Muslims leaders in reaction to the Donald Trump effect have created alliances with far-left liberals. Post-modern world views intrinsically challenge the authority of revealed scripture and create a bubble of sacredness around human rights ground in public reason. Perhaps that most challenging feature of post-modernity is the fluid or liquid nature of truth due to extreme subjectivism of late modernity. Liquid modernity will give rise to liquid Muslim leaders thereby neutralizing the explosive nature of religion.
Muslims’ Wager with Liberals
As a Christian child, I often read the Lord’s Prayer before going to sleep. It left a deep impression on my moral compass and its words seem to continually serve as a guide for humanity. After being blessed with Islam and maintain that this prayer still serves as a framework and paradigm for the Muslim mind and societal interaction.
“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
The words “Thy will done on earth as it is in heaven” seems to suggest that righteous attempt to replicate the order of the heavens above here on earth. They take that which is from heaven and apply here on earth. The source of Goodness being the heavens. The first major shift away from this ideal was to make man the source of good. As if to say, “Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth.” Thus, shifting the sacredness and authority of revelation to man and his own will. While the two perspectives may agree occasionally on the standards of excellence themselves Muslims and Christians are anchored by revelation to a standard other than themselves. Postmodern trends shifted the standard of excellence to the human mind and the collective understanding of correctness. Thereafter the Late Modernity trends further alter the sacred message of the prayer. “My will be done on earth as it is in space.” Where man once looked up and saw something he named heavens, he now looks toward the same direction and sees nothingness. That space is random, blind and without purpose, so too is this poor soul that walks on earth. This is the reality of Late modernity which Zygmunt Bauman explains so eloquently.
In Modernity’s Wager Adam Seligman explains a tradeoff that religious communities must make in a post-modern society. The wager as he calls it is a shift from the idea of revealed truth of a transcendent Being to that of “self-evident” truths of our collective society. According to public discourse narrative, these truths are self-evident and thus primarily rooted in and discovered by reason. As if God is only echoing what our minds already have the ability to reach. Seligman believes the touchstone of our contemporary morality is the primacy of individual rights rooted in reason. Individual rights rooted in reason has claimed sacredness for itself. This is the wager of the modern man. He has taken the crown of sacredness away from revelation and placed it upon his own head. All that he thinks, feels, says and expresses is sacred. In doing so he has made himself the ultimate authority above which there is none other. He explains, “If the self has a sacred locus, however, then it must be an authoritative one as well, for what is the sacred if not authoritative?”.
Walking on water: Liquid Modernity
Perhaps the hallmark attribute of the Late-Modern society is its liquidity and lack of definition. In the Late-Modern society form and definition are subject to perspective. Definitions are not objective and terms are defined by the mind of the one using them and not by an external source outside of the mind. Reason and logic are thrown out the window in the face of public opinion. A man or a woman is not a biological, objective, concrete thing but rather it is defined by the one using the term. Truth, justice, equality and freedom are also liquidated. These terms no longer become terms that judge people and civilization but rather they become words that though used regularly, lose any real meaning. Those in control will consider themselves the standard for defining these terms. To say such and such nation is not free simply means such and such nation does not measure up to our definition of freedom. Any objective discussion on what freedom is remains left out of public discourse. This liquidation is a necessary step in the liberation of mankind. It frees man to act in accordance with his or her own definition of the world around them.
Suggesting appropriateness or inappropriateness of another person’s conduct becomes inappropriate or unacceptable in the liquid world. “Who are you to tell me what I am doing is wrong?” is a normal and plausible response if reality of the world around that person is defined by nothing other than my perspective and my freedoms. Speaking about the inappropriateness of actions and life styles are not attacks on individuals but rather their appropriation of center lifestyles and actions. The creation of “safe zones” (which are anything but safe) in essence creates a sphere in which truth and falsehood, or appropriateness and inappropriateness don’t exist and cannot be discussed. Simply do as you like.
Zygmunt Bauman’s has coined the term Liquid Modernity to define late modernity state. Liquids by nature assume the form of the vessel it is placed in. Religious tradition by nature does not wish to be liquid. But rather it desires to be the vessel which gives shape to the lives of human beings and society as a whole. Religion shapes and is not shaped. Zygmunt Bauman has written extensively on the incoherence of a liquid society that lacks definition. He introduced the idea of liquid modernity, and explained its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence. It also people to shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. My concern is the rise of liquid Muslim leaders who will become very valuable in the context we live in.
Professor and writer Peter J. Leithart condemns Muslims to the same ill fate of her sister faiths, “We have no reason to believe that the path of privatization in Judaism or Islam would be similar to that of Christianity, because the very terms of communal membership and individual identity are so different in these religions from what they are in a secularized Christian polity”.
If Leithart is correct, Muslims should be prepared for what I will call the “plasticity project”. The “plasticity project” is the organized effort by scholars and political activists to create an image of religious tradition that never contradicts the liberal trends of the broader society. Religious tradition, which was originally sent to be brought to the public square for dialogue will be muzzled and not allowed into public discourse. The “plasticity project” will reread and reinterpret the early positions of tradition in a way that harmonizes perfectly with the current discourse.
The project outwardly seeks to bring Muslims to the table of discourse but in reality, it only brings a neutered, toothless replica to that table.
While the hallmark feature of liberalism is the freedom of the self from the social constraints of family, community and religion, the ironic reality is that liberalist display a paradoxical intolerance when tradition wants its unfiltered, authentic voice at the table. This is explained by Ross Douthat in is The New York Times piece titled The Challenge of Pluralism. He states in response to Emily Bazelon,
“If we take pluralism seriously, the whole point of the concept is to enable groups to “throw up a shield” against the pressure of consensus, and develop and promote alternatives that are rejected by the powerful, or by society as a whole. This is true when the consensus in question is old and rooted and traditional, but it’s also true when the consensus in question likes to describe itself as representing “modernity” (or “progress” or “enlightenment” or whatever loaded, whiggish word you prefer), because vanguard-of-history ideas no less than rooted-in-tradition ideas can turn out to be mistaken, misdirected, immoral, barbaric.”
This is where the current liberalist agenda and tradition break apart. Anyone who speaks against the opinions of the progressive or enlightened opinion is demonized as extreme.
Of course, religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam are not opposed to liberty and freedom. Rather these traditions wish to maintain open discourse about the definitions of these jargon terms. Classical Islamic sources clearly convey a upon human beings the responsibility of maintaining and objective standard of morality which should shape and guide the moral values of society. The individual rights of man are not subjective to the whims of emotions and societal pressures. The very definition of freedom from the Islamic perspective is viewed ultimately as freedom from the self as opposed to freedom of the self. According to Taylor and MacIntyre the eventual failure of Liberalism lies in its definition of the self, community and morality.
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: ” مَثَلُ القَائِمِ عَلَى حُدُودِ اللَّهِ وَالوَاقِعِ فِيهَا، كَمَثَلِ قَوْمٍ اسْتَهَمُوا عَلَى سَفِينَةٍ، فَأَصَابَ بَعْضُهُمْ أَعْلاَهَا وَبَعْضُهُمْ أَسْفَلَهَا، فَكَانَ الَّذِينَ فِي أَسْفَلِهَا إِذَا اسْتَقَوْا مِنَ المَاءِ مَرُّوا عَلَى مَنْ فَوْقَهُمْ، فَقَالُوا: لَوْ أَنَّا خَرَقْنَا فِي نَصِيبِنَا خَرْقًا وَلَمْ نُؤْذِ مَنْ فَوْقَنَا، فَإِنْ يَتْرُكُوهُمْ وَمَا أَرَادُوا هَلَكُوا جَمِيعًا، وَإِنْ أَخَذُوا عَلَى أَيْدِيهِمْ نَجَوْا، وَنَجَوْا جَمِيعًا
“The example of the one who understands and obeys the limitations set by Allah compared to the one who doesn’t understand and obey the limitations is like a group of people who boarded a ship. The people drew lots to determine where they would sit. Some of them sat below deck whereas others sat above deck. Whenever the people below the deck needed water they would have to pass by those above deck. The idea came to them that they should just put a hole in the bottom of the ship and take their water from there (to them this was more practical for them and the people above the deck if as well.) If the people above the deck allow the people below the deck to go through with idea they will all be destroyed. However, if they stop them, they will all be saved.”
Here lies a very important pronouncement on the concept of freedom which is in line with the communitarian understanding of community and the individual self. The saddest part of American Muslim dialogue is the fact that the academic discussions around terms like freedom which are still currently heavily debated and discussed are completely ignored. Regarding Freedom, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in “The Social Contract” said,
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”
This statement acknowledges a similar meaning as the Prophetic narrations which I have shared above. Absolute freedom is a mirage of the liberals and the actions of some will inevitably effect the entire community.
Islam defines liberation not as freedom of the self but rather freedom from the self. Explained by Patrick Dean, in a 2012 article titled Unsustainable Liberalism, “Liberalism instead understands liberty as the condition in which one can act freely within the sphere that is unconstrained by positive law.” He further concludes, “Liberalism rejects the ancient and preliberal conception of liberty as the learned capacity of human beings to govern their base and hedonistic desires.” Dean highlights in this statement why liberalism is so dangerous to Islam. Central to Islam, Christianity and Judaism is the idea of a Law of God. A law that forces human beings to conform, control and remove unhealthy or dangerous impulses from one’s self and from the society. This is witnessed in the Quranic explanation of the three types of “nafs” or self. The delineation of these three types of seeks to encourage human beings to struggle against the evil, and unhealthy aspects of human nature and create within ones’ self a nature inclined to conformity with Gods law. According to Dean, “Early-modern liberalism held the view that human nature was unchangeable—human beings were, by nature, self-interested creatures whose base impulses could be harnessed but not fundamentally altered.” If Dean is correct, the implications of this worldview on a religion that grants tradition authority are disastrous in that the law will be judge by the individual and not the individual by the law. Islam which literally means submission becomes the anti-Christ to liberalism. The objective of the liberalist revolutions was to create individual human spheres of unchecked activity for anyone striving for fulfillment. This is clearly unattainable and disastrous to the ship of humanity. As Taylor stated, “One is a self only among other selves. A self can never be described without reference to who surround it”
Without a doubt, religion is a powerful global force. Although once considered to be opposed to reason, religion now serves as an appeal to reason more faithfully than the current post modernity trends. The “plasticity project” as defined appeals to our desire to be accepted. The project will strive to overlook traditional jurisprudence positions and marginalize those opinions as outdated. The project will, without a doubt, be forced to do academic backflips to make religion fit and they will, without a doubt, negate that there is a red line. Lastly the “plasticity project” prioritizes the black listing of anyone who does try to speak against the positions of those who they have allied themselves with.
However, the question must be asked is acceptance the ultimate objective which we should be striving for? Some may contend that we can and should aim higher than merely building alliances at gaining the political liberty to freely speak to our own concerns and from our own frame of references. Without a doubt, my views will be contested as anti-ijtihad and regressive. In America, I feel that by maintaining a strong sense of religious identity and allying ourselves with other faith based communities we can make America the “religious belt” of the world.
- Based on the observations stated above it is essential for Muslims to look closely at politically involved Muslims who are perceived as the sum of American Muslim perspective. Their Islam should be placed to the side and their political alliances and opinions should be looked at objectively.
- Islamic educational programs such as Sunday schools and weekend schools which are attended by large segments of the community must give primacy to the explanation and deconstruction of ideologies that are detrimental to the core of the tradition. Courses that discuss the need for Shariah (sacred law) should be introduced and given primacy.
- Regarding Muslim think tanks: The Muslim community needs to become critical consumers of the papers and narratives formed by these think tanks. This means understanding the alliances and partnerships that have been established and also being open and encouraging alternative narrative discourse.
 Adam B. Seligman is associate professor of sociology at Boston University, fellow at its Institute for the Study of Economic Culture. Before that, he served in various capacities at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the University of Colorado.
 Peter J. Leithart is President of the Theopolis Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, and an adjunct Senior Fellow at New St. Andrews College. He is author, most recently, of Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Baylor).
 FirstThings | MODERNITY’S WAGER
 NY Times | The Challenge of Pluralism
 Sahih Bukhari
 Patrick Deneen is David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press), p. 35.