The Need To Study Islam
Sometimes old dogs need to learn new tricks.
I have studied, taught and practiced politics for over half a century. Arab and Islamic issues have at times dominated my perceptions, from the Suez Crisis in 1956 to the current situation in Iraq. Yet inevitably I have viewed such events through the prism of the Western Political Tradition. So the concepts I have invariably used as critical tools have tended to be those of Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, Social Justice, Fascism and Totalitarianism.
I am not for ditching my basic approach, but I feel a need to try and grasp hold of more of Islam from inside its own tradition. This seems to me to be possible without descending into a form of cultural relativism, which can ditch a belief in basic democratic values.
A practical difficulty in studying Islam is that it is dominated by, to me, difficult Arabic names and concepts. Whilst my experiences as an MP were also limited by the fact that the Constituency I represented has one of the smallest ethnic minority populations of any in Britain. Although it was Constituency casework that pulled me into taking a long term interest in developments in Pakistan.
Where To Start
It is by no means the first book I have read on Islam, but what I feel may be an invaluable feed into the area I am looking for is Ed Husain's recent book
The author effectively describes his own move into the world of Political Islamism. His route (away from traditionalist family Islamic influences) is via the Young Muslim Organisation and then Hizb iu-Tahrir. This is a complex world for the outsider and has characteristics of the divided world of Trotskyism which held its fascinations in the era of the Miltant Tendency. It is, however, a more dangerous world, opening up to anti-semitism, homophobia, the domination of women and suicide bombing. It is Ed Husain's personal story which helps the reader to put all these bits and pieces into a clear focus.
A dramatic incident shakes the writer's commitment to the cause he had played a leading role in. But it takes him time (and counter-experiences) to be able to move firmly onto the alternative ground which he calls "Spiritual Islam".
Whilst his shift is essentially back to the ground his parents stood upon, his personal understanding of his move is given depth by the fact that he has travelled such a complex ideological journey. This is all conveyed meaningfully to the reader.
Towards the end of the book he draws us into key experiences he has in Syria and Saudi Arabia. The former are mainly positive experiences and the latter entirely negative ones. What he says on Syria may pleasantly surprise some.
What is missing?
Ed Husain refers to interesting sounding literature from the camps he moves between. Some of which I will seek to follow up. Unfortunately, his own book lacks some useful technical data. There is no index, no regular footnotes for the references he makes and no reading list drawn from his many references. So I will have to go back to the book to dig out what I need.
There is something even more important that is missing. Whilst we can follow the influences that move him between different interpretations of Islam, he does not provide his intellectual justifications for having a belief in the very existence of Allah.
I find this to be a vacuum as I have also have had an interest in philosophy as well as politics over the past 50 years. As an gentle atheist, this includes an interest in Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Religion. Although again, my approach is dominated by approaches within the Western Philosophical Tradition. Perhaps Ed Husain could think about writing a follow-up book that would cater for such interests. But with an index and proper references please.