Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Editor's Note: Exploring Islamophobia in the Spirit of the Late Nasr Abu-Zayd

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Editor's Note: Exploring Islamophobia in the Spirit of the Late Nasr Abu-Zayd

Article excerpt

This Fall 2010 issue of Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge includes the proceedings of an international academic conference on "Debating Islamophobia," co-organized by Gema Martin Munoz, Director General of Casa Arabe (and its International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies) and Professor of Sociology of the Arab and Islamic world at the Autonomous University of Madrid, and Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Senior Research Associate of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. Grosfoguel and Martin Munoz also co-edited this proceedings collection.

As the final preparations for the publication of this issue were being made, the editors received word that Nasr Hamed Abu-Zayd, a contributing author and renowned Emeritus Professor of Islam and Humanism at the University of Humanistics at Utrecht, The Netherlands, had suddenly passed away. On the one hand, this deeply saddened us for having lost such a prominent scholar of hermeneutic discourse on Islam and comparative religion. On the other hand, we found ourselves very fortunate to have in this collection what may well have been his last words submitted for publication, one that provides a succinct and accessible presentation of his views not only on Islamophobia and its origins, but also on the commonalities of substance and purpose across various religious traditions.

It was for this reason that we broadly adopted his article's title for the theme of this proceedings collection as well, for it expresses quite suitably the common purpose of all the contributions gathered in this volume. The present journal issue titled "Islam: From Phobia to Understanding" is hereby dedicated to the legacy and memory of Nasr Hamed Abu-Zayd, in deep respect for his Islamic Humanism and the genuine and courageous hermeneutic study of Islam and the Qur'an in a comparative world-historical perspective.

Abu-Zayd's essay that follows the coeditors' Introduction in this collection provides a highly refined and somewhat uncommon point of view in regard to the historical origins and contemporary nature of Islamophobia.

Having noted that "[b]eing the microcosm, the essential mission of man is to know God by knowing himself" (p.19), Abu-Zayd argues that "What is overshadowing spiritual Islam in our modern era is the shari'a-oriented dominant Islam, i.e., Islam as a legal system of allowed, halal, and forbidden, haram, void of the ethical and spiritual underpinning. This is the basic cause of Islamophobia locally and universally" (p. 20).

This self-critical centering of the origins of Islamophobia in the traditional interpretations of Islam arising from within the Muslim community is important to consider, in contrast to other critiques of Islamophobia that focus on factors external to Islam and the Islamic world. Abu-Zayd's thesis arises, in other words, from his broader assessment that,

   Through the long journey of every religion in history, layers of
   interpretation and re-interpretation, or rather interpretation and
   counter-interpretation, are accumulated around the original texts
   to the extent that the original socio-historical context is veiled.
   But fortunately this creates a multiplicity of trends of thought
   within every religion, a multiplicity that constitutes plurality
   emphasizing different aspects of it. (p. 15)

It is on the basis of such an historical assessment of the long-standing contention between a rationalist versus a traditional reading and interpretation of Qur'an and Islam that Abu-Zayd concludes,

   Rational theology as presented by the Mu'tazilites, and Rational
   Philosophy presented by Averreos later, could be considered solid
   ground for tolerance. Both present a very open, human, liberal
   trend of Islamic thought. (p. 17)

Abu-Zayd then proceeds to conclude, by drawing on the works and thought of the renowned Muslim mystic of Andalusia, Spain, Muhyi'ddin ibn al-'Arabi, that the inner mystical dimension of Islam and immersion in it can provide a necessary link not only to a deeper spiritual meaning of Islam and in fact all religions, but also to a social utopian agenda (in a positive meaning of the term) that need not fail today, as it did at the time ibn al-'Arabi lived and wrote:

   Needless to say that the project, ultimately, failed, as we already
   know, because what Ibn al-'Arabi attempted was in the end to
   formulate a utopia of his own, a formula that gained impetus from
   the increasing tension and conflict within his own society. … 
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