Islam and the Challenge of Civilization

Islam and the Challenge of Civilization

Islam and the Challenge of Civilization

Islam and the Challenge of Civilization

Synopsis

Abdelwahab Meddeb makes an urgent case for an Islamic reformation, located squarely in Western Europe, now home to millions of Muslims, where Christianity and Judaism have come to coexist with secular humanism and positivist law. He is not advocating "moderate" Islam, which he characterizes asthinly disguised Wahabism, but rather an Islam inspired by the great Sufi thinkers, whose practice of religion was not bound by doctrine.To accomplish this, Meddeb returns to the doctrinal question of the text as transcription of the uncreated word of God and calls upon Muslims to distinguish between Islam's spiritual message and the temporal, material, and historically grounded origins of its founding scriptures. He contrastsperiods of Islamic history - when philosophers and theologians engaged in lively dialogue with other faiths and civilizations, and contributed to transmitting the Hellenistic tradition to early modern Europe - with modern Islam's collective amnesia of this past. Meddeb wages a war of interpretationsin this book, in his attempt to demonstrate that Muslims cannot join the concert of nations unless they set aside outmoded notions such as jihad and realize that feuding among the monotheisms must give way to the more important issue of what it means to be a citizen in today's post-religious globalsetting.

Excerpt

My relationship to Arabic, particularly Koranic Arabic, is at the core of who I am as a person. As a child, my experience of Arabic diglossia was a very physical one. My mother tongue was the Tunis vulgate, used by my mother and the women in my family home. Next, at the age of four, I was inducted into what I will call the “father tongue,” a notion I borrow from Dante and his relation to Virgil, his father figure and guide in the first two parts of the Divine Comedy. Dante’s father tongue was Latin, regulated by “grammar,” as distinct from the “vulgate,” as he said, “which we speak without rules, imitating our nurse,” and which would be reinvented by the Tuscan poet once he had chosen it as his writing language. For me, the father tongue was the Arabic of the Koran, very different from the dialect, and which dates from the late seventh and early eighth centuries, an archaic idiom comparable to other dead languages that linger in the collective memory. Though one will hear anecdotally that Arabic has not changed much, there . . .

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