Opinion: “The Changing Faces of Islam”

January 19, 2006

Source: The Martin Marty Center


On January 19, 2006 The Martin Marty Center ran an opinion piece by Malika Zeghal, an Associate Professor of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "Since September 11, 2001, the issue of the connection between Islam and violence has been raised repeatedly. An adequate response lies not in positing some allegedly 'violent' nature of Islam, nor is it even about Islam as such, but rather about how Muslim individuals interpret Islam and relate these interpretations to their political perspectives. These representations of Islam are diverse, and in constant evolution and interaction with other religious, cultural, and political influences. While the traditional Orientalist paradigm, in convergence with the 'clash of civilizations' thesis as well as some contemporary political Islamist doctrines, views Islam as a phenomenon with fixed features that produces a homogeneous, anti-democratic, and anti-pluralistic political culture, it is obvious that today, in the Muslim world and in the West, many public interpretations and manifestations of Islam contradict this notion... What is new, unique, and consequential here is that these [diverse] interpretations of Islam are publicly exposed, and not defined from outside Islam but from within it. Before September 11, these voices remained implicit, silent, or isolated. They felt that conservative immigrant mosques and organizations were too hegemonic to let them offer their own definitions of Islam and mobilize a new audience. The violence of September 11 propelled these voices into the public arena. It remains to be seen if they can truly find their place in America and beyond."