Scholar Defends Traditional Islam

SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR is one of the most respected scholars of Islamic history in the US. He spoke with the Monitor from his office at George Washington University in Washington.

How do you feel about 'reinterpreting' Islam?

I stand totally opposed to efforts to change the message of Islam along lines of modern thought. People who do want to change Islam accept the Western secularized notion of reason itself, and of its workings, as being the norm. With this baggage, which is totally non-Islamic, they want to go back and understand the Koran. That means rejecting 14 centuries of Islamic history.... They think themselves more knowledgeable than the Prophet himself.

My position is completely different. I'm not a modernist. Nor do I simply recoil from the challenge the modern world presents to the Islamic world. My function has been to resuscitate the integral Islamic intellectual tradition ... as an independent way of looking at reality. Independent from that of the West or of the modern world. I criticize the rationalism and humanism which have, I believe, landed us in the great tragedies of the 20th century. The West will have to abandon these if it is going to continue as a civilization. ... Nobody wants to face the facts.

Why is tradition ignored?

Most Western scholars of Islam are only interested in change, not in permanence. The 99 percent who remain faithful to Islam, that is irrelevant to them. The 1 percent who say something different or new, that is considered to be the great wave of the future. Today everything in Western culture has become nebulous. Change is so rapid it is measured by decades, not centuries. Already the 1960s are like the Egyptian Pharaonic period. Westerners assume it is like that in every society. But while there are political and economic problems, Islam is like the kaaba ... like an immutable cube, the most stable of all solids.

In Islamic states nobody has changed the gender of God. No one is changing the relation between God and prophecy. These questions, which challenge Christianity decade by decade, do not pose themselves in the same way in the Islamic world.

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