And God Knows the Soldiers: The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses



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Khaled Abou El Fadl Url: http://www.law.ucla.edu/Faculty/Bios/abouelfadl/
Excerpt Source: Khaled Abou El Fadl, “And God Knows the Soldiers: The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses”, (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001), pg. 1-22
Chapter 1
The Short Legacy of a Short Book: Justification and Confession
My wife Grace deserves all the credit, or blame, for the re-publication of this book. While I very much hoped that it would remain in print, I could not overcome the sense of relentless exhaustion that the very thought of this book induced in me. It seems that

this work had consumed a good chunk of my life for the past four years. A book that started out as a statement of protest and longing turned out to be a taxing intellectual voyage. For these past years, I have been coping with suspicions, censorship, and a

healthy dose of marginalization. So when Grace suggested that this work should stay in print, I shrugged my shoulders and resigned to the comforts of lethargy. But Grace wrote the book proposal to University Press of America, and presented me with reviews, comments, and, eventually, the book contract. In many ways, considering my lack of initiative, she should be writing this preface, but she declined to do so and instead asked me to explain the reasons for my indolence.
This book has had a long and arduous history. In 1996, a Muslim basketball player refused to stand up for the American national anthem and the ensuing controversy

inspired the writing of this book. But this book is rooted in a much longer and more complicated dynamic. Growing up in the Middle East, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand some of the most remarkable transformations in the intellectual history of

contemporary Islam. I grew up surrounded by what in retrospect seem to have been adolescent dreams of the re-birth of the Islamic Civilization-a Civilization that was going to be the beacon of freedom, justice, and dignity. This Civilization was going to recreate

the dignity and beauty of the Prophet's experience in Medina. None of the ideas were concrete, but there was a sense that the pioneers of the early twentieth century, such as Rashid Rida (d. 1354/1935) and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1323/1905), had paved the road for the coming of an Islamic renaissance. I was well aware of the impact of the shameful 1967 defeat upon Arab Muslims, but my family and teachers often asserted that the 1967 defeat proved the futility of Pan-Arab nationalism, and that the only plausible recourse was to return to Islamic authenticity. One was weaned on the ideas of Jalall Kishk who argued that the significance of the 1967 military defeat paled in comparison to the spiritual or intellectual defeat. The most dangerous threat was not foreign military

dominance, but the external cultural invasion that persuaded Muslims to distrust the coherence or validity of their Islamic heritage. The real struggle was not territorial or military but cultural and civilizational. Whether it be Marxism, communism, secularism, capitalism or liberalism -- these are alien cultural categories designed to undermine and

dissipate Islamic intellectual autonomy and worth. It is important to note, however, that this intellectual orientation was not introspective --it was far more interested in asserting independence from the "other" than in exploring the reality of this independence. There were rather interesting assumptions that informed the idea of the Islamic Civilization, but the source of these assumptions were rarely explored. For instance, one grew up with the conviction that Islam liberated women and afforded them full and equal rights, that Islam is fundamentally egalitarian and democratic in orientation, and that social justice is

a basic Islamic value. Adhering to these assumptions was an act of resistance to the onslaught of cultural invasions coming from the East and West. Cultural invaders sought to persuade Muslims that the Islamic cultural heritage is inferior and defective, and that

it is incapable of fulfilling the higher values of humanity.


This period of relative intellectual delusional repose was short-lived. Arab Muslims were approaching an age when the relative liberalism of Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida would be considered heretical. The paradigms of the cultural autonomists were being

turned against them-an age where caring about values such as gender equality, social justice, or democracy would be considered proof of "selling out" and of adopting the categories of the colonizer. I, like many other Muslims, experienced the euphoria of the 1973 war and the unrelenting "let-down" in its aftermath.


It was not a clear victory, and perhaps not a victory at all, over Israel, and in retrospect it increasingly looked like a mass sacrifice of life primarily to facilitate a shift from the Soviet to the American camp. The 1973 war turned out to be a financial windfall to the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Gulf, and to the corrupt elites of Egypt. Events after

the 1973 war followed with dazzling, and demoralizing, speed. Oil prices spiraled upwards in 1973, the Lebanese Civil war started in 1975, the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat started implementing his Open Door policy in 1975 and eventually signed the Camp David accords in 1978, Afghanistan was invaded in 1979, the Iranian Revolution was ignited in the same year, Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the Islamists were massacred in Syria in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in the same year, and the short-lived democratic

experiment in Egypt came to an end at the hands of Sadat, the supposed pioneer of democracy, shortly before his assassination in 1981. All these events disabused even the most dauntless person of any sense of security or assuredness about the future. The highs

and lows were too many and too frequent. Especially after the sharp rise in oil prices, the puritan ideology of Wahhabism, one suspects, funded by Saudi money, started spreading in the Muslim world. The same period of the late seventies and early eighties witnessed the proliferation of what became known as al-tatarruf al dini (religious extremism), especially in the Arabic speaking world.


Colonialism has played a major role in displacing the traditional institutions of authority and legitimacy in the Muslim world. But the above series of events, systematically demolished whatever institutions had emerged in the post-Colonial period. In retrospect, it seems that every institution or thought that one had once believed in or trusted had crumbled. In this intellectual vacuum, puritanism and religious extremism found ample space for growth. The puritanism of the late 1970s and 1980s reflected a rabid hostility to all forms of academic social knowledge or critical intellectualism. However, this hostility was not directed only at Western or Eastern social and political theories, but at the Islamic intellectual tradition as well. Classical intellectual orientations such as Mu'tazilism, Ash'arism, Maturidism, the whole juristic tradition of disputation and deductive reasoning, and the theology of Sufism were considered an aberration and corruption. The only true and real Islam was the Islam of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah – a hopelessly vague label referring to those who follow the true Sunnah of the Prophet and the true practice of the real Muslims. For example, one of the often-quoted Prophetic traditions in this period was one that asserted that close to the end of time, Islam will split into 73 sects and that all of them will end in Hellfire except for one --the one that embodies the true Islam. Presumably, the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah is this one group. A fundamental component of this puritan trend was the belief that the real Islam was practiced at the time of the Prophet, the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, and the fifth Rightly Guided Caliphate of Umar b. Abd al Aziz (r. 99/717 - 102/720). The balance of Islamic history was a corruption because pre-modern Muslims got into the habit of engaging in intellectual sophistry, divided into schools of thought, and split into competing points of view. In many ways, the puritanical thinking of organizations such as Jama'at Ansar al-Sunnah, al-Jama'at al-Islamiyyah, and Jam'iyyat al-Islah was

far more devastating to the legitimacy and authority of the Islamic intellectual heritage than the vulgar ravishings of Colonialism. Colonialism exemplified the oppression and hostility of the outsider, but post-colonial puritanism posed a far more subtle and difficult challenge to the legitimacy of the Islamic intellectual heritage.


The Wahhabi school of thought, empowered by its newfound wealth, was easily accommodated by the anti-intellectual and ahistorical trends of the late 1970s and 1980s. In fact, I believe it is fair to say that by the 1990s Wahhabism had become the dominant

system of thought in the Muslim world.


The Wahhabism of the post-1975 period, although puritan, does not advocate austerity or asceticism. In many ways, Wahhabism is the ultimate form of religiously sanctioned consumerism. There is very little in Wahhabi theological works about the evils of

materialism or the condemnation of wealth. In effect, Wahhabism proved well suited for an era that had witnessed the steady retreat of Marxist and Socialist ideologies and the proliferation of consumer and service-based economies in the Muslim World. Conducting trade and commerce is regarded as a high moral value in Wahhabi thought partly because the Prophet himself was a merchant. In Wahhabi thought, material luxury and the consumption of the commercial products of non-Muslims is not reproachable in any sense. However, importing any of the social or political institutions of non-Muslims is considered immoral. Furthermore, buying and using the commercial products of non-Muslims is not considered a form of emulating the West, yet importing ideas related to

such issues as gender relations, social justice, political power, or even critical methods of analysis are strongly condemned as following in the footsteps of the infidel. As far as religion is concerned, Wahhabism advocates simplicity of belief, and correctness of practice. Hence, most issues related to religion can and should be reduced to a simple and single answer. Wahhabi thought also exhibits an extreme form of distrust of all forms of social theory, and considers intellectualism a form of devilish sophistry. Importantly, unlike other Islamic ideologies, Wahhabism is an ideology of political pacifism - there is very little emphasis on the ideal of the Caliphate or correct government. Rebellion against a government that implements the positive law of Islam is forbidden even if this government perpetuates social or economic injustice.
One of the most traumatic aspects of the spread of this form of puritanism was its attitude and treatment of women. As if Muslim men were projecting their feelings of disempowerment and defeat upon women, one witnessed a concerted attempt to exclude women from all facets of public life. Puritan movements appropriated women's dignity into a symbol of honor for men. Men were empowered - or felt empowered - if

they could guard "their" honor. Furthermore, the social and cultural defeat of Muslims was displaced upon women, so that the visible role of women in society became a symbol for the dominance of Western cultural paradigms. Ironically, the television set, the VCR, the satellite dish, and the mobile telephone were manifestations of modernity and progress, but a woman revealing her hair or shaking hands with men was a symbol of cultural defeat. In some of its more vulgar forms, the puritan trend blamed women for God's abandonment of Muslims and the ensuing Muslim predicaments in the modern world. It is because of the promiscuity of women, and their flouting of their sexual charms, so the argument went, that corruption spread in society, and this angered God to the point of allowing Muslims to be at the mercy of their enemies. Part of this dynamic was the associating of any position that restricts the movement or visibility of women with the "true" Islam. Any argument that reached contrary conclusions became associated with the Westernizing and corrupting of Islam. Most importantly, any attempt to read or interpret Islamic sources in a way that granted greater freedom to women, by definition, became illegitimate and was dismissed as the product of idolizing the West. On the other hand, any position that restricted or excluded women even if unsupported by text or legal precedent was considered, by definition, Islamic.


I am not claiming that many of these prejudices were not already embedded in Arab Muslim culture. Even puritanism does not emerge from a cultural vacuum. Nevertheless, the discourses of puritanism were discourses of privilege and alienation. Puritanism stood in a self-proclaimed privileged position judging the living history and culture of Arab Muslims. Armed with its construct of the true Islam, it stood in a position of privilege judging the authenticity and validity of the historical legacy and the experienced culture of other Muslims. The effect of this dynamic was a profound sense of alienation from everything collectively remembered or experienced. Both the remembered and the experienced represented paradigms of corruption and deviation that could not be endorsed without a degree of defensiveness. As such, puritanism constructed both history and society as the externalized other, but this other was not to be studied or analyzed. Rather, this "other" had to be cleansed and transformed-the other had to be persuaded, forcefully if need be, to understand the extent of his deviation.
The puritan, and Wahhabi, propaganda left an unrelenting sense of alienation and illegitimacy. The books that one grew up reading, the music that accompanied the various stages of one's life, and the cloth that one's family and friends grew up wearing were declared part of the insignia that proclaims a person's lack of Islamicity. The puritans taught that, if one grew up listening to the Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum, the whole foundation of one's upbringing was un-Islamic. If one grew up reading the books of Islamic theology and law, one had to contend with the realization that the juristic tradition, for the most part, was a corruption. Similarly, clapping the hands in public events, standing up to respect teachers or elders, shaking hands with women, drinking any liquid while standing up, instead of sitting, socializing with family members without segregating the men from women, reading novels, owning a razor blade, playing chess-all of this was considered a corrupt innovation (bid'ah). If one performed his prayers at home, that was considered insufficient and corrupt because all five prayers had to be performed in the mosque with a full congregation. Even the headscarf that one's mother, grandmother, and great grandmother wore, and the color of their clothing were all deviations from the true Islam. For instance, one of the noticeable developments in the history of contemporary Islam is the streamlining and standardizing of headscarf styles

and colors of clothing throughout the urban centers of the Muslim world. Significantly, studying with Sufi scholars or Azhari jurists was considered a sign of indulging in superstition or succumbing to the temptations of disputation and scholasticism, both of

which were considered deviations from the one and true Islam. The point is that it was becoming very difficult to be religious without having to justify and defend every culturally sanctioned practice. A religious person was forced to feel alienated from his

culture, tradition, and the inherited wisdom of the generations. The only authenticity existed in books transmitting anecdotal reports about the Prophet and the Companions. But in order for this "authenticity" to remain pure and untainted all forms of critical

historical or contextual analysis had to be rejected. Context only interfered with the purity and intangibility of the vision of the true Islam - context forced the vision to deal with the messiness of history and tainted the purity of the ideal with the filth of reality. Ultimately, puritanism privileged itself with the knowledge of the true Islam, and cast all else, including the juristic tradition, into the illegitimate other. In this sense, it is fair to say that the puritan experience, which continues to thrive to this day, like the Colonial experience has been quintessentially an experience of profound alienation from any sense of rooted identity.
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I came to the United States about twenty years ago. I was fortunate enough to have internalized an ethos that was quickly vanishing in the Arab world. This is not the place to engage in a full description of the nature of this ethos, except to say that it was, in part, apologetic. However, it was also immersed in the juristic tradition of disputation, ppinions, and schools of thought. The jurists with whom I studied were masters of the dusty yellow-books (al-kutub al-safra), who, at the time, believed that the puritanism of the Wahhabis was a marginal and passing phase. They were quite wrong. The ethos of which I speak celebrated and reveled in the search for the Divine Way. The search, the study-the process of pondering, weighing, and balancing was considered the ultimate act of worship ('ibadah). The engagement of the intellect in searching the Divine Way was

invariably superior to the engagement of the body in treading the Divine Way. True piety manifested in the search for knowledge (talab al-ilm) -- this piety then affirmed by the physical acts of prayer, fasting, and so on. Importantly, finding the correct answer to

any juristic problem was not considered a part of the act of worship ('ibadah). Finding the correct answer, if one existed, was considered a gift and blessing from God to be humbly enjoyed as long as it exists.
The United States, at least for me, represented a further opportunity for pondering, weighing, and balancing, and for exploring the outer limits of thought. The air of unfettered freedom to think and write in the United States, without fear of arrest or

torture, was nothing short of exhilarating. Of course, in the same way that my teachers back home had underestimated the power of Wahhabism in the Arab world, I had over-estimated the commitment of the United States to freedom. But there was another

reality that I had grossly misunderstood in the United States, and that is the role and reality of the Muslim movement in the United States. Naively, I had assumed that the freedoms afforded in the United States, and the relative absence of political persecution, would allow for a Muslim intellectual re-birth. After all, one grew up hearing his teachers repeat the vacuous statement, "In the Arab world there are Muslims but no Islam, and in the West there is Islam but no Muslims," -- meaning that the West lived by and implemented the core values of Islamic justice.
Instead, what one found among Muslims in the United States was a remarkably arid intellectual climate. Far from freeing themselves from the burdensome baggage of

their homelands, American Muslims reflected all the predicaments of their countries of origin, but in a sharply exasperated and pronounced form. By the 1990s, the same puritanism that was overcoming many parts of the Muslim world had become quite prevalent among American Muslims. For a variety of reasons, this puritanism was well suited for the American context-for a beleaguered minority searching for a sense of distinctiveness and autonomy, it provided a simple, straightforward, and aspirational dogma. Furthermore, it distracted this minority from its fears and worries about assimilation and loss of identity, with the comforting assuredness of privilege and distinctiveness. It dangled the ideal of the true, purified, and irreproachable Islam before the eyes of this minority providing American Muslims with the means to escape confronting their intellectual and sociological insignificance. Furthermore, this ideal

functioned as a tranquilizing narcotic alleviating the anxieties of a minority living in a society that suffers from what is at times an intense Islamophobia.
In addition, and perhaps most significantly, the Wahhabi brand of puritanism, in particular, has found a great deal of acceptance in a community that suffers from a fairly superficial knowledge of the Islamic intellectual tradition. The immigrant Muslim community in the United States is comprised largely of professionals who immigrated to the United States primarily for economic reasons. There are no serious Muslim institutions of higher learning, and the field of Islamic Studies does not attract the brightest Muslims. The few Muslims who do become accomplished in Islamic Studies are often perceived by the Muslim community to be a part of the secular paradigm, and

are, therefore, alienated and marginalized.


Once in the West, Muslims struggle to be rooted in a tradition, and Wahhabi puritanism offers a convenient, easy, and effective package. The package roots the Muslim in an irreproachable ideal that fits well in a social context that treats religious practice as an

extracurricular activity. One could be an objectified professional in the day practicing "real life" in one manner, and go to the mosque on the weekends to practice his extracurricular activity in an entirely different manner. Therefore, one could work and talk to non-Muslim women during the day, but insist that the voice of women should not be heard in an Islamic center or that women sit behind a curtain when attending an Islamic lecture. Furthermore, a woman may sit in the front of the class when attending a lecture in her university, but must sit in the back of the room, if there is no curtain, when attending a lecture in an Islamic center. This bifurcated morality is partly facilitated by the Wahhabi perception that since Islamic law does not apply to non-Muslims, the

corruptions and deviations of non-Muslims are not immoral. Law defines morality, and since the law does not apply to non-Muslims, there is no morality that can be said to apply to them. Islamic law and morality, however, bind Muslims, and so what can be

tolerated, when dealing with non-Muslims, cannot be tolerated when dealing with Muslims. But more importantly, this bifurcation of ethos is further facilitated by the relatively undemanding standards for authoritativeness in Wahhabi thought, and by what

might be called the accommodation of segmented thinking. Having, for the most part, freed itself from the Islamic intellectual heritage, the bar for inclusion in the realm of the authoritative is quite low in Wahhabi thought. All that is really needed to become authoritative is a working knowledge of the Qur'an, a selective reading of some works on hadith (the traditions attributed to the Prophet), and the internalization of the conceptual ideal of the "true" Islam. One need not think about such things as natural or inherent rights, or innate notions of dignity or common sense, because all the rights, dignity, and

common sense to which one is entitled is given by Islamic law. Islamic law, which speaks for God, alleviates the need to burden oneself with such imponderables. But in a circular fashion, Islamic law is defined by reference to the ideal prototype of the

true Islam. For instance, if a report states that the Prophet took a woman by the hand and sat with her on the side of the road, this necessarily clashes with the ideal. According to the ideal, the Prophet would not touch a woman and would not talk to her one on

one. Therefore, either this report is unauthentic, or it was later abrogated by God, or the woman was not Muslim. An inquiry into the actual historical context is unnecessary and misleading because ultimately it is a form of interpretive sophistry. Thus, knowing the

parameters of the prototype for the true Islam is necessary for candidacy in the realm of the authoritative. Furthermore, internalizing the relevant Qur'anc verses and Prophetic traditions is crucial for attaining the qualifications for authoritativeness. Relevancy, of course, is defined in terms of the prototype of the true Islam – Quranic verses or Prophetic traditions that destabilize the prototype are simply ignored. This amounts to a

remarkably egalitarian rule of accessibility to moral authority -- anyone with a minimal amount of study may easily become an authority in "true" Islamicity. Therefore, becoming authoritative does not need specialization, and authoritativeness is attainable

and exercisable as an extracurricular activity. The second aspect, what I referred to as segmented thinking, is closely related to the first. The law, in Wahhabi thought, not only differentiates right from wrong, but it also defines beauty, common sense, reasonableness, and rationality. In many ways, the law does not define these values, but renders them redundant and unnecessary. By definition, what is required by Islamic law is reasonable, sensible, beautiful, and moral, and therefore, any independent inquiry into these values is redundant because if the inquiry does not reach the same conclusion that

Islamic law reaches then the inquiry is flawed. For example, part of the Wahhabi conception of Islamic correctness mandates that if a husband asks his wife to make herself sexually available for his enjoyment, she must consent unless she is physically ill.

Therefore, according to the Wahhhabi approach, this position is moral, beautiful, reasonable, and sensible by virtue of the fact that the law mandates it. Having precluded the need for an inquiry into normative values, each law or set of laws can create its own

category of obligations without any regard to the overall coherence or reasonableness of a human being's life. In this context, segmentation means the dividing of the activities and feelings of a human being into neat and separate categories with each category creating a set of obligations and eliciting a set of responses without recognizing either the need nor the legitimacy of inquiring into the relationship between the various categories. One set of rules apply to being at work or school, a different set of rules apply to being in an Islamic center, and yet a different set of rules apply to dealing with one's family. There is no reason to inquire whether how one acts at work is consistent with how one acts in an

Islamic center. Furthermore, one set of rules could apply to men and a very different set could apply to women. An inquiry into fairness, equality, consistency, decency, or compassion is futile and unnecessary. The law has already taken care of all of that.
One of the most noticeable effects of puritanism, especially of the Wahhabi variety, on Muslims in the United States has been its impact on Muslim women. The easiest and most effective way to prove one's legitimacy as an authority is to articulate rules that

are restrictive for women. For instance, I recall that in one of the Islamic centers in the United States a fellow was invited to lecture to the congregation. The men were separated from the women with a wall. Before commencing his lecture, the fellow noticed that the door separating the women's quarter from the men's was open. Two women were in that quarter and unable to hear the lecture, so they opened the door and sat behind it so that they would not be visible to the men. Nevertheless, the lecturer insisted that the door be closed in order to foreclose any possibility of sexual enticement (fitnah). It is highly unlikely that this lecturer was actually sexually aroused, or that he thought that he might be aroused, by the idea of two veiled women sitting behind an open door. Furthermore, this lecturer and his congregation of men, who coincidentally agreed with him, lived, studied, or worked in the United States. Nonetheless, sexual enticement was not the issue --even these men are not so weak. The issue was an exercise of power to acquire authenticity and legitimacy according to the paradigms that puritanism sets as pertinent and relevant. Put differently, by making this statement, the lecturer instantaneously proved his impeccable legitimacy because he demonstrated vigilance in guarding the honor and modesty of women. But, of course, he gained this legitimacy entirely at the expense of women. Nonetheless, tormenting Muslim women is a low-cost proposition -- Muslim women are like the proverbial punching bag upon which men can prove their power and worth. Having demonstrated his power and legitimacy, he conceded greater authoritativeness and privilege by the men -- and perhaps even the whole community. Now, and this is the crucial point: it did not matter, and it does not matter, what legal evidence the lecturer is able or unable to offer in support of his closed-door policy. No one thought of asking about the legal basis for his determination, as if there were an assumption at work that this type of position is presumptively Islamic. Instead of this scenario, imagine if this speaker had commenced his talk by inviting the women in the secluded quarters to come forward and take the empty seats so that they might better hear the lecture. Having made this suggestion myself on several occasions, I am comfortable in surmising that 1) the rest of evening will be taken up by arguments about the legality of this suggestion; 2) women will play a very minor role in the debate, if at all; and 3) textual evidence that challenges the puritan paradigm will be waved away as the spin of a spin master.


Significantly, the anti-women discourses, as shown in this essay, find roots in the Islamic tradition. I am not claiming that the anti-women discourses are unauthentic while the pro-women discourses are rooted in Islamic authenticity. In fact, the extent to which contemporary discourses, consciously or not, are affected by pre-modern paradigms is, at times, surprising. But what is more surprising is the utter lack of historicity in dealing with the pre-modern tradition. For instance, I was attending a lecture in a mosque in North America when the imam, an engineer by training, advised the congregation that it is improper for men to sit where women once sat. He asserted that after a woman leaves a seat, men must wait until the woman's body heat dissipates before taking the same seat or, if they wish, they can fan the spot. The reason for this rule, the imam explained, is that the female body heat lingering in a seat is bound to cause fitnah (sexual seduction). I

had never heard of such a rule despite having attended hundreds of lectures on Islamic conduct in many parts of the Muslim world. Furthermore, I had not encountered such a bizarre assertion in any classical or modern book. In fact, it seemed to me that a person

who is sexually aroused by the lingering body heat of a woman on a chair is probably in need of professional attention. Years later, I found this same opinion attributed to the jurist Abu Hanifah (d. 150/767), who reportedly recommended that men not take the seats of women until these seats lose their warmth. I also located this same ruling attributed to the Prophet in the form of a hadith. Reportedly, a woman sat down with the Prophet to discuss some affair with him. After she left, an unidentified man was about to take her seat when the Prophet instructed him not to sit in her place until her body heat dissipated from the seat. Importantly, this report is found only in classical texts that document fabricated traditions that were attributed to the Prophet. The report was fabricated and circulated by Shu' ayb b. Mubashshir, who alone reported this strange tradition. Apparently, the first appearance of this report was in the form of a tradition attributed to the Prophet, and later on, the report was circulated in the form of a legal

ruling by Abu Hanifah or, at times, Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). At any case, the classical jurists from all the different schools of thought, including the followers of Abu Hanifah, dismissed this report in all its forms and refused to rely upon it in any determination. I am not sure if the above –mentioned engineering imam dreamt up the female body-heat ruling, or if he picked it up from one of the books on fabricated traditions. In either case, it is bewildering that traditions such as this would become

buried and forgotten in Islamic history only to re-appear in one form or another centuries later. In re-appearing they draw legitimacy from an intangible abstractness called Islamic authenticity, but their re-appearance is not bounded and disciplined by a sense of historicity. A historical awareness would have easily deconstructed the discourse of the

engineering imam, but instead his so-called Islamic ruling became a material proof of his piety and Islamicity. All the refuse that was once generated and soundly thrown out in Islamic history, now that the Islamic Civilization has crumbled, is once again accumulating. I fear that the infections and maladies that the Islamic Civilization in its prime was once strong enough to resist, now spread without a realistic hope of recuperation.

* * *
This is the context in which I wrote this essay. As noted above, a basketball player refused to stand up to the national anthem. The Islamophobics started ranting about the inability of Muslims to be loyal to the United States, and the dangers of Muslim intransigence. Muslims conducted their own debates, often using rhetoric that gave the Islamophobics many moments of delighted, "I told you so's." Some time during the debate, the Society for the Adherence to the Sunnah, which is Wahabi and puritan, posted what it called a fatwa (legal responsum) regarding the issue. The invocation of the moral power of Shari'ah had a stultifying impact on the debate, and most debaters fell silent. Frankly, I think it is quite appropriate for a Muslim to reflect upon the demands and imperatives of Shari'ah. But the way in which Shari'ah was invoked and the impact of that way upon the debate was symptomatic of a process that had become all too familiar. All the indicia of the arid process that desolates the richness of the heritage, the need for common sense or reasonableness, the use of methodology or reason, the inquiry into beauty or morality, and the appropriation of authenticity by the demeaning of women were all there. Provoked one too many times, I took the responsum to task.
There should be little doubt that there is a battle being waged over the very identity and character of the Islamic message. The battle includes fighting over the normative values, the ethics, and morals that the Islamic message is supposed to represent. There is also a battle over the relevance of the Islamic intellectual heritage, its role and character, and an

intense battle over who gets to speak for Islamic law, how, and what ought to be said. In many ways, the arguments and struggles that rage in the United States about these issues is but a microcosm of the much larger reality of Islam. The struggles are more focused, intense, and polarized, but in the West, most of the ideological trends and ethnic identities and cultures are represented. I do not conceal the fact that this essay is part of this battle. Nonetheless, I do not side with an ethnic culture or particular identity. The purpose of this essay is far more modest. This essay attempts to challenge those who

invoke the moral weight of Islamic law to their side as a way of foreclosing and ending the debate. Put in a blunt and uncouth fashion, the message of this essay is that: If you carry Islamic law as a weapon to silence others, you better know how to use it. However, at a more serious level, this essay attempts to resist the spread of what it perceives to be a

puritan and despotic trend that is devastating the legacy of a very rich tradition. For instance, this trend has reached the point of banning books, such as A Thousand and One Nights and the poetry of Abu Nawwas (d. 198/814), texts that were preserved and transmitted in the Muslim Civilization for centuries. Furthermore, recently we have witnessed the phenomenon of publishing classical orthodox juristic texts but "cleansing" them of objectionable passages or ideas.


This essay was initially published in an extremely modest form by a Muslim press. Next, a more earnest Muslim press that attempted to produce the text in better form adopted the book, and published the second edition. Dar Taiba, which later changed its name to Quill Publishers, complained that Muslim conferences and booksellers were refusing to carry the book. The real problems started when the book was translated to Arabic, and several Arab presses attempted to print it. Three consecutive Arab presses accepted the book,

signed a contract, and then reneged complaining that publication of this book would endanger their business interests with some of the wealthy Arab countries. During this time, the publisher increasingly complained that although the sales of the English book

were high, he was coming under pressure to stop distributing the text. Eventually, the publisher went out of business, I hope, for reasons unrelated to this text. Nevertheless, the existing copies of the book nearly sold out and its distribution has been surprising. At times, I got the sense that this essay was treated like a "dirty-secret"-many Muslims

hesitated before admitting that they read it, but I received numerous messages expressing strong support. Considering the heart-wrenching betrayals of some friends and allies along the way, the hostility and defamation of opponents, and criticism of the protestors who wanted a more complex essay or who wanted a simpler essay, this work had worn me out, and I decided to close this chapter of my life. At this point, Professor Ebrahim Moosa and Oneworld Press of Oxford encouraged me to develop the ideas in this text

into a more extensive work, and the result was a book entitled Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women.
Grace, my wife, refused to let bygones be bygones, and as if longing for the anxieties that this short essay had generated, she approached University Press of America with the idea of reprinting The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses. In truth, I more than welcomed the opportunity and resolved to bolster the argument in whichever way I could. Therefore, I added this lengthy justification hoping that it helps situate this essay in the subjective context of its author.
It is fitting to extend my first and foremost statement of gratitude to Grace. Furthermore, no words can express the extent of my debt to Professor Hossein Modarressi who is a true teacher, always authoritative but never authoritarian. Through my apprenticeship with him, I learned to become a loving and committed connoisseur of the Islamic juristic

tradition. The encouragement of my mother, Afaf, father, Medhat, brother, Tarek, and sister, Eanas, through the ups and downs has kept me intact and sane.


I also acknowledge my teachers in Egypt and Kuwait with overwhelming gratitude and humility. I am grateful to my students Anver M. Emon, Hisham Mahmoud, Mairaj Syed, and Jihad Turk for their competent and diligent assistance. I also thank the editor James Vowell for his rigorous work on this book. I thank Khalid al-Saleh for undertaking the publication of the Dar Taiba edition. I extend my sincere thanks to my colleagues Stephen Gardbaum, Stephen Bainbridge, Stephen Munzer, and Herbert Morris for their invaluable comments on this work. Mathew and Alaine Mengerink, the Institute for Usuli Thought, and Omar and Azmeralda Alfi supported my work in so many ways, and their support has made my scholarly life far less draining. I am indebted to them. As always, I am grateful to UCLA School of Law for its generous support of my work, and for providing me with a congenial and intellectually challenging environment in which to work.


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