x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rethinking the meaning of Muslim, part four

The authenticity of Muslim identity has seemed to slip away into the cracks somewhere between reactionary rigidity and extreme liberalism.

Our conversation for the past few weeks has been centred on revisiting the idea of Muslim identity. The authenticity of such an identity has seemed to slip away into the cracks somewhere between reactionary rigidity and extreme liberalism. It's stagnant and disingenuous any way you cut it. For the past 10 years - of villainisation, invasion, "random" airport shake-downs and front-door breakdowns - many Muslims have been gripped by fear that this would lead to their very own Kristallnacht.

This fear has induced many to relinquish any semblance of an original identity that might cause them to be unique in a crowd. On the other side, another group has proven that they can be as stubborn as mules; and about as intelligent, tenaciously clinging to post-colonial modernist ideology. In a post-modern world it's about as ingenious or effective as a corpse filled with formaldehyde. The environment produced by an ambiguous yet menacing "war on terror", obsessive suspicion and perpetual energy wars have elicited a great deal of media attention and public interest in anything "Muslim". This has enticed a third group out of the closet.

Having spent the majority of their lives striving to disassociate themselves with Islam, this group has stepped up to carry the liberal man's burden. These new media darlings will courageously commandeer the discourse on Islam to win the grudging acceptance of the xenophobic hordes that think that Nova Scotia is in sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1980s, before all this mayhem and confusion and the purple haze of aimlessness that it has produced, Muslims had - by default - developed the identity of "freedom fighter".

The reputation of Islam was as of yet still relatively untarnished and Muslims everywhere were cast in the role of resistance to clear and present tyranny. I'm not going to argue with that. The Muslim can be comfortable with the epithet "freedom fighter". But without higher purposes as a guide, so the saying goes, "one man's freedom fighter is another man's Sandinista." It is these higher purposes that inform the identity and calling of a people that would seek to bring about a better state of affairs in the world.

In what has preceded, we have proposed that the meaning of being Muslim pivots upon three aspects of identity. The Muslim is a stranger (in the world yet not of it), the Muslim is a healer, and the Muslim is a teacher. A close reading of the prophetic personality of Mohammed bears this out. Having focused at length on the first of these three, we begin with the second: Islam's concern for healing.

In what follows we will look at the emphasis that Islam has placed on the medical treatment of the human body through its scientific legacy of medicine. But we will also look at the holistic concern for the healing of body, mind and soul; as well as the mending of rifts in relationships; and the meaning of healing to be found in the restoration of equilibrium to systems of any type and configuration.

Until then, this is Jihad Brown, signing off from Logan International Airport in Boston, and hoping to correspond with you next week from Los Angeles. Peace. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhab