Eye on Eurasia: Convert slams 'US' Islam

By PAUL GOBLE   |   March 16, 2006 at 1:04 PM
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TALLINN, Estonia, March 16 (UPI) -- "American" Islam, a religion whose followers resemble "a Weberian society of atomized individuals given over to consumerism," is increasingly posing a challenge in Russia to "true Islam," a faith based on the norms of Sharia law and authentic Muslim ideas, according to a Muslim commentator in Moscow.

In an essay posted on the Islam.ru Internet portal Wednesday, Fatima Anastasiya Yezhova, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam, provides a detailed discussion of the differences between these two Islams and why the "American" one has been gaining ground among Russia's Muslims.

"'The American version of Islam,'" she writes, is "a multi-faceted term" which requires explanation as it includes "several different sets of meaning." The "most obvious," Yezhova continues, is its treatment of Islam "exclusively as 'a personal faith,' as a personal dialogue with God."

That means, she continues, that those who follow its provisions "understand Islam not through the prism of the Arabic term 'din'" -- which connotes power, subordination and devotion -- but rather "in the spirit of the Latin 'religare'" -- which involves community or connection.

"Such a radicallly incorrect understanding of Islam is in part a rudiment of the contemporary Christian mentality of a definite segment of newly converted [Muslims in the Russian Federation and elsewhere], in part as a result of the intentional efforts directed at the liberal modernization of our religion."

Muslims both among the newly converted and those returning to the faith "who think in this way can perform Islamic religious and customary norms, pray, and observe fasts, but their entire world view from political ideology to their behavior will be radically non-Muslim," Yezhova insists.

Such a reduced Sunday-school kind of faith, she continues, is based on the proposition that its followers "in general should not relate their understandings about justice, the nation, governance or war" with the provisions of Islam. Instead, they should see the religion as simply "a collection of ritual practices" rather than a set of vital ideas.

But the impact of "American Islam" can also be seen in the ideas and actions of Muslims who insist that they are completely committed to the values of Islam and the interests of the umma but who claim the right "to have their own [distinctive] Islamic brand, their own cultural label, and thus their own identity."

"Instead of mini-skirts," she says," Muslims of this type "wear the hijab to the office. Instead of drinking beer, they drink tea in coffee houses, go to fitness centers for Muslim women, use the services of Islamic tour agencies, take their children to Muslim kindergartens and spend money in beauty salons and saunas that operate in correspondence with Sharia."

"Such Muslims strive to follow the Islamic way of life in all spheres of their daily life." But despite that, "their psychology is in no way distinguished from the world views of the standard petit bourgeois consumer -- with the only difference that it is packaged in a beautiful halal wrapping."

The goals of this group, which Yezhova calls "the green bourgeoisie," are exactly the same as their non- Muslim counterparts: "to get ahead in life, to make money, to pursue a career, to buy a beautiful house and car, to guarantee their children a stable future -- naturally with means permitted by the Shariat -- and quietly live" without getting involved in anything larger than themselves.

Such a version of Islam, she argues, has no real spiritual dimension and is completely adapted to the contemporary "world order which in essence is nothing other than a society of spiritual death, where unending consumption and the transmission of genetic material from the past to the future is the meaning of existence of the majority of people."

No one would suggest that Muslims like others should ignore the surrounding world, Yezhova says. But "true Islam" requires its followers to pursue "the establishment of Islamic justice based on the Koran and the Sunna, the assertion of an alternative to the soulless System which is based on the cult of money, profit and consumption."

Consequently, Yezhova concludes, "if Russian Muslims want to lead the umma of our country out of [its current] crisis, they ought to refrain from borrowing and copying models of behaviour that are alien to Islam and to recall the ayat of the Koran in which it is stated that Islam must be accepted as a whole."

Only if they do so and thus avoid the "American" version of their faith will Russia's Muslims be able to cure themselves of the "disease of middle class vulgarity and recognize as a necessity the struggle for justice" a struggle every bit as important as wearing the hijab or eating halal foods.

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(Paul Goble teaches at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

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