Bismillahi ar-rahmani ar-Rahim

In an article on the effects of secularism and liberalism on the Mosque, Dr. Abdul Hakim Sherman Jackson, observed that our contemporary approach to Islam as a mere “religion” was inspired by the European Enlightenment and its drastic narrowing of the concept and as such, a narrowing of the sphere of influence it should hold on life and society. Within such a vision, the continuous flowering of Islamic life, is the responsibility solely of the ‘ulama (a class which the contemporary philosopher Naquib al-Attas also thinks has been narrowed to a very particular type scholar—excluding for example metaphysicians, theorists of mind/spirit, theorists of language and so on).


In conclusion Dr. Jackson, challenges Muslims to “reconnect with the vision of their pre-modern ancestors who saw Islam as more than just “religion” in the Enlightenment sense,” by moving beyond the secularizing dichotomy which places the secular as a sphere distinct from the religious. The “religious” in this sense, relates to personal salvation (i.e. proper movement, through subscribing to the ruling of shari’i scholars, proper “religious” thought, as prescribed by the mutakalimun, and, proper akhlaq/virtue through following the guidance of scholars of spiritual states) and the secular, relates to everything else. Simply put, Dr. Jackson is reminding us that Islamic civilization as an estimable, desirable, and even enviable form of life amongst multiple contenders was not only “the product of the likes of of Mālik and Abū Ḥanīfa alone; al-Khawārizmī, Miman Sinan and countless other men and women contributed mightily, including such ‘clerics’ as Ibn Hazm, who wrote on erotic love.”


Excluding all other producers of knowledge and culture from the purview of upholding and helping Islamic life, will only condemn us to our contemporary schizophrenias. In one of these forms of cultural schizophrenia, multiple thinkers, and artists, who view their work as the result of the pollinating effect of Islamic spirituality and practice, are rendered irrelevant, or at best of secondary importance with little interest or support from the “religious” and their “secular counterparts.” In another form of Muslim-schizophrenia, we accept and welcome the preferences, the aesthetic, the ideals, and goals, of European secularity and its massive cultural producing machine, all the while maintaining our “religious symbols,” emptied and sterilized by the absurd attempt to be servants of two opposing masters—becoming living contradictions.


Either way, we are doomed to the conflictive task of “halalizing” and “haramizing” the “dynamic” and forceful production of a foreign ethos. To give an example of the above, one given by Tariq Ramadan: to the “religious sphere”, belong the act of either forbidding (haramizing) Barbie or covering her up with a Hijab in order to halalize her. With the first option, we offer no option, other than the impossible hope of ghettoization, an unproductive delinking, where we imagine that hiding our daughters, in institutional buildings whose commodity is gender segregation (i.e so-called “Islamic schools”), suffices to overcome the torrential flooding of carnivalized life, that seeps through all forms of media, and, through our everyday encounter with breathing and walking[1]. With the second option, we delude ourselves into thinking that the halal is the goal; and in this manner, the beautiful, the holy, the tayyib, are eluded. Again, to use and expound on Tariq Ramadan’s example, to place a hijab on Barbie and even to make her recite du’as, does not allow us to question and challenge Barbie’s exuberant consumer lifestyle. Beneath the Hijab, Jilbab, and even Niqab, Barbie still sports, torturous narrow stilettos, an impossible waistline which prohibits both intestines and food from inhabiting it, a racial ideology, and, an anti-zuhd appetite, with accessories and bank account to match. Barbie may have risen to the inert, yet important step of living a halal shelf-life, but her aspirations remain superficial.


Where then, is our innovative capacity to produce viable cultural alternatives. Where are the stories (movies, videos, novels) of our heroes and heroines, archetypes of human realization, characters which enter the glo-cal scene humbly yet unapologetically, with an understanding that their path, vision, and way of life, can rival alternative, and even more so, unfulfilling forms of living and practice? Where are the works of art and artisanship (visual and aural) that echo the unending dynamic root of our existence, manifesting power, beauty, justice, and wisdom, reflecting the overwhelmingly subtle voice of The Truly Powerful, The Truly Beautiful, The Truly Just, and The Truly wise, Allah Subhanuhu wa ta’ala? Where are the poems which inspire and spur a desire to realize our humanity in imitation of the best of Creation, sallalhu alayhi wa salam, and his heirs? Where are the innovative architectural, rural, urban and agricultural designs which resound of an ecological and spiritual harmony which challenge the exhaustion of our material and energy resources? Where are our techniques of living and producing/techne/technology, whose ethos is the Prophet sallalhu alayhi wa salam’s teaching to protect and honor the earth as she is our mother, and whose boundary is a realization that our Lord shall inspire her to yield her burdens as testament and proof of our stomping or treading lightly with justice and mercy over her?


The answer to the above is, that they exist, they are around, and even abound; they are being produced by countless men and women as extensions of our prophetic legacy, and yet for us they are secondary and minor aspects of Islamic life, and as such unsupported, underfunded, overlooked. When we begin to understand that Islam demands a societal and comprehensive effort wherein the naqli (transmitted) sciences are indispensable for preservation of our prophetic legacy, yet insufficient for its flowering, perhaps then we will again produce an al-Birūni who grounded in Ash‘ari thought produced the first ethnographic works of comparative “religion,” or give birth to an al-Būsīrī whose poetic work not only eulogized and gave proper due to the Best of Creation, Prophet Muhammad, sallahu alayhi wa salam, but did so in such an innovative manner, demonstrating an absolute mastery of the spoken word, using dozens of rhetorical techniques as well as inventing new ones, that it sparked dozens of Muslim and Christian imitations each attempting to out due the other.


When our vision expands, Islamic culture, will cease to be only the intellectual and artistic property of past and bygone masters, presently diluted as gaudy black and yellow, Chinese-made, mass reproductions, sold to us on Instead, Islamic cultural production will bring to mind, a living tradition which connects past masters to countless contemporary names in the fields of: cinema, literature, music (instrument or instrument-less), architecture, permaculture and more, whose productions respond and challenge contemporary manifestations of timeless problems, like injustice, oppression, chauvinism, vanity, selfishness, greed, and nihilism, as well as, respond and challenge each other in attempting to humbly manifest visions of Islamic spirituality, life and practice. And God knows best.


[1] To clarify, I am not an opponent of homosociability or so-called “gender-segregation” and neither am I an opponent of women actively contributing to the so-called “public sphere.”