Sociology and Anthropology

The Rescuing of Muslim Anthropological Thought


Both of these scholarly publications may be seen as statements of the need for Islamic anthropology. They contain expressions of the discontent of Muslin anthropologists with the state of the art of contemporary anthropological studies. Many Muslim anthropologists and other social scientists share in the feelings evident in these essays and well stated in the late Dr. Ali Shari'ati's Civilization and modernization:

When I feel my own religion, literature, emotion, needs and pains through my awn culture, I feel my own self, the very social and historical self (not the individual self), the source from which this culture has originated. . . .But certain artificial factors, probably of a dubious nature creep into a society which has well defined social conditions or social relations, developed through a specific historical framework, and acquaint it with pains, sufferings, emotions and sentiments which have an alien spirit and are a product of a different past, a different training and society. . . .Then when I wish to feel my own real self, I find myself conceiving another society’s culture instead of my own and bemoaning troubles not mine at all. I groan about cynicism not pertinent to cultural, philosophical and social realities of my society. I then find myself harboring aspirations, ideals and anguishes legitimately belonging to social, economic, and political conditions of societies other than mine. Nonetheless, I treat these desires, ideals, and anguish as if they were my own.. . .Another culture has alienated me. (From English translation published by Houston, TX: Free Islamic Literatures)

The comprehensive analysis of this general malaise afflicting the worldwide Muslim ummah and its contemporary leadership as well as the framework for the rescue of the Muslim intelligentsia from the pitfalls of religious isolation and fanaticism, cultural and emotional alienation, self-contempt, and loss of self-esteem is most forcefully stated in the work and academic leadership of the late Dr. Ismai‘il Al Faruqi and his colleagues, students, and associates. Dr. Faruqi’s thought pointed out that the academic labor of the Muslim scholar and higher participation in the rituals of scholarly productivity, debate, and discussion bereft of Islamic soul and spirit is like the native American ritual
of couvade. Like the husband in couvade who lay in his bed and pretended to experience the pains of childbirth while it was in fact the wife who was going through the pains of giving birth, too many Muslim scholars have been only pretending to be productive.

The remedy that has been proposed in the “Islamization of Knowledge” initiative (as stated in, International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), Islamization of knowledge: General principles and workplan, Herndon, VA. (1987) requires as an initial step the mastery of a significant Wstern discipline. The authors of both books under review have satisfied that requirement admirably in that they are both British trained and highly recognized in their fields of anthropological specialization.

“The remedy also seeks resolution of the problem of lack of illumination in materialist social sciences by resort to classical Islamic thought methodology. Dr. Ahmed as well as Dr. Asad recognize that new thought and fresh perspectives are sorely needed in anthropology even when considered in its own terms, i.e, without particular concern with Islam. Dr. Asad has provided some fresh air to the ongoing debates on the sociology and anthropology of Islam (conceptually a different variety of subject matter from Islamic anthropology) in outlining a notion of “discursive tradition” (pp. 14-77). This concept may prove helpful in revitalizing Islamic anthropology and is discussed below. However, neither publication deals explicitly with questions pertaining to Islamic thought, methodology or its history. In fact Dr. Ahmed laments the fate of the “Muslim intellectual” as wandering ”between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.” (p. 61).

I trust that the dead world he means is not the world of the knowledge of the Islamic scholars of the past. (May Allah’s blessing be always upon them). To assume that they and their knowledge is dead is only an assumption. For Allah states in the Qur’an that many whom people assume to be dead are not in fact dead. This verse in the Qur’an is usually interpreted as referring to those who sacrificed their lives in battles for Islam. Is it not also applicable to those who spent their lives ‘developing the rational thought basis for the survival of Islam in the centuries that have passed since the era of our Prophet Muhammad (SAAS?

The logical basis and orientation of the ”Islamization of Knowledge” program are summarized in Dr. Faruqi’s Foreword to Toward Islamic Anthropology. The ideas presented in that Foreword as ingredients to a remedy for the malaise of the Muslim ummah and its intellectual leadership need to be commented on here as background.

Akbar S. Ahmed, Toward Islamic Anthropology: Definition, Dogma, and Directions, Islamization of Knowledge series (2) New Era Publications/International Institute of Islamic Thought 1976, 77 pp.

Talal Asad, The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, Center for Contemporary Arab studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 1986, 22 pp.


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