Monday, July 17, 2006

ideology and temperament

Something I've been thinking about for a long time is the tendency for some folks to frame significant differences between Muslims in ideological terms. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali, Khawarij, Salafi, Wahabi, 12-er, 5-er, 7-er, Quran-only, Islamist, Reformer, Orthodox, Traditional, Liberal, Conservative, Moderate, Progressive, Modern, etc.

I feel like talking about this over a couple posts, but one thing I wanted to get across is fixating on labels can be dangerous. And in any case, temperament is a more significant distinction than any ideological label.

What do I mean by that?

It used to be that your basic anti-Islamic bigot would just say "I hate Muslims." and be done with it. But now in the enlightened 21st century, it is harder to say that in polite society so the educated person will say "No, Muslims aren't all the same. Some are good Muslims, and some are bad Muslims. You should say 'I hate Wahabis'".

And on television it is not uncommon to see the bigot who wants to sound more sophisticated saying such things.

Now, I'm not a Wahabi (follower of the interpretations of Abdul-Wahab) but in spite of the feelings I have about that movement, I also think there are plenty of Wahabis who are perfectly wonderful people. And in spite of my various disagreements with Wahabi ideology, I'm more than a bit worried at the prospect that somebody in the State Department trying to distinguish between the "good Muslims" and the "bad Muslims" on the basis of that distinction.

I'm not sure if I should be saying this, but right now there is also a very widespread idea that the "Sufis" are the "good Muslims". And from a certain point of view, I wouldn't want to put much energy into opposing this notion. "The Sufis" tend to emphasize the mystical, spiritual aspects of Islam and are in certain respects less legalistic. They have tended to express themselves in poetry and music and are associated with some of the more creative aspects of Islamic civilization. Rumi, Al-Hallaj, Hafiz and other "Sufis" are also very appealing to non-Muslims. And in general, throughout Muslim history, Sufis have played a very important role in spreading Islam to non-Arab peoples. (In fact I would say that Sufism is basically "just" the essential and very orthodox aspect of Islamic spirituality)

Furthermore, among the 4 sunni schools of law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali) the Hanafis are often described as the most liberal and the most rational. (And I generally don't get into talking about madhab issues on this blog but I'm basically a "Hanafi" myself. I have two crates of Hanafi books, mostly from Turkey and the sub-continent which I use as references if I have fiqh questions).

The "funny" thing is that the Taliban were both Sufis and Hanafis. So much for labels. In fact, if you consider Al-Qaedah (sometimes problematically identified as "Wahabi"), the Taliban (strict Hanafis) and Hezbollah (Shia) or even the Paris rioters (many of whom were secular) the groups are very distinct in terms of ideology. What makes them "militant" has more to do with their attitudes (towards the West, towards various Muslim governments, towards the use of violence) than the specific ins and outs of their theology. I just hope that the various Western governments can keep that in mind before anyone is tempted to round up the Wahabis, or the Hanafis, etc.

1 comment:

Julaybib said...

Celebrate Muslim diversity, unite against Islamophobia!


The Muslim Anarchist