Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity

By Akbar S. Ahmed; Hastings Donnan | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

Two Muslim intellectuals in the postmodern West

Akbar Ahmed and Ziauddin Sardar

Tomas Gerholm

A conspicuous feature of the modern world is the deterritorialization of culture. Whereas cultures used to be more or less firmly anchored in their respective geographical locations, they have now started drifting. Swedish culture, for instance, was confined to a part of the Scandinavian peninsula. Now you find it in small enclaves all over the world. The same goes for religion. Buddhism used to be located in certain parts of Asia. Now you also find it thriving at many Western addresses. Islam is an even better example. Individual Muslims have left Dar al-Islam in great numbers to take up residence in what used to be called Dar al-Harb, especially Europe. In Western Europe, for instance, the number of immigrant Muslims and their children lies somewhere between six and eight million. In countries like France and England, Islam has become the second most important religion and a similar situation will soon prevail in several other European countries.

This massive culture contact does not occur without creating a spate of special problems, both for the host societies and for the immigrants themselves. In this chapter I want to look at one of the many problematic consequences for Muslims residing in Europe. What happens to the Islamic identity of Muslim intellectuals who live and work in the West under the conditions offered by a Christian or secular host society? I shall attempt to sketch an answer to that question by analysing some texts by a couple of such intellectuals. 1 For this purpose I have chosen Akbar S. Ahmed and Ziauddin Sardar, who both were born in Pakistan but now are active in Great Britain and have been so for a number of years. Neither of them is an official Islamic representative. One could even say that they represent no other than themselves. But their structural positions are representative: one is a Muslim intellectual who is well-established in Western academia, the other is a Muslim intellectual who works ouside the university as a freelance journalist and consequently is not so tightly bound by Western academic conventions. Is this difference between them matched by differences in their versions of Islam?

Let me first indicate what kind of 'consequences' I have in mind. Islam is

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