Letter: Shifting positions in Muslim scholarship

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The Independent Online
Sir: Ziauddin Sardar accuses me of collecting butterflies in his review of my book Postmodernism and Islam and that of Ernest Gellner's Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (24 September); what he omits to mention is that he, too, is in my collection.

The reader must know that Mr Sardar's review is a response to my referring to his writing in my book as 'Muslim spleen not Islamic scholarship, Muslim temper not Islamic literary expression'. He distorts facts to suit his arguments in his short review (for a detailed discussion of Mr Sardar's method see my 'Islamic scholarship: crisis of confidence' in Muslim Educational Quarterly, Autumn 1989).

For instance, I asked whether contemporary events in Kashmir suggest 'a paradigmatic postmodernist Muslim movement?' Mr Sardar misquotes me by suggesting I call it 'a model postmodern phenomenon]' The two are quite different. He substitutes my question mark with an exclamation mark, changing the probing nature of my query to an emphatic assertion. By calling the Kashmir problem 'the old-fashioned territorial dispute', he exposes his ignorance of what is happening there. The role of the international media, the involvement of the entire community, the idiom of Islam, the acephalous leadership are all new. So is the violence; remember this was an area mostly free of the communal madness of South Asia.

His statement 'that the author rubs shoulders with perennial greats such as Mick Jagger, the Aga Khan, Melvyn Bragg' and so on is also incorrect. I mentioned them purely in a professional capacity, nowhere hinting there was a social relationship.

He accuses me of being an 'armchair' writer; this year alone I have been to India, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Daghestan. He accuses me of placing Rana Kabbani, 'a committed Muslim', and Salman Rushdie in one category as 'Muslim modernists'. I had pointed out that Ms Kabbani was once close enough to Rushdie for him to have given her the blurb for her book Europe's Myths of the Orient, but has since moved away to a more 'Muslim' position. There is thus a shifting of positions among Muslim scholars. It is characterised by Mr Sardar's own position, who was not too long ago a supporter of Kalim Siddiqui's views.

Yours sincerely,


Faculty of Oriental Studies

University of Cambridge