Eteraz: Why I am a traditionalist

[L]et’s not circumscribe our definition of a traditionalist too narrowly. There is not only a need for unity but there are many places of unity among the various traditionalist strands, as Yahya Birt points out. “Traditionalism, used in its normative sense, refers to that approach which allows for the authentic perpetuation and embodiment of the Islamic tradition and that contains a collective system of ongoing self-correction and refinement” — that is how Birt defines traditionalism. It is an excellent way of putting it. The same concept exists in Western philosophical thought. Kant called it kritik; the act of reason to turn back and revise itself. Tradition, therefore, is a very rational thing to believe in. As such, I do not want to appear to undermine that in any sense of the word, and I hope that Islamic traditionalism in all of its strands — including the Shi’a — continues its ongoing development.


Now I recognize that traditionalism is predicated on the erection of a certain hierarchy — the “scholars” or “teachers.” In some areas their presence is certainly problematic, but in some areas it is essential. When I first got to law school, the first thing we were told was that we were no longer lay-people. We were specialists because we were armed with a way of thinking that not everyone has access to. I think the scholars — whether they are juridical or spiritual teachers — are trained in certain things as well. One of the things that they are trained in that we aren’t is in not being lay-people, and as such, their existence gives me the freedom to just be a lay-person. I certainly don’t want to make it seem that I am now suddenly espousing some kind of entrenched clerical system, nor do I wish to degrade the important theological work that scholars do by dragging them into the corrupt and hypocritical world of politics. Nevertheless, between erring on the side of antagonizing them, and respecting them, I will go with the latter.



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