Reclaiming History through Politics

S Parvez Manzoor**

Islam is God’s own text for eternity. Man is the context for which the eternal text was revealed. This is how we perceive our faith: transcendentally anchored in the command of a unique, all-wise, all merciful Being, but existentially affirmed in the moral will of humanity. The dialectics of God’s Text and man’s context have always been the source of much contemplation and action for us For, the sovereignty of God, uncontested and unproblematic in the order of nature/creation, is not a given for man: it can only be claimed and testified through an act of submission (islam). But for man’s primordial covenant, Adam’s acceptance of the custodianship of the earth, the world of history, man’s world would be bereft of meaning and purpose. It is through this covenant that man receives his privileges and enjoys the mandate of being God’s deputy on earth. It is the basis for man’s mission to impart morality to creation and to make history in alignment with the will of God. All the children of Adam, Muslims included, are thus obliged to have an uninterrupted dialogue with history. History is humanity’s response to God’s call. It is not the showground for man’s uncontested dominion over nature, nor a stage for enacting man’s uncontrolled passions. The Muslim’s stake in history is for the realization of his moral commitment and it commissions a politics of humanity, beyond the messianic violence of Islamism and Empire. To reclaim our place in history is to accept the ‘worldliness’ of words and things. It is to acknowledge the ‘secularity’ of the historical world, without falling prey to the dogmatic claims of ‘secularism’. Secularism means all things to all men. For some, who take a humble view of it, it is merely a method of governance based on the rejection of ecclesiastical authority. Its main attraction is that it is able to deal rationally with the mundane affairs of a polity and is better equipped to cope with the problem of pluralism. Others, who are not immune to the lures of meta-theory, regard it as nothing less than a philosophy of history, a creed of atheism, or, indeed, an epistemology of humanism. Only to its fundamentalist fringe does secularism appear as the metaphysics of immanentism that corresponds to the ultimate scheme of things! Needless to say, not every expression of the secular, this-worldly, conscience and piety is antithetical or inimical to Islam We cannot banish ourselves from the world merely because secularists have made it their estate. Nor can the unsubstantiated claims of ‘metaphysical secularism’ – a theory of everything that is – be our argument for the denial of transcendence. On the contrary, the

misery of nihilism, secularism’s ultimate gift to humanity that now wears an ‘Islamic’ mask, alerts us to the fact that the worldliness of the human situation is indispensable for all morality. An ‘Islam’ which has no stake in history and which is indifferent to the fate of humanity would be a contradiction in terms. Muslims today are committed to renewing their dialogue with history. Theirs is the resolve to reclaim their rightful place within the fold of humanity. To court history, to become an actor on its stage, however, requires a political vision and a will to match. We may be the most history-intoxicated civilization on earth, but it is history as the remembrance of times past that is our passion, not history as the vision of a foreseeable future and the method of getting there through collective action. History has certainly passed us by and unless we do something about it, we too would belong to the have-beens of the world. Earlier, we thought, our rulers had let history slip out of our hands. Our ire was directed against them. Belatedly we are realizing that our decline in history may have been caused by our divines. At least, they appear to be the most formidable hurdle in renewing our dialogue with history. For them, Islam as eternal text and its formative history as context are congruent. Islam finds its full expression only in its primordial settings. And if Muslim history has moved away from that context, it is their claim, it must be brought back to its original moorings. Both history and society are static in this vision, and the real actor in history, the Ummah, has no other vocation but to act as the guardian of an unchanging order, frozen in time and forever under the sway of the jurist’s logic. She stands disfranchised and has no means of expressing her political will save through the mediation of the cleric! What is missing in this logic however is the simple fact that even in the discourse of the fiqh, the living community has precedence over (closed) juristic texts. And politics, conceived as the pursuit of the Ummah’s collective interests in history, requires a ’sovereign’ self-governing community. Representative democracy is the best, most viable, means of ensuring the legitimacy of Muslim public order. It alone provides the Ummah with a mandate to chart its coarse in the troubled waters of history. Without the testimony of the political will of the living community, ‘Islam’ would just be a corpus of texts with no role in the historical world. It is with the insight that history is indispensable to Islamic commitment and morality that some modern Muslim writers review the quandary of ‘Islamist’ politics. And in presenting this Islamic argument for accepting the worldliness of man’s historical enterprise without endorsing the claims of doctrinaire secularism. S Parvez Manzoor is a writer, researcher and critic based in Stockholm, Sweden

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.