I have often thought about the reasons for what seems to be unending turmoil in some Muslim communities. I can’t say that I have reached a clear answer–I doubt anyone has–but I do know that this is a question that occupies many, especially Muslims. Several possibilities are offered as explanations: the effects of colonization, the secularization of societies, conflict between tradition and modernity, and so on. However, Ali Allawi suggests in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that these factors only affect the outer world and that the real crisis lies in Islam’s inner world. Allawi’s article got my attention because he doesn’t discuss what he calls the outer world to the exclusion of the inner world; rather, he finds a way to show how both are intertwined. The fact that he is able to bring the two together is for me especially insightful because most discussions on this topic focus on one or the other, but never show the interplay between the two.
What Allawi calls the “outer world of Islam” is the political and social expressions of an “inner world of Islam” which corresponds to the spiritual and moral dimensions. The location for the former is societies, while for the latter it is the self and the individual. Rightly, Allawi points out that the rituals of worship (prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage) and the Shariah are supposed to be the intersecting point for both worlds. The ritual aspect is supposed to cultivate the inner dimension, which will then manifest itself in the outer dimension; and the Shariah is supposed to maintain the demands of the community as a whole based on “the search for a felicitous life, a harmonious and just society, and moral virtue, which in turn is a pathway to the Unseen.” There should be fluidity of movement between the two spaces as one without the other is empty. For Allawi, there is a crisis because the spiritual dimension is being overshadowed by the political and social dimensions and the rituals that should bridge the gap are being manipulated to “suit the demands of one or the other.”
Allawi highlights the fact that the challenge of dealing with the outer dimension–the legacy of colonialism and continued Western interference, for example–has forced Muslims to focus on survival. The solution to this will require a return to the ethical and spiritual foundations of Islam. If Muslims are able to do that, they will be able to address the particular challenges of Muslim communities worldwide. Allawi further emphasizes that what the West has accepted in terms of conceding the public sphere to secularism rather than religion may not be an option for an Islamic civilization. Rather, what is needed is reformulating a framework that is based on the principles of justice, ethics, and morality outlined in the Qur’an, a framework that strikes a balance between these two worlds of Islam. This is the challenge for all Muslims.
Allawi’s argument recognizes the complexity of the situation and moves away from reductive positions to explain the current situation. Moreover, he does not suggest at any point that these obstacles are impossible to overcome but makes it clear that work needs to be done. His article is a refreshingly insightful intervention.
What do you think is the cause of the crisis in Muslim communities? How do you think it can be alleviated? Does spirituality have a role? Please leave your comments.