ANT 2017



  • Islam has 2bn folllowers all from different soc/cult b/gs --> therefore difficult to answer conclusively
  • In scriptural terms, when someone says the Shahada and declares their faith to the One true God, Allah, one is a Muslim
  • However, there is a lot of scholarly debate regarding what really makes someone a classifiable Muslim
  • This essay is going to look at what makes someone a Muslim, referencing scholars such as Talal Asad, Reza Aslan, Samuli Schielke, and Bernard Lewis among others 
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  • Talal Asad is one of the prominent figures in the ANT of Islam - he coined the phrase 'discursive tradition' (2009) which means including religious texts (Qur'an and Hadith) in the concept of a tradition, i.e. the discourses instructing practitioners on the correct form of practice relating to the past and future through the present 
    • in short this means practices are oriented on the concept of an Islamic past 
  • Asad says that to be a Muslim is to follow the practices in a tradition with regard to the Islamic past 
  • Example 1: Islamic Law
    • a) Economic law --> Murabaha loans, or hand-to-hand loans, are permitted in Islam to ensure fair and honest trade; riba, or interest, is prohibited to prevent the exploitation of loanees --> these laws based in scripture on the ex of Mo, and demo how modern Islamic law functions and maintains a moral economy in relation to tradition and Islamic past 
    • b) Asad (2003) also mentions the fatwas - Ali Agrama (2007) references ANT of fatwa, an ethical tradition that straddles the 'settled doctrinal past and a future of incessant novelty' --> Asad also claims (2003) that from Western perspectives, fatwas seem controlling, and their authority irreconcilable with freedom in Islam; HOWEVER he argues the Qur'an doesn't force anyone to follow it & how diff is this to other religs? 
  • Induction into sect of Islam informed by disctrad based in ritual/doctrine makes Muslim
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  • Reza Aslan, similar to Asad, says in NgbG (2011) that the Shahada, 'profession of faith' (there is no god but allah, and muhammad is allah's messenger) unites Muslims as Muslims 
    • participating in pracs like Hajj, Ramadan, and alms unites and creates comm ident 
  • Aslan (2017) also says religion = choosing the language of your faith; therefore to be Muslim is to choose lang of Islam
  • Echoes Wittgenstien (1953) and theory of Language Games where language = game, so rules apply and have to be used in correct context, e.g. 'castling' means nothing in netball --> when you learn the rules and use the lang right, you're intelligible --> to learn and use Islam lang correctly = Muslim
  • Schielke (2010) args Muslim is dep on ind interp/percept of Islam --> it is a grand scheme reliant on independent interp guided by lived exp from trad/scripture 
    • Bigrami agrees (1992) comments key pt of being Muslim = non-codifiability of Qur'an, M can be interp by inds to legitimate their faith/practice 
  • Example 1: veiling
    • + women choose to veil more/less bc it's a religious practice of modesty that helps them feel closer to faith/Allah and secures their sense of identity (Moll, 2009)
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  • 4 modsox (+ W, secular) it's more abt ext perception of Muslims as a homogenous categ that leads to identification, as well as pre-formed ideas about Islam and its functions/beliefs
  • B Lewis (1990) writes abt Islam as a strictly E institution, fund diff 2 the W espousing oppression, hatred, intolerance, ignorance
  • To be a Muslim therefore becomes less about personal identity and more an imposed categ
  • Example 1: Sikhs
    • In the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks many Sikhs mistaken for Muslims bc of turbans/MidE looks have been harassed 4 terrorist attacks (Surl & Wu, 2017) 
  • Islamic mod also imp here --> Islam arg to move towards prizing med/sci/tech and engaging w/ W tech to dev --> just bc it's not secular doesn't mean it's backwards or bad 
  • Example 2: Jihad
    • Groups like ISIS feed into Lewis' acc of Islam hate West/its freedom (he extric links Islam-Oppression) 
    • Extremists citing Islam to justify terrorism feed fears of Muslims and racist conceptions of Middle East as threat
    • In fact, 'Islam' from root for 'peace', or 'salaam' (Esposito & Mogahed, 2007)
  • To be Muslim therefore more externally judged by those agreeing with Lewis
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  • In conc, there are many things we can argue make someone a Muslim, but it is impossible to succintly give one overarching reason 
  • To a degree, I agree with Asad that following tradition and taking into account the Islamic past to act does make someone a practicing Muslim, and that inherently to be a Muslim is no different than to be a member of another religion, but I also think his argument is more about what makes Islam Islam rather than someone a Muslim
  • I agree more with Aslan and Schielke that personal interpretation makes someone a Muslim as faith is inherently personal and subjective 
  • However, I understand how this definition makes it difficult to study any self-identifying Muslims or talk of Islam in any general fashion because there are therefore infinite permutations of it 
  • I do not agree with Lewis that religion is restricted geographically, nor that hating the West or looking a certain way makes you part of a religion. 
  • However, I understand how in recent W politics this is becoming a more prevalent misconception fuelled by fear and miseducation (Muslim-American 'domestic terrorists' x white ppl (Ocasio-Cortez, 2019) 
  • There are endless factors to being a Muslim, cult/soc/geog/hist/etc., and we cannot say certainly that one is more important for 2bn people than any other
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