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Guide Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys Of A Sceptical Muslim

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View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Ziauddin Sardar is one of the foremost Muslim intellectuals in Britain, author of more than 40 books on science, religion and culture. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Granta, Softcover. Search for all books with this author and title. One looks for the distillate which is not there.

Book review: Ziauddin Sardar's 'Desparately Seeking Paradise: Journey of a Sceptical Muslim' A doubting Pakistani immigrant writer travels through the flashpoints of Islam and exposes the fallacy of jehadis. Ziauddin Sardar. Get real-time alerts and all the news on your phone with the all-new India Today app. Download from. Post your comment. Do You Like This Story? Now share the story Too bad. Tell us what you didn't like in the comments.


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The second sowed the seeds of discord amongst us. Samnun…end of the ninth century….. Fana literally means to be dissolved, to be annihilated. Essentially, it is the negation of the Self: negation of will, existence, self-consciousness and being; forsaken for union with God, assimilation into His will….. The discipline that leads Sufis to fana is zikr : the act of remembering Allah. I polish souls till the ego has evaporated…… There is too much information in the head of young seekers. You must empty your mind of all that you know. Only then can you begin the journey towards tasawwuf.

Hypocrisy, fanaticism and self-righteousness were dismissed by [ Nasruddin ] Hodja with equal candour…….. In a famous story, Hodja suggests that every argument has more than one side: two men involved in a quarrel ask Hodja to settle their dispute. In classical Islam the quest for knowledge had always been intimately linked with extensive travel; a fact endorsed by none other than Al-Ghazali.

The eleventh-century philosopher and theologian is a towering figure in Islamic history …..

A Journey From Islam

Al-Ghazali distinguishes two general categories of travel: rihla and safar. Rihla is outward, physical travel, professionally undertaken…… Safar involved physical exertion as well as inner transformation, liberation and attainment ……The journey must transport the individual towards new experiences and encounters and force him to perceive the interconnectedness of all things around him ……The traveler learns from mixing with ordinary people who force him to constantly re-examine his own assumptions, his accustomed routine of activity and thought, thus transforming him from the inside and producing a new synthesis.

The original mosque was built of sun-dried brick, the floor was of earth and the ceiling constructed of palm fronds covered with mud and supported by pillars of palm wood. This mosque has been rebuilt a number of times over the centuries, added to and made splendid by caliphs and kings. In the time of King Abdul Aziz, it still retained its Ottoman flavor ….

At the entrance to the city, a splendid inner castle stood as a reminder of the medieval wall which once defended it. Streets were lined with stucco houses, ornamented with intricately worked wooden lattices.

Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim by Ziauddin Sardar (Paperback, 2005)

Only a few large modern hotels overshadowed the old houses, and here and there occasional car parks appeared as eyesores. In a matter of days ……the whole city was razed to the ground. Indeed, not many knew what had happened. Throughout their history, it is said, the Bedouins had nothing and owned nothing; but they had plenty of time. They enjoyed hanging around, waiting, not rushing to do anything in particular.

So, waiting has become an essential ingredient of Saudi life. He saw dissension amongst Muslims as their main weakness and sought to ban plurality of interpretations. No discussion can be entertained on the nature of the throne or its purpose. Nothing can be read metaphorically or symbolically. The students from Medina University were fiercely loyal both to their Saudi mentors and their particular school of thought. The Wahhabism they learned was manufactured on the basis of tribal loyalty — but the place of traditional tribal allegiance was now taken by Islam. Everyone outside this territory was, by definition, a hostile dweller in the domain of unbelief.

Those who stood outside their domain were not limited to non-Muslims; they included all those Muslims who have not given allegiance to Wahhabism. The ranks of unbelief were swollen by the Shias, the Sufis, and followers of other Islamic schools of thought…… The students would often tell me that any alliance with the unbelievers was itself unbelief; that one should not just refrain from associating or making friends with them, but should also shun their employment, advice, emulation, and try to avoid conviviality and affability towards them.

In Saudi Arabia ……all men in the Kingdom are dressed in white….. White is the natural colour for such an extreme climate; it reflects the sun and absorbs very little heat. Women have to be covered, from head to toe, by law, in black shrouds that absorb all the sun and all the heat. Women wear their shrouds ninja fashion, observing not traditional female Muslim dress, hijab , but the more extensive niqab , the head-covering that leaves only a narrow slit where the eyes are visible.

The only place in Saudi Arabia where this refinement of dress is not seen is within the precincts of the Sacred Mosque itself where the conventional Islamic precepts of female garb include the requirement for the face to be uncovered. To insist that anything that cannot be found in a literal reading of the sources and lore of early Muslims is kufr — outside the domain of Islam — and to enforce this comprehensive vision with brute force and severe social pressure for complete conformity spells totalitarianism.

Muslim societies were doomed to exist in suspended animation.

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If everything was a priori given, nothing new could really be accommodated. Second, by assuming that ethics and morality reached their apex, indeed an end point, with the Companions of the Prophet….. Indeed, it set Muslim civilization on a fixed course to perpetual decline. We Muslims live among the wreckage of our heritage, we lop off its sophistication, lose precious works of subtle minds that once strove to pursue inventiveness within our own dynamic framework. Most Muslims consider the Shariah to be divine.

But there is nothing divine about the Shariah, I explained. The Shariah is a human construction; an attempt to understand the divine will in a particular context — and that context happens to be eighth-century Muslim society. We need to understand the Shariah in our own context; and reconstruct it from first principles….

Asma Barlas …..

The Shariah, she explained, was formulated by jurists, all of them male, during the Abbasid period , a time in history well known for its sexism and misogyny. This male bias is evident in the way the Shariah treates women and men unequally, particularly when it comes to criminal justice. So, for example, if a husband charges his wife with adultery and cannot produce four male witnesses to the act of penetration, he cannot serve as his own witness. The Shariah also fails to distinguish between different types of extramarital sex, Asma said.

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For example, it does not differentiate between adultery, fornication and rape. As a result, women who are victims of rape and sexual abuse can find themselves — and have found themselves, not just in Pakistan but also other Muslim countries like Nigeria and the Sudan — being charged with a crime and sentenced to be stoned to death. The Mullahs have been particularly clever in equating religion with law…. To change the Shariah we have to stand up to powerfully entrenched clerics and interpretative communities who will put up a deafening roar against such an exercise on the grounds that it is un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic.

And in this way they continue to underwrite their own monopoly on religious knowledge. As we know, the veneration of symbols can keep people from thinking about what the symbols actually symbolize. Parvez Manzoor ….. And truth becomes equated with method? This knowledge was largely personal, free and somewhat subjective. The first act of objectification and reification occurred during the early Abbasid period when this accumulated knowledge was confused with history ….. Thus, history became a substitute for religious inquiry and learning but as the historically frozen corpus of juristic rulings.

The Will of God, which was previously discovered through intellectual methods, was now seen as being expressed in injunctions and prohibitions……. From the second Islamic century onwards there emerged a set of mechanisms, or disciplines, for understanding the Word of God. It entirely determined the form and content of the Shariah. It is in fact largely fiqh , a body of historically frozen judicial thought and rulings?

Small wonder that Islamic theology and law have developed little since then. We both concurred that the method of the Shariah does not encourage bold, innovative and speculative thought. I had finally reached a firm conclusion: without reforming the Shariah, which actually amounts to reformulating Islam itself, a humane earthly paradise will always elude Muslim societies…..