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Islam needs Irony August 21, 2006

Posted by tkcollier in News, Politics, Religion.
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OpinionJournal – Featured Article
The Ottoman Empire evolved systems of law which to some extent replicated that wise provision. But after the Ottoman collapse the Muslim sects rebelled against the idea, since it contradicts the claims of the Shariah to be the final legal authority. The Egyptian writer and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, went so far as to denounce all secular law as blasphemy. Mortals who make laws for their own government, he argued, usurp a power which is God’s alone. And although few Muslim leaders will publicly endorse Qutb’s argument, few will publicly condemn it either. What to us is a proof of Qutb’s fanaticism and egomania is, for many Muslims, a proof of his piety.

Whenever I consider this matter I am struck by a singular fact about the Christian religion, a fact noticed by Kierkegaard and Hegel but rarely commented upon today, which is that it is informed by a spirit of irony. Irony means accepting “the other,” as someone other than you. It was irony that led Christ to declare that his “kingdom is not of this world,” not to be achieved through politics. Such irony is a long way from the humorless incantations of the Koran. Yet it is from a posture of irony that every real negotiation, every offer of peace, every acceptance of the other, begins. The way forward, it seems to me, is to encourage the re-emergence of an ironical Islam, of the kind you find in the philosophy of Averroës, in Persian poetry and in “The Thousand and One Nights.” We should also encourage those ethnic and religious jokes which did so much to defuse tension in the days before political correctness. And maybe, one day, the rigid face of some puritanical mullah will crack open in a hesitant smile, and negotiations can at last begin

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