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Since about 2002, I have been fascinated with the space in which law and theology meet in Islamic thinking. My 2004 article in the Brill journal Islamic Law and Society ("A Turn in the Epistemology and Hermeneutics of Twentieth Century Usul al-Fiqh," ILS 11, 2, pp. 1-50) argues that in the many centuries of debates over the relative role of reason and revelation in discovering God's law for humankind, a trend can be seen in the last century. A hereunto rather marginal school of thought, which emphasized a methodology focused on the "Objectives of Shari'a" (Maqasid al-Shari'a) gradually became prominent. This trend continues in this century with scores of books written on this "Purposive Method" (al-manhaj al-maqasidi).

Other signs of this can be seen in the founding of the London-based Al-Maqasid Research Centre in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in 2005 and in the theme chosen by the last international conference in Cairo before the January 2011 Revolution. It was jointly sponsored by the Al-Azhar University and the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Affairs (lit. Awqaf, or "religious endowments") and its theme was "The Objectives of Shari'a and Contemporary Issues: Research and Realities."

This piece was cut out of a chapter that was contributed to the volume coming out this year, Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History (co-edited by Simon A. Wood and David Herrington Watt, University of South Carolina Press). It was going to compare Muslim and Evangelical involvement in environmentalism, but in the end the editors took out the Christian side. Here it is. Its title is "Fundamentalism Diluted: From Enclave to Globalism in Muslim Ecological Discourse." Refer back to the blog series on fundamentalism to get the context of this short piece.

Here is a study in contrasts. Two Muslim scholars review my book and come away with strikingly different conclusions -- or at least, emphasizing very different aspects. That's not surprising, since, as one reviewer wrote, it's really three books in one. This in itself supports what I've been writing about regarding hermeneutics: the same text can look vastly different, depending on the reader!

First, Riad Nourallah (PhD, Cambridge University) is a Senior Lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of London, University of Westminster. His review is published in the Muslim Education Quarterly (Vol. 24, #1, 2, 2011).

Second, Mahan Mirza (PhD, Yale University) is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Zaytuna University, Berkeley, California. This is a new Islamic university (first of its kind in the US), which is not yet accredited. His review appeared in the latest issue of the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (Vol. 28, #4, 2011).

Amina Wadud, though one of many contemporary Muslim feminists, is certainly the most contraversial. This is mainly due to her activism over the years, which culminated in her leading prayers at a jumaa prayer service in Washington, DC in 2005. It was covered by the press all over the Muslim world and even elicited some death threats against her (you can look up a YouTube interview in which she speaks about this).

This is a section of a longer article that in the end was published without this section.

A cautionary word: Muslim women all over the world are pushing for a rethinking of many traditional gender norms that still impeed them from fulfilling their calling as God's trustees on an equal footing with their brothers, fathers and sons. And no, you don't have to go as far as Amina Wadud to make a good Islamic case for that. My point in this essay as an outsider, and in line with my arguments in Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, is simply that she has worked out a theology that is more consistent and compelling than many others. And also, I don't think people of faith can ignore the postmodern intellectual context of today. I believe it can work for us and enrich our understanding of how God wants us to live out our faith in today's world.

I'm a patriotic American, grateful to God for the many achievements of our nation -- its democratic ideals of freedom and equality, the prosperity it has afforded so many immigrants over the last two centuries, and its willingness to engage in self-criticism (think of the Civil Rights movement). If you've read Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, you will know how much I opposed the Iraq invasion before it happened and the war there and in Afghanistan as they progressed.

Our last troops pulled out of Iraq this week (Dec. 17, 2011). I wished our President had not declared the war a success -- he of all people! But this is the logic of empire. With almost 1,000 army bases worldwide and a defense budget that nearly equals the combined military budgets of all other countries, we project massive, indeed colossal power. As a follower of Jesus, I take the phenomenon of human sin seriously, and huge concentrations of power terrify me. Yes, power can be used for good; but look around you today and throughout human history. Evil can so easily infiltrate it, and often hijack it entirely.

This is a small vignette of an instance in US history when power was badly misused (an excerpt from my book, Ch. 11). I bring this up because humantrustees is about building on global networks of faith and peacebuilding. In the ensuing dialogue, therefore, we must be be honest with ourselves, ready to recognize our own faults before we attempt to highlight anyone else's. As Jesus said, "take out the log from your own eye before mentioning the speck in your brother's eye." This works for us individually; but it's also good to remember while we interact as citizens of many different countries.

Steven P. Blackburn, scholar and librarian at the Hartford Seminary, wrote the first review of Earth, Empire and Sacred Text. It came out in October 2010 in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. I will be posting three other reviews shortly.

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