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Books and Documents ( 9 Oct 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Jihad, Fundamentalism, Western Muslims and Islamic Hermeneutics - I


By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam

Review Essay of G. Marranci’s ‘Jihad Beyond Islam’ and ‘Understanding Muslim Identity: Rethinking Fundamentalism’

Jihad beyond Islam, 2006, London and New York: Berg. Hardback ISBN 1845201574. Paperback ISBN 1845201582

Understanding Muslim identity: rethinking fundamentalism, Houndsmills, Hampshire, UK, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, iv + 174 pp., 50.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-230-00255-5


The works of Gabrielle Marranci’s “Jihad Beyond Islam” and “Understanding Muslim identity : Rethinking Fundamentalism” are a novel attempt to shift the analyses of discourse pertaining to ‘jihad’ (customarily understood /perceived /interpreted as Islamic terrorism) and ‘Islamic fundamentalism/radicalism’ away from those focusing on cultural and political essentialism , scripturalism and social determinism, to that of exploring the “dynamics of radicalization” by examining the central role of emotions on the processes of identity. Relying on the findings of some recent anthropological studies (Milton and Svasek, 2005), 1 the author’s major contention is that emotions and the feelings that these emotions induce are the key element in defining the behaviours and actions of Western Muslims (rather than their religious tradition, culture and/or society), including their views on jihad, and thus their identity formation. In the words of the author “It is what I feel I am that determines my identity for me” (Marranci 2006, p.10). Marranci refers to this phenomenon as “Emotional Islam” (2009, 20-24).

This reasoning applied to Muslim identity would translate into: It is that I feel that I am a Muslim (indicative of what Marranci terms emotional commitment) which makes me have a Muslim identity and not its imposition by extra-individual elements such as culture or society. Another important and useful distinction that Marranci advocates is that between the self and identity with which he attempts to find the solution to broader anthropological questions regarding issues pertaining to reflexivity, agency and the notion of multiple identities in individual selves. Since my critique will not concern itself with the broader anthropological questions of the relationship between the self, culture and identity, I shall leave them aside for those who are more familiar and better qualified than I am to deal with. Instead I would like to focus on Marranci’s views, explicit or implied, on the role of religious tradition and, in particular its normative texts, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, on understanding Muslim identity among western (born) Muslims, given his overall thesis presented in two books as well as to expose a number of self-contradictions inherent in his overall thesis. I would like firstly to present, chapter by chapter, Marranci’s main arguments in the two books or more precisely the way I understand them and then offer a (hopefully constructive) critique on several fronts.

In the introductory of “Jihad Beyond Islam” chapter Marranci stresses the importance of making a distinction between Muslims and Islam in order to emphasise , unlike what he terms Neo-Orientalists and apologists essentialist approaches, the significance of interpretation and interpretability, or to borrow a phrase often used by those who concern themselves with Qur’anic hermeneutics and Islamic legal theory the Deutungsbedurftigkeit of the primary sources of the Islamic teachings , namely, that of the Qur’an and Sunnah. As such, he highlights the need to study Muslims rather than their sacred texts (Islam) in order to explain their behaviour/actions. He argues that based on his methodology it is his main concern, as a trained anthropologist of religion, to understand and view Muslims as conscious feeling human beings not just as products of their religion. By developing this heuristic Marranci aims to critique and steer away from past but still influential scholars of Muslim societies and cultures such as C. Geertz (1968) and E. Gellner (1981). Marranci, however, goes a step further by saying that Islamic concepts such as jihad are not only subject to various interpretations by Muslims (as well as non-Muslims) but that due to the hostile political and international climate for Muslims and Islam, the “concept of jihad has developed an independent life” that has little to do with its Qur’ano-Sunnahic or for that matter its classical theological (and we should add jurisprudential2) meaning/s (e.g. p.9; p.94, p.114.)

In the second chapter Marranci presents the ‘intellectual phylogeny’ of jihad in the Islamic world in order to emphasise the semantico-contextual changes in the way jihad as a concept has been understood and employed throughout Islamic history. He starts with the Qur’an (and here draws attention to the often overlooked difference in the terminology of the Qur’anic concepts such as qatl, harb and jihad, which are falsely regarded as one and the same) and that of the relevant ‘authentic’ hadith. Then he briefly compares the concept of jihad based on some of the authorities of the classical Islamic tradition to that of the distorted modern concept of jihad as being inextricably linked to the idea of suicide bombers as being firmly embedded in the imagination of both Muslims and non-Muslims. Here, again, he wishes to emphasise the fact that jihad as a concept has been subject to a number of different interpretations dictated by the broader historical, socio-political and cultural circumstances and the intellectual milieu of the Muslim interpreter that defines his or her Muslim identity. As such, he claims that “the mother of all interpretations of jihad-whether political, theological, opportunistic, esoteric or materialistic –is personal identity” (p.30).

The book’s heuristic and methodological novelty and its main thesis are fully explicated in the third chapter. Being essentially ethnographical in nature Marranci’s book departs from the majority of traditional anthropological enterprise ( which largely denies anthropological subjects independent selves by bringing into focus the individual rather than ‘culture’ as the primary locus of anthropological investigation and conceptual analysis (Sökefeld,1999) . It has been documented elsewhere that this heuristic is methodologically sound and especially relevant to the dynamics pertaining to western –born Muslims’ identity formation. This is so because many of them undergo a process of individualization of religious faith and practice that ought not only be seen as a liberation of autonomous selves from the constrains of pre-modern religious tradition embodied in certain social and cultural practices moulding and constraining individual behaviour but also as a result of a production of (post) modern subjects associated with broader social, cultural, political and economic forces in forms of migration, modernization and globalisation which transform religious identities and practices of Western Muslims especially in relation to reproduction of Islamic authority and normativity and the transmission of Islamic knowledge ( Duderija, 2007).

Lamenting the neglect of the importance of emotions on the formation of individual self and identity in anthropological studies, Marranci, relying on recent anthropological theories, argues that the environment (in which he includes the natural, social or cultural elements) can engender emotions (that manifest themselves as observable bodily responses) which in turn provoke feelings affecting the self (which resides in the conscious mind). The impact of emotions and emotion induced feelings can lead the self to take certain actions. Every human being has a stable and individualistic self that needs to be made sense of and expressed in a meaningful manner. This self exists in a relational equilibrium with one’s identity which Marranci defines as the “process that allows human beings to make sense of their [autobiographical] self and to express it” (p.47). Furthermore, the self is expressed through symbols which act as ‘storage units’ to communicate otherwise directly incommunicable inner feelings. The mechanism linking the self and identity is circuit-like (each part affects and produces a change in the other) and self-corrective. This mechanism, however, is also subject to ‘schismogenetic’ processes (a term borrowed from G. Bateson, 2000) defined as “the tendency for individuals to move apart through a systematic and divergent interaction produced by negative feedback’ (p.11). These processes can break the circular system. Certain events or contexts can ‘trap’ people into schismogenetic processes that affect the delicate relationship between the self and identity. The schismogenetic processes, in turn, often are result of ‘circles of panic’. Citing H. Bhaba ( 1994) Marranci asserts that the ‘circle of panic’ “develops when within a community an undefined and a-testable rumour is spread”(p.10), such as the one spreading among contemporary Muslims that Islam and Muslims are under attack or that the West wishes to exterminate Islam and Muslims. The schismogenetic processes may affect the emotions of some Muslims creating disequilibrium and a ‘circuit breaker’ between the self and the identity to produce what Marranci terms ‘acts of identity’. The ‘acts of identity’, such as jihad, derive from a strong emotional reaction to a schismogenetic event and aim to self-correct the delicate mechanism. So jihad becomes an ‘act of identity’, a part of the process of identity itself, that wishes to re-establish the fragile balance between the self and identity. Thus, it loses and no longer has any obvious connection to its religious or the meaning derived from the Islamic tradition (pp.94-95).

In the fourth and subsequent chapters Marranci proclaims his task to be the one of explaining the dynamics through which schismogenetic processes take place and the manner in which ‘circles of panic’ develop and are maintained. He states that the general surroundings in which western Muslims live could influence the degree of schismogenetic process developing in the psyche of western Muslims. I shall only focus on the arguments in the subsequent chapters that have a direct bearing on the question of the factors that could be seen as being responsible for and can cause Muslims to be trapped into these circles of panic, as I wish to critique it later on.

In the fourth chapter in the context of discussing jihad with immigrant men Marranci considers that the migration experience (and the associated change in the role and the status of men as husbands and sons in the family), as well as the legacy of colonialism and post-colonialism, can be considered as one of the factors that could trap some Muslims into the circle of panic. One way of this being done is by the means of inducing guilt into the attendees of the Muslim Friday congregation by emotionally manipulative and eloquent sermons given by Khatibs that address the Muslims misfortunes of contemporary Islam’s subjugation and /or humiliation at the hands of the western colonial powers. It is not only the content of the sermon itself , but also the preacher’s general demeanour and external appearance (which is supposed to convey and depict the Khatib’s piety and “Islamic “ authentic dress that some Muslims consider to be Sunna) that can have the same desired effect .

In the fifth chapter it is the shocking and disturbing images of Muslim suffering around the world broadcast by Arab satellite channels and other media (such as the internet, DVDs ,audio cassettes etc.) that could engender strong emotional reactions and thus, can generate a schismogenetic effect resulting in jihad being appropriated as ‘an act of identity’.

In the sixth chapter the author deals with the questions over loyalty of western born Muslims to their birth countries, epitomised by the oft repeated question “Are you (British , French, Italian ….) or Muslim, are explored as potentially trapping western born Muslims into ‘a circle of panic’. The seventh chapter does not directly address the question of factors generating schismogenetic processes, but demonstrates that , contrary to much of the previous work on immigrant Muslim women who have been portrayed as voiceless and passive, some Muslim women develop strong ‘Jihadi rhetoric’ and can be trapped into the circle of panic just like men. He also notices a very interesting phenomenon ,namely, that of the reverse of the ‘shame-honour complex’3 by confronting their husbands or brothers for not adopting a Jihadi rhetoric thus inducing guilt and shame in them and making them feel that they are bad Muslims .Muslim men become the ‘victims’ of Muslim women’s Jihadi rhetoric. Also some Muslim women develop this Jihadi rhetoric to emphasize the importance and ‘religious virtue’ of women suicide bombers as a continuation of a historically established practice. Indeed, at one point, Marranci suggests that this type of rhetoric could have trapped the first British citizen, suicide bomber Asif Hanif, into the ‘circle of panic’, as he was incited to conduct jihad by his sister’s Jihadi rhetoric (pp.133-134).

In the eight chapters Westernophobia in guise of anti-Semitic attitudes among western Muslims is identified as potentially leading to schismogenetic process and the employment of jihad as an ‘act of identity’.

Dr. Adis Duderija is a research associate at the University of Melbourne, Islamic Studies. He recently published a book: Constructing a Religiously Ideal "Believer" and "Woman" in Islam: Neo-traditional Salafi and Progressive Muslims' Methods of Interpretation (Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History.