A plea for an emancipatory political reading of Islam

Sead Zimeri
(December, 2010)

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to truth before Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. So follow not your own desires, lest you swerve from justice.” – The Koran, 4:135.

“Politics doesn’t always happen; it happens very little or rarely” – Jacques Ranciere

Is it possible to read Islam politically as containing more (or, less) than a religious message? Another way to put this question is: what is the truth of Islam? The premise that necessitates this question is: Islam needs to be salvaged from both its detractors and its own aberrations. The premise also justifies the answer that I give to the above question: political reading is the only authentic reading of Islam, particularly in light of integrating Islam into the modern world. The explicit aim of political reading is to reclaim Islam back not only from the pervert fundamentalist fanatic but also from the hysteric religious scholar who perpetuates a theological version of Islam which is deeply obscurantist, intellectually timid as well as complicit in justifying some of the most oppressive social and political practices. If one closely follows the public debates and the hegemonic theological discourses on Islam, both locally and internationally, one quickly ascertains that they have several features in common: for the most part they are intellectually uninteresting, religiously obscurantist and politically reactionary.

Even a relatively progressive scholar such as Khaled Abou El Fadl in his The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists endorses and approvingly writes about how “the current debates among Muslims are not whether Islam can be political or not. But the exact role that Sharia’a should play in a modern state, the role of Islamic jurists (fuqaha), the relationship of the state to God, legislative sovereignty, and even the desirability of liberal democracies as well as the place of human rights in a Muslim polity are all hotly contested issues in modern Islam” (p.24). The question of the political nature of Islam is not even open for debate, it is a priori excluded and suspected of hidden totalitarian tendencies, of bringing back the negated spectres which have haunted the Muslim political imagination for centuries and which can potentially undermine the stagnant and oppressive political systems and regimes of almost all Muslim polities and thus cause fitna (sedition and divisiveness). Fitna is the medium through which the Ulama (the religious scholars), and through them the political elite, have controlled the political self-consciousness and self-expression of the Muslim masses making any form of uprising against the systems of economic exploitation and political oppressions highly improbable.

The justification for a political reading of Islam is found in that the theological readings in all their variations have become the obstacle which prevent Islam from becoming what the prophetic experience suggests it should be. Islamic theology, Islamic sharia and Islamic hermeneutics or exegesis have still to accept and incorporate into their system of reasoning some of the axioms of the modern political thinking: gender equality, religious equality, etc. These disciplines have so far been unable or unwilling to accommodate these modern achievements. There is nothing in the sources that can be used to justify resistance to these ideas. There are, of course, plenty of verses and prophetic sayings which support or at least give the impression of supporting a regime of inequality among human beings. This is, however, a misleading impression, for as my position maintains that by themselves, outside some methodological enframing, these verses do not provide any coherent vision, let alone a developed worldview. Only the most vulgar form of literalism does maintain that whatever is found in these sources is normatively binding and authoritative. The clue to Islam’s troubles –whatever they might be – lie not in the sources, but in a theology which has forgotten its historical origins. The underlying assumption therefore is that the hermeneutic readings are the obstacles which have to be removed for Islam to regenerate itself, to continue to live on in a different way. The idea is that those methodologies are still too much literalist to provide any viable and long lasting solution to statements found in the sources which seem to grant legitimacy to unequal practices and conservative moralities. It cannot, therefore, be stressed enough: Islam does not exist. What exist are the paradigms of reading which create and sustain traditions of Islam.

Political reading is not that dissimilar from the Sufi readings that deliberately exclude from their approach a great number of inconsistent passages found in the sources –texts that cannot be salvaged from a certain Sufi perspective- to focus on what is relevant to a Sufi experience. Political reading resembles the Sufi readings, although it does not share it presuppositions, but differs from hermeneutical readings in that it removes the vestiges of literalism and declares itself indifferent to all subtle hermeneutic and exegetical differences. To the extent that we can speak and therefore diagnose the crisis of Islam as the problem of the interpretation of Islam, to that extent political readings represents itself as the natural candidate to remedy the problem. The inadequacies of traditional readings of Islam have been felt wide and deep and the vacuum which is generated by those methodologies is filled in with inchoate and incoherent presuppositions and assumptions. Things are improved here and there, the edges sharpened, the lenses cleansed and methodologies mixed to produce a bizarre Islam which no one seems to recognise. The problem before us thus is two edged: on the one hand we need to fill in the vacuum left by the crisis in interpretation; on the other hand, we have to raise the question of historical legitimacy of this reading. I hope to show that political reading is the only reading out of this deadlock and also the only reading capable of regaining Islam’s creative impulse and of showing that Islam from the very beginning was political, so that the authentic reading is political reading whereas the other theological and sharia readings are derivative modes of reading. By political reading thus I mean something very precise: a form of reading which recognizes no superior law above that of egalitarianism. It is an axiomatic form of reading in that it posits certain universal principles as invariable and transhistoric and subordinates under its sway the theological, the legal (sharia) and the exegetical modes of reading.

Without deriding the significant contributions of these disciplines, it is clear that they are not equipped to face up to the contemporary challenges. It is not only that hermeneutic readings produce a conservative Islam and lock us in an eternal vicious circle of text and interpretation and suffocate us with interminable quibbling over the meaning of this or that word of the Holy Book. My reason is very different: I think it goes against the very tradition of the prophetic Islam to engage in hermeneutic interpretations. It is an impotent answer to real challenges. As I hope it will become obvious in the course of these reflections, the prophet was not much concerned with the correctness of a certain reading as much as with the struggle for creating a society that embodies some of the ideas which have moved human beings of all ages into changing their societies. I do not want to underestimate the efforts of those who engage in this discipline: nevertheless, their readings should be subject to emancipatory political readings and that a political reading has precedence by virtue of the fact that Islam first and foremost is a social political movement.

The notion of Islam being political has a long history of misunderstanding, which is generated precisely because of a too much reliance on hermeneutics. It is generally thought that in Islam there is no separation between politics and religion; that secularism is genuinely foreign to Islam and that the purpose of the politics in Islam is to implement the all encompassing sharia law. My notion of the “political” has absolutely nothing in common with this hermeneutic reading of politics. I do not for a second think that politics and religion in Islam are inseparable. Politics is subject to certain universal principles from which it gets its legitimacy, but the means of doing politics cannot be subordinated to any religion. I also think that secularism is one principle which is absolutely necessary in the modern pluralistic world where people hold different ethical conceptions of the good and different comprehensive doctrines. So when Yusuf al-Qaradawi (in his al-Hulul al mustawrada wa-kayfa janat ala Ummatina – Imported Solutions and How They Have wronged Our Nation) writes that “the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam” one must simply assume that he knows not what he is saying. Religious politics is a contradiction in terms and those who in any form seriously entertain the thought of reinventing a religious politics should be prepared to answer some very difficult questions.

The intellectual burden today is to find a way out of the political deadlock of the contemporary interpretations of Islam, i.e., to think Islam. There are all kinds of interpretations of Islam out there: some are progressive and others are reactionary. What is missing, however, is a thinking of Islam, a thinking which makes Islam capable of responding to modern challenges. Interpretations of Islam have locked Islam in meaningless battles to prove that Islam is either superior to modernity or inferior to it, and that it only has to be read with a new eye, as some self proclaimed reformers maintain. I find this entire race on interpretations highly uninteresting since it provides absolutely no food for thought. It is devoid of thinking. In other words, hermeneutic readings have left Islam where it has been for a long time: in the realm of the unthought and the unthinkable.

As of late we have seen Islam transformed into an empty signifier, hegemonized by decadent social forces who use it to justify the most outrageous and reactionary political decisions, persecution of intellectuals, intimidation of artists, murdering of dissidents, oppression of women and other religious traditions. All this is done in the name Islam, of protecting Islamic values and ideals, of honouring the prophet and of erecting barriers against the onslaught of the western corruption, etc. Whatever greatness is there in Islam is subverted in the process of its delivery. The medium undermines the message. Nevertheless, so long as Islam remains subject to hermeneutic appropriation it confronts Muslim apologists with a real problem: is there anything in Islam that leaves it open to such abuses and reactionary appropriations? Every answer in the form of: it is not Islam but the perversion of Islam which legitimises such acts is a priori suspect! It does not provide an explanation; it avoids tarrying with the negative of Islam, and consequently the argument amounts to nothing more than an apologia for the refusal or even prohibition to think Islam. My hypothesis is that much of the blame for the refusal to think Islam falls on the hermeneutic methodologies of reading. One way to properly respect Islam is to avoid, as much as possible, hermeneutics and engage instead in political readings.

Prophet’s thinking is properly conceived as political thinking. If, as Alain Badiou says somewhere, political thinking always ruptures with the dominant state of things, then the prophet’s thinking fits the profile. Politics proper is, Slavoj Žižek says, the act of identifying with the cause of those who have no proper place in the hierarchal social edifice, of identifying with those who count for nothing within the existing political state; of elevating their non-status to the test of universality. What the prophet did was precisely to politicize the destiny of those who counted for nothing in the Arabian Peninsula: he demanded a political solution to a problem which was a result of political arrangement of social relations.

My thesis is this: There is an alternative Islam. This Islam is not exactly hidden in the traditional books or somewhere in the corners of the Arabian Peninsula, or in some minority Muslim discourse. No, it is to be invented. There are of course alternative traditions in the history of Islam which can be consulted and draw inspiration from. Beyond that, they can only obstruct the invention of this alternative tradition. I want to claim that the seeds are there, and that the prophet’s experience when read with proper intellectual detachment and political attachment to its core ideas contains in a nutshell what can be developed into a full blown alternative tradition.

What was the prophet’s Islam?

I shall not be concerned here with the religious dimension of Islam or the problem of God’s existence. The God presupposition can be suspended from most debates about Islam without thereby incurring any loss on Islam. It is possible to resuscitate the prophet from religious fanatics and the so-called political Islam and simultaneously retain an agnostic or even atheistic attitude towards God. The proposition that I am defending is the following: the prophet, in absence of other political forms, employed the religious language as the only available linguistic and social medium to formulate his ideas. The religious language is “the contingent material seized upon by the event in view of an entirely different destiny”. The political dream of an egalitarian society in an already economically corrupt but believing society could only be materialized through the use of the religious language and the collective imagery of the time. After the scientific break, for instance, it is not possible to employ a religious mythology to implement a political vision. The cultural presuppositions and the political unconscious, which legitimized and sustained the theo-mythical use of language, have all but collapsed. That is why there are no more credible prophets these days. (One notices the prophet’s instrumental and pragmatic use of religion, with clearly nonreligious undertones, in his ingenious declaration that the era of the prophethood is over, that he is the seal of all the prophets). All political visions today, even those who want to do away with its legacy, speak the language and employ the unconscious of modernity.

Through a careful reading of the Koran the following postulate emerges: The prophet’s thinking stands under the sign of egalitarianism as a subjective political maxim. He came from a society steeped in oppression of the week, corruption of the powerful, and gender discrimination. The prophetic event consists of adopting the position if singulier universel, of giving political expression to the multiple dissatisfactions of the poor and the socially outcast. Initially he tried to reason with the oppressors, demanding that they distribute their wealth more equitably and stop persecuting other religious denominations. He frequently, in the Mecca period, used the religious imagery (of hell) to convey a sense of the dire situation that the system of exploitation rooted in the local mythology, poetry and the misogynist traditions was generating. He also created a new mythology, devised and invented new genealogies and sought refuge when it became evident that the oppressor had hardly paid any attention to reasoned pleas and demands. In this sense, Islam is, primordially, a political vision not a religious interpretation of the world. Its basic notion, that of tawhid (God’s oneness), is a pure political notion which stands for political equality of all before a God which stood outside the social constellations and guaranteed as its constitutive exception its formal functioning. Tawhid was a powerful political idea precisely because it succinctly indexed the problems which the prophet’s society was suffering from.

The standard story that the prophet was persecuted for the sole reason that he wanted his fellowmen to only believe in one God directly obfuscates the true dimension of the prophet’s Islam. He was persecuted because he wanted more than just a belief in one God. Put simply: the function and meaning of God in the prophetic discourse had changed: God no longer stood idle and merely observed from a safe distance unable to intervene in preventing a woe from occurring or extending his help to the needy. God in the prophetic discourse, by definition, was on the side of the poor and the oppressed. This was the real achievement of the prophet: through rethinking that simple idea of tawhid into an absolute principle he captured the imagination and the hearts to eternity of all those who immediately understood its political truth and the revolutionary potential. For under the principle of tawhid the differences and identities, religious differences included, have no substantial weight in and of themselves. They are the form which a political organization of life takes at a certain historical juncture, and as such they serve a function of orientation and stability, but they are not a category of truth and therefore do not define once and for all human beings who are subject to the only invariable law: that of egalitarianism. In this sense, the prophetic Islam is inherently and radically egalitarian and universalistic; it seeks to diminish the impact of all forms of thinking and fidelities that prioritize particular differences as subjective dispositions over the universal equality. In light of this it becomes possible to provide a political definition of a Muslim: a Muslim is someone who is capable of stepping outside his/her particular difference and bear witness to universal truth even against oneself. It is this radical message that Islamic theology, and up to a point Islamic sharia, has constantly obfuscated. This, then, was the real threat to the Mecca oligarchs, not the threat of a transcendent God but the threat of the emancipation of the oppressed that would pledge fidelity to the prophetic event and demand the impossible: an egalitarian arrangement of the social relations. One should thus not conflate the obscurantist religious language with the emancipatory prophetic mission: God was part of the social and political imagery that facilitated his political vision and the social reform (93:9-10; 90:13-20) not the final destination of the prophet’s message.

This was a radical message, one that had never been heard before in Mecca… He was not preaching monotheism; he was demanding economic justice. And for this revolutionary and profoundly innovative message, he was more or less ignored… it is difficult to believe they [the Quraysh, the prophet’s clan] would have been shocked by Muhammad’s monotheistic claims. Not only had the Hanifs been preaching the same thing for years, but the traditions list a number of other well-known prophetic figures living throughout the Hijaz who also preached monotheism… But as a businessman and a merchant himself, Muhammad understood what the Hanifs could not: the only way to bring about a radical social and economic reform in Mecca was to overturn the religio-economic system on which the city was built… ‘There is no god but God’ was, for Muhammad, far more than a profession of faith. This statement was a conscious and deliberate attack on both the Ka’ba and the sacred right of the Quraysh to manage it.

One form which ideological mystification takes in Islam is to conceive it first and foremost as religion! Some misguided modernists have gone so far as to deny the political aspect of Islam altogether, arguing that politics is foreign to Islam (Ali Abdul Raziq is the most prominent example of this doctrine and the author of Al-Islam wa usul al-hukm: Islam and the foundations of governance). Those who accept that Islam has a political dimension usually conceive of politics as serving preordained religious dogmas. Neither of these two position is the true manifestation of the prophetic Islam. The former deprives Islam of its raison d’etre whereas the latter is inherently obscurantist. Theology was invented to freeze in time an imperfect model as the only model for emulation and through collapsing of the distinction between form and content to obfuscate the political vision of the prophet that a different social arrangement, an egalitarian, non-patriarchal society is possible. Islam’s absolute truth is: All are equal before Allah. Any arrangement that denies this posited truth, even if it is enshrined in the most sacred of sharia laws is a reactionary perversion. In Islam it is ‘religion’ which is ideological: a process of historicization and symbolization, a temporary negotiation, masking and at the same time escaping from (tempering, neutralizing) the Real beneath it, the political message of equality and justice. Since the deadlock of the political emancipation at the time could only be expressed religiously, with the advent of modernity other nodal points of articulation have emerged that have made religion as an ideology of the political inconsequential.

The prophet did not proceed from the purely religious to its translation later in Medina into full-blown politics as the traditional doxa of both Muslim and Western scholarship maintains. On the contrary, he started with the political and gradually, by tarrying with his own tradition, developed a symbolic religious language as an instrument to implement his political vision. He employed the religious story to be able to carry out, to translate his political ideas into an appropriate, understandable and publicly supportable cultural idiom. Although, on a charitable reading, religion was for the prophet the only possible way forward, the same cannot be said of today’s Muslims. Other political ideologies are certainly possible and they continue to haunt the religious establishment of the Muslim world which so far has been mistaking (the political) reality for (religious) fiction.

It remains true, however, that the ‘return of the religion’ in its various forms is yet another misreading of the prophet’s core message, a consistent refusal to acknowledge the rightful place of the universal (the political) and the particular (the religious). The dubious character of all hermeneutic readings, the so-called ‘return to the fundaments, i.e. the Koran and the prophetic tradition’ remain blind to and confuse the content for the form and the universal for the particular. Since the return is to the particular they remain entrapped by its limits and framework, while the universal is either not seen, overshadowed by the hazy over-argumentations of whose reading is the correct reading or simply (the universal is) mistaken for the particular. And since, moreover, the particular is often incompatible with the (mostly liberal) values they espouse, their readings either degenerate into flamboyant anachronism or religious apologetics.

To briefly reiterate the main point, what I take to be the most significant part of the Prophet’s legacy has very little to do with religion and everything with the political: the purely formal decision of the prophet to change his society. The insight to be taken from this is obvious: The prophet of Islam can only be followed by repeating his formal political gesture, his insights, not the medium through which he implemented in a partial and necessary distorted form his political vision. The prophet had to choose a religious medium. Muslims need not choose that when the pool of selection is significantly wider. There is no reason why Muslims should not join hands with other progressive, liberal and leftist political forces to fight against all kinds of tyrannies. The way to honour the Prophet today is to firmly place him in the honourable world traditions which fought for an egalitarian world. The way to dishonour the Prophet is to fight all the wrong causes in his name: by supporting traditions which have become the greatest obstacle to the realization of the egalitarian and emancipatory politics. The principle of tawhid is the proof that in Islam any law, tradition or principle which violates the ultimate principle of tawhid and which is another name for equality should be rejected as incompatible with Islam, even if there are ways to textually reconcile the irreconcilables.

A Theology caught in its own delusional fantasies

Theology is an expression, after the fact, of the transformation of the prophet’s political thought into a religious dogma. Its whole reasoning is based on a series of disavowals of the founding political moment intended to continually reinforce the message of a depoliticized nature of Islam. Theological elaborations of Islam have reduced the political to merely one aspect of Islam and subordinated it to serving theological dogmas and the application of outdated sharia rulings. This, one must not mince words, has nothing to do with politics proper. It is a theological bastardization of politics. The political of Islam means only one thing: the indisputable egalitarianism which renders all historically acquired identities valuable only to the extent that they promote egalitarianism; it means remaining faithful to the core political message of Islam, the universal call that the political fight for justice and equality cuts through all possible identities. The theological definitions of Islam and Muslims are meant precisely to obfuscate this political dimension of Islam, to turn Islam into a ritual that is concerned with identity issues: Muslim vs. non-Muslim. In theological discourses the founder of Islam is presented as no more than a mouthpiece delivering an obscure message of a self-indulgent God who is only concerned with defending his own divine sovereignty. Theology is a reaction formation to the political volcanic lava, which was unleashed with the Prophetic event. Presenting the prophet as being obsessed with God and the Hereafter is a way of depriving Islam as a political project of its emancipatory potential.

My thesis is then the following: this theology of Islam is the incarnated other of the global-market-capitalist world economic order. It is inherently receptive of the logic of the Capital. It is one of the external conditions of the possibility of the mode of the capitalist production and inscription. How?

In order for the global capitalism to function as smoothly as possible it needs other (than economic) forms of justifications which cover up its often-brutal logic of exploitation. Since, as the present world situation demonstrates, i.e., the basic division of the world population into poor, excluded and rich, for the global capitalism to function at all and simultaneously maintain the appearance of normality, i.e., the living standards of the capitalist world at the level they are today, it must ensure that the political and economic configurations of the present global capitalist order remain unchallenged. Capitalism must ensure, however it can and by any means necessary, that it promotes those forms of ideologies that best serve its interests. One such ideological form par excellence is Islam’s present theology. It directly, although arguably unknowingly, serves the expansion of the capitalist world order. It could also be said that Islam’s theology is the other, obverse side of capitalism. These opposites, if that is what they are, coincide in an underlying logic of capitalism as the end of history. Islamic theology is thus not an enemy but a natural ally of the global march of the Capital.

Here one should extend the limits of this logic apropos the reformation or modernization of Islam. One often hears platitudes of the kind that Islam has not been modernized; it has not produced a name worthy of Martin Luther, etc. These claims are easier made than argued for consistently. Islam has not been modernized for a number of reasons but one reason stands out distinctly as a primary reason that such a modernization is all too costly on the present global capitalist order. Modernizing Islam means that the believing consciousness is liberated from the shackles and the tutelage of the present religious totalizing theology, which completely ignores that not so invisible hand of the capital in generating the current worldwide situation. Islamic theology cannot be modernized without putting into question the very coordinates of a world order which generates the obvious inequalities worldwide. Those behind the veil running the affairs of capitalism do not and will obviously not tolerate such a radical openness of Islam to happen in any foreseeable future. It is very difficult, otherwise, to see or explain how and why the capitalist world utterly disregards, scorns even, the basic human rights in other parts of the world by creating alliances with totalitarian and despotic governments which violate all universal democratic norms so that they can prolong their stay in power. If the leaders of the capitalist world were sincere in their often proclaimed wishes to see democracy flourish in the Muslim world, then one would have expected that they stop supporting corruption whose incarnation are the regimes they so dearly protect. Even worse, when these oppressed and completely marginalized Muslim people elect their own representatives, the leaders of the global capitalist order are the first ones to openly declare such elections illegitimate thereby refuse to accept and respect the choices of the Muslim electorate.

There is thus lurking beneath the patronizing discourses of spreading equality and democracy a morally reprehensible double standard at work in the way the leaders of the capitalist world almost unanimously infantilize the Muslim other. The prospect of generating modern Muslim forms of consciousness capable of actively participating in the production of meanings and values perceived as universal, capable of engaging critically on an equal footing the dominant world order is forever postponed.

Modernizing Islam is too costly an adventure for the leaders of the capitalist world to endure. It is, however, Muslims who pay the ultimate price of this deprivation. They are doubly misled. First, they are misled by maintaining a theological worldview which basically gives a false explanation as to what is going on in the world, as to the real causes of their predicament and secondly, they elevate this illusion into an absolute truth. The mechanisms of oppression, in other words, are internalized (bringing about an uncanny form of ‘voluntary servitude’) thereby making the capitalist order all the more secure. Muslims are also double victims: the victims of an unjust capitalist order and of their self-imposed illusions in the form of an Islamic governmentality, which seriously impair their critical unlearning capabilities.

This may partly explain the reasons behind the support that the leaders of the capitalist order so graciously extend to the despotic regimes of the Muslim countries. A ‘pre-modern’ religious theology can only be maintained under corrupt totalitarian regimes. They reinforce each other dialectically. Moreover, the critique of this ‘pre-modern’ theology, which relies on some disavowed ethical-political decision, can easily incite violence because political determinations are always at stake. The advantages for the capitalist bloc of having totalitarian regimes and a non-reflective of the present situation Islamic theology are obvious. These totalitarian regimes are the most ardent supporters of the current theology of Islam: they wholeheartedly support that Islamic theology should remain as it is, avoiding anything that may bring out some critical awakening or disconcerting element that disrupts their despotic regimes. Consequently, the perception which determines the reception of the religious theology and its ideological determinations leave the economic and political domain where the real issues are decided completely open to the antidemocratic capitalist forces. There is therefore no mystery as to the fact that the leaders of the capitalist world praise and give their utmost support to this ahistorical Islamic theology. Witness the stupefying rhetoric of those who present themselves holier than the Pope, praising Islam as being a peace-loving religion, etc.

Apropos this hypocritical veneration of Islam one should ask a naïve but nonetheless important political question: Who is this mediaeval Islamic theology pleasing and in order to achieve which of society’s goals, purposes and ends? What kind of society and individual this Islamic theology envisions for itself? The answer is obvious. A docile, disciplined, normalized and potentially consumer human being who is incapable of questioning the world order other than in religiously outdated terms. The reproduction of this particular religious individual and consequently society is what both the capitalist order and its servile followers, i.e., the Muslims despots want and actively pursue.

The lack of modernization of Islam, if this expression still has any meaning, cannot in any consistent way be accounted for solely in terms of a presumed antithetical nature of Islam to an equally presumed timeless modernity. The theology of Islam is a historically contingent development, and it could be otherwise, other than what it presently is. Islam’s apparent resistance to modernity is nothing other than modernity’s in its capitalistic form resistance to relinquishing its form of exploitation and domination. This form of Islam is the external condition of the unbridled hegemony of the capitalist system worldwide.

Modernization of Islam’s theology faces two obstacles: one inherent and the other external. The inherent obstacle is the historical representation of Islam as an immutable divine law. Islam has yet to witness the discontinuity with its mythical past. The other obstacle is the way modernity has become its own obstacle. What goes under the name of modernity is very much what Cartesian modernity and Kantian enlightenment set as their goal to fight against. We must thus distinguish modernity as a self-regenerating movement from its capitalist form that it has taken.

As for the Muslim countries they have other priorities to deal with. Intellectual debates about whether or not ‘Islam’ ought to be modernized are not in the interest of anyone. Moreover, under despotic regimes modernization itself is perceived as the Trojan horse of the culture of the occupier whereas modern values are experienced as the tool of a form of symbolic dispossession. Islam can only be modernized if it is conceived as was originally conceived, not as an elaborate theological system whose functions is to prevent the faithful subject from having a direct insight into the pure political nature of the prophetic act. It can only be modernized as a universal call for justice from tyranny, oppression and capitalist exploitation.

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About albphilosopher

Sead Zimeri has studied Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy and Religion, International Politics and Psychoanalysis. He is currently the project coordinator of "Islam and the Liberal Society" at the Liberalt Laboratorium (LibLab) thin tank in Oslo, Norway. http://www.liblab.no
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