in the souls of every human being regarding life and death which must not only be dutifully accepted, but gratefully accepted as the fate assigned to one by God.
One is also well aware that from islam’s early inception, Muslims have been arguing and disagreeing about the proper way of understanding the Koranic verses which seem to support two very contradictory readings regarding the issue of predestination. So the immediate reaction when confronted with a bunch of self-contradictory verses is: what is the Koran really saying? What is its position regarding the freedom of the will and how is responsibility possible? Are human beings mere marionettes in the hands of divine forces or do they have a choice in making and shaping their own lives? In other words, are we free agents or not?
These are questions which in one form or another have preoccupied and continue to preoccupy the human consciousness. How is freedom possible? Philosophers have as well given a variety of contradictory answers. We are subject to natural laws but we also have a notion of freedom which does not sit well in a world fully determined by causal laws. Whatever the metaphysical underpinnings of these speculations, we as human beings act as if we are free and assume that freedom is a fact. Unless we have that assumption, we would otherwise not be able to function either individually or socially.
What I want to say is that even though metaphysically, certain fundamental questions remain unresolved and probably never will be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction, we are nevertheless quite capable of turning a blind eye and acting as if it is a proven fact that we are free agents and possess a free will. Moral agency would not be possible otherwise. And the majority of Muslims certainly do act morally and do take responsibility for their actions. We may speculate in our private thoughts and reflect over the existence of free will and probably come to an uncanny conclusion that the question of free will as a metaphysical postulate is trivial and unintelligible. Or we may arrive at a certainty that we are condemned to be free or, the opposite, that we have no freedom whatsoever.
Whatever conclusion we reach and no matter how fatalist we may be in our private thoughts, we nevertheless act as if we are free. Although, according to Gule, many (how many?) Muslims never show up on time to honour their appointments, eventually they show up or if they don’t show up they provide us with an apology. Fatalism is like solipsism: I may entertain the thought that I am the only one that can be known to exist; in practice however, I refute that view everyday. I hear a knock on the door and I reply with ‘who is there?’ There are no fatalists in real life. Even those who are fully committed to a fatalist worldview act as if freedom is a fact.
If being free is a human condition then it is irrelevant what islam’s speculation about free will is. If islam radically eliminates free will and the human responsibility which comes along with it, human beings nevertheless act, paradoxically, as they are conditioned to act: as free agents. Muslims however, have been more concerned with clarifying the set of those normative rules which regulate their intersubjective communication than speculating about whether or not islam, in itself, denies the freedom of the will. Muslims have always understood islam as being concerned with regulating the ethical parameters of a good life. The ethical parameters presuppose a freedom of choice as part of being human regardless of the religious or any other affiliation.
In denying Muslims the right to this practical human condition, as agents who posses self-understanding and act in accordance with their Reason, Gule is treating them as if intoxicated by a toxic substance called islam which incapacitates the human condition and thus renders it ineffectual. Islam must be a frightening monster indeed.
To conflate the two orders and close the gap that separates theory/belief from practice is arguably the worst kind of mistake a scholar can make. Lars Gule portrays a caricature of such a complex issue: predestination. I have myself never met a single Muslim who consistently in practice holds fatalistic attitudes and habits as attributed to them by Gule. Even the Muslim taxi driver who justifies his bad driving by appealing to an alleged Islamic predetermination is driving after all probably because he has to feed his family.
One is easily perplexed as to what this or that Muslim’s irresponsible and bad driving has to do with Islam and not, say, with the lack of enforcement of the traffic regulations. Certainly, the lack of enforcement of regulations cannot also be blamed on islam as obsessed as islam is with regulating all possible aspects of human life.
What I find problematic in Gule’s view – and here I take Gule as a paradigmatic example of those who think that islam must somehow stand behind and explain the choices, usually negative, that Muslims make on how to lead their lives – about islam and Muslims is not generalisations per se, but the underlying theoretical confusions. I will mention here two: First he indicates that islam must be somehow responsible for the irresponsible driving of, and the dishonouring of appointments by Muslims. Then, and without the slightest hint of irony, Gule tells us that “islam er grunnleggende sett et selvmotsigende teologisk-filosofisk system”. Is or is not islam a fatalist philosophy? Is the Muslim taxi driver a fatalist because of islam or in spite of it? The subtext of Gule’s article reads as if islam is a fatalist belief system. Gule however, has failed to explain the connection of islam as a fatalist system with the existence of Muslim fatalists. How does it work? Is the belief in islam a certain kind of virus which paralyses the ability of Muslims to think rationally and therefore induces them to renounce their responsibilities? Is islam the condition of the possibility of fatalism found among Muslims or are there other reasons? Moreover, if islam is a fatalistic belief-system – that is how Gule explains the Muslim drivers’ irresponsible driving – how does it relate to the fact that islam is also self-contradictory?
If I understand the proposition correctly it means that islam has no consistent position to offer on the issue of predestination and fatalism (I should mention in passing that Gule conflates these two terms while in reality they designate, and islamic theology is very clear about that, two different states of affairs). That islam’s position as ‘such’ is that it has no position. The paradox of free will and predestination is left unresolved. Unlike many other practical issues where Islam had something concrete to say, predestination could not be resolved. Islam merely assumed, as it should have, that human beings are free but that it failed to ground it metaphysically. In practice, it adopted the position of, as the prophet’s saying goes, ‘tie your camel and then rely on God’. That is why it is a religion, an existential wager, so that some humans can collectively legitimize their existential meanings and experiences when they want to make sense of their lives. Moreover, this ‘self-contradiction’ can be read, not as a proof of islam’s fatalistic closure but rather, as a proof of openness of the Islamic scripture; that the Koran itself does not provide, the way Gule does, any final or conclusive answer to this metaphysical problem.
The second much more serious problem is that Gule does not maintain the gap between what he calls ‘islam’ and what I would call ‘islam as a lived experience’. I am sceptical that we can define islam ‘as such’ positively or representatively as Gule has attempted. In the contemporary world, islam functions as ‘islam without islam’ , that is, an islam which resists any definitive and final closure; an islam without truth with capital T. An islam which is as plastic and malleable as to include almost all positivistic philosophies under its umbrella. Islam is functioning as an umbrella concept, an empty frame, a Master-Signifier on whose account all other signifiers are given a meaning. And the paradox not to be missed here is that the Master-Signifier itself has no meaning. A Master-Signifier is an empty signifier, a signifier-without-signified. But it is also, as the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek maintains, ‘As such, the Master-Signifier is the privileged site at which fantasy intervenes since the function of fantasy is precisely to fill in the void of signifier-without-signified. That is to say fantasy is ultimately, at its most elementary, the stuff which fills in the void of the Master-Signifier’.
The conviction of most people today expressed in myriad ways, is that there still is an islam to be reckoned with. An islam that has somehow magically escaped the ruthless and destructive fury of modernity and secularization: islam has lagged behind the regime of modernity, viz. that islam has never been modernized or reformed, i.e. islam never produced an equivalent to Luther, etc. An islam that is full of substance and a set of coherent truths challenging, as some Muslims would like and wish to believe, the unbridled hegemony of the modern secular reason – an honour too great to be bestowed on the force, breadth, and scope of contemporary islam. Contrary to this set of ‘substantive claims’ and the torrent of other no less dubious claims and arguments, I maintain that islam is empty. The prodigious diversity of the above-mentioned claims has neither force nor truth and can easily be defeated.
The repercussions of conceptualizing islam in terms of an empty Master-Signifier, the signifier which totalizes and quilts the incessant sliding of the signifieds of all other signifiers into a unified whole, is that islam functions as the site of the impossible fullness of meaning; as a metonymic substitution for what each Muslim individual or group deems desirable. To paraphrase the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, islam is hungry for meanings not pregnant with them. In this sense, Muslims are a people who define themselves in hermeneutically conflictual relation to an islam which constantly thwarts their attempts to suture ‘its’ meaning. The impossible total closure of meaning, in the final instance, is an arbitrary political act. Islam as a Master-Signifier is not given in advance, prior to the efforts of Muslims to speak of it. On the contrary, islam stands for the very act of the failure of interpretations undertaken by Muslims. Islam is the negative limit, the pure difference, the liminal gap which makes the closure of meaning impossible inhering in the very edifice of the positive undertakings of Muslims. For this reason, no one has (or can or should have) a monopoly of interpretation of islam. Consequently, islam as a privileged site where fantasy intervenes is elevated, but also reduced, to a flag which everyone can proclaim as his or her own and then wave it as high as they can, there being no (positive) limit to what it can lay claim to. However, this is not completely an arbitrary exercise. It is guided by the contingent but necessary historical rules devised by a community of learned scholars. Islam is thus not merely an expression of imaginary constructions that Muslims still find useful, although it is that as well.
Beyond the fact that Muslims believe in one God (and a host of other metaphysical entities!), they are very different from each other in terms of their culture, language, education, opportunities, political orientations, etc. Muslims of a particular region have more in common with their neighbouring non-Muslim communities than with their Muslim communities elsewhere. I really don not know what, for example, the Balkan Muslims have in common with, say, Sudanese Muslims. They are both, as a retroactive effect of naming, called Muslim. Beyond that, their differences are as big as their similarities are small. Communality of experience, the shared history, and the cultural national memory are as relevant factors of their identity as is their religion. These are as relevant factors in determining the political and the moral outlook of Muslim peoples as is their shared religion. There have occurred significant changes in all Muslim societies in the political, economic, epistemic, local and global realms that have affected the way Muslims relate to that body of doctrines called islam. In this sense, islam is as dividing and polarizing a force as it is uniting and homogenizing.
The reductive explanation of islam and its widespread expansion in the developing world is not only due to the fact that islam (here conceived as some form of a Substance) is best suited to pre-modern societies as Gule maintains. Islam is better conceptualized in terms of a Subject than a Substance. Subject, as Zizek from a Lacanian perspective informs us, is the barred, retracted substance. It is a supposition. It ‘is never directly given, as a positive substantial entity, and so we never directly encounter it; it is merely a flickering void ‘supposed’ between the two signifiers’ . Islam is a Subject in the sense that it is barred by an internal limit; a self-constitutive impediment, an impossibility which resists the total closure of its worldview into a unified coherent narrative or its translation into a one meaningful symbolic horizon.
This constitutive fissure, or shall we say antagonism, is what makes possible the construction of multiple and different Muslim subject-positions. In relation to islam, Muslims speak not from a single and fixed subject-position, but from a multiplicity of equally agential subject positions located differently across the globe. That is, because of islam’s self-antagonistic nature, its status as a Subject, Muslims are able to constantly reinterpret the Koran in line with their social and historical realities. There is little doubt that this split has been constantly covered in Muslim theological and ideological discourses. A great number of Muslim theologians and ideologues unproblematically and without any sense of theoretical inconsistency write and speak about islam in a short-circuit way: “The Koran says or the Prophet says so and so”. The split is strictly internal and the gap is unbridgeable.
However, this gap is always filled up with fantasy. Again, to quote Zizek, fantasy is ‘an imaginary scenario the function of which is to provide a kind of positive support filling out the subject’s constitutive void’. Islam has little to do with the positive content identified by Gule’s broad brush-strokes. Islam, if we have absolutely to say something positive about it, is the name for the void, of ‘unpresentation in presentation’, where Muslims, for reasons to do with heritage and culture, project their fantasies and thereby performatively construct their contingent forms of islam in concomitance with their social and historical realities . Becoming a Muslim is a process of conscious and unconscious negotiations with one’s choices, culture, custom, tradition and others expectations. To become a Muslim is to take up a position in relation to islam as Subject and a culture within a linguistic and sexual economy whose centre value is God. Becoming a Muslim is a reiterative and repetitive process. And since the reiteration is never the same, there is always a minimal difference in every repeated act. It opens the space not only for the construction of different islams and the semblance of continuity and coherence but also for subversion and change.
Islam is still there in its two irreducible dimensions: islam as Subject, as a conceptual singularity, and islam as performative construction, i.e., the actual scholarly constructions and lived experiences. We can still speak of islam as performative construction. However, we have to be very specific as to which and whose islam are we speaking about. In the absence of such non-totalising discourses, we have to ask a more fundamental question as to what kind of violence is done to “Muslims” by totalising forms of discourses which neglect to take into account the different realities of people who for one reason or another identify themselves as Muslims. It is impossible in this post-modern age to imagine a more reactionary, retrograde, parochial, delusional and intolerably shallow way of speaking about islam than for a scholar to still speak of islam as Substance, as a timeless identity which somehow regulates the lives of Muslim people from an Archimedean point of reference.
In this sense, islam displays an enormous democratic potential provided there are a set of social conditions and political will that will facilitate the democratic transition in the Muslim world. Islam has been used, most often, as an alibi for intimidating the secular and progressive forces into silence. This regrettable use of islam has been possible not because of its positive doctrinal content but because of its constitutive void. The contingent and formally historical content of islam’s constitutive void can be filled up with ideas which facilitate and promote many of the modernity’s grand projects of liberation, democracy and equality. Islamic feminism in and out of Iran is a case in point. This theoretical-methodological-parallactic reversal is not as simple as it seems. Its practical subversive consequences are enormous. What from a synchronic point of view seems timeless and immutable, from a proper diachronic and historical longue duree perspective is time-bound and related to different temporalities that characterize different kinds of historical realities and forces. Suddenly what really matters is not the positive doctrinal content as such, but the hermeneutic horizon of the interpreter and the historical-social-economic conditions conducive to more liberal-democratic forms of islam or not. In other words, what matters is not islam as a specter haunting Muslims till they die, but through what kind of political, economic and philosophical platform Muslims tell the story of islam? This is not simply a new theoretical curiosity. It is a lived reality in terms of which Muslims approach and interpret islam. So the return of Muslims to islam is not to some archaic or patriarchal form of islam which has lost its credibility in the modern world. Rather the return is to the very semblance of continuity with certain elements of the tradition acting not only as repository of values but also as providing the necessary frame and legitimacy for incorporating within its horizon values which were previously thought to be antithetical to its worldview.
Islam is not the religion of the pre-modern but that of the modern. This is not because it has established certain canonical doctrines which, after being consolidated by various orthodoxies, has become immune to critical interrogation and so we are caught in the binarism of having to constantly measure it in terms of compatibility or incompatibility with this or that modern value. On the contrary, islam’s appeal to Muslims today can be explained on the basis that Muslims have understood that the power of islam is not its positive doctrinal content but its void, its emptiness. Islam stands, in the midst of continuous ruptures and discontinuities, for the semblance of continuity with one’s past, heritage, and memory. The meaning of Islam lies in its void of meaning. In being a Master-Signifier.
Prosjektleder, Islam og det Liberale Samfunn, Liberalt Laboratorium