If yesterday I posted Hind Meddeb’s letter from Tunis — an urgent cry for human rights &, I think, an accurate evaluation of the situation in Tunisia post-Arab Spring — I want to point today to her father, Abdelwahab Meddeb’s, latest book in English translation, out earlier this year from Fordham University press & translated (excellently so) by Jane Kuntz, Islam and the Challenge of Civilization.
This book, for me, is the perfect handbook for deepening our understanding of both the incredible richness through time and the paradoxical present obtuseness of Islamic culture. Meddeb achieves this feat — how clear knowledge can disarm belligerent interpretations of a paradoxical faith —through his elegant and polyphonic use of Qu’ranic exegesis, advanced literary poetics, and a strong sense of democratic citizen politics, all of which are informed by a profound cosmopolitanism able to simultaneously draw on Ibn Arabi’s eclectic sufism and Voltaire’s secular intellect, among many other sources. A necessary exploration, a must read.
The Press accurately states the aim of this book — the same aim as that of his 3 other untranslated volumes of essays and of the book that opened his writing on this subject, The Malady Of Islam translated by myself & Ann Reid in 2003 but unhappily let go out of print by its publisher, Basic Books :
Abdelwahab Meddeb makes an urgent case for an Islamic reformation, located squarely in Western Europe, now home to millions of Muslims, where Christianity and Judaism have come to coexist with secular humanism and positivist law. He is not advocating ‘moderate’ Islam, which he characterizes as thinly disguised Wahabism, but rather an Islam inspired by the great Sufi thinkers, whose practice of religion was not bound by doctrine.
To accomplish this, Meddeb returns to the doctrinal question of the text as transcription of the uncreated word of God and calls upon Muslims to distinguish between Islam’s spiritual message and the temporal, material, and historically grounded origins of its founding scriptures. He contrasts periods of Islamic history—when philosophers and theologians engaged in lively dialogue with other faiths and civilizations and contributed to transmitting the Hellenistic tradition to early modern Europe—with modern Islam’s collective amnesia of this past. Meddeb wages a war of interpretations in this book, in his attempt to demonstrate that Muslims cannot join the concert of nations unless they set aside outmoded notions such as jihad and realize that feuding among the monotheisms must give way to the more important issue of what it means to be a citizen in today’s postreligious global setting.