One of the things that makes me proud to be a Muslim is that, whenever I visit a local mosque or pop into one of the Muslim bookshops which pepper the Yorkshire landscape, or indeed when I pick up a Muslim book, journal or newspaper, I am overwhelmed by the vigour and quality and openness surrounding debates over the relationship between God and humanity, the interpretation of the Qur’an, the nature of prophecy, the contemporary relevance of the Shari'ah, the validity of hadith literature, the value and purpose of salah, and even intrafaith and interfaith dialogue.
Okay, you can stop laughing now. The question is – why is this not true? There are various arguments as to why the above is a joke – the death of Ibn Rushd and with him the intellectual debate between Semitic and Hellenistic worldviews; an authoritarian ulama, who blocked the introduction of the printing press, thus stymieing debate within the Muslim world; and colonialism, and the subsequent upsurge of reactionary Muslim movements.
Of course, it aint just Islam which is having problems with its religious thinking. Mimetic, dogmatic and reactionary religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy are prevelant in Christianity and Judaism, too, but arguably intellectual dissidence is easier if you belong to these faiths. The postmodern Christian theologian who argued that the Crucifixion was the actual killing of God was not arrested for his views, which is more than can be said for the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz(?), who in one book had God invite someone to Paradise in order to kill Him (and then arranged for an angel to say thanks afterwards!)
Fortunately, there are Muslims who appear to be challenging the intellectual torpor that has dominated Muslim thinking for too long. Visionaries like Mohammed Arkoun, who is quoted in the header of my alter eblog, aNaRcHo AkBaR – despite his Franco-intellectual arrogance; thinkers like Ziauddin Sardar, steeped passionately in Muslim culture yet seasoned with a truth-seeker's scepticism, who inspires me and makes me laugh, and who seems to have attracted a host of admirers over the years; like Farid Esack, Amina Wadud, Sa’diyya Shaikh, Marcia Hermansen, Scott Kugle and Ebrahim Moosa. Some are closer to the mainstream Ahl as-Sunnah wa-Jama’at scholarship such as Khaled Abou El Fadl; others, such as those linked to Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern world (ISIM), work for knowledge within secular academic disciplines.
Yet I look down at the editorial of the latest edition of the UK Muslim Weekly, and see a leading US Scientific collective described as "witch-finders" for defending the theory of evolution. I have to confess, I am approaching an equally dogmatic position in my litmus test for ‘Muslims who are worth talking to’. It’s very simple – if you hate gays, and if you think Harun Yahya is a great thinker rather than a cheap polemicist, you fail the test!