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Debating Islam ( 29 Oct 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Dr. Duderija’s Answer to Professor Marranci On ‘Emotional Islam,’ Religion, Religious Identity, Hermeneutics, And Islamic Tradition


By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam

(University of Western Australia, Centre for Muslim States and Societies)

 Before I attempt to clarify some of the issues raised by Professor Marranci in his reply two caveats are in order.  Firstly, due to the circumstances and the nature of the communication that has unfolded number of important terms such as „religion, „religious identity, hermeneutics, and „Islamic tradition, were not defined and thus are, I believe, partially responsible for some of the misdirected criticisms/ arguments between Professor Marranci and myself. Secondly, as it is widely known, writing a book review/essay is a risky, at times precarious undertaking (especially of unsolicited kind such as the one here in question I wrote) as it requires one to do justice to works of others who have spent extensive amounts of time (often numerous years) in researching and writing them (and who probably have invested a lot of themselves in it too) and do all of this within limited amount of space. In this context, let me just explain what professor Marranci considers to be my first epistemological error that of how I understood Professor Marranci’s definition of “Emotional Islam”.

Now, given the particularly extended nature of my review essay it was impossible to describe in every detail every argument and concept presented in the book/s. Although admittedly Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618-Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 2 oversimplified rendering of it, I felt that the essence of what “Emotional Islam” stands for is this idea of primacy of feelings in issues of personal identity. The same argument goes for Professor Marranci’s assertion that I tend to “collapse some of my [his] theoretical points, one on top of the other, when in reality they represent more complex dynamics.” It does without saying that my reflections on the two books of Professor Marranci were not meant to be a deliberate misrepresentation of his valuable work. Indeed, as Professor Marranci hints, I decided to review these books because they offer to us thought-provoking and original arguments in understanding  the question  that has been preoccupying me  over the last several years, namely the issue of  the factors which influence various religious identity formations among western Muslim and the role of  „ Islamic hermeneutics in this dynamic in particular.

It is within the parameters of this broader question, as I stated on several occasions in my review, that I engaged the arguments that Professor Marranci presented in his two books under review. I believe this to be heuristically and methodologically sound especially since, let me emphasise this point again, I am not questioning the correctness or the validity of Professor Marrancis overall thesis (again I am not sufficiently well read in the area). As a matter of fact I find it rather convincing in general terms. My reflections were meant to be more an argument for further fine-tuning of Professor Marrancis theory, especially in relation to awarding more importance to the question of Islamic hermeneutics in it. In his reply Professor Marranci seems at times to agree that our differences are more in terms of emphasis and degree rather than them being irreconcilable or radical.

Yet, curiously, simultaneously Professor Marranci characterises my arguments as “risking promoting strong form of culturalism” and as ascribing to him “socio-cultural nihilist position”.

Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 3

Before I comment on this let me briefly address this issue of the relationship between personal identity and hermeneutics. Although I did not engage this point explicitly I would question a sharp distinction between „identity and hermeneutics (especially contemporary hermeneutical theories that emphasise the importance of „reader and her/his  identity  in the process of  creating   meaning from the texts- in Islamic context see for example Y. Rahman,2001)  that Professor Marranci seems to endorse. Namely, I believe that the processes involved in hermeneutics are to a large extent if not completely inclusive of personal identity.

Contemporary religious scholars specialising in the field of textual hermeneutics would agree that for example exegesis is, to a large part actually, an act of exegesis and that the markers of ones personal identity such as gender, sense of morality and, Professor Marranci would probably add emotional cognitive state of mind, all play a very important part and are constitutive of „hermeneutics. In my view hermeneutics as the product of the process of “Verstehen” and “Dasein” is in fact all encompassing and would include the processes of personal identity as explained by Professor Marranci.

To what extent indeed, can my call for an inclusion or even a greater recognition of the religious norms („conceptualised or derived differently and at times mutually exclusively from the texts or simply just based on the general notion of what slam is all about) in explaining which factors influence the degree of schismogenetic processes that traps Muslims be characterised as a strong form of culturalism that subscribes to the view of „a unified Muslim mind as Professor Marranci puts it? I believe that Professor Marranci’s increased sense of sensitivity/suspicion towards anything that can be characterised as „inherently Islamic , is an understandable anti-dote to the  persistent essentialist legacy of European/Western Orientalism but is too extreme as it leads to Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 4 what could be termed conceptual and analytical relativism or even nihilism. His suggestion that “there is not Islamic tradition1 per se” leads me to this conclusion.

By subscribing to the view that there indeed exists a concept of “an Islamic tradition” as I do, does not necessarily mean conceptualising it as an ahistorical, static, immutable „thing. History, as well as the present, of the Islamic tradition and its formation itself testifies to the contrary. The most apt analogy I have come across so far that describes the nature of the Islamic tradition , the dynamic between the unchangeable and changing elements of it in particular,  is the one proposed by professor  Moosa (2007, 125) as follows:1 Professor Marranci did not define what he means by the term Islamic tradition. My definition of Islamic tradition is in line with that of I.

Abu Rabii (1996, 42) who describes it   “as a fluid, dynamic and cumulative religio-historic construct with a central intellectual core, primarily the Qur’an and Sunnah, and a number of later developed doctrines derived from its core pertaining to philosophy, theology, ethics, jurisprudence, legal theory, mysticism as well as certain sociological and political attitudes and notions”. Tradition is unlike polygenesis where certain organisms only reproduce their ancestral characters without modification. Rather tradition works more like kenogenesis: it describes how in biology an organism derives features from the immediate environment in order to modify the hereditary development of a germ or organism.

If this is the nature of Islamic tradition and the relationship between its dynamic and static elements, what are the sources and the scope of Islamic tradition? If we accept professor Abu Rabiis definition of Islamic tradition  as „as a fluid, dynamic and cumulative religio-historic construct with a central intellectual core, primarily the Quran and Sunnah, and a number of later developed doctrines derived from  its core pertaining to philosophy, theology, ethics jurisprudence, legal theory , mysticism as well as certain  sociological and political attitudes and notions”, as I do, then we would be better Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2(2011) 5 positioned to appreciate the not insignificant „forcefulness of the Islamic tradition in relation to personal identity of Muslims, including its effect on their cognition and emotions/feelings.

 Of course, this tradition is interpreted and to use professor Marrancis terminology „filtered in myriad of ways and has different effects on the personal identity processes described by Professor Marranci. I emphasize this because, as I wrote in my review, Professor Marranci has completely neglected to incorporate the religious sources of identity of Muslims (recent findings strongly support the existence of „religious identity as a separate, empirically measurable dimension of ones overall identity, Bell, 2009) as part of the environmental factors which can influence the schismogenetic processes that trap Muslims into circles of panic. I also believe that Professor Marranci’s ethnography is a very good example of this „forcefulness of Islamic tradition affecting the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions of Western Muslims. Finally, Professor Marranci refers to my work on what I term Neo- traditional Salafi (NTS) and progressive Muslim thought and largely argues for their „non-existence comparing my work to that of „culture talk as identified and described M. Mamdani in his book “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim.

Those who are familiar with my writings on   NTS and progressive Muslim thought would know that the heuristic I employed in defining these „schools of thought does so exclusively with respect to their particular epistemological and methodological assumptions Pertaining to their positioning vis-à-vis the pre-modern Islamic and modern episteme. As such it consciously keeps clear of politicisation of religion/culture discourses that are fundamental to Mamdani’s “culture talk thesis. This is how Professor Aboul El Fadl characterised this heuristic of mine in the context of examining my Ph.D. thesis on this topic: The author assiduously avoids the pitfalls of dogmatic arguments and also the fallacy committed by so many scholars Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 6 in the field and that is the pedagogically unsound practice of reductionism and the construction of straw men out of his subject of study.

Adis does not simplify or flatten the current Islamic discourses so that he can score cheap points though sensationalist constructs or paradigms. Unlike so many scholars in this field, Adis respects his subject and respects his own scholarship. Hence he tries his best to represent the arguments of neo-Salafis and progressives in the best light possible and he methodically analyzes the normative assumptions that inform these arguments without being dismissive, over-bearing, or neglectful.

I sincerely hope that this rejoinder has clarified my aim and intentions behind reviewing and reflecting upon the important and valuable scholarship of Professor Marranci on issues pertaining to understanding the nature of identity of Muslims in the West. I also look forward to reading his future scholarship on the subject matter. Adis Duderija.


Abu Rabi, I. (1996) Intellectual Origins of Islamic  Resurgence in the

Arab World, SUNY, 1996.Bell, D.M. (2009) Religious identity: Conceptualization and measurement of the religious self, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Emory University. Moosa, E. (2007) Transitions in the “Progress “of Civilization, in O. Safi, 9(ed.) “Voices of Change», Volume 5, in V.J.Cornell (general ed.)Voices of Islam, Praeger, p.115-118. Rahman, Y. (2001) The Hermeneutical Theory of Nasir Hamid Abu Zayd

Ph.D Dissertation, unpublished, Mc Gill University Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4 Volume 2 (2011) 7 The articles do not express necessarily the opinion of the Journal. The Middle East Studies Online Journal 2011