Ziauddin Sardar is a leading British-Pakistani Muslim scholar and critic. In this interview with Susannah Tarbush, he talks about the magazine “Critical Muslim” he founded and which he sees as an “intellectual, cultural, philosophical and creative backup” for the revolutions of the Middle East
In January a year ago, a refreshingly different kind of Muslim publication, the quarterly Critical Muslim (CM), was launched in Britain. Published by London-based C Hurst & Co, CM takes the form of an attractively-produced paperback book of over 250 pages. Its stated mission is to be a quarterly of “ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world”.
CM‘s founder and editor is leading Muslim scholar, critic and public intellectual Ziauddin Sardar. Born in Pakistan in 1951, Sardar grew up in London where he still lives. He is a prolific and much-read writer: since the late 1970s he has written some 45 books as well as numerous articles and essays. Sardar’s CM co-editor is the prominent British-Syrian novelist, critic and blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab.
To mark the first anniversary of CM‘s launch, Qantara interviewed Ziauddin Sardar on the quarterly’s concept, first year of publication, and future plans.
American Muslim convert and Harvard Islamic studies graduate student Michael Muhammed Knight is an essayist, a novelist, and performance artist who embraces a rebellious, alternative interpretation of Islam. His mission? To “shed antiquated and retrograde seventh-century ideas and make Islam consistent with the liberations of the 21st century.”
In his work and his spirituality, he strives to separate himself from conservatives who view Islamic as a monolithic, uncompromising orthodoxy, a worldview he feels is linked to undemocratic governmental rule.
An account of his travels through the Muslim world, “Journey to the End of Islam” has been published. It profiles the diversity of practice in Islam while critiquing conservative values.
“I had chosen Islam because it was the religion of Malcolm X, a language of resistance against unjust power. But in Pakistan, Islam was the unjust power…Pakistan’s Islam was guilty of everything for which I rebelled against Reagan-Falwell Christianity in America.”
After a glimpse into Muslim cultures across the globe, Knight has a better understanding of its multiplicity. He also has faith in American freedom. “In a weird way, America can save Islam.”
Best-selling novelist Sebastian Faulks has risked incurring the wrath of Muslims by dismissing the Koran as just ‘the depressive rantings of a schizophrenic’ with ‘no ethical dimension’. Faulks, who turned to the Koran while researching his latest novel, said: ‘It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.’
After stirring strong emotions among the Muslim population in Britain, Sebastian Faulks has moved quickly in an attempt to avert criticism over his comments. He went on to offer “a simple but unqualified apology to my Muslim friends and readers for anything that has come out sounding crude or intolerant. Happily, there is more to the book than that.”
Na’ima B. Robert is a Muslim author, a wife and mother living in Britain. In the first of her regular articles for Faith Online she discusses the challenge of living the Islamic faith in a secular democracy. As a Muslim woman living in the embrace of a vibrantly secular, liberal democratic society, you are constantly caught between two very different worlds. On the one hand, there is your faith, Islam, a religion and way of life revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over 1400 years ago, a religion that affects the way you think, the way you act, the way you speak, dress and eat. It is the world of worship and sacrifice, of duties and voluntary charity. It is the world of faith. Then, on the other hand, there is the dunya, the “worldly life”, where you live, work, study, shop, entertain and unwind. It is a world of trends and societal pressures, deadlines and promotions, summer sales and summer holidays. It is, in a nutshell, the world that almost everyone else lives in full-time. And, interestingly enough, it is one that many non-Muslims are surprised that religious Muslim women inhabit at all. Despite the number of observant Muslim women active in public life in Britain (Respect party vice-chair Salma Yaqoob, editor and OBE Sara Joseph, activist and journalist Yvonne Ridley, novelist and dramatist Leila Aboulela to name but a few), media representations often fail to be anything more than stereotypes with subtle and not-so-subtle messages that Muslim women are oppressed, powerless, ghettoised, uneducated, devoid of ambition, with an unhealthy addiction to black clothes.