New Age Islam
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Books and Documents ( 13 Oct 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Jihad, Fundamentalism, Western Muslims and Islamic Hermeneutics - II


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

Part Two:

For Part One Visit:,-fundamentalism,-western-muslims-and-islamic-hermeneutics---i/d/8946

In “Understanding Muslim identity: Rethinking Fundamentalism” Marranci sets out to “engage with an incredibly expanding academic literature’ [on Islamic fundamentalism] that tends to treat religious fundamentalism ‘on the basis of culturalist or social theory discourse” (p. 153). He proceeds to found his analysis on the basis of the same analytical lens adopted in “Jihad beyond Islam”. His main thesis is that fundamentalism must be understood as a process linked to identity and identification and ‘not a thing’ and that theories that take into account the crucial role of emotions, feelings and the environment can explain the phenomenon of fundamentalism, including Islamic fundamentalism, better social determinist and cultural constructivist theories (77-80).

In the very coherently written introduction we are offered an overview of the book’s major themes and the aims and purposes of the book. In the second chapter an impressively comprehensive and well informed engagement with and a critique of relevant existing literature on religious fundamentalism in general, including the problems of terminology, is developed ranging from that with the focus on scripturalism, to social determinism, cultural and political essentialism and to a lesser degree that of psychology ( or social psychology). In this context Marranci criticises these approaches for approaching fundamentalism ‘as a thing’ and not as a process. Marranci argues further that these approaches are marred by fundamental epistemological and methodological weaknesses one called ‘comparative reductionism’ ( i.e. the idea that somehow one can compare and contrast extremely diverse cultures in order to obtain a ‘macro-picture’ as an easy object to test against the Western enlightenment parameters seen as normative ) and ,as a corollary, ‘Eurocentric historical evolutionism’ ( i.e. the notion that European history and its historical trajectories resulting in European style modernity and secularism serve as the sole arbiter and the embodiment of progress and civilisation ). In the third chapter Marranci focuses his attention more specifically to writing on various studies on ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and laments two things; the lack of anthropological studies of it (especially with the focus on the individual with the exception of a recent study by Q.Wicktorowitz4) as well as the absence of the role of emotions and feelings in the above mentioned processes leading ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’5

In the fourth chapter, relying on the theoretical framework espoused in ‘Jihad beyond Islam” (see part one of this article published on the same website here:,-fundamentalism,-western-muslims-and-islamic-hermeneutics---i/d/8946

with its emphasis on the role of emotions and feelings in identity Marranci argues , on the basis of some ethnographic material conducted with British Muslim youths , that concepts such as justice and dignity, much like that of jihad , become emotionally charged’ acts of identity’ as a result of ‘certain context and environment’ (p.150) and transform into ideologies of justice and dignity that form part of the fundamentalist process formation. Marranci uses the example of S. Qutb, one of the major ideologues and intellectuals behind the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Movement as a paragon of this type of dynamic at work.

In the fifth chapter Marranci argues, again on the basis of some ethnographic material, that the concept of ideology of justice to that of the ideology of ‘Tawhid’ whose essence is also emotional and like that of jihad, justice and dignity is to be associated with the individual’s ‘acts of identity’. Furthermore he argues that according to this dynamic the concept of Tawhid is ‘reduced to a rhetorical device that is used to express a narrative of rebellion and a discourse of charisma’ (p.107). In this context he also asserts that the ‘ideology of tawhid’ has dislodged the concept of individual charisma of the Islamic scholar (which he equates with that of the Baraka of Sufi saints) with that of the ummah which becomes the embodiment of a ‘diffused charisma’. By affirming this he argues against the idea, as advocated by Wictorowitz, of the importance of the charisma personified and exemplified in the figure of an Islamic religious leader/scholar in the process of radicalisation of Muslims. The main concern of the sixth chapter , again based partially on ethnographic accounts, is that as a result of the same dynamics that have brought about the existence of ‘emotional Islam’ a discourse focused on the dichotomy between the ‘civilised’ and ‘civilisable’ , thus embracing Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilisations, be that is embedded in the existential matrix of ‘how to be human’ has emerged among those western Muslims who have entered ‘the circle of panic’ caused by schismogenetic environments. According to this understanding the most serious concern for these Muslims is to have the power to define and live out what it means to be a good human being themselves solely by being a committed Muslim .

I would like to criticize Marranci on one main front, namely on the issue of the way he envisages what role Islamic religious tradition, and its main sources, namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah, play in his main theory of the importance of emotions on identity formation among western (born) Muslims and in this context more specifically the importance of interpretation and interpretational theory in the same. As mentioned previously in the introductory and the second chapter, Marranci’s major thesis is that to truly understand certain key Islamic concepts such as ‘jihad’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ the focus ought not to be on how they are discussed or presented in the Islamic tradition but rather how they have been interpreted and employed thought out Islamic history by the actual agents and makers of the Islamic civilization, the Muslims themselves. This argument, of course, is linked to the broader discussions pertaining to questions such as: is there one (normative) Islam or many species of normative Islams or for that matter many Islams as well as to the issue of whether there can be any Islam without Muslims and vice-versa (Varisco, 2007). This conundrum translates itself into the question whether it makes sense to talk about and make a distinction between the ‘great’ and the ‘little’ traditions, i.e. the scripturalist Islam of the Muslim religious elites and professionals and that of the Volksislam, the rural peasants that Marranci has taken up elsewhere (2007). While Marranci is certainly correct in emphasizing the interpretability of the Islamic tradition, especially its fountainheads, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, by making a statement mentioned earlier that ‘the mother of all interpretation is personal identity’ one wonders whether or not Marranci gives too much leeway to the reader in the process of derivation of meaning/reading. The process of interpretation or derivation of meaning is a result of three factors: the nature of the text, the intention of the author (and the belief or otherwise of its principal discoverability) and that of the reader itself (who has a number of assumptions and is a product of a particular socio-historical and educational context). Because each reader has a different, to borrow Marranci’s terminology, ‘personal identity’, this will affect the process of meaning derivation which will, in turn, reflect itself upon the way the text is interpreted. As such every text or discourse exhibits semiotic polyvalence. That much is agreed. However, the interpretational process is constrained by a number of factors most importantly the nature of the text itself (such as it content, composition, mechanisms of the language it was written in) and the nature of the reader. For example, when readers share many of the factors governing the “nature of a reader” (e.g. same socio-cultural norms or historical context) a notion of “interpretive communities,” that is, a group of individuals who share similar interpretive strategies in reading, arises. These communities of interpretation impose some reading uniformity in an inherently divergent process of meaning derivation, thus curbing and narrowing down alternative readings. In the words of El-Fadl (2001) they “objectify the subjective” and marginalise “unreasonable interpretations”. Hence, commitment to textual polysemy does not mean having to embrace unrestricted interpretational relativism, because texts can withstand only “a limited field of possible constructions” (Ricour, 1981, 213). Furthermore, communities of interpretation can “resist imposed interpretations in details” (Wolterstoff, 1995, 202) and only certain interpretations of texts can be considered as “contextually legitimated” (Eco, 1996, 76-77). Now Marranci in his “Jihad Beyond Islam” asserts on several occasions (p.9, p.94, p.114) that Islamic theological (and I’d again add juristic) discussions and views on jihad are developed independent of and are of no significance on the way his respondents used and developed the rhetoric of jihad. In other words Marranci is prepared to say as noted above that the concept of jihad “has developed a life of its own” and that the religious tradition of Muslims plays little or any role in the way they conceptualise and use the terms. In other words the actor does not even consider nor is constrained in any way neither by the primary texts nor the meanings given to jihad by the subsequent communities of interpretation. In other words using his example of Mr. Hussein, Mr. Hussein is either not aware of or his actions are not constrained by the ‘textual indicators’6 set by the normative teachings and the still widely authoritative classical accumulated tradition (which are interpreted , admittedly, in a number of different ways as they always have been) in relation to jihad . This does not only go against a number of studies , including his own as we shall see below, which have emphasized the growing importance of the scripturalist, and what O.Roy (2004) terms ‘accultural’ Islam ( e.g. Waardenburg, 2000) embodied in the Qur’an and hadith texts among Western born Muslims but his own ethnographic findings.

We see ample evidence of this in Marranci’s own ethnographic material used in both of the books under review. Let’s examine the ethnographic evidence Marranci presents in ‘Jihad beyond Islam’ first. For example, his interview excerpt with Tahar on p.64 in which Tahar cites parts of the Qur’an and the well-known (but controversial in terms of authenticity) hadith of the greater spiritual and the smaller physical or military jihad in order to develop his own interpretation of jihad.

The importance of the Qur’an and hadith on shaping of behaviour of western Muslims is particularly well-illustrated on p.66 where his interviewee Husayn defends the actions of Hamas’ suicide bombers by asserting the following : “I do not have any personal opinion about jihad because the Qur’an and the prophet’s Sunnah [by which he really means hadith – and we will come back to this point later] are neither questionable nor negotiable…Jihad means fighting an enemy , as you can read [pointing to an opened page of Sure 2: 90-1]….jihad is total war and this is clear when Allah says ‘Slay them wherever ye catch them…”. In the same section of the book on the controversial question of the legitimacy of killing innocents Husayn takes recourse to a hadith to deduce that combatant women should also be killed . Elsewhere Husayn is recorded to have stated in the same context “as for children, another hadith explains that jihad should not be stopped because of the presence of women and children or in general what you [talking to Marranci] call civilians.” Another example in which a certain interpretation of the Islamic tradition plays the most important part in shaping Western Muslims views and , at times, actions is that of Haroun, who not only interprets certain Qur’anic verses to label Jews and Christians as unbelievers (kafirun) but resorts to more sophisticated arguments stemming from Islamic legal theory of abrogation (naskh wa mansukh) to ground his interpretation with an aura of authenticity and normativeness and prove his fellow Muslim Ratib wrong who disagrees with him ( Ratib disagrees by also relying on his own interpretation of the primary Islamic teachings(pp.68-70).

In ‘Understanding Muslim Identity’ there is even more evidence of the importance of the sacred and/ or canonical texts on the views and opinions of the respondents.

My point here is not, like many others have, to hastily proclaim that the Islamic tradition condones the killing of innocent civilians (the majority interpretation clearly prohibits it) or that it considers Jews and Christians as unbelievers (again in contrast with the majority view) but to demonstrate two broader points:

1.) Western Muslims increasingly resort to ‘scripturalist normative Islam’ to develop their interpretations of the Islamic tradition. Speaking in the context of Muslims in Europe Waardenburg (2003, 343-345), for example, asserts that what he refers to as the normative character of Islam for Muslims is a social fact and that normative Islam based on literature on Islamic law and its theory (usul-ul-fiqh) has “obtained a new relevance for Muslims living in Western societies,” that it is of “utmost importance” and that is has “practical relevance”. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the hearted exchange of views between Haroun and Ratib in Marranci’s book, this quest for normative Islam in the western context is constantly re-constructed by successive generations of Muslims who appeal to a ‘true ‘normative’ Islam along variant lines so that one is faced with the dilemma of the multiplicity of normative Islam.

2.) Certain interpretations of what Muslims consider to be a normative Islamic teaching plays an important (if not decisive) role in shaping the views and at times actions of Western (born) Muslims. Based on the above I find Marranci’s assertion that jihad among Muslims has developed a life of his own irrespective of the Islamic tradition difficult to accept. His own fieldwork presented in the book is a testament to the contrary. For example, his interviewee Farouq uses Qur’anic and hadith material to define jihad as foremost a spiritual struggle (p.63) or the already above mentioned views of Tahar who considers it a foremost physical, armed struggle as employed by Muslim groups such as Hamas. However, I am not disputing or questioning his overall thesis of the importance of the role of emotions and that of jihad as a preferred ‘act of identity’ but would argue that certain interpretations (manahij) of the Islamic tradition ,and its ahistorical, (semi)-decontextualised and piecemeal Qur’an and hadith –based ones in particular, are employed to either further reinforce and facilitate this process or ,in case of historical and contextualist manahij ,to shield and protect Muslims from falling into the circle of panic.

This leads me to the second larger criticism of Marranci’s ideas, this time more closely related to his main thesis. Namely, as mentioned above in the summary of the third chapter Marranci gives himself the task of explaining which factors influence the degree of schismogenetic processes which could trap a person into Bhaba’s circle of panic. He states that they are all ‘environmental’ (p.51) and, as we saw above, in the subsequent chapters cites the experience of migration , the discourses on (post)colonialism , the questioning of loyalty to the birth countries of western born Muslims and that of westernophobia in the guise of anti-Semitic attitudes. Thus, he does not mention religion or the Islamic tradition at all as playing a part. Having elaborated on the importance of normative Islam/s for western Muslims above I wonder as to why couldn’t the Qur’ano-Sunnahic textual indicants, given their nature, in particular that of the powerful, evocative, emotion stirring Qur’anic discourse be considered as Marrarni’s symbols which affect the self by rousing vigorous emotions inducing feelings that could lead to acts of identity such as that of jihad. This could be especially so if they are manipulated , as Marranci’s own evidence demonstrates and that of Q. Wictorowiz (2005)7 confirms , at the hands of charismatic and eloquent imams who weave their particular approaches to the interpretation of Qur’an and Sunnah and Islamic history skilfully into the socio-politically and economically unenviable contemporary reality in which many Muslims find themselves in order to effect and , indeed, question the emotional commitment, and thus the identity of Muslims to Islam. So, in other words, certain interpretations of the Islamic tradition, especially if reinforced by other factors mentioned by Marranci ought to be considered as potentially playing a part in the development of schismogenetic processes that could trap some Muslims into the circle of panic. Again, Marranci’s own fieldwork data confirms this. Muslims who did not fall into the ‘circle of panic’ ,such as Ratib, had developed an interpretation of Qur’an and the Sunnah which ‘prevented’ them from considering suicide bombing , the killing of innocent children or branding Jews and Christians as unbelievers because they were seen as un Islamic.

Another criticism I need to level at Marranci is his lack of making a distinction between Sunnah and hadith although he points to the work of I. Goldziher (who considers hadith as being indicative of the prevalent political and socio-cultural context and views of Muslims prevalent during the first two to three centuries of the Islamic calendar rather than deeming them to be the reports that can be historically traced back to the Prophet as the pre-modern Islamic tradition does) and asks for revisiting of his main arguments rather. This has very important implications for the themes discussed here given that as noted above, physical jihad and the killing of innocent civilians are often justified on the basis of hadith as in the case of Husayn. In the second chapter Marranci notices the difference in which the word jihad is employed in the Qur’anic and hadith body of knowledge and examines ‘authentic’ hadith to show that jihad cannot be interpreted as an aggressive war against non-believers. By considering only the works of Sunni scholars of M. Bukhari (d.870 hijri )and his disciple Muslim al-Hajjaj (d. 875 hijri) as being truly ‘authentic’, he is not only partaking in the practice of ‘hadith hurling’, a practice common not only among Muslims but also in scholarly discourses , but he is also excluding other hadith corpuses used by Muslims , (as identified above in the instance of Husayn who argued for the legitimacy of killing of women and children on the basis of a hadith), he falls into the trap of implicitly subscribing to , like many others, the epistemologically and hermeneutically hadith-dependent concept of Sunnah. However, it is very important to note that during the pre-classical, formative period of Islamic thought Sunnah was not epistemologically and hermeneutically independent of hadith, and existed in a hermeneutically symbiotic relationship with the Qur’an (Duderija, 2007; Duderija, 2009).

If what I have argued for holds true, this leaves us with two broad questions, namely:

1. Which factors determine different types of western Muslim identity formation?

2. Which interpretational assumptions are responsible for the development of different interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah?

A modest proposal in relation to the first question has been made where, among other factors, the importance of scriptural hermeneutics has been highlighted (Duderija, 2008). However this can be further fine-tuned with the works of scholars such as Marranci (to incorporate the role of emotions and feelings on identity formation ), Wictorowitz (to highlight the role of the charismatic Muslim scholar ) and R. Hood(jr.), P. Hill and P. Williamson (2005) (the psychological aspect of scriptural formation on development of fundamentalist thought)8 Since the focus of this review article is to draw attention to the importance of the Islamic tradition and its primary sources on identity construction in what follows I’d like to outline the arguments presented by Hood, Hill and Williamson on how scriptural hermeneutics can affect identity formation ? Let me here briefly discuss the theoretical framework of R.W. Hood ( jr.) ,P.C. Hill and W.P.Williamson who in their book ‘The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism’ (New York, Guilford Press, 2005) have developed a theoretical framework which purports to explain the structure and the processes that lead to what the authors term fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist thought in major scripture-based world religions. The book’s heuristic is based on a sociologico-psychological approach to understanding the phenomenon of fundamentalism as a system of meaning9 that relies exclusively upon a religious text in order to interpret the world and give meaning to all life. The fundamentalist model is based upon the principle of ‘intratextuality’ in which the use of the sacred text as a point of reference for all thoughts and action is adhered to (Ibid, 21). This intratextuality in which reality is interpreted through a sacred text refers to the process of reading a sacred text and is central to fundamentalist thought. Wood, Hill and Williamson argue that the logic of this principle “refers not to content but to process: The Text itself determines how it ought to be read” (Ibid, 22). Thus, the reading or deduction of what the sacred text means or intends to mean comes only from within the text (Ibid.). This is what Wood, Hill and Williamson understand by the term intratextuality. According to this model, the principle of intratextuality is associated with two related components of fundamentalist thought, namely the existence of a sacred text and absolute truths. Based on the principle of intratextuality a certain text is considered sacred and, in turn, only this sacred text is able to specify absolute truths. As a result of this process a dialogic encounter between the reader and the text, based on the principle of intratextuality, emerges. An absolute truth, on the other hand, is that which is essential for maintaining the fundamentalist worldview. This worldview, in turn, is based solely on written, fixed (rather than oral) authoritative text/s within the tradition and is constructed as objective fact or reality. Absolute truths derived from the dialogic process are not subject to any criticism outside the principle of intratextuality. The outside world is viewed through this lens based on the dialogic process of intratextuality. Any “peripheral beliefs” ( of religious or non-religious kind) that fall outside the realm of absolute truths or any extra-intratextually derived interpretive processes are not allowed to penetrate the processes that produce and maintain absolute beliefs that characterise fundamentalist thought. Moreover, a crucial assumption of this fundamentalist thought, argue its authors, is that “one need not subject the revelatory text to “interpretation” in the sense that modern and post-modern literary explore” (Ibid.). They are rejected as “higher criticism” or forms of intertextual criticism considered to be fallible commentaries on an infallible text(Ibid.) Text’s infallibility is , in turn, based on the fact that fundamentalist thought considers the principal discoverability of, in the words of Hirsch , the “authorial intent” or “authorial consciousness”(Ibid.). By the phrase the principal discoverability of the authorial intent is meant the ability of the reader to completely and fully understand authorial intent thus, the view that a reader’s understanding of the author’s intent does not function at the level of interpretation but that author’s intent and that of the reader’s reading of it completely overlap. This view is rejected by modern and post-modern literary criticisms. Furthermore, another feature of this intratextual model is its claim to objective truth that is insisted upon that is not always based upon a literal reading of the text. Wood, Hill and Williamson assert in this context: In fact, an objective understanding of the text requires an appreciation for when it is and when it is not appropriate to treat the text “literally” (Ibid, 193). Fundamentalists only insist that discernment must come from intratextual considerations. In other words, the text itself reveals when it is and it is not appropriate to take it literally. In addition to the intratextual model Wood, Hill and Williamson have developed an intertextual model which aims to describe the structure of non-fundamentalist thought.

According to Wood, Hill and Williamson this model defines modernity and what fundamentalist thought opposes. The principle of inter-textualism maintains that no “single text speaks for itself” (Ibid, 26). Furthermore, according to this model all texts are authoritative and interrelated and are to be involved in the process of deriving truth which is understood as relative truth. The relative truths extend outwardly to peripheral beliefs but these peripheral beliefs “may filter back into the interpretative process and exert continual influence on the understanding of texts and relative truths” (Ibid.). Thus, instead of a single sacred text a number of authoritative texts are consulted that may contain various relative truths. According to Wood, Hill and Williamson this inter textual model “permits and fosters change and openness” (Ibid.). It is important at this point to reiterate that Wood, Hill and Williamson emphasise that in both of their models the principles of inter and intratextuality emerge from the use of sacred or authoritative texts and the process of reading the same (Ibid, 28). As such the work of Hill, Hood and Williamson makes a clear connection between a particular scriptural hermeneutic and the nature of the resultant perceived reality that can lead to a particular formation of self and identity through the processes described by Marranci. However, the work of Williamson, Hill and Hood did not identify specific interpretational assumptions that can lead to the formation of what they term ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘non-fundamentalist thought’. Elsewhere a number of interpretational assumptions governing the interpretational models of two contemporary Muslim ‘groups’ referred to as Neo-Traditional Salafis(NTS) and Progressive Muslims(PM) which have the explanatory power to elucidate the interpretational mechanisms and assumptions underlying certain interpretations (and applied to how they help construct certain ‘normative’ Muslimah images) have been pinpointed and discussed.(Duderija,2007 b,; Duderija 2008) NTS approach to conceptualisation of the nature and interpretation of Qur’ano-Sunnahic teachings can be seen as being primarily based upon the principle of intra-textuality as defined by Wood, Hill and Williamson. PM approach, on the other hand, is in accordance with the inter-textual model.

To the best of my knowledge there is no study yet which would be able to explain why certain interpretations of the Islamic tradition are accepted and or rejected by certain Muslims. Following Wictorowitz and given the accretive-ascriptive a nature of the Islamic tradition ( Souaiaia,2006) I would argue that the role of authoritative and charismatic religious ‘preacher’ or ‘scholar’ whose views can be accessed via a number of different media may they be print-, audio, electronic or T.V. or radio-based plays an important part in this dynamic. If we consider the findings of Marranci we would need also to take into account the importance of factors which potentially can cause schismogenetic processes to come into effect and ‘trap’ Muslims into ‘circles of panic’. In this context I would maintain that the ways in which the Islamic tradition is interpreted should be considered as one of these factors. Lastly and closely linked to the previous point, based on the works of Hood, Hill and Williamson (2005) as well Duderija (2008) in order to better understand the processes of identity construction among (Western) Muslims the researcher should also develop an understanding of the interpretational mechanisms and assumptions underlying certain interpretations of the Islamic tradition that can lead to the formation of certain worldviews and perceptions of reality.

Marranci’s “Jihad Beyond Islam” and ‘Understanding Muslim identity; Rethinking Muslim Fundamentalism” are certainly worthy contributions to our knowledge on identity formation among Western Muslims and that of the dynamics of radicalization, my criticisms notwithstanding. My call for the larger and better recognition of the role of the various interpretations religious tradition in these processes will hopefully not be seen /interpreted as essentialist, but as highlighting the need to improve our understanding of the mechanisms and processes that lead to different interpretational approaches to the Islamic normative sources and how they affect Western (born) Muslims’ identity formation and , as an essential part of that dynamic, how they contribute to the process of radicalization and extremism not just among Western Muslims, but Muslims worldwide.


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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.