Tag Archives: Islam

Setting the frame

The first work is Clifford Geertz’s article ‘“Internal conversion” in contemporary Bali’ (1973). Here he describes and analyses social transitions relating to changes in attitudes of different social groups of Indonesian Balinese society towards a local Hinduism. Those changes took place in the 1950s and early 1960s. Geertz talks about three main aspects of that process – ‘the intensified religious questioning, the spread of religious literacy, and the attempt to reorganize religious institutions’ (Geertz 1973: 189). I think it is worth adding some specific traits of this process – attempts ‘to segregate religion from social life in general’ (ibid.: 184), the systematization and interpretation of sacred texts (i.e. the creation of dogma and creed), the unification of ritual activity, and the organization of institutional control over local religious life (the local ‘Ministry of Religion’, qualifying examinations for priests, and a religious school). To include those processes into a more general conceptual scheme, Geertz uses Max Weber’s dichotomy of ‘traditional religion vs. rational religion’ and names the transformation he writes about ‘the rationalization of Balinese religion’ (ibid.: 181).

Why did the rationalizers of Balinese religion choose those particular ways for their activity? Geertz did not give us a clear answer to this question. He seems to think about this issue in terms of general laws of religious rationalization, as when he writes about some ‘social and intellectual processes which gave rise to the fundamental religious transformations of world history’ (ibid.: 189) and compares indirectly the case of Bali with ancient China and Greece. However, I think that we have no need to look for some general laws and remote parallels for understanding modern and post-modern religious transformations. Probably, the Balinese know what they have to do to reform their religion because they have a bright and obliging model of a ‘proper religion’ not so far from them. I mean Islam.

Geertz notes that the Balinese are ‘a people, intensely conscious and painfully proud of being a Hindu island in a Muslim sea, and their attitude toward Islam is that of the duchess to the bug’ (ibid.: 181). But Muslims are a powerful majority in Indonesia, and they control all state institutions including the state Ministry of religion. The Balinese do not want to convert to Islam and they do not want their religion to be considered by the majority as a local and ‘wild’ one. They try to make their religion respectable in the eyes of their neighbours (and in their own eyes). In this context the outer model determines their activity and the Balinese have to accept the majority’s rules of the game and communicate with that majority to achieve their aims. Geertz provides an example of such communication:

The Muslims say, you have no book, how can you be a world religion? The Balinese reply, we have manuscripts and inscriptions dating before Mohammed. The Muslims say, you believe in many gods and worship stones; The Balinese say, god is One but has many names and the ‘stone’ is the vehicle of God, not God himself. (Geertz 1973: 188)

I would like to note that in these circumstances the Balinese have no opportunity to reply: ‘So what? There are many religions without any holy scripture and there are many polytheistic religions.’ It would break the rules of the dialogue and destroy it. But the dialogue is very significant for them. Through it arise Balinese Holy Writ, dogmatics, theology, unified rituals, and religious institutions. Such conversation does not necessarily take place in the form of direct contacts: religious reformers can imagine this discussion, but they have to imagine it quite correctly.


Stop Islamophobia

After allegations that [Hizb ut-Tahrir] members had spread antisemitic propaganda, in 2004 the British National Union of Students imposed a No Platform order.[61] The party then resumed recruiting at British universities under the name “Stop Islamophobia.”[62]


Is there a name for this tactic?

Incidentally, “No Platform” comes from the socialists.

Khamenei is not a fundie

As a young man, Khamenei saw a tension between the West and the Third World, and these views hardened during his dealings with the United States after the Iranian Revolution. He concluded that Washington was determined to overthrow the Islamic Republic and that all other issues raised by U.S. officials were nothing more than smoke screens. Even today, he believes that the U.S. government is bent on regime change in Iran, whether through internal collapse, democratic revolution, economic pressure, or military invasion. …
In prerevolutionary Iranian opposition intellectual circles, Western culture and civilization were not only disparaged as a model but considered to be in crisis and decline. The Third World was its rising alternative; as the Iranian writer Daryush Ashuri, a contemporary of Khamenei, put it, “The Third World is composed of the poor and colonized nations, which are at the same time revolutionary.” Iran was ostensibly independent, but colonialism was seen as taking a new form there, with native ruling political elites serving as agents of imperialism and working to secure its interests. The Western world, led by the United States, moreover, was thought to be laying the groundwork for its political and economic expansion by destroying indigenous cultures. Under such circumstances, it was easy to see Islam as not simply a religion but also a cultural and ideological weapon in the struggle against imperialism. …
Qutb, who was executed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime in 1966, propagated the idea of an Islamic state. As he wrote in The Battle Between Islam and Capitalism,
If you want Islam to be an agent of salvation, you must rule and must understand that this religion has not come for one to sit in houses of worship; it hasn’t come to make a nest in hearts. Rather, it has come to govern and run life in a proper fashion; it has come to build a progressive and complete society. . . . If we want Islam to answer social, ethnic, and other problems and solve our problems and show a way to cure them, we must think about government and its formation and bring our decisions to implementation. . . . Islam without government and a Muslim nation without Islam are meaningless.
The pillars of Qutb’s idea of Islamic government were justice, equality, and the redistribution of wealth. “True Islam,” he wrote in Social Justice in Islam, “is a liberation movement that frees the hearts of individuals and then of human societies from fear of the bonds of the powerful.”

Qutb’s ideas would go on to become the template for the modern Salafi movement, eventually influencing radical Islamists such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They were also very appealing for Iranian seminary students. Khamenei read them, was attracted to Qutb’s personality and to some of his ideas, and went so far as to translate some of the master’s works into Persian himself.