Está en la página 1de 18
PRACTICING RELIGION IN THE AGE OF THE MEDIA Explorations in Media, Religion, and Culture Stewart M. Hoover and Lynn Schofield Clark, Editors Ww COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS NEW YORK 2002. CHAPTER II ALLAH ON-LINE: THE PRAGTICE OF GLOBAL ISLAM IN THE INFORMATION AGE Bruce B, Lawrence What is authority in Islam? It is scriptural, since it upholds the Holy Qur’an as divine revelation. It is charismatic, since it invokes hadith, which depicts the exemplary life and words of the prophet Muhammad. It is also juridical, since it relies on a practical code, the shari’a, and also on the custodians of shari’a, the ulama, who are seen to be faithful guides to Muslim norms and values. All three nodes—the scriptural, the charismatic, and the juridical— project a specifically Islamic authority, and all three have ample narratives. Yet they are also contested narratives. The Qur'an stands as the linchpin of Muslim belief and practice. It affirms the one God of creation and judgment, both in this world and the next world. Yet who interprets the Qur'an, and what makes one interpretation more valid than another? Muslims differ among themselves in their answers to these questions. Similarly, Muhammad is uncontestable as a source of authority: he stands next to the Qur’an as the source of all legitimacy from a Muslim perspec- tive. It was, after all, this seventh-century, middle-aged Arab merchant who was chosen by God to be the perfect medium. Muhammad ibn Ab- dullah was the final prophet for God’s complete revelation, the Holy Qur'an. Muhammad is affirmed as the human signifier of the most basic Muslim creed: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the apostle of God. Yet Muslims disagree about the profile of Muhammad. After all, 238 | EXPLICIT AND PUBLIC EXPRESSION IN NEW MEDIA CONTEXTS how can anyone know, several centuries removed, what was the shape and the intention of his life as God’s emissary to the Arabs, and, beyond them, to all humankind? Finally, beyond scriptural authority and prophetic authority, we have juridical authority. We are faced with the custodians of the shari’a, the ulama. It was not until the end of the ninth century, more than two hun- dred years after the introduction of Islam into Arabia, that schools of law, both Sunni and Shi'i, became fully elaborated. They were given institu- tional force within Muslim polities, and hence preserve the double au- thority of both the Qur’an and Muhammad; yet the ulama continue to differ among themselves about the precise nature of that twin authority. In other words, to say that there is authority in Islam, and to specify that authority as threefold—scriptural, charismatic, and juridical—does not end the question of what counts as true Islam or who are the real Muslims. Rather, the question itself has to be pushed to another level of inquiry, at once more speculative and more precise. The benefits of Islam—its clear revelation, its exemplary messenger, its juridical custodians—are also its deficit, at least for some. It has no final, rubber-stamp authority. There is no papal equivalent. Islam lacks a single canonical authority or a fixed story that holds together all the elements of a religion such as Christianity and imparts to them legitimacy. Without a pope or a papal narrative, Islam also does not have a Luther or a coun- ternarrative that defines a movement such as the Reformation, or makes possible the proliferation of alternate groups, claiming authority other than that of the pope and the Church of Rome. So dominant is the Christian frame for telling a religious narrative that one must be cautious about telling the Muslim story as if it were “just an- other religion.” How can we tell the Muslim story in order to foreground what is distinctive about the practices of Islam in contemporary culture? The usual way of telling the Muslim story is to frame Islam as a reli- gion that is also a polity. The most politically powerful are also deemed to be the custodians of orthodoxy, but power is shared, at least from the mid-eighth century on, so that over the last thousand years and more we do not find a single or orthodox Islam, but multiple Islams, all of which are shaped by the political, or dynastic, history of the premodern Muslim world. There is much of value to this approach, coupling religion and politics as two parts of a seamless whole called Islam, and in its most so- phisticated version it offers to students of world history an understanding