Islamic or Muslim Terrorism and Extremism:  Are they all Contradictions in Terms?

Islamic or Muslim Terrorism and Extremism:  Are they all Contradictions in Terms?

By Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

PART I

Let me explore this question on various levels, gradually deepening the argument in and moving on from terrorism to extremism.

First, let us see what happens when, as Dr. Crane says, a whole religion is confused with the criminal elements of its self-proclaimed adherentsӔ, or, indeed, not only with the openly criminal elements, but with the ignorant elements which constrict or distort its message.

Consider what led up to the genocide against Bosnian Muslims. The Serbs applied the label Islamic fundamentalistӔ freely to all Muslims, who were seen as reflections of the darkness of the pastӔ. As Norman Cigar has clearly shown in The Role of Serbian Orientalists in Justification of Genocide Against Muslims of the Balkans (Islamic Quarterly: Review of Islamic Culture, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, 1994), Serbian orientalists, respectableӔ  scholars working in academic institutions, by bending scholarship and blending it with political rhetoric defined Islam and the local Muslim community in such a way as to contribute significantly to making genocide acceptableӔ.

In my article, The Language of Islamophobia, first presented as an address in London just after 9/11, I described how shocked I was to read the headline of a reputable English newspaper which proclaimed No Refuge for Islamic TerroristsӔ. I asked whether the same newspaper had proclaimed that there would be no refuge for Christian Mass Murderers after the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia, or the many atrocities committed by the IRA. Of course, it had not, and it would have been totally reprehensible if it had done so.

In the same address I thanked Mr. Blair for his considered statement that the atrocities in America were not the work of Muslim terroristsӔ but of terroristsӔ. How sad it is to see that after the recent London bombings, he has persistently referred to the threat of Islamic terrorism to our (i.e. the British) way of life.Ӕ  I guess he can see the political capital he can make in moving away from intelligent and nuanced distinctions (which, as a trained lawyer, he is quite capable of) to blunter rhetorical statements which exploit popular anger. 

Now, I suppose that Blair avoided the term Muslim terroristӔ or Islamic terroristӔ after 9/11, not because he thought it was an oxymoron (contradiction in terms), but because, as a politician with perhaps a vestige of moral substance and decency left in him, he wanted to avoid the possibility that such a phrase might lead people to the irresponsible and bigoted generalisation that all Muslims are terrorists, even though he might perfectly well have believed that some of them are, and might even have believed that there is something in Islam itself which sanctions terrorism.  His motive was therefore to defuse inter-racial and inter-faith conflict. I believe that at the same time, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush also asserted that the whole Muslim community should not be stigmatised because of the actions of terrorists - actions which were totally incompatible with the religious precepts of Islam.

A web search of the association between Islam, Muslims, Terrorism and the word oxymoron comes up with the following phrases described as oxymorons:

Muslim terrorist
Islamic terrorist
Militant Islam
Christian terrorism
Religious extremism

Bur also (clearly with an anti-Muslims and anti-Islamic bias):
Moderate Muslim (jihadwatch.org)
Moderate Islam (danielpipes.org)
Islamic humanism
Islamic civilisation
Progressive Islam
Muslim unity

Most people do not see any difference between such phrases as Muslim terrorismӔ and Islamic terrorismӔ.  As such, they can perform the function, as Dr. Crane says, of being useful idiotsӔ. Others may deliberately use the term Islamic terroristӔ to suggest that there is something inherent in the religion of Islam itself which promotes terrorism, that it is germane and not merely a criminal deviation practised by a minority of extremists, militantsӔ or jihadistsӔ.

The Serbs, for example, perpetrated the nonsense that in Islamic teachingӅ the tone of the Quran is openly authoritarian, uncompromising and menacingҔ; that the reading of the traditional tales in A Thousand and One Nights predisposed Muslims (in their words gave subliminal directionӔ to the Muslims) to torture and kill Christians;  that the destruction of places of worship belonging to other faiths is an obligation on all Muslims.

Now, we cannot ask others to refrain from equating terrorist activities carried out by criminals who call themselves Muslims with the religion of Islam as a whole if we fail to exercise the same niceties of thought in relation to other faiths. For example, there is an article by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood published in TAM in the August 2002 edition entitled ԓChristian Extremism. This is a critique of the religious attitudes of born-again Christian Fundamentalists in the USA. The article makes many telling points about the bigotry of such people, but if we want to say that ԓIslamic Extremism is an oxymoron, then so is the title of this article: ԓChristian Extremism, and it does no service to our cause to fall into the same traps into which our detractors have fallen.

There are even finer distinctions to be drawn here. We might recognise the distinction between ԓIslamic terrorist and ԓMuslim terrorist, but we might also want to say that a ԓMuslim terrorist is also an oxymoron, because a true Muslim can, by definition, never be a terrorist (i.e. one guilty of hirabah, or unholy war), in the same way as Islam, by definition, can never sanction such behavior. We then have to distinguish between the misleading phrase ԓMuslim terrorist and some such phrase as ԓcriminal terrorist who calls himself a Muslim.

This creates some semantic problems. Do we deny to such a person the label ԓMuslim because he has failed to live up to his faith, and, indeed, blatantly violated some its sacred principles?  He may have been born a Muslim and derive his identity from his faith despite his ignorance of its spiritual principles.

The logical consequence of this reasoning is to deny to anyone a faith-based identity who does not live up to the precepts of the faith or does not embody a completely idealized version of the faith he or she claims to follow. Ultimately then, are there any Muslims, Christians and Jews apart from the Prophets and Saints? 

One way round this is to understand that the QurԒan promises nothing to the Muslims, only to the mumin, the People of Faith, who may also be Jews, Sabeans and Christians, and, in fact, people of other faith communities too, given the fact that the QurҒan tells us that a Prophet has been sent to every human community and that We make no distinction between any of themӔ.

So, as we know, someone can call himself or herself a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew, but not embody iman, still less ihsan.

We might use this reasoning to assert that it therefore legitimate to speak of a Muslim terroristӔ (if not an Islamic terroristӔ) because our intention in so doing is not to fall into the trap of identifying Islam as a whole with terrorism but of identifying a particular terrorist as a Muslim. He may be a bad Muslim, but the fact is that he calls himself a Muslim, and is recognised as having that faith-based identity within the ummah. Such a distinction is useful in helping people to avoid the phrase Islamic terrorismӔ. It could be saying, look, he may call himself a Muslim, but he does not represent the religion of Islam.

Id say, however, that this is not enough. The phrase ғMuslim terrorist should be avoided for the same reason that the phrase ԓChristian terrorist should be avoided, Even if it is meant to refer to a particular individual claiming to be an adherent of a faith tradition, the tendency of the unrefined mind is to generalise, and the mere juxtaposition of the two words ԓMuslim and ԓterrorist, if repeated enough times, is sufficient to establish a general connection between them. Repetition of key phrases is the stock-in-trade of propagandists. Say ԓdefend our way of life or ԓhate our way of life enough times, and whether people have any clue at all about what that way of life is exactly supposed to be, they will be convinced that there must be something inherently good and fine about it and that other people are attacking it because they hate it or envy it.

Thus, while ԓIslamic terrorist is an indisputable oxymoron, ԓMuslim terrorist is and is not according to what you mean by ԓMuslim. However, even when it is not an oxymoron, it is still a pernicious phrase which gives rise, at the very least, to misleading associations. Such associations can be exploited in malicious ways to lead to wholesale persecution of whole communities, as we have seen in the case of the genocide by the Serbs in Bosnia. This process can be observed in the way that misleading associations are first strengthened by the repetition of certain phrases which become fixed, formulaic entities stripped of any real meaning. They become empty slogans or emotive incantations.  The next stage is that the associations harden into fixed beliefs about whole communities. The derogation of those communities can then develop into open persecution, and ultimately even wholesale genocide.

For these reasons alone, we should not stand for phrases such as ԓMuslim terrorist any more than we should stand for phrases such as ԓIslamic terrorist, ԓChristian terrorist, ԓIslamic extremist or ԓChristian extremist.


Part II

In this second part, I would like to expose the contradiction in terms (oxymoron) in the phrase ԓIslamic terrorism through an examination of the notions of ԓfear and ԓawe in the QurԒan. I will also try to connect up what this reveals with some underlying concepts in the English language so as to bring to light its universal significance. At the same time, I will also expose the oxymoron in the phrase Islamic extremismӔ.

The verses in Quran 8:2-4 on the qualities of the faithful open with the clear connection between faith and awe of God. Here are four versions by different translators:

The faithful are those whose hearts tremble with awe whenever God is mentioned.
(Helminski) 

Believers are only they whose hearts tremble with awe whenever God is mentioned.  (Muhammad Asad)

Those only are believers, who when God is mentioned, their hearts quake.  (Arberry)

For, believers, are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts.  (Yusuf Ali) 

Now consider QurҒan 2:2 in the versions by Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Asad and their respective notes:

This is the Book; In it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah;  (Yusuf Ali)

Taqwa, and the verbs and nouns connected with the root, signify: (1) the fear of Allah, which, according to the writer of Proverbs (1. 7) in the Old Testament, is the beginning of Wisdom; (2) restraint, or guarding ones tongue, hand, and heart from evil; (3) hence righteousness, piety, good conduct. All these ideas are implied: in the translation, only one or other of these ideas can be indicated, according to the context. (Yusuf Ali).

This Divine WritҖlet there be no doubt about it is meant to be a be a guidance for all the God-conscious (Muhammad Asad)

֓A guidance for all the God-conscious: the conventional translation of muttaqi as ԓGod-fearing does not adequately render the positive content of this expression, namely the awareness of His all-presence and the desire to mould oneԒs existence in the light of this awareness. The interpretation adopted by some translators, one who guards himself against evilӔ or one who is careful of his dutyӔ does not give more than one particular aspect of the concept of God-consciousness.Ӕ (Asad).

E.W. Lanes Arabic-English Lexicon defines the root of this word as meaning caution, being prepared, or guarded from punishment through righteous conduct, reverence, and pious fear. Other translations include ғgodliness, ԓvigilance and ԓalert concern to avoid the egoism, injustice and forgetfulness to which humankind is prone; and for muttaqi, ԓthe conscientious.

Taqwa therefore combines the sense of ԑ mindfulness, consciousness and awe of God with that of being vigilant in ґguarding oneself from whatever is spiritually negative or harmful. It is consciousness + conscience.

ғThe noblest, most honorable for you in the sight of God is the most advanced in taqwa. [49:13]

Like so many Arabic terms which describe the faculties of mankind, it combines the cognitive and moral dimensions. It is a faculty of mind-heart, neither wholly cognitive (in the sense of ԓmindfulness or ԓconsciousness) nor wholly moral (in the sense of guarding oneself through pious fear of retribution, or a pious intention to keep a clear conscience).

The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said: ԓWhat is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you. (Ahmad).

The phrase ԓholy awe combines many of the meanings, and also expresses what Muhammad Asad calls the ԓpositive content of the word by avoiding the use of the word ԓfear. 

It is a useful way of avoiding the simplistic opposition which is sometimes drawn between a ԓreligious and a ԓspiritual outlook. Some people say that a ԓreligious outlook can sometimes dwell in a negative and unhealthy way on sin, the wrath of a remote and all-powerful God, and fear of chastisement and retribution, whereas a ԓspiritual outlook tends to focus on positive blessings, such as GodԒs mercy and forgiveness, and the development of our awareness of the beauty and nearness of Gods Presence.

In QurҒan 3:28, God warns you to beware of Him.Ӕ  Note the English words beware and wary, which are also closely related to the words aware, warn, ward (as in ward off), warden, guard and guardian, and are probably also linked to the word revere.  This English concept, derived from the Indo-European root wer-  (To perceive, watch out for) expresses in a remarkable way much of the same semantic range as that of taqwa, giving further evidence of the existence of universal, primordial concepts (the original Names) embedded in all human language.

The story of the Tower of Babel does not refer to the confusion caused by linguistic diversity, for the Quran makes it clear to us that the ғvariations in our colours and tongues is divinely ordained as an aspect of the sacred diversity with which all creation is imbued. The collapse into linguistic anarchy and mutual incomprehension on the Tower refers to the blindness of the heart (ԓit is not their eyes but their hearts which are blind) arising from zulm (wrong-doing, injustice, oppression), which destroys the Adamic understanding of the original divinely-conferred concepts which unite all human beings in the depths of their hearts (and which, to some extent, can be retrieved from existing languages Ԗ this process of reclamation is now the primary focus of my own work.).

(In Mathnawi, II, Rumi tells the story of four quarrelling travellers, a Persian, a Turk, an Arab, and a Greek, who argue about how best to spend a single coin, which was the only piece of money they had between them. They all desire grapes, but they do not realise this because each speaks a different language. A traveller hears them quarrelling and buys them a bunch of grapes. Everybody is in a state of yearning, because there is an inner need existing in all of us, a basic urge to remember our original state of unity, but we give it different names and have different ideas of what it may be.

The traveller-linguist in the story represents the sage, the man or woman of spiritual insight, who knows that the other travellers all yearn for the same thing. Such a person is the harmoniser or peacemaker, who is able to resolve the misunderstanding and strife between the travellers and fulfil all their needs with a single coin. The single coin is, of course, tawhid, the divine unity, which is the ground of all diversity.)

Returning to Quran 8:2, with which I began this essay, it tells us that the ғfaithful are those whose hearts ԓtremble or ԓquake or ԓfeel a tremor at the mention of God. 

In English, the word tremble is derived from an ancient root (hypothetical base *ter-)  which also gives us the words terror and tremendous.  The connection between these English words helps us to understand the nature of awe, and helps us to see why ԓthe fear of the elect resides in their awe of majesty, not in their fear of chastisement. The QurԒan refers again and again to Allah as Al-Azim, often translated as The TremendousӔ.  Muhammad Asad translates the last words of ayat al-kursi as He alone is truly exalted, tremendousӔ.

Using a Concordance to explore verses in the Quran which include words meaning fear or awe, we can find words derived from the following roots: KHWF, RHB, WQY. (My rudimentary Arabic forces me to use the very expensive Concordance of the QurҒan in English by Hanna Kassis, University of California Press. In his Foreword to this monumental work, Fazlur Rahman writes that the main distinction of Hanna KassisӒs concordanceis that it utilizes the semantic structure of Arabic vocabulary itself in revealing the meaning of the QurŒanŔ)

This exploration discovers these verses, amongst others:

KHWF  
I fear God (akhafullah); and God is terrible in retribution (8:48)

RHB
He is only One God; so have awe (farhabun) of Me (16:51)

And when Mosesђ wrath was stilled, he took up the tablets, in the writing whereof there was guidance and grace for all who stood in awe of (yarhabun) their Sustainer (7:154)

WQY
And fear Me (wattaquni), you who are wise! (2:197)
Muhammad Asad translates this as Remain, then, conscious of Me, O you who are endowed with insight.

Notice that in 7:155, after Moses has taken up the tablets and chosen out of his people seventy men to come [and pray for forgiveness]Ӕ, they were seized by violent tremblingӔ. Muhammad Asad here rejects the usual interpretation of the word raifah to mean earthquakeӔ, assuming that the violent trembling which seized the seventy elders was caused by their intense regret and fear of GodӒs punishment.
.
Some people maintain that a ԓreligious outlook can sometimes dwell in a negative and unhealthy way on sin, the wrath of a remote and all-powerful God, and fear of chastisement and retribution, whereas a ԓspiritual outlook tends to focus on positive blessings, such as GodԒs mercy and forgiveness, and the development of our awareness of the beauty and nearness of Gods Presence.

This distinction reflects the difference between Apophatic and Cataphatic Theology. (I attach as a supplement below some earlier work of mine exploring this difference).

In brief, Apophatic theology could be defined in terms of Arabic Tanzih (ғincomparability) Ԗ Utterly remote is God, in His limitless glory, from anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity!Ӕ (Quran 59:23).

It therefore inclines towards Majesty, Justice (Severity) and Wrath, rather than Beauty and Mercy.

Cataphatic Theology could be defined in terms of Arabic Tashbih (ғsimilarity) Ԗ i.e. God closer to you than your jugular veinӔ (Quran 50:16).

It therefore inclines towards Beauty and Mercy rather than Majesty and Justice, and towards diversity rather than singularity.

Complete faith draws on both Majesty and Beauty, Awe and Intimacy, Transcendence and Immanence, Incomparability (tanzih) and Similarity (tashbih). The Cross symbolizes this: the Perfect Human Being as intersection between the vertical (transcendent) and horizontal (immanent).
There is a need at this time to emphasise the beautiful and merciful aspects of Islam (as embodied in Sufism) as a counterbalance or corrective to the over-emphasis on tanzih (i.e. apophatic theology) which, in its most extreme and distorted form, gives rise to oppressive religious fundamentalism, bigotry, legalistic severity, hudud punishments, theocracy, absolutism, religious intolerance and persecution, and ultimately terrorism in the name of religion. After all, His Mercy precedes His Wrath, so it could even be upheld that the balance is itself loaded in the direction of tashbih, or in the direction of the via positiva over the via negativa. It has even been said that GodҒs wrath is but one grain of sand in a Desert full of Mercy, Forgiveness and Beneficence. The challenge is to apply these correctivesӔ and inclinationsӔ in order to restore the balance between cataphasisӔ and apophasisӔ without bending so far in either direction so as to become one-sidedӔ.
This, I believe, is also the challenge for progressiveӔ Muslims today, as much as it is a challenge for the authoritarianӔ ones. Or rather, it might be more fairly stated that the challenge for the authoritarian ones is greater, because it is they who have disproportionately emphasized tanzih to such a degree that they have unbalanced Islam, confusing divine immutability with human immovability, rigidity and fixity, and divine authority with human authoritarianism.
The divine trust in the human being to hold to the mizan (balance) is reiterated in the definition of Muslims in the Quran as ғa community of the middle way (2: 143), suggesting, according to Muhammad Asad, ԓa call to moderation in every aspect of life.
That is why ԓIslamic extremism is an oxymoron, even if there are extremists who call themselves Muslims.
Pulling all this together, we can see why ԓIslamic terrorism is an oxymoron. In Islam, only Allah is Al-Azim, ԓtremendous. Only Allah causes a ԓtremor of ԓawe so that our hearts ԓquake -  that awe of majesty which goes beyond fear of chastisement. It goes beyond fear because it is always shot through with a sense of beauty and holiness and with the faith that His Mercy precedes His Wrath, and that He longs to forgive us. Ultimately, though spiritual practice and the Grace of Allah, this faith is transformed into certitude (yaqin).

The terrorist evokes no awe, and shows no mercy. He has neither Majesty nor Beauty, for there is no Majesty which is not in itself an aspect of the Divine Beauty, and no Severity which is not in itself an aspect of the Divine Mercy. He is therefore starkly devoid of all human attributes. He evokes only fear and terror. He misappropriates for himself the divine Compulsion of Al-Jabbar and the divine Tremendousness of Al-Azim.

Incidentally, we might legitimately use the word ԓShock (i.e. Blitzkrieg) to describe military tactics, but to use the word ԓawe is a blasphemy in the same way that the use of the word jihad to describe terrorist violence is a blasphemy.

And there is another side to this too. The war against terrorism is now called the ԓwar on terror. Terror is a state of ԓextreme fear, a state within oneself, not necessarily caused by any outside agency. Those who feel this ԓterror and those who are waging a war against it must look to their own hearts to try to find its source within themselves, but they must also expose the calculated way in which their political masters intensify and exploit their fears for political power, military supremacy and material gain.

If there is any external cause, any ԓorganised system of intimidation (for that is how my dictionary defines ԓterrorism), we might find it in many quarters, not only in the terrorist cells of extremists who have betrayed their faith, but also in the systems of Western states which seek economic and military supremacy, and who cloak their designs by intimidating and silencing their own citizens with spectres of terror. To paraphrase the X-Files, ԓThe fear is out there.

But whatever it is, it is not Islamic terrorism or Islamic extremism.  Islam, like all world faiths, is a cure for zulm, not its cause. But it is not enough simply to protest about such oxymorons. Muslims must demonstrate, by their words and actions, that ԓIslamic terrorism is a contradiction in terms. They must use all their intelligence to do so, to persuade others of the truth of what they say through articulating it in the finest manner, and, in the spirit of the greater jihad, they must continually improve their own character so as to exemplify that truth in their behavior and actions.

In the light of this, we might regard such oxymorons as a God-given opportunity for Muslims to prove themselves to their detractors, and to bring to light the Majesty and Beauty of Islam to the whole world.

St. Michel de Montjoie
France
20 October 2005

APPENDIX

CATAPHATIC AND APOPHATIC THEOLOGY

Cataphatic Theology describes God positively according to what He has revealed of Himself to humanity in Scripture and nature. The word comes from the Greek preposition kata meaning ԓdown from or ԓdown into.  The word ԓphatic comes from Greek phasis (ԓutterance) and refers to communication which expresses feelings rather than propositions. In fact, most human communication is ԓphatic, not propositional Ԗ that it, it seeks to establish relationships rather than to convey ideas. One of the characteristics of autism and the societal or cultural version of this malady which is distinguished by isolationism - is a deficit in phatic communication.

According to the cataphatic perspective, God can be known to humans through what He manifests of Himself in His Signs, which is another way of saying that humans can experience a direct relationship with God.

Cataphatic Theology could be defined in terms of Arabic tashbih (֓similarity) Ԗ i.e. God closer to you than your jugular veinӔ (Quran 50:16).

It therefore inclines towards Beauty and Mercy rather than Majesty and Justice, and towards diversity rather than singularity.

Apophatic Theology, on the other hand, considers God as totally beyond human understanding and language. To emphasize the ғotherness of God, this system only defines God negatively in terms of what He is not. The word comes from the Greek preposition apo meaning ԓfrom or ԓaway from (as in the word apostate).  Apophatic theology sees God as wholly apart and remote from mankind and indescribable in human terms, for human language is only capable of describing what God is not. 

Apophatic theology could be defined in terms of Arabic tanzih (ԓincomparability) Ԗ Utterly remote is God, in His limitless glory, from anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity!Ӕ (Quran 59:23).

It therefore inclines towards Majesty and Justice (Severity) rather than Beauty and Mercy.

The two poles can also be characterised as the two poles of gender Җ feminine (tashbih intimacy) and masculine (tanzih ֖ remoteness). Imbalances in gender relations occur in both situations where either tanzih ot tashbih is disproportionately emphasized. Hence, the oppression of women where tanzih is over-emphasised in many Muslim societies (and hence Amina Waduds rebellion), but also the oppression of women in other ways where tashbih is overemphasised to such an extent that differences between the sexes are obliterated and feminine attributes no longer valued. By over-emphasizing incomparability (tanzih, apophasis), the positive ғseparation between men and women which is the fundamental polarity in Creation becomes an oppressive inequity, but by over-emphasizing similarity (tashbih, cataphasis), the positive ԓidentity between men and women can become an oppressive uniformity which denies to each their dissimilarity.

The metaphor of gender relations is perhaps the best way to understand the distinction between cataphasis and apophasis. But ultimately the synthesis of the two principles can only occur in the Heart through Spiritual Insight (basirah, albab) and Love.

Complete faith draws on both Majesty and Beauty, Awe and Intimacy, Transcendence and Immanence, Incomparability (tanzih) and Similarity (tashbih). The Cross symbolizes this: the Perfect Human Being as intersection between the vertical (transcendent) and horizontal (immanent).

My own understanding of Islam is that it teaches me to strive to find the balance between tashbih and tanzih so that we abide in the paradox that God is simultaneously ԓcloser to you than your jugular vein and yet ԓutterly remote in His limitless glory. The QurԒan tells us that everything He created in pairsӔ and that the two sexes incline towards one anotherӔ.

In other words, Islam for me is a spiritual path which inclines neither disproportionately to cataphatic theology nor to apophatic theology. The Muslim (as the true human being) stands upright (Arabic root QWM, which gives us istaqama and mustaqim) in a vertical position. It is true that in Islam (as in all religions) there are different inclinationsӔ according to the needs of specific individuals and communities, some favoring tashbih and others favoring tanzih, and there is a need at this time to emphasise the beautiful and merciful aspects of Islam (as embodied in Sufism) as a counterbalance or corrective to the over-emphasis on tanzih (i.e. apophatic theology) which, in its most extreme and distorted form, gives rise to oppressive religious fundamentalism, bigotry, legalistic severity, hudud punishments, theocracy, absolutism, religious intolerance and persecution, and ultimately terrorism in the name of religion.  After all, His Mercy precedes His Wrath, so it could even be upheld that the balance it itself loaded in the direction of tashbih. It has even been said that Gods wrath is but one grain of sand in a Desert full of Mercy, Forgiveness and Beneficence. The challenge is to apply these ғcorrectives and ԓinclinations in order to restore the balance between ԓcataphasis and ԓapophasis without bending so far in either direction so as to become ԓone-sided.

This, I believe, is also the challenge for ԓprogressive Muslims today, as much as it is a challenge for the ԓauthoritarian ones. Or rather, it might be more fairly stated that the challenge for the authoritarian ones is greater, because it is they who have disproportionately emphasized tanzih to such a degree that they have unbalanced Islam, confusing divine immutability with human immovability and fixity, and divine authority with human authoritarianism.

Dr. Crane has proposed a reassessment of Teilhard de Chardin, but it seems to me that he is a prime example of the other kind of imbalance: of precedence so disproportionately attributed to tashbih, that he is no longer interested in God, but becomes swallowed up by the ԓbeauty of the world.  He makes this clear in his own confession: ԑ If in consequence of some inner subversion, I should lose successively my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the Spirit, it seems to me that I would continue to believe I the world. The world the value, the infallibility and the goodness of the world ֖ this is, in the last analysis, the first and only thing in which I believe.Ҕ

This is the statement of a man unbalanced by cataphasis, the statement of a man who believed in the infallibility of the world, not of God, faith in Whom can even be dispensed with, and his entire corpus is an attempt to subvert faith in God to a belief in the infallibility and pre-eminence of the world. As Titus Burckhardt says, the novelty of the thesis of Teilhard de Chardin lies in its being a Trojan horse to introduce materialism and progressivism into the very bosom of religionӔ. According to Teilhard, intelligence itself, including all that is deepest in it, all that is implicitly divine, is subject to change; it ӑevolves҅and thus it has no fixed and immutable contentӔ, an idea utterly at variance with the form and spirit of Christanity and with all religious faith. The immutableӔ content is, of course, the dimension of tanzih.


by courtesy &  2005 The American Muslim  republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.

 

 


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