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Islam in the Modern World: Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition Hardcover – January 25, 2011
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Nasr, one of the world�s foremost scholars of Islam, here updates one of his classic works in response to the major changes in the Islamic world (and its relationship with the non-Islamic world) that have occurred since the text was last revised in 1990. At its core is the tension between traditional Islam, the worldview defined by the �equilibrium promulgated by the Shari�ah and the serenity of Islamic spirituality� and expressed through traditional Islamic philosophy, science, art, and architecture, and the disunities and profanities of secular modernism that are the norm in the Western world and now pervade much of the Islamic world as well. In rejecting and critiquing modernism, Nasr argues, traditional Islam retains its rich spiritual vitality despite the challenges it faces from within and without. Among the greatest of these challenges is that presented by Islamic fundamentalism and violent radicalism, which, says Nasr, claim to reflect traditional Islam but have actually been profoundly corrupted by some of the modern West�s ugliest attributes. Though passionately argued, this book is essentially an argument for the primacy of a particularly orthodox approach to Islamic faith and as such may not resonate with those inclined toward other Islamic beliefs. It does, however, provide an erudite and unusually accessible look into the ongoing struggle for the heart of Islam. --Brendan Driscoll
“An erudite and unusually accessible look into the ongoing struggle for the heart of Islam.” (Booklist)
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He's spent his entire life living physically and mentally in an above average environment, whether living in the US or in Iran; as such he's never had to experience the dismally difficult lives that the average and lower class Middle Easterners (and us average foreigners) have to endure when living in the Middle East (ME).
Although I don't have his intellect or education, I do feel qualified (much self education, travelling and living in the ME and marrying a Moslem) in sharing my gut reaction to this book. I'm very aware that the Islam that most Moslems (at least in the ME) practice is in fact largely based on tradition and misinformation, both of which too frequently run totally opposite what the true message of traditional Islam preaches.
He makes it clear that the purpose of Islamic teachings is to provide the greatest stability to the greatest number of people, and not to make everyone happy. Well, I guess I don't fit into what the masses want and are willing to give up for this intended stability (and which is no longer materializing). Here are a few examples.
Work ethics and architecture - Nasr agrees that the work ethics of many Moslems has deteriorated since so many have moved to large modern cities. He feels it's because people have left behind those people (imams, master craftspeople, family etc.) who instilled a need for quality, beauty, serenity in their lives. My comment is, other countries have also gone through this massive change - be it America, Europe or Japan; yet these countries maintained a strong work ethic and a need for esthetics. What is it about Islam that a person can't maintain these qualities on their own? Why is a strong task master always needed? One of the reasons the ME can't move forward is that individual accountability is in short supply.
What initially drew me to Islam is the incredible beauty of its traditional architecture. But today few people get to enjoy this beauty and if it is available it is rarely free to enjoy. One pays to even enter a run down garden or park. And it's certainly not reflected in the vast majority of homes, schools and offices they build, the clutter that they live and work in, the sewage and garbage on the street, the lack of public gardens (e.g. Cairo) or in most public places. Nasr blames modernity (often meaning western influences), yet Japan is still both modern and traditional.
Relationship between men and women - The book is more than 450 pages long, yet he devotes only 11 pages to this subject. On the one hand he says that traditional Islam supports a woman being able to pursue whatever career and interests she wants, including running a country, but that she first needs approval (assuming from her male guardian) before doing this. How can a woman run a country or large organization or smaller, if she is restricted in her contact with men (which he acknowledges as acceptable for some Moslems), and when her legal opinion is only ¼ of that of a man? If I understand this section correctly, what a woman is allowed to pursue in her life is still dependent on what her male guardian and her local society say is acceptable. How sad.
Male dominance - Islam states this is a Divine right but has extra responsibilities that go with it. Unfortunately in my opinion and the opinion of every Egyptian woman I have met, the majority of men in Egypt fails to fulfill their responsibilities. Why?
Sex - The author and ancient Islamic erotica fully support the pleasure of sex between a man and a woman. However in Shereen El Fiki's book "Sex and the Citadel" and in her Ted talks give a very gloomy picture of sex in the Middle East, and I support her views. Taboos, ignorance and dissatisfaction abound. He does however state that the "true power of sexual union (as part of union with the Divine) has ceased to operate for most human beings, except in a potential manner". Another example of his living in an idealized world, not the real world.
Marriage - He says polygamy (which he says is not required or suitable for all) does not have to be legitimized in order to be sacralised. Hmm. So what happens to the unmarried woman/concubine when her man no longer wants her? The women in the ME seems to suffer the consequences of most everything more than the men.
Women are beatitude - then why does the Koran/Hadiths say its Ok for a man to slap us around? (The definition of slapping us around also varies).
Homosexuality- Nasr acknowledges that this has occurred in all times and in all societies but it works against the ultimate perfection of the Divine. Then why are some people born homosexual? Did any of us heterosexual choose our sexuality? I know I didn't choose mine.
When I read the Koran and Hadiths, not matter how hard I try not to, all I read is hell and punishment. If these are truly the words of God, then why does it take a PhD like the author to have to spend his entire life to give us the true interpretation of these books? Why did whatever force that created us, not use words that the average, not too bright and not well educated individual understand? Certainly the vast majority of the Imam's in mosques aren't preaching and regular teachers aren't teaching this stuff, as they themselves are not adequately educated and trained.
And isn't this huge disparity in interpretations the reason we've been controlling and killing each other since all these major religions started? Why did God make all of this so difficult for us to understand what she intended?