“The true man, the suffering man, is both rebellion and obedience, the ecstasy of apostasy and the hell of inevitable compliance…We are all of us Milton, rebelling and complying and rebelling and complying until we die exhausted.”

-from Mortals by Norman Rush p 225


Our bus tour of Linderhof castle and Neuschwanstein Castle (aka Disney’s “Cinderella Castle”) in the Bavarian Alps.  Both built by Ludwig II in the 1800s, based on what he thought a 17th century or medieval castle ought to look like.

Although we did get a guided tour inside the castles, you are NOT allowed to photograph the interiors (got a rather forceful reminder of that when one of our group was caught taking a few pictures with her cell phone). I don’t know why they don’t like the photography- fades the wallpaper? It doesn’t set off the alarms- although the very unhappy tour guide/photo police tried to convince the rogue tourist of this. All my (lawful) pics are of outside views.

Linderhof is a very small palace and it was the only castle completed during Ludwig II’s lifetime (probably because it was so small). He lived there for 8 years. The inside is very lavish, like a mini-Versailles.

Linderhof castle- every few minutes a big fountain pulses out of that golden statue
Side garden of Linderhof castle- no fountain out of that gold statue
Alpine meadow shot from the bus
Approaching Bavarian shack and Neuschwanstein Castle
Thar she blows! This is not the angle they get on the merchandising. Bottom of the valley.
You can take a horse buggy up and down the hill, or be cheap and walk (that would be us)
International signage for international tourists
View out the window from Neuschwanstein Castle, looking at lake and yellow ancestral castle.
All those other buildings are tourism related.
I think the photographers stand on that bridge to get the “classic” Cinderella castle pic.
Hohenschwangau, the yellow castle, is the Wittlesbach ancestral home and is still in use.

What surprised me about Neuschwanstein Castle is that it was built very close to the ancestral home castle, Hohenschwangau, just on a different peak.  When you are in Neuschwanstein Castle you look down on the old family home castle. This Cinderella castle involves a lot of steps and is not very handicapped person friendly. The interiors have a lot of dark wood and small windows- but apparently Ludwig II was something of a night owl and he slept through most of the daylight hours. The castle is also decorated as a tribute to Wagner’s medieval operas, and the whole thing felt to me like a stage set. This castle was not completed and Ludwig II only lived in it for about 2 weeks before the Bavarians yanked him out of office for being unfit for office. And ‘unfit’ included the massive expenditures on fantasy palaces.

While it was interesting to see the famous Cinderella castle, and it is one of Germany’s most recognizable landmarks, I do not feel compelled to see it again. If someone wants to see it, I will put them on the bus.

Bavarian Woods

Ah! That time of year for VACATION photos! Looks like this will be a multi-parter because I have to find my second camera. In any case, this post has trip photos taken from the Bavarian woods along the Czech border. We stayed in a pension near Bayerisch Eisenstein. In the past, this area was known for its huge glass-blowing, glass-etching, and mirror polishing industry. They needed lots of fuel for those furnaces. With mechanization and globalization, these days it’s mostly just tourists coming for the crisp mountain air.

Small Amersee
Small brook running into Amersee- so much running water here!
View from the woods.
Downtown of the charming town of Zwiesel
A pyramid made from drinking glasses- tribute to the glass history of the town.
This wins the award for “Best Organized Woodpile”.
Brilliant signage- keep this in mind as you stack wood.

Cliff Notes for Chapter 6 of “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

Chapter 6

Ahmed defines Islam as meaning making for self in terms of hermeneutical engagement with Revelation to Muhammad as Pre-Text, Text, and Con-Text.

Going back to the questions in Chapter 1, Q1 is Islamic when viewed as engagement with the Pre-Text by means of reason.  Q2 is Islamic when viewed as engagement with Pre-Text by mean of existence.


“Exploratory Society”: metaphorical truth bridge to Real-Truth. Expands ‘canon’ to include poetry, narrative, music and art as means of exploratory meaning making.

  1. Islamic Art: How is this object d’art made valuable or meaningful in terms of hermeneutical engagement with Revelation as or more of Pre-Text, Text, and Con-Text? Examples are Fig 5 Humay and Humayun “refinement of the commonplace” or passing from the form and go to the Meaning and Fig 6 Worldly and Otherwordly Drunkenness.
  2. Music Pp 424-430 Amir Khusraw in On the Ramification of the Roots and Branches of Music: a) “The musician is a Form of Meaning-

if he is not marred by the black mole of vulgarity:

When you remove that dot from his face,

the musician becomes True Meaning”

b)”The string of your ‘ud: O! Sage-doctor of the lute-

are in dear-ness to the lovers as is the jugular vein!”

  1. Science pp 424-430 “Natural science is, like philosophy, a rational project of knowing the rational Pre-Text of Revelation” p 432
    1. “We will show them our Signs on the horizons and in themselves-until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth” Quran 41:53
    2. “The Qur’an led Nisaburi to observational astronomy and ….astronomy…led Nisaburi to theological reflection on how God controls the universe that he (Nisaburi) is observing. Nisaburi’s scientific successes did not depend on a bifurcation between his religious and scientific work.” P 432 from Robert G. Morrison, Islam and Science: the Intellectual Career of Nizam al-Din al-Nisaburi 2007 pp 29, 42, and 146
    3. the measure “The consonance of Natural Sciences with Divine Truth is demonstrated when science is used to help human well being and felicity.” P 437
  2. Non-Muslims in Con-Text or “Musa is not quite Moses”
    1. Artistu = Aristotle
    2. Aflatun = Plato
    3. Shanahmah: Rustam and Kay Khusraw and Alexander the Great/Iskandar = models of good kingship, even though all are non-Muslims
    4. Faridun = ‘honorary Muslim’, like an ‘honorary consul’
    5. The sikh wrestler calling out “Ya Ali!” (Ali b. Abi Talib a model of Islamic warrior/gentleman/knight)
    6. Hindu Vijayanargar court (15th century) adopts “Islamic garb”
    7. Maimonides- an Islamic Jewish thinker

Conclusion: Actor is irrelevant- does act or product of act engage with final meaning through Islamic Con-Text and/or engagement with Revelation.

Islamic violence p 452

Putting Islamic Law in Con-Text (nmr- this reminds me of that movie “Dark City” where at the end the aliens realize that to understand humans they have been ‘looking in the wrong place’)

  1. Shari’ah or fiqh = divine law/religious law/jurists’ law
    1. Interpreted by Muslim law scholars (fuqaha)
    2. Taken from Quran & hadith + analogical & dialectical reasoning
  2. Siyasah or qanun = government law/ruler’s law
    1. Made by rulers on their own authority
    2. Typically land law, criminal law, administrative law
    3. Made with reason, ethical traditional, communal experience, custom (‘urf)/ consensus. Example: Umar b. al-Khattab took up Sasanian and Byzantine systems of taxation and continued them with some necessary modifications.
    4. Historically more important. Example: Ottomans ruled with co-dependent relationship between Divine Law and Sultanic Law.
  3. Sultan Baybars (1265) appoints judges from all four Sunni legal madhabs and creates legal culture where they agree to disagree, even in matters that are in outright disagreement!!! P 461
  4. Relationship of ruler to law-making is based on al-Farabi’s teachings and documented in Nasir ud-Din Tusi’s Akhlaq-i-Nasiri
    1. First sovereign is the Prophet (sage-philosopher-exemplar)
    2. Subsequent sovereigns’ qualifications
      1. Philosopher (hakim)
      2. Knows laws (al-shari’a) and normative practices (al sunan), precedents, and adab
      3. Excel at deducing (istanbat)
      4. Perception to figure out when to deduce new laws not covered by earlier examples because these are completely new customs
      5. Guide people to laws
      6. Physical strength for warfare
      7. Law making function of leader is broad and extensive
  1. Empirical test of leader’s success: the maslahah-welfare of the community. Metaphor of the doctor and health of his patient (doctor prescribes, patient heals) p 470 !!! Access to domains of truth in Pre-Text!!!  “Whenever a ruling entails maslahat , it is commensurate with God’s will” p 471
  1. Davvani: Ruler’s law must conform to the “universal principles of shari’at”
    1. Preserve din (obligations to God)
    2. Life
    3. Intellect
    4. Family or lineage
    5. Property
    6. (honor)
  2. Centrality of justice and human welfare to the constitution of a virtuous state p 479
    1. Pre-modern states decision-making was reached by consulting with elite connected to ruler
    2. Justice can be separated out from worship Ex. Anushirvan as the Con-Textual personification of Justice
  3. Conclusions
    1. Tradition of philosophy-based ethics and political theory of educated ruling sectors of Balkans to Bengal
    2. Law made by Fuqaha and Law made by ruler: relationship between the two found in aklaq-ethics (philosophy and political theory)
    3. Fiqh + ruler work together to bring justice for the welfare of society
    4. Ruler’s law was regarded as shari’ah as long as laws did not go against five basic values (din, life, intellect, lineage, property)
    5. Ruler worked with jurists, ruler enforced laws
    6. Justice requires Muslims to draw on sources and resources for Truth beyond the Text. “The ruler’s law represents a reversal of the jurists- the ruler’s law-making operation proceeds in a trajectory of reading God’s purpose out of the world (including the Unseen into Textual source.” P 484 (Jurists read God’s purpose from Text into world)

Maslahah (well-being)

  1. Maslahah is ancillary principle for jurists, primary principle and value for ruler
  2. Accessibility of Divine Truth by reason and custom
    1. Ibn Qataybah (828-885) Baghdad
    2. Minaykabau Malay
  3. The “case” of Qadi of Hamadan (fictional case from Sa’di’s Gulistan 1258): wild night with blacksmith boy, caught by king, Qadi begs forgiveness and King relents when Qadi makes him laugh (“Kill someone else and I’ll learn my lesson from their example.”)
    1. Homosexuality and drinking against the law
    2. King did break in to Qadi’s private room in order to “catch” him
    3. Story is deliberately open-ended: did the kind go the right thing? Conversation starter!

Tension between Islam as principle/meaning versus Islam as form

  1. Principle/meaning= any form ok as long as meaning is preserved. “Unseen”, expand, Pre-Text
  2. Form = specific forms are only legitimate and true expression of Islam/Truth, “Seen”, restrict, Text
  3. Hadith Project: “Hadith folk” = ahl al-hadith. Despite considerable opposition, by 5th century had compiled a text alongside Quran. Law took up hadith project
  4. Reform Islam: where to draw the line? “For something to be a true and valid statement of Islamic value, (to what extent) must it be concentrated in a specific delimited (and historically received) form? Or, to reverse the perspective: to what extent is the Truth of Islam reduced or depleted or demobilized by restricting the expression of Truth in a specific historically received form?” p 511 examples: women and slavery
    1. Can a Pre-Text value (hukm) be identified which abrogates the Textual form?
    2. What elements of the Con-Text are recognized and authenticated of value in any given context?
    3. Determining factor “Whether the hermeneutical trajectory adopted in any given circumstance or a give question tends more towards reading God’s purpose from Textual sources into the (Seen/Unseen) world or of reading God’s purpose out of the (Seen/Unseen) world into the Textual sources. Textual hermeneutics is not merely a focus on reading Text, it is also the reluctance to read Text in Pre-Textual mode– including to read Text non-literally (that is, other than “plain text”). P 513


Islam and Modernity: what are the differences between modern Islam and what went before it? What are the modern norms that disrupted societies of Muslims?

  1. Modern European colonialism
  2. Capitalist world-system
  3. Nation-states
    1. Emphasis on LAW as fundamental value
  4. Religious-secular binary: makes people think Islam is LAW. “All this has ultimately resulted in a diminished modern capacity to conceptualize contradiction and difference as Islam and thus to live with contradiction and difference in Islam.” P 531
  5. Modern science
    1. Made people turn away from the Unseen World as an object of real knowledge
    2. Only Seen world is valid and accessible to real knowledge
    3. Muslims react by denying knowability (and actionability) of Unseen by means other than Seen/Text of Revelation = same view of fiqh jurists, law, and kalam theology
    4. Text has monopoly of meaning ex. Islamic economics, Islamic banking, and Islamic finance are all derived from Quran and hadith in context of fiqh discourse instead of akhlaq-ethics
    5. Sufism reduced to private pietism, no more exploration “Basically, modern Textual reasoning views philosophical Pre-Textual reasoning as insufficiently Textual (and thus, excessively rational) and Sufi Pre-Textual reasoning as both insufficiently Textual and insufficiently rational to be Islam(ic).” P 520
  6. Focus on empiricism
  7. Entzauberung= driving out the magic of things/disenchantment = driving out of the Pre-Text from knowledge (no philosophy or Sufism)
  8. Mass education
    1. Loss of Pre-Text and Con-Text from mass education
    2. Emphasis on Western modern
    3. Loss of language, particularly Persian
    4. Modern educated elite- no sense of Pre-Text, diminished Con-Text
    5. Only Con-Text that seems to matter is 1st century Islam (=Salafs): an attempt to do away with all other Con-Text
  9. Mass communication= printing press, internet
  10. Commoditization of information

a.not easy in this day and age to ‘cage’ information but public sphere in Muslim societies is intimidating and censorious space where speech that contradicts prescriptive norms is persecuted or prosecuted by state for blasphemy- not received with equanimity and explorative interest pp 520-522

  1. Emphasis on “rational & objective public sphere” vs. “emotional & subjective private sphere”
    1. Public norms privileged over private norms
    2. Cognition decrease
    3. Inability to process metaphor and paradox, both necessary to express ambiguity
  2. The (mythic) emphasis on egalitarianism over hierarchy
    1. The myth of human equality and the idea that the public sphere is the only space which holds the promise of the capacity of reason to convince the general public of truth” p 520
    2. Egalitarian public discourse especially with internet
    3. “Speak to the people according to the capacity of their intelligence” versus “The din is simple”.
    4. Elitism as a positive and negative quality
  3. Strategic and lucrative importance of fossil fuels
    1. Rise of Wahhabism (anti Pre-Text and anti Con-Text) allied to Saudi royal family and petrodollars.
    2. Oil money allowed for propagation of anti Pre-Text creed worldwide
    3. Bulldozed Khadija’s house to build the Burj al-Bayt
    4. Wahhabi Year 0 = 23 madrasahs destroyed, 59 Sufi ribats demolished, graveyard of Salafs razed
  4. Pre-Text has been delegitimated and delimited, nearly eliminated
  5. Con-Text is depleted, particularly Con-Text that involves Pre-Text p 515chapter 6 figure 1
  6. Text is read in highly-depleted Con-Text
    1. Authoritarian hadith-folk project pp 529-530: discourses on prescription rather than exploration
    2. Ignores other texts (sirah, maghazi, tafsir and tarikh)
    3. Attempts to make-over early Muslim community as “uncomplicated”.

SUMMARY of Modern Muslims:

  1. Text only (no Pre-Text, diminished Con-Text)
  2. Law only (no philosophy, Sufism, aesthetics, literature)
  3. Prescription only (no exploration, contradiction, paradox, ambiguity)
  4. Public, “Din is simple” (no private, no “speak to each at his level of understanding”
  5. Egalitarianism (no hierarchy)
  6. Literal thought (no paradox, no metaphor)


Cliff Notes for Chapter 5 of “What Is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

Chapter 5 Hermeneutical Engagement

Def. Hermeneutical: theories of how to interpret esp. scripture

Quran is perceived through fiction (ex. Rumi’s “Mathnawi” = ‘tafsir’ in a different form)

Fiction is perceived through Quran (ex. Jami’s “Yusef and Zulaykha” – re-imagines Yusef story.


Modalities of Fiction (p 311)

  1. Exploration
  2. Ambiguity
  3. Ambivalence
  4. Wonder
  5. Aestheticization
  6. Diffusion
  7. Differentiation
  8. Polyvalence
  9. Relativism

Majnun (of “Layla and Majnun”): the imam of the madhab of love. Ghazal themes, Layla/God

Jihad pp 318-320, “greater jihad’ joke p 319

Ahmed’s definition p 323 “Islam is a shared language by and in which people express themselves so as to communicate meaningfully in all their variety…Islam is both means and meaning…it is located in the relationship, the field and the process of engagement with and between the source of meaning, the mode of production of meaning from the source, and the end product of meaning, howsoever this may be formulated and expressed in discourse and practice.”

Meaning as advantage (Devin DeWeese) pp 323-325

Meaning as a consequential truth i.e. consequences of accepting this as true.

ch5 figure 1

“Constituting their own self in terms of the construction of Islam itself” p 327 Commitment of the self to a meaning/value that is ultimately construed by the Self as Islam.

The Perfect Man p 333: comprises in his self the Truth and Meaning in the universe such that this is act of self knowledge reflects truth and meaning of the Universe. “Whoso knows his self knows his lord” = existentialist idea. Examples of the Perfect man in popular poetry and ethics manuals:

  1. Ibn Sina pp 330-1
  2. Al-Suhrawardi p 332
  3. Khwushhal Khan Khatak p 334
  4. Muhammad Al-Burhanpuri p 334
  5. Rumi p 335
  6. Bullhe Shah pp 336-7
  7. *”But these are Sufis…” argument = compartmentalizing a discourse that has not been historically thought of that way ; p 338


Tahqiq: discovering the haqq within the seeker’s own intelligence p 339.

Receiving revelation while asleep! P 339

Iqbal and khudi p 340

chapter 5 fig 2

Islam = Meaningful exploration IN CONTRAST TO Islam as discourses of prescriptions!

Islam of an individual = shahada (pp 344-5) “affiliating his or her self with the historical act of God’s revelation to His messenger, Muhammad”

Historical phenomenon of Islam = varied product of that engagement of human with the Divine. Seminal question: “What is Revelation?”

Engagement: role of human in meaning/Truth making, attach and commit Self to something the Self determines to be important i.e. INVESTED

Hermeneutical engagement: Source, method, truth, meaning, agency, self + process. Definition of hermeneutics in footnote 103 p 345, also def. engage in footnote 104 p 345

Islam is NOT just the scripture (Quran and hadith = too limiting) but is also Revelation : Unseen reality or truth beyond and behind Text of Reveleation + Revelation of Seen

Pre-Text of Revelation: pp 346-7 Unseen Reality is prior to and larger than textual product of Revelation.

1.?Whether and in what degree can one access the Pre-Text of Revelation? With text, without text, only  via text?

Ex1. Reason: p 348 also see footnote 111 on wisdom, philosophy pp 348-350

  1. Reason courses through cosmos
  2. Because reason is infrastructure of cosmos, it is possible to access truth of cosmos through reason
  3. Therefore, Reason is part of the Pre-Text (Revelation)
  4. Medieval philosophers thought creation of Quran from same source. Lawyers constrain their Reason to text only (not interested in Pre-Text)

Ex2. Existence p 350, Sufis

  1. Existence courses through the cosmos
  2. Because existence is infrastructure of the cosmos, it is possible to access truth by existence (spiritual ritual, discipline, and practice)


Kalam theology: seek truth about Pre-Text via the Text. Their problem: what statements in Quran should be read literally versus which ones metaphorically?

Con-Text (definition) pp 356-357: “That whole field or complex or vocabulary of meanings of Revelation that have been produced in the course of the human and historical hermeneutical engagement with Revelation, and which are thus already present as Islam.” Anything made by Muslims acting as Muslims and to which Muslims acting as Muslims have attached themselves as engaging with Revelation.  OR human and historical baggage of Revelation/Islam = terms of engagement + vocabulary of Islam ( = recognition)

Con-Text is the sholw thing, but not all Con-Text is distributed to every local context. The portion of Con-Text which is active at the local level he calls Con-Text-in-context of Con-Text in loco. Complete definition of Ahmed’s terms p 363 “Islam is a hermeneutical engagement with Pre-Text, Text, and Con-Text of Revelation to Muhammad.” Islam guarantees a Self that can live with contradiction p 366

Chapter 5 fig 3

Islamic Truth and Meaning p 367

  1. Hierarchy: not all people have the capacity to know truth p 370-372
  2. Interiority/exteriority
  3. Domains of truth & meaning
  4. Sources of truth
  5. Modes of production of truth, methodologies, epistemologies
  6. Meanings and values of truth
  7. Social location or social theaters for the operation of truth, meaning, value
  8. Expressive registers of truth/meaning/value discourse
  9. Language to communication truth/meaning/value discourse


  1. Law = fit for everybody. Commoners = awamm ; Elect = khawass
  2. Sufi & Philosopher knowledge = only for an elite, people capable of grasping truth
  3. This hierarchy goes against modern idea of equality, “speak to people according to the capacity of their intelligence.”
  4. Since hierarchy is based on knowledge, which is able to be acquired by all people if given the texts and education, there is an egalitarian possibility to it
    1. NOTE NMR: Although historically speaking, women have been barred from access to texts and education. Power elites retain their power by restricting access to knowledge.

Exterior = Seen = shahadah   versus Interior = Unseen = ghayb

Ex. Text    batin = unseen vs. seen = zahir

Ex. Physical and social space: sirr (private) or raz = individual’s most secret self = where Revelation/contact with Divine is made. P 379. Al-Ghazalis quote, only talk about secret self stuff with peers in an ‘invite only’ setting. Not everyone can handle the truth.

Adab: shows you have enough polish to consort with the post ‘gentlemen scholars’.

Law= prescribes for domain of Seen- public

Philosophy & Sufis: exploration projects into Unseen- private

Theology: prescribes in public, explores in private

Art: simpler and less meaningful forms are for public display, more subtle and complex in meaning in the case of objects in private sphere.


Language of Muslims: Metaphor and paradox

  1. Complexity pp 390-391 poetry: sabk-I hindi (India)
  2. Truth= multi-valent and multi-dimensional
  3. Maintains tension between meanings but does not collapse structure
  4. Ahmed’s definition of metaphor p 394
  5. Unseen World of Real-Truth identified by Seen World of Metaphor

Lower/Seen/Metaphor vs. Higher/Unseen/Truth

  1. Sufi poetry metaphors ex. poem pp 396-397
    1. Beautiful person’s beauty is a bridge to witness to pure Divine Truth
    2. Earthly wine is a metaphor for the consciousness altering experience of Real Truth
    3. Ambiguity AND meaning
    4. Ambivalence AND value
  2. Paradox: metaphor itself is paradox (see Footnote 197)
    1. Ibn Arabi; coincidentia oppositorium= only by a simultaneous affirmation of contradictions can we understand the natre of the Real World. Also “God cannot be known except as a synthesis of opposites” ex. He-Not-He; the One-the Many

??NMR: What about cognitive dissonance?


Cliff Notes for “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed Chapter 4

Chapter 4

This chapter is about culture and how it has been defined by major anthropologists and why their definitions fall short of defining Islam (+ can’t take contradictions into account).

Culture defined by Clifford Geertz pp 246-7; context of meanings. Religion = cultural system

  1. Ethos = moral + aesthetic style + mood
  2. Worldview: picture of how things are in actuality
  3. Goal of religion: harmonize people’s conceptions, especially what is real with appropriate way to live, by imposing authority on a complex of symbols. Authority is essential to religion (for Geertz)

What is the “Continent of Meaning” for Muslims? P 250

Culture defined by Jacques Waardenburg pp 250-257  Signs of significance to ALL Muslims:

  1. Quran
  2. Prophet Muhammad
  3. Hadith, specific Quranic texts
  4. Social data especially ritual
  5. Concept of ‘ummah’ and interpretations of Islam
  6. Certain words & deeds of certain religious leaders.


3-6 are debatable

Interpretative authority of jurists (ulema, fuqaha): scripture = Quran and Hadith.  This makes Waardenburg fall into the legal supremacists trap.

Remember: “Highest Truth”. For philosophers = Reason, Sufis = existence/experience, law & theology = Quran. Modes of reading Quran treated as different sign for philosophers/Sufis vs. theologians/jurists.

Culture defined by Wilfred Cantwell Smith pp 259-266 : cumulative tradition = man’s participation in an evolving context of observable actualities.  Faith = man’s participation in something not directly observable by historical scholarship while the link between the two in the living person in the now. Critique p 263- his definition of faith is too limiting.  According to Smith, Muslims must see Islam as uniform, divine, and stable because they have faith. Outsiders can only see Islam as multiform, human, and unstable because they have no faith. For Smith, there are Three Islams:

  1. Individual, personal submission to God
  2. “Platonic” ideal
  3. Empirical reality

Culture defined by Albert Hourani p 266 “Islam is what Muslims everywhere say it is.” This gets back into the the “islams”, lack of coherence. Also Bernard Lewis and Benjamin Braude. Critique by Talal Asad p 268= Muslims disagree about what Islam is!

Talal Asad p 270: Islam as a discursive tradition or the desire to establish orthodoxy. Islam is whatever Muslims say it is authoritatively. It is prescriptive (because authoritative?)

  1. Formation of moral selves
  2. Manipulation of populations (or resistance to it)
  3. Production of appropriate knowledge
    1. Instituted practice into which Muslims are inducted as Muslims
    2. Orthodox doctrine = correct process of teaching
    3. Orthodoxy = relationship of power p 270
  4. Islamic tradition is formed by argument and conflict over the form and significance of practices, examples: reason and argument, power and resistance, practioners’ desire to achieve coherence despite different historical context.
  5. Authority = discursive traditions of Islam and what is taught to Muslims

Ahmed’s critique of Asad p 273: Orthodoxy (a truth claim) does not welcome or accommodate contradictory claims. Contradictions are condemned, excluded, undermined, and replaced. Orthodoxy connotes prescription and restriction of truth. Orthodox binary: powerful = orthodox, dynamics of coercion and restriction; less powerful = heterodox, dynamics of accommodation and expansion. ((but maybe Islamic orthodoxy is just inefficient at ‘editing out’ unorthodox?))

P 276 The orthodoxy of one; “There can be only one true Islam, and that is usually the believer’s own”- Loeffler

“Un-orthodoxing” Elements

  1. Katib Ḉelebi p 277: all positions contain a measure of truth
  2. Perplexity or hayrat p 278: non-resolution of truth i.e. confusion is the appropriate and positive response for a Muslim to have to Divine Truth ex. “you are a puzzle lock” poem pp 279-280

Are there other forms of authority than prescriptive?

What of the authority to explore? P 282 Exploration itself is of value and meaning p 286.

Islam as an exploration of the meaningful p 287 ex. the fatwa of the Turkish jurist p 289

“A community of discourse”, a “discourse based world system”; emphasis on meaning, not ideas and practice.

Pros and Cons of Asad’s concept

  1. Pros
    1. Discursive tradition
    2. Relationship between production and communication of meaning
    3. Human community
    4. Mutual intelligibility (not the same as mutual agreement)
  2. Cons
    1. Too much emphasis on orthodoxy as prescriptive, resistance, scripture, law
    2. No ‘exploration’


Cliff Notes for “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed Chapter 3

Chapter 3 Rethinking “Religion”

Academics have been debating the concept of ‘religion’ over the past thirty years. They feel the concept was coined by Europeans to quarantine ‘religion’ and carve space for non-religion. Non-religion = other versions of truth outside the institutions of the Christian church. P 177.  The definition of “religion’ has implications for Islam.

chapter 3 figure 1

The Binary of Religious Vs. Secular: arising from a specific historical process, specifically Christendom ‘religion’ and the rise of 17th century thought (Age of Enlightenment)

Secular                                                             ‘Religious’

Empirical Observation                                   Empirically unverifiable faith in the supernatural

Institutions Law-based (social contract)   Institutions (buildings, scripture), authorized interpreters

Profane                                                             sacred

Higher power which is the object of piety, worship, ritual prayer

Ultimate meaning of existence questions


Historical circumstances: Christian church could not allow for competing truth claims from science, capitalism, or politics (eg. ‘divine right of kings’)

PROBLEMS = Capitalism looks a lot like animism. Enlightenment Reason forces the mind to compartmentalize religion such that public power= nation state. Public truth = natural sciences, ‘religion’ is something done in private in your spare time. ‘Religion’ reinforces modern orthodoxy pp 184-5.  Hindusim: “Hindu is Hindu…because he is member of a caste.”

“truth community” p 190

Church as institution = social, material, political, cultural                  determines/defines/express               truth

“At no point in the history of Muslims has an institution existed whose members could exercise, from their institutional locus, a claim to monopoly over the calibration and valorization of truth in society at large.” P 190

“The entire community bore the burden of interpreting the revelatory-prophetic legacy.”- Waddad al-Qadi

Institutions- no loyalty creed by Muslims, no statements by authorities which are contingent for membership and participation (just shahada) p 193

Chapter 3 figure 2

Confusion from trying to maintain binary religion vs. secular : din & dunya pp 194-5, resuscitate ‘Islamic humanism; pp 190-200, the paradox of kajkulahi (crooked-hatted-ness) pp 202-203 “For every people; its path, its din, and its qiblah”

Sacred verses profane: ‘watertight compartments’ (Roger Caillois)/ “abyss that divides modalities” (Eliade) versus “so closely mingles as to be inseperable (Evans-Pritchard)

No word in Arabic for profane!

Arabic words don’t have the binary opposite.  Ex. 1. q-d-s =holy (not used much); n-z-h  = purity (used a lot), b-r-k – blessing; h-r-m = taboo, inviolable (no opposite to taboo)

Last 20 years (in academia): Sacred (defined as separation, specialness, value) can apply to ANY domain (Stewart Guthrie). “Things fundamentally valued by a community” – Fitzgerald

Binary (religious vs. secular) perpetuates imperialism! Pp 210-211

Ahmed wants a different ‘binary’- legalistic Islam vs. crooked-hatted Islam, with a tension and dialog between these two.

Specific examples of where the religious vs. secular binary does not with respect to Islam (note: all these examples were wide-spread and quoted in madrasah curricula)

  1. Nasir-ud-Din Tusi pp 212-214: Neo-Platnoic Avincennian cosmology, Quran and Hadith quoting, importance of Prophet Muhammad in salvation, Quran as a source of truth, Quran subject to reason, secular culture = no boundaries! Unafraid to piss off religious authorities or institutions
  2. Ira Lapidus trying to explain “state and religion in Islamic Societies”: goes along with Salafi ‘golden age’ and does not question it p 219. Narrowly defines “religious’ p 221 Madrasahs are not Islamic? P 222 Created by those ‘opportunistic Seljuks in 1065
  3. Hamid Dabashi “Being a Muslim in the World”- unable to break the binary
    1. Messes up when he lumps Quran in same category as Hadith and fiqh
    2. Quran Is a foundational problem! – how to read? What does it mean? Pp 227-8
    3. Pre-determined that “Islamic” only causes loss pp 231-2 because “Islam cannot accommodate contradiction”. Law is “Islamic” p 233. “Islamic” is limited, limiting, and uncreative p 238

Cliff Notes for Chapter 2 “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

Chapter 2

Current academic concepts of Islam and how they fail to account for coherence with contradictions

  1. The ‘kernel’ or ‘essence’ = over-determined and over-delimited constitution, typically prefers loudest, most apparent, or subjectively sympathetic/unsympathetic ex. Law
    1. Privileges orthodoxy “correct”
    2. Excludes contradictions (toss out or ignore history, other groups) p 122
    3. Examples of scholars who focus on law/fiqh as the ‘kernel’: Wael Hallaq, Joseph Schacht, Gotthelf Bergstrasser, Gustav Granebaum, Ernest Gellner, Brinkley Messick, Marcel Mauss, Khalid Abou El-Fadl
    4. Bias of modernity because modern nation states built on ‘law; i.e. law gives power
  2. The “islams” -expansion with no focal point / diffuse plurality with no unifying principles
    1. Shared illusion that local islam are each Islam (“projection” coined by Watt p 133)
      1. Relational terms (el-Zein): meanings are the outcome of relationship to one another p 134
      2. 5 Pillars – default way to define Islam and why it doesn’t work p 138 i.e. everyone disagrees
      3. The Shahada- a starting point to more questions! P 139
      4. The Ummah: imagined community, global from the outset (p 144). A community of disagreement over the question “What Is Islam?

Other common ways to define “Islam” and the problems with these approaches

      1. 5 Pillars – p 138 different groups disagree about pillars
      2. The Shahada- a starting point to more questions! P 139
      3. The Ummah: imagined community, global from the outset (p 144). A community of disagreement over the question “What Is Islam?

Problems with using terms religion, culture, civilization

  1. Defining culture and civilization
    1. Example 1 Karamustafa and Syed Hussain Nasr
      1. Civilization = Islam
      2. Culture = local islam
    2. Example 2 Arnason defines civilization
      1. Cultural interpretations of the world
      2. Institutional constellations (political & economic)
  • Ideologies with links to texts and elites

Therefore, culture and civilization are mutually constitutive, can’t pinpoint where one begins or ends

  1. Example 3 Marshall Hodgson

Hodgson terms:

Civilization : the sum of many cultures (shared traditions) in the form of high culture on urban, literate level

Islamdom ; Muslim majority society (like Christendom)

Islamicate; cultural and social tradtions associated with Muslims

Islam: religion of the Muslims

Islamic: only pertains to religion (restricting term to ‘religion’ only)

Religion; ultimate orientation to which is personally commiting and meaningful, personal piety hermetically sealed from society.

islam as described by a crazy amma

In Hodgson’s model, all contradictions are bulked into Islamicate/cultural. Because this is a kernel foundation (personal piety), it lends itself to Salafi radical reductionism i.e. all contradictions are not Islamic, they are ‘cultural’.

Hodgson’s model does not stand up to Hafizian literature- scale and theme does not compress into secular versus religion binary thinking