Muslims are not Islam is not Muslims

From an article at the Zwemer Center, written by a philosopher fed up with popular coverage of Muslim issues:

One philosophical distinction that may help navigate this discussion is between essentialism and nominalism.

Don’t stop reading, he makes it simpler, distinguishing between Islamic religiosity and Muslim religiosity. Ok, that still sounds complicated, but here is the test to see if a pundit weighs forth well on Islam:

  1. Give an account of what the authoritative texts seem to say about a given issue. Quote them as they are without resorting to interpretation.

  2. Describe the various interpretations offered by individual Muslims and groups of Muslims through time.

Failing to take step #1 results in ignoring the authoritative primary sources of authority for Muslims. Failing to take step #2 results in ignoring the history of interpretation of those primary sources of authority and the rich diversity among Muslims on issues.

Still hard for the non-specialist? Yes, I presume so. So here are the crib notes on how each side of the US media spectrum fails (with a special shout-out to you-can-guess-who):

Failing to take step #1 results in understanding Muslim thought as a mere form of individual or cultural relativism, which it isn’t. Now when MSNBC ignores step #1, you can fault them.

Failing to take step #2 results in forming gross generalizations that perpetuate ignorance and prejudice. Now when FOX News or Donald Trump ignore step #2, you can fault them.

Actually, both MSNBC and FOX News fail on both counts, as do many, if not most, of our politicians.

Allow me to take the issue from media analysis to personal kindness and broadminded generosity. Grant Muslims the dignity of belonging to an ancient tradition they strive to navigate in diverse ways. And grant Islam the dignity of diverse followers who cannot be reduced to a single interpretation.

Criticize both freely, as necessary. But do not reduce one to the other. Our identities are true, but they do not define us. Our religions posit truth, but we do not define them. This is as true of Muslims as anyone else.

Should this last thought grow too philosophical, the author reminds us even the professional ones know how to make fun of themselves:

If the distinction doesn’t help you, then chalk it up to another example of confusion about what a philosopher does and still one more example of wondering why anyone in the world would want to do what we do.

Have a wonderful day, once you have set forth the necessary and sufficient conditions for what it means to ‘have a day’ and what could possibly be the conditions for it to be ‘wonderful’.

Smile, but take his words seriously. America, hopefully in correctable ignorance, is taking a dangerous path.

 

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