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The Two Kinds Of Muslims: Ali Eteraz And Isiah Berlin

by | 20th, November 2007

ALI ETERAZ notes two kinds of Muslims:

1. Practicing Muslims. This person is a theological believer in Islam and the limit of his/her thinking, ethics, morality and reason do not exceed beyond the Quran and Sunnah (although these people may disagree with one another on methodology and approach). Being a practicing Muslim does not have to mean that this person is necessarily interested in imposing his worldview upon all other people (although the Islamists, who compose a subset of this category, would like you to think that you cannot be a practicing Muslim unless you are also inclined towards domination).

Prominent Examples: Professor Fadel; Khaled Abu el Fadl; Ingrid Mattson; Javed Ahmed Ghamidi — all non-domination oriented practicing Muslims | | Islamists, Brotherhood, Jamat e Islami, Jihadists — all domination oriented practicing Muslims.

2. Cultural or Civilizational Muslims. This person may or may not be (usually won’t be) a theological believer in Islam, and his or her thinking, ethics, morality and reason, may (usually will) exceed beyond Islam’s religious sources. In fact, he or she may even look derisively at the Quran and Sunnah. Nevertheless, this person’s designation as “Muslim” comes from his or her connection (by birth or by choice) to the geographic and historical world that is the Islamic civilization, and to his or her continued interest (even loyalty) to the material and human success of not just the cultural Muslims of that civilization, but also the practicing ones. Many times these cultural Muslims find their political expression in nationalist, socialist or ethnic movements.

Prominent examples: Naguib Mahfouz; the Syrian poet Adonis; the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz; the secular-humanist Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen; the Indian author Salman Rushdie; the activist Hirsi Ali. One might further include groups like Iranian Jews, the Druze, the Christian Copts, Pakistani Hindus, in this category, although it is probably prudent to first clarify that this category is not a veiled attempt to dominate them through classification.

One distinction now popular is Islam versus Islamists. I think a new distinction should be proposed, Practicing Muslims, Cultural Muslims.

Fact is, as long as we keep talking about Islam and the West, this is the classifications system we’ll have to use. The only other option is to convince a lot of people that the dichotomy should be between West and East; or Europe and Asia/Africa; or North/South; or something else along those lines. However, I foresee the West v. Islam distinction persisting for the foreseeable future and therefore its time to start making a system of classification within that.

* It should be noted that due to the presence of these two strains of Muslims, there is no choice but to utilize reason in the public sphere, because that is the one major commonality between a practicing Muslim and cultural Muslim.

* Finally, this is not my final position — its mostly for discussion — and I am willing to revise it given better alternatives.

What of Negative and Positive Islam? Isiah Berlin’s views here.

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Posted: 20th, November 2007 | In: Reviews Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink