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Book review: The Regeneration of Islamic Discourse

Mohamed Younis argues for a renewal of the discourse of Islam based on a comprehensive analytical and developmental approach

Hesham Taha, Wednesday 27 Nov 2013
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Tagdeed Al-Khitab Al-IslamiMin Al-Minbar Ila Al-Internet (Regeneration of Islamic Discourse from the Podium to the Internet) by Mohamed Younis, Cairo: Dar Al-Maktaba Al-Arabiyah Lilkitab Publishing, 2013, 300pp.

In his latest book, Mohamed Younis attempts to execute the huge task of tackling shortcomings in Islamic discourse. Starting by defining the words "thought" and "discourse," Younis settles for the definition that Islamic discourse entails "the visions, thought and jurisprudential judgments" within a frame of time and place, and thus, "reflects plurality and diversity."

For the definition of "regeneration," Younis relies on a Hadith (an Islamic saying) by the Prophet Mohamed explaining that God sends a person every one hundred years to regenerate the Ummah (the Islamic nation). Some scholars understood the regenerator to be one person or a group in one country, or even in a number of countries. One of the major faults in this context is confusing Islamic text (the Quran and Hadith) with Islamic discourse. The author underlines that Islamic text is constant and immutable, while Islamic discourse is variable and changeable, and thus fallible.

Among factors that hindered the regeneration of Islamic discourse Younis mentions the rupture that occurred between 19th century and contemporary Islamic thought. The former, starting in the second half of the 19th century, was bolder and far more influential and profound than the latter. Another factor is emergence of the modern Arab state, which placed the West as a reference point, instead of Islamic culture.

The author tackles a very critical posture; one that posits the full detachment of the Islamic Ulama (theologians) from social reality. While theologians concentrated their endeavours on the individual sphere, they deliberately neglected the public sphere. This isolationist approach led to intellectual stagnation and political tyranny, since the sultans monopolised the public sphere after the Ulama's withdrawal. The Muslim was caught between imprisonment if he opposed the sultan and inferno if he dissented from the Ulama's opinions. Meanwhile, the Ulama resorted to the use of intimidation as a result of their intellectual impotence and inability to establish alternatives.

Thus, the author insists that the dilemma is essentially methodological and can be reformed through applying sound methodology and being committed to Islamic knowledge with a strict comprehensive and analytical approach. Through Islamic discourse priorities, the author asserts that developing strategies to combat poverty and achieve advancement doesn't in any way collide with Islam or Islamic thought. He also points out that Islamic unity and the abolition of colonially-created borders between Islamic countries should be an ultimate objective. The author argues that the Arab Spring provides indisputable proof that the Arab Muslim peoples are peaceful, contrary to the "terrorist" stereotype attached to them by Western media.

In the latter part of the book, Younis presents four contemporary issues and the Islamic discourse: women's rights, Jerusalem, Muslims and the environment.

On women's rights, he quotes Quranic verses that establish indesputably that both men and women are the same before God. Unlike Western civilisation that views the individual as the main unit, Islam perceives that the family as the main unit. Younis points out that the injustice and grievances that befell women occurred in the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, but since the late 19th century this issue was tackled by Sheikh Mohammed Abdo. The author insists that the expression "women's liberation" should be changed to "women's equitability," and if we accept the latter expression, it should be women's liberation from the misunderstanding of Islam along with society as a whole.

The author cites the acceptance and respect of Jews and Christians, both in the Quran and in lived reality. However, there aren't Islamic initiatives that seek to sustain these. The author also cites successful coordination between Al-Azhar and the Vatican regarding the preservation of the family as an entity during the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo 1993. He points out that there is a golden opportunity for rapprochement with South East Asian countries who have neither preconceived ideas towards Arab and Muslim nations, nor a colonial past.

As for the environment issue, Younis lists a number of quotations from the Prophet Mohamed that should be utilised in Islamic discourse, which generally stays clear of the topic. He sees that this topic should be dealt with inside Muslim societies and abroad. It constitutes an opportunity to establish bridges with non-Muslim countries and coordinate efforts in this field.  

This is the sixth book by Younis who was awarded three prizes and works in the United Arab Emirates University. He's an expert on Islamic affairs at Al-Ahram Egyptian newpaper and Al-Ittihad newspaper in UAE.

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