I participated in the campaign to send Eid cards to Muslim prisoners started by Umar Lee. A few weeks ago I received a response from Maaz Shah, which I plan to also type up soon. And one from Br. Ismail Royer.

As I read the letter from Royer, I could not but feel for the loss that the Muslim Ummah has suffered with Royer's imprisonment, which is at least disproportionate, if not unjust. Royer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after he plead guilty to some of the charges. The alternative was to fight the charges and be imprisoned for life, like what occurred with others indicted along with him. To understand the background of the charges against Royer, and his side of the story (including his love of America and his rigid stance against Al-Qaeda and any terrorist operations that target civilians), one has to read the beautiful letter that Royer wrote to the presiding Judge in the case. Such intellect, such a mind… only to be shackled by the government.

But with all trials, there is reward in it for the believing soul. I am sure insha'Allah that Br. Ismail is making full use of his imprisonment to increase his personal knowledge and become a better human being and a better Muslim.

A special request to all readers: Please provide your feedback to the article. Also, feel free to use the comments space to send any other greetings and messages to your brother. We will print out the comments and send them to him insha'Allah; probably those that get in in the next couple of weeks. Please note that the contents of the letter are Br. Ismail's personal opinions, and like all opinion pieces on MM, are not necessarily endorsed by all MM writers. JazakumAllahkhair

Dear Br. Amad,

royer.jpgAssaslam Alaikum wa rahmatullah.

I'm really sorry for not having responded to your kind letter earlier. I set it aside for a bit, waiting until I thought I had something perhaps beneficial to write. Some thoughts eventually came to mind and I started writing you. The letter got longer until I transformed it from an informal letter into an essay, which I typed. I gave it to a brother had to hear his feedback, and he told me to fill in some blanks, add other perspectives, etc. So I did that and gave it to another brother (at this point 6 pages longer). He returned it with several pages of commentary and critique, which was extremely valuable and insightful. His main point was that I needed to expand on many of the assumption in my essay to explain to the reader what their basis was, etc. among many other valid objections, which I realized I needed to answer; more of which could be done without turning the essay into a book.

To that end, I asked my father to order me some books so I could do further research and deepen my understanding about some issues I had written about rather superficially. So he did and now I'm digging into them.

Anyway, at that point I realized I should try again to write Br. Amad, hence the letter you are now insha'Allah reading.

I was very happy to hear about Muslimmatters.org. It sounds like its filling a void. Often we don't realize the extent of the influence we can have, and this should motivate us to spread beneficial words and knowledge and not to abandon the field to the ignorant and deluded, may Allah guide us all.

I feel self-conscious when I write letters because I feel like I'm always writing about myself. It is truly said that prison tends to make people self-centered. But, since others may be interested and benefit form the information, I'll mention a few things that are on my mind, and that I've been up to.

As to the book I'm writing (that was originally the letter to you Br. Amad) the topic is so-called modernity, that is, the post-reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-scientific revolution world; how the modern world is poisonous to the human soul; how it is undermining Western Civilization, and how it distorts Muslim' understanding of the realities of their religion and the world. And finally, what can be done about it.

My main theme is that, just as many of Islam's critics allege, it is true that Islam is incompatible with the modern world. That's because the modern world is itself incompatible with the human soul, whereas Islam is the natural state of the human soul. Modernity is the product of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and related development, which were for the most part conscious revolts against God.

It is therefore impossible to coherently be a Muslim and at the same time have a mindset rooted in Enlightenment assumptions-just as it is impossible to be in submission to Allah while being in revolt against Him.

Allah did not create man with two hearts in his chest.”

This can create a sort of schizophrenia or dissonance, where in one part of his soul a man sincerely wants to submit to Allah, and in another part he sincerely holds views that, while they may not appear on the surface to negate or contradict his submission, may be premised on Enlightenment principles—principles like moral relativism, humanism, and materialism. A synthesis of this is not possible, anymore than it is between Biblical religion and such principles, the only consistent alternatives being rejectionism in the manner of the Jacobins, neoconservatives, and a certain Former Dutch M.P., or a heart free of any taint of modernist heresy, however subtle, to the extent possible.

Incidentally, it is the latter position that cures the western Muslim's soul of the schizophrenia arising from being a Western Muslim, for it is not the fact of being Western in heritage or language or culture that gives him schizophrenia, but it is in trying to synthesize Islam and Enlightenment ideology that does so. We reject the worship of other than Allah alone and what necessarily follows from that, but we do not reject being Western anymore than Bilal rejected being Ethiopian, or Salman rejected being Persian, or the Malay rejected being Malay when they embraced Islam.

In fact Islamic and Western culture overlap to a great extent, so aside from the issue of the recent hedonistic and other harmful elements in Western culture, the matter viewed in this light is no longer very intelligible. And even our rejection of any unjust actions of our people does not change who we are: “O my people! Yours is the kingdom this day!” cautioned the believing Egyptian.

I also want to show that there is a growing realization among a core of Western thinkers that with these historical developments, the West has pointed itself into a corner of spiritual decay, social disorder, and impending ecological breakdown. These thinkers realize that, far from producing a triumph for the West and “the end of history” the Enlightenment and what followed undermined Western civilization. I argue that, rather than trying on the one hand to square our religion with modernity, or, on the other, agitating for an ill-conceived war against the West, we Muslims should make common cause with those in the West who want a return to sanity, and see restoration of belief and tradition to their rightful place in the heart and the public arena. It is part of our religion that we celebrate a Christian victory over polytheism, in their case atheism and secularism. And certainly in an environment of heightened attention to man's spiritual dimension, Islam can that much more readily perform its natural role in healing a damaged people.

Finally, I will insha'Allah give some advice as to how we can develop ourselves, our families, and our communities to be better worshippers and thus what Ibn Taymiyya called “Keys of goodness”: purification of our souls, authentic knowledge, and action flowing from those, that we may become, by Allah's permission, beacons of light in a land that is searching for meaning and hope.

Out of fear that this letter will turn into a book, I'll stop here. I hope that you can post this on Muslimmatters; I'd like to hear some feedback, positive or negative. If you could, dear brother, please print out any comments to this post and mail them to me.

Oh–in closing, I do indeed remember you and I have an interesting story to tell you about the good things that resulted from that situation, even if I wasn't able to help you in your case.

Salaam to you, your family, and all reading this, and all praise is due to Allah the Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be on our Prophet [sallallahu alaihi wasalam].
Wasalaam
Ismail Royer
(please use “Ismail Royer” when you post it-J.A.K)

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About The Author

Founder, Chairman

Amad Shaikh is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Amad is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

22 Responses

  1. Amad

    “I do remember you… the good things that resulted from that situation”… Br. Ismail is talking about a workplace complaint that I worked with CAIR/Royer on.

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  2. Musa Maguire

    As Salaamu Alaikum

    I would encourage everyone to read the brother’s letter to Judge Brinkema, both for its balance and insight, and to realize exactly what this brother is facing.

    I also encourage everyone to make du’a that he doesn’t have to miss the entire childhood of his four kids.

    May Allah release him and all unjustly imprisoned Muslims.

    As for this article, I have to disagree with the blanket condemnation of moderinty and Enlightenment. Not that moral relativism, humanism, materialism, etc. are consistent with Islam. They are not. However, the broader concepts of modernity and Enlightenment are so contested, and their histories so complex, that it is hard to make such a definitive statement.

    Of course, the schizophrenia that he identifies is real, and something that we all feel at some level. That said, I don’t see “tradition” as synonymous with belief, or as innocent, balanced and virtuous. Indeed, it was very much the ills of tradition that inspired the bitter pill of modernity (as Ismail defines and describes it).

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  3. Suhail

    Brother I am soo saddened to see the brother suffer like this. With him his family is sufferring too. Is there way to help his family?

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  4. Amad

    Br. Suhail, I am not sure… I think the community in Virginia is helping out… he will get your comment, but I am not sure if he will reach out for something like that.

    Correspondence with prisoners is one of the best ways to help our brothers right now… because if you think about it, that is the only way to escape the 4 walls of the prison, even if it is with your thoughts and words.

    I also want people to compare and contrast Royer’s actions and the actions of the soldiers who raped and murdered Abeer, the 14-yr old Iraqi girl, and then killed all her family. Those guys are eligible for parole in 10 years…. Royer, who probably hasn’t hurt a soul in his life is not eligible for any parole (to the best of my knowledge). Injustice? Yes, you can say that again.

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  5. Hidayah

    Asslamu Alikum Warehmatullah,

    I read Br. Ismail’ letter and i must say that my eyes were filled with tears and heart filled with Dua for him and his family. Alhamdulillah we as muslims believe in concept of predestination (otherwise all these calamities/trials would make one so pessimistic)

    I pray that Allah swt grants him and his family patience and steadfastness during this time of difficulty and make this trial a means of purification for them. *Ameen*

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  6. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    Jazzak Allaah for posting to the letter and May Allaah reward Bro. Ismail for sharing his thoughts.

    I look forward to seeing Brother Ismail’s thoughts outlined further inshAllaah.

    I have to say as someone who has recently started to devote more time to studying seriously the intellectual history that is “modernity” and the “englightenment” that I tend to agree with the thoughts of Brother Musa. Indeed, one cannot deny that the enormous deficiencies of both religious belief and social/political/economic/intellectual realities in pre-modern Europe must be understood in order to understand the Enligtenment. Now, as Muslims it is convenient for us to simply blame these things on the perversities of Christianity, and indeed the extent to which Christianity was astray from true faith contributed to many of the problems and made it much harder for Christianity to provide a true defense against the attacks that came upon it. However, we cannot stop there and feel comfortable. Many of the despicable aspects of pre-modern European society are still present in Muslim communities around the globe. The consistent and persistent refusal of us as Muslims to actually live according to Islam make it almost ridiculous for us to present Islam as a solution to others and make it truly impossible for us to hold up any large scale examples of a possible alternative to modernity.

    Now this is not to say that the so-called West does not have many of the same problems and neither to say that modernity has not brought its own nightmares of previously unimagined scope as witnessed in the wars and genocides of the 20th century which resulted in on the order of 200 million human deaths.

    Many of us who are “of the West” often try to join the best of both worlds and sometimes that seems to be a beautiful thing. But the schizophrenia referred to by both Brother Ismail and brother Musa always gnaws at us, (some more than others) and I think as a result of that our sincere efforts are often internally contradictory and perhaps doomed to failure of one type or another.

    I don’t claim to have the answers, at this point what I really want to put forward is that I think the questions are really difficult and I am extremely skeptical of those on whatever side who present the way forward as easy and clear. At the same time I have confidence in Allaah (swt) that He is Merciful on us and that He has provided us with clear guidance and I am certainly open to being proven wrong on anything I tend to think about these issues now.

    Wa Allaahu ta’ ‘ala ‘Alam.

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  7. Sakeena

    Asalaamu Alaikum,
    After reading this letter, I attended a class I am taking called “Mysticism: West”. The professor started the lecture by discussing the different dimensions in which we approach our lives and experience the world. He was specifically addressing those of us that would be considered, “religious”. And he was speaking, of course, of the post-Enlightnment, post-scientific era that we were all raised in and how this way of understanding the world interacts with our our religious teachings. He talked about the internal and spiritual conflict that this causes. . . and then he changed topics, so I will never know how his thought-process would have ended, but this encouraged me to think more about this letter.
    As a convert to Islam and an American, I find myself in a perpetual balancing act in which I must constantly check my motivations and actions. I have read many articles in which the author states strongly that the reality of being a Muslim need not contradict with the reality of being American. And on certain days, I feel that this could be the case. At other times I wholeheartedly agree that it is nearly impossible to reconcile Islam and Western culture. So, as I have yet to formulate my own opinion, my reply to this is more a curious wandering through the topic than anything else.
    But I much appreciate your reasoning that the difficulty lies in the basic foundation and assumptions of this culture that bring us away from our sense of God. However, I did notice that in the letter sent to the Judge, you express the opposite sentiment; there are essentially no contradictions in being a American Muslim – Muslim American. Why the change of heart?
    Peace be with you and your family. I will make du’a for you.

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  8. Muslimah

    Assalamu alaikum Br.Ismail

    Insha Allah you are in peace and good health by the grace of Allah Subhanaataala, the Lord of the worlds, the creator of this beautiful universe, the master of the day of judgement.

    I didnt get a chance to read your above posted article as today was the first time I heard about u in MM and immediately I went and did google search to find more information about you. Read few articles and got some glimpses and finally I came to MM to complete your letter to the judge.

    SubhanaAllah! Your letter was very true and I was able to feel that it came from your heart. Your letter wouldnt have affected me that much(made me cry) if you didnt have a family. The fact that you have a wonderful wife with small children and old parents. Your inability to be with them when they need you most, just this fact itself affected me so much.

    Khair. Still at this moment I am making dua to Allah Subhanaataala to ease your and your family’s difficulties.

    Alhamdulilah! You accepted it with respect and patience. May Allah reward you immensely for your patience and honesty.

    Yes. for everybody your case is over and you r in the jail forthe remaining 17 years without any parole.

    As you stated at the end of your letter, never loose hope. Insha Allah I will keep on making dua for you and your family. Dua is the weapon of the belivers. Allah Subhanaatala will definitely hear the dua of His slaves and especially the dua of the ones who are being oppressed.

    The prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wasallam said: “Protect yourselves from the duaa of the oppressed, for their is no veil between it and Allaah.”

    Please keep up your duas and continue to be patient. May be Allah Subhanaatala has got something else for you. Change your focus and by the time now I believe you must have changed.

    Your thoughts and writings are sharp and they are golden ink that this ummah needs the most at these times.

    I dont know what facitlies are there for you in the jail for you to increase your knowledge, and keep up your writting, and to keep up with whats going on around the world.

    May Allah provide you with all you need so each and every moment that you spend there will seed to your contributions to this ummah. Ameen.

    This life is surely a test. Our whole life would be just few moments on the day of judgement which is 50,000 years long.

    Please make sure each and every moment that you spend now in the prison, you reap rewards for your patience, as well as your contribution.

    May these rewards from your writing contribution grow and grow and be a huge mountain of good deeds for you on the day of judgement.

    May Allah guide your parents to the truth.

    May Allah make your loving wife sr.Mirsada strong and give her patience to raise all your kids as excellent muslims.

    May Allah ease the hardship of your family and increase the support of your family.

    May Allah protect and raise your four loving children Fatima, Hamza, Aisha, and Hasan as pious, strong muslims.

    “But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, ‘To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.’ They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord,
    and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance.” (2:155-157)

    Your sister in this beautiful deen.

    Muslimah

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  9. Musa Maguire

    Sakeena,

    I do not think Ismail is contradicting himself in these documents. In this post, he is addressing the ideologies that conflict with Islam. It does not mean that one cannot be culturally Western, or live and interact with people who have different beliefs. It just means that the ailments of the human soul will not be cured through secularism or its outgrowths.

    I am culturally American and have no delusions that I will ever escape that. Nor do I want to. Nor does Islam command it. That does not mean that there are no cultural practices that I need to leave behind. But the fact is that every culture, including those from the historically Muslim world, have the same dilemma.

    If someone feels that they must abandon their culture, or adopt someone else’s, to be a good Muslim, they will likely travel a long and painful path that will ultimatley land them back at sqaure one. At least that’s what I’ve seen, and Allah knows best!

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  10. bubaker

    As Salaamu `aleykum wa Rahmatullah

    Dear Br. Ismail,

    Alhamdulillah it was a blessing to read your letter to Br. Amad. I used to live in Maryland and had the pleasure of meeting you while you were with CAIR and attending your and other brothers’ trials a few times. I pray that Allah(SWT) Give you and your family comfort, release, and high Iman.

    If I understand you correctly, you aren’t arguing that there is anything against being American (Western, or any culture).

    The issue with “modernity” understood in the context of the “Enlightenment” was that its particular response to the tyrannical and immoral Church yielded an alternative dogma and principles around which to organize society which undermine the way of life of Muslims, and even Christians.

    I think that the “balance” is one that is struck in a personal and practical context, but I don’t see how the secular humanism, naturalism, and outright monism of the Enlightenment can ever be squared within an Islamic conscience.

    For an interesting read on evolution and it’s Enlightenment origin, read “Algeny” by Jeremy Rifkin. Lewis Mumford in “Myth of the Machine” talks about a strange resurrection of sun worship during the Enlightenment – particularly evident in the writings of Kepler.

    Now, I hope this isn’t taken as an attack on the West, America, or anything except Kufr, whether it’s in Europe, the Muslim World, wherever. The principles we understand from what Allah(SWT) Revealed in the Qur’an, give us a Furqan to tell Guidance from Error and it should be applied to everything, including “tradition”.

    The fact that success will once again be `Ala Minhaj an-Nubuwwah, whenever and wherever it will take place, is a reminder that modernity may not contain the solution, but it will be solved moving forward.

    May Allah(SWT) Bring it about through our faith and deeds.

    w’Salaamu `aleykum,
    Hanif

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  11. Hamdi

    I’m so glad that someone is addressing this issue because it is such an important one.
    Being an 18-year old living in a Swedish society where I receive my education, this is a huge issue for me that I struggle with since I am surrounded be the values of the enlightenment as they are taken to be universal truths.
    I really recognise myself in the part where you mention the schizophrenia/dissonance it creates.
    I really look forward to reading your work when you finish it inshaAllah.

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  12. Anonymous

    As salaam aleikum! :)

    In regards to this discussion, the conflict may there between Western society and Islam, but the mere existence of brothers and sisters such as you and I, who find the balance and equilibrium in troubling times…is proof that Islam also has the capacity to adapt and will continue to until we overcome. Perhaps its a consequence of our negative thinking that we see this conflict to be unsurmountable to the point that we cannot imagine how the Western can become Islamic. The brother wears a basketball jersey trying to look like `tuff`but that same jersey has the name of Abdul-Jabbar on it`s back. On one level yes, we can call it schizophrenic, but the first Muslims had to bear the same trials and were in their own way schizophrenic and if Abu Bakr (ra) were here today, even us Muslims would diagnose him as depressed, emotional and majnun…but that`s only if we look through the glasses of the kuffar…

    But in regards to modernity, scientific advancement and the Muslim future in the West, Muslims have forgotten the nature of Islam. Just as you mentioned that Islam is the natural state of the soul, it will always remain no matter how unusual it may seem at that moment. Anything can be Islamicized. We have Allah`s promise and the American giant is losing it`s balance. When it falls the ground might rumble but the giant that has always stood will remain standing: Islam.

    What I would like to ask you my dear brother is something that you most likely have contemplated and if you haven`t I would definitely like to hear your thoughts and ideas, especially from where you are:

    Activism has grown as a result of historical events. But we write, protest, `fight`for the rights of our imprisoned or hungry or dying brothers, but only as long as we do it from the comfort of our air-conditioned homes, at ease in front of our wide computer monitors.
    This In-Activism is obvious and almost blatantly hypocritical but we still do it almost because it`s easy and gives us an arrogance for performing a `good deed`…it is not getting us anywhere and so I ask:

    If anything, what can we do about it? What sort of `new and innovative`methods should we try? How might we affect true change?

    Jazaka Allahu khayran for your time and May Allah free you.

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  13. Irtiza

    My thoughts are that it is a shame to see someone that bright do something so uncalculated and unwise. I hope this serves as a lesson to others and that people learn from Royer’s mistakes. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

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  14. Ahmad AlFarsi

    Assalaamu alaykum Br. Ismail,

    May Allah grant you strength and patience during your trials and allow you to use this time to draw nearer to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

    Your brother in Islam,
    Ahmad

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  15. ummfatima

    SELLAM

    I would like to say JKH for kind words to Br. Ismail and his family. Ismail is wrily happy to read all your responds, and thank you for all the dua’s that you are macking for him and his family. JKH Esselamu Aleikum

    ummfatima

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  16. Hamdi

    I’m reading Muhammad Asad’s book “Islam at the crossroads”; I’ve only read the first couple of chapters so far but they reminded me of this text by Ismail Royer. The ideas he expresses here seem identical to what Asad was trying to say in his book. It’s striking. Does anyone who may have read Asad’s book agree?

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  17. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    innalhamdolillah, wa bismillah. jazak Allah khayr, Hamdi for your comment — it caused me to find this article and to read this moving letter.

    I was very happy to hear about Muslimmatters.org. It sounds like its filling a void.

    when a person who has been incarcerated, sentenced without justice to such a long sentence, rights such words about MM… it really moves my heart. may Allah make his time in prison easy, may He soften the hearts of those who can pardon him, parole him, or reverse the judgment against him. may Allah make MM worthy of such hope and praise.

    as for Muhammad Asad… Muhammad Asad did recognize the kind of intellectual dissonance that Ismail Royer describes. but i would say, especially in light of Asad’s Message of the Qur’an, that the two men took divergent paths from that nexus. Asad all but completely denies the miracles of Allah, the angels, the Jinn, and more facts for a Muslim — for Asad all are more or less allegorical devices or mere means to explain the wisdom that less-developed minds could not otherwise grasp.

    i have read Asad’s opus-translation of the Qur’an cover-to-cover including every footnote and appendix, and i have read his Road to Mecca. i have islam at the crossroads but never studied it in depth. correct me if i am wrong, please, but crossroads was written while he was fresh from Saudi Arabia, and i believe even before he became Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN? that would place the book much earlier than either of the two much longer works. it’s possible that Asad’s deviation in aqeedah had not yet taken as firm a root in his mind at the time he wrote crossroads… though that book, if i am not mistaken, had a profound impact on the Muslim League, and even fomented (or fermented) the drive to partition… to create a state whose founders had very modernist ideals…

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  18. Hamdi

    abu AbdAllah

    I know that it first came out in 1934, and it has been modified by Muhammad Asad over the years. The most popular Swedish translation – I live in Sweden – of the meaning of the Qur’an comes with Asad’s notes from his own translation, so I am aware of some of the bizarre aqeedah. I also have his Road to Mecca but I haven’t read it yet. I agree with you that Ismail Royer – walhamdulillah – takes the position of ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah so I wouldn’t compare him to Asad in that sense. Actually, I was sceptical when I first picked up “Islam at the Crossroads” and didn’t expect to get much out of it, exactly because of what I knew of Muhammad Asad’s aqeedah. But as I read it I was reminded of this text by Ismail Royer since the message is very similar. I wouldn’t describe him as a modernist, even in the later part of his life, since he still stood by what he wrote in his “Islam at the crossroads” later in life.

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  19. MM Associates

    bismillah. jazak Allah khayr, Hamdi. yeah, i may be wrong in my use of the term modernist. it’s as much bandied and as inappropriately-so as salafi. but i am using the broad dictionary meaning of modernism: “a movement toward modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas.”

    in that sense, Asad may not seem modernist, in that his aqeedah has more to do with an all-but-extinct-1000+years-ago philosopher-approach to Islam. but at least in Road and Message he expressed that the problem with Muslim leaders with whom he dealt was that they were too satisfied with the status quo. to that point it could be easy to find his arguments compelling. but when it comes to what guidance to seek from Islam, he would have said, i believe, that there is a sphere for religion and one that religion has no place in. to me that challenges (wrongly) the traditional assertion that every aspect of life is within Islam (though obviously many aspects of life have no ruling associated with them other than simply “mubah”). and taking all of his writings which can be characterized thus, i think of him as modernist.

    but alhamdolillah, i am not his judge, nor anyone else’s. :) and Judgment is only for Allah.

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  20. Hamdi

    I don’t know that much about him, so I wont say much either but I would recommend that you read “Islam at the Crossroads”. I think you may be surprised, let’s just leave it at that ;)

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