By Abdulaziz Sachedina
A disclaimer is in place before I proceed to predict the future of millions of Muslims from various cultures and nationalities who adhere to Islamic tradition. I cannot claim to be comprehensive in my assessment, since I am dealing with different manifestations of religiosity among Muslims. My field work in various Muslim cultures warns me against overgeneralizations that can take away the peculiarities of different peoples that make up the Umma — community.
I am both an “insider” and an “outsider” to the tradition and to the community. As an insider, I face specific challenges in my assessment because of an inclination to look at my inherited perspectives and allegiances uncritically. The major challenge to me is to step outside my own community in ways that allow me to explore normative Islamic tradition and evaluate its ability to expand its hermeneutical horizons. How supple is the retrieval and interpretations that are sometimes implicit and at other times explicit in the scriptural sources for application in the modern age? How much of the tradition is relevant to the contexts in which the community finds itself? As an “outsider” academician, I am able to transcend my ties with the Muslim religious establishment and offer honest assessment of the future of the tradition and the community.
My extensive field work, which stretches for more than four decades, forces me to search for the future of Islam in peoples who profess that religion, that is, those men and women who have throughout history kept the flame of their hopes alight and have trusted the truthfulness of their creed and practice. And yet, I am cautioned against presenting them as a monolithic group. I must consider their differences in light of the religious practices and culture that suggest some kind of unity in their appropriation of the 7th-century Arabian religion. I cannot gloss over the diversity that exists among Muslims and their religious leaders about the special claims of Islamic scriptures on Islam’s adherents, societies, and those states that claim to be founded upon its political values. The future of Muslims will be determined by the aspirations and expectations they maintain regarding historical Islam — the religion and the culture that shaped its civilization. What is important to understand today is the relevance of this rich heritage that can speak to the Muslim peoples living under markedly different circumstances than their ancestors.