Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Finally Imams develop coherent response to Papal remarks

It seems that the usually irrelevant Muslim intellectual force we know of as world imams may have finally gotten together to issue an intelligent response to the Pope’s recent speech about faith and reason. And as always, it’s English-speaking Western imams (mostly converts) who are leading the intellectual charge.

The Jordan-based Islamica magazine, produced by the followers of mainstream American Imam Nuh Ha Mim Keller, has published an open letter to the Pope signed by 38 leading religious scholars.

Keller is a staunch critic of Muslim terrorist groups, and is part of a network of scholars seeking to revive ‘traditional Islam’ (TI) along with scholars from across the Western world. TI represents mainstream Sunni consensus and sharply differentiates itself from modernist political forms of ‘Salafi’ (sometimes called ‘Wahhabi’) Islam such as that advocated by the likes of Benbrika.

Among the other signatories are Cambridge academic Tim Winter (also known as Imam Abdal-Hakim Murad), Imam Zaid Shakir and the popular Imam Hamza Yusuf Hanson. All are prominent TI practitioners.

Signatories include leading theologians of prominent European Muslim communities – Bosnia, Croatia, Russia, Kosovo and Slovenia. They represent all 8 schools of Islamic thought and jurisprudence, and include one female scholar. The letter appears to be the initiative of Imams Hanson (USA) and Winter (UK).

Imam Winter has toured Australia once. He has openly criticised migrant-dominated institutions for creating unnecessary problems for converts. He has criticised British Muslim migrants for living in ethnic ghettoes, and has been a staunch critic of suicide bombing.

TI practitioners encourage their followers to adopt the best aspects of Western cultures. The student of one American Sufi scholar, Chicago lawyer Azhar Usman, is visiting Australia and New Zealand in November as part of a comedy trio calling themselves the Allah Made Me Funny! show. Usman also writes the “Oxymoronic” column for Islamica magazine poking fun at Muslim responses to criticism.

TI is fast replacing migrant imams as sources of spiritual guidance for young Aussie Muslims. TI lectures can be found on the iPods of Western Muslims from Christchurch to Adelaide to Chicago to London. If TI represents Islam’s future, we really don’t have much to worry about. Though al-Qaida and JI should start panicking.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006