Here is an excerpt to Ruth Mas’ most recent response. Like I said, I suggest you read the whole thing:
It worries me that I will be taken to say that we have to get beyond, or worse, leave behind, the struggles for recognition that hound the debates over the positionalities of insiders and outsiders in Islamic Studies. I am not. I want to be very clear that these debates contest in very important ways the normative study of the Islamic tradition in the field of Religious Studies and produce some of the grist of the theorising we do. They are the reminder that if nothing else, theory is not self sufficient, it needs to be politically relevant and it needs to be in irresolvable tension with politics. I am simply saying that there is more to focus on or we will utterly and completely miss the point of why and how these debates come to be in the first place. The debates themselves cannot be allowed to stand in for a serious, sustained and critical consideration of the grounds on which questions about the representation of Muslims and the Islamic tradition are posed and answered. To be very precise, I think that engaging with these grounds is what will constitute the advance of the field, and what September 11 has offered us is the opportunity to radically reconsider how they have been presented to us. After all, wasn’t September 11 an important moment in the dissolution of a unified historical and political project, the site where the advance of a liberal and secular politics faltered? What does this then mean for the study of Islam within the field of Religious studies, a field that has so proudly defended the questions of religious experience and now the questions about the experience of religious people? Is it going to be able to stake its own wager and its own critical project in the wake of this dissolution? What will the theoretical turn of the field after September 11 look like and what does it acknowledge as having the privilege and authority to do that no other field does?
I attempted to come to terms with some of these questions in a recent article entitled “Why Critique?” which addressed the beginnings of the debate between Hughes and Safi. Therein, I called into question the spectre of objectivity that pretends that our critical intellectual practices are impartial and scholarly when the foundations of humanistic enquiry, both theoretical and political, are established by the continual attachments of secularism to Christianity. What does this mean for the study of the Islamic tradition when its scholars take these claims of objectivity for granted? It seems to me that, at the very least, the study of the Islamic tradition confronts and even contests the discriminating operation of Western theory. What we have on the theoretical agenda is the need to examine in more detail the political significance of the modernist stance in the foundation of critique, and the contexts of colonialism and empire which continue to sustain it. These are the grounds that I am speaking of and the problem is that that they are now all over the map. Aren’t we all, Muslim and non-Muslim, working within the very instantiation of the modernist enterprise of critical and theoretical projects? Is this not Talal Asad’s great lesson for the field? So, how do we get out of it, can we, and where does this leave us? Do we do it by finding within the Islamic tradition the source of the critique of the secular presuppositions of what is increasingly the normative understanding of intellectual practice? Maybe, but then we will also have to deal with the fact that in many ways this very tradition contributed to the project of European enlightenment and has its own pre-modern (i.e. pre-secularising) secular genealogies, however much it was later subjected to the government apparatus that the latter put into place.
I am not convinced that simply delving into the past to find authentic notions of tradition, or modalities of being Muslim, is enough to have these stand up to the post-Christian secular demands made by powerful modern states. And this has to do with the impossibility of authenticity, as much as it has to do with the force with which secular political and intellectual projects are promoted as impartial and consequently, how aggressively Muslims, scholars, and Muslim scholars, are made to conform. But I am convinced that we must agree with Michel Foucault and refuse what he called the blackmail of the Enlightenment which obliges us to position ourselves as either for it or against it. We are in it and, for good, for worse, for all of us, these are our grounds, whether they have been thrust upon us or not. We will each hold different positionalities within them of course, some that are more resistive than others. If we have to come to terms with an intellectual and political legacy that has been imposed on many of us by force, then the good news is that contained within this legacy is what Kant espoused as a “limit-attitude” which allows us to analyse and reflect on its limits, politically and theoretically. The question that remains is: How are we going to reflect on those limits and for whom? Will we be able to reform the Enlightenment and its limits with the Islamic tradition, that is, with something other than what the Enlightenment has explicitly produced and endorsed?