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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

September 22, 2004

interpreting intolerance.

Mr Ali Asghar Engineer is reknowned in progressive muslim circles for his liberal attitude towards the faith. In Bohra circles, however, he is reknowned for an implacable hatred of our orthodox rituals and beliefs. He has long pursued a vendetta against the Bohra community, mis-characterizing our religious practices borne of honest faith as those of a gullible pack of fools in thrall to charlatans. Like Daniel Pipes, his reasonable and eloquent arguments mask an autocratic condescension towards those who profess faith in Islam.

His guest editorial at Muslim WakeUp! is an excellent example of that condescension:

The Muslim world as a whole is not well equipped for understanding the Qur'anic text de novo. The vast masses of Muslims in most countries, due to rampant illiteracy, will continue to require orthodox interpretations for quite some time to come. Muslim countries still live intellectually in medieval times though physically they are now in the 21st century. It is quite a task to usher them into the 21st century in an intellectual sense. Thus the orthodox 'ulama continue to have their own relevance, perhaps for many decades to come.

I think that the subtext here is clear - the orthodox interpretation is associated with the illiterate masses who cannot think for themselves, and those who are true heirs to the spirit of intellectual inquiry within Islam are the enlightened "secular fundamentalists" such as himself.

Secular-fundamentalist muslims often decry the intolerance towards their interpretations by orthodox muslims. Intellectual maturity demands that they offer the same tolerance in return. As difficult as it may be to understand, some muslims embrace orthodox interpretations on an intellectual, as opposed to ignorant, basis.

UPDATE: a commentator replies to my post with a challenge:

But could you illustrate just one example of how you have personally embraced and reconciled an orthodox interprtation on an intellectual basis.
It certainly is easy to proclaim that your personal route to orthodoxy was intellect. But can you substantiate this process through at least one concrete example where a progressive interpretation is in stark contrast to its orthodox counterpart. And then show how you have intellectually embraced the latter.

hmm, where have I seen this before? And how would this erstwhile paragon of tolerant secular interpretation react if a Taliban Wahabi were to demand the same of him? The only real response to such arrogance and condescension is in Qur'an 109:6 - "Unto you your religion, and unto me mine."

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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