x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tragedy of a discourse with no flavour

Do Islam and Muslims have nothing more to offer than "the absence of?"; the absence of aggression, the absence of political incorrectness, the absence of significance, and the absence of any challenge to disingenuous materialism or a slothfully passive existence?

Few things are more disappointing than an invitation to enjoy fine Indian cuisine with Asian friends and finding out that they have withheld the spices for "your benefit". A meal with no flavour is not only uninteresting, but of dubious nutritional value. I have a very similar concern for the international discourse on Islam. Apparently, only two alternatives can be offered to narrow and rigid interpretations of Islam. The first is the liberal approach. Emanating from an inferiority complex, it ultimately seeks to prove that Islam is no different from liberal humanism - something that was here-to-fore lost on the masses of the Muslim world and everyone else for that matter, until it was discovered by a young group of western-educated elites. Personally, I already had liberal humanism; it led me to finally ask, "Is that all there is?" I thought the Muslims might have something more interesting. Is it possible I was wrong? This feels more like a sociology 101 class. Wake me up when it's over.

The second tack is frantically to put everyone at ease that Islam is not dangerous. Islam means peace and it is all about tolerance. Islam is just so neutral, so neighbourly, so prepared to be your doormat. We've been driving this point home for nearly 10 years now. Is that all there is to Islam? Do Islam and Muslims have nothing more to offer than "the absence of…"; the absence of aggression, the absence of political incorrectness, the absence of significance, the absence of any challenge to disingenuous materialism or a slothfully passive existence, nothing more than mimicry of the latest fashion or catchphrase out of the new western Mecca?

Sometimes it feels like a Tolstoy novel where the aristocrats cannot speak a full sentence of Russian without one or two phrases in French. When all is said and done, and when the target audience of the second tack are thoroughly satisfied that Muslims are not a threat, and Islam has been sufficiently neutered, it will be soundly dismissed as a relic from the past with no significance to the life and trials of our contemporary moment.

But maybe I'm not just ready to go out like that. The far Left are vocally calling for a protestant revolution in Islam; what a historically naïve idea. They are calling for religion to be a private matter between a person and their god. But I have never considered Islam as a "religion". I had understood it to be more of a "way of peace" that calls its travellers to be in harmony with the cosmos. It's not about anti-extremism versus moderation, it's about the principle of "balance" that brings equilibrium to living systems. It's a way of social justice that pulls your coat to the responsibility of compassion and concern for those less fortunate than yourself. And yes, it offers a resounding challenge to the cold insensitivity that would turn a blind eye to fairness with regard to the plight of the weak or innocent.

But most of all it is about being alive to the life of the heart; and awake to the life of the intellect. It is about the illumination of spiritual consciousness and the conscientiousness to put yourself in the shoes of your fellow man. It is about love. It is about the adoration of a Sublime and Eternal Presence. It is about the mentorship of a stunning model of humanity who said: "I was sent to every black person and red person ... I was only sent to complete sound ethics."

The Quran says: "He was only sent to bring compassion to the world." Now I'm afraid that is a dangerous idea. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.