Islamic Neo-Traditionalism

I am always in search of analytic content on Islam 1960s-the present. I guess I am looking for people to do historical record-keeping and analysis of the events I have seen, the religious shifts I have witnessed in my life, as I traveled from Pakistan to the West.

This podcast is an excellent conversation. Dr. Walaa Quisay specializes in Muslim Neo-Traditionalism (especially AH Murad, Umar Farooq Abdullah, and Hamza Yusuf).

The conversation touches upon Neo-Traditionalist nostalgia and disenchantment from modernity, which inspires conservatism (especially on gender).

Neo-Traditionalist Muslims bash Leftists for being Utopian – you know, because apparently it’s not ‘religious’ to seek justice for the oppressed in this world, even though the Qur’an tells you to. Yet all Neo-Traditionalist thought relies on the past as the Utopia which we know it never was. They use the past as reference point to the point of total compartmentalization from the present – Dr. Quisay also discusses compartmentalization, in terms of rihlas and retreats where neo-Traditionalists seek to find a refuge from the polluted present. In 2006 I tried to process my observations of this phenomenon in this article.

Dr. Quisay addresses the political aspect of Neo-Traditionalist Muslim religiosity – the avoidance of any power critique. To such Neo-Traditonalists as Hamza Yusuf, engaging in power critiques or indeed any engagement with politics reflects an unseemly interest in worldly affairs. (I am not sure they are Neo-Traditionalists but the Tablighi Jamaat apolitical approach is a good illustration of this). Hamza Yusuf’s support of the Gulf autocracies reflects his approach. Power structures support stability, and in stability can a pacifistic compartmentalized spiritual life be pursued. Moreover, to them, injustice is merely a Divine test to be endured, not to be fought.

I have observed with dismay Neo-Traditionalists seek worse and worse alliances – with “family values” (anti-gay and anti-abortion) Christians, Republicans, and as time passed, now with anti-Black White nationalist misogynists and incels. They seem to seek a nostalgic Western past, and harmony with Western states. In the case of AH Murad, he has criticized South Asian Muslim immigrants for their “non-spiritual” immigration and goals. So Neo-Traditionalists have urged Muslim immigrants to find allies among “traditional” Christians.

The Neo-Traditionalist approach to Islam has been gaining inroads since the 1990s at least. Many of its new adherents have little spiritual interest but are fleshing out an implicit racial, gender, political conservative/right-wing orientation, in the guise of a vaguely Islamicate approach. (Consider the Mad Mamluks and suchlike).

All of this makes Dr. Quisay’s work very timely. The Neo-Traditionalist orientation to me is not benign but actively harmful, so understanding it is extremely important.

PS: Neo-Traditionalist is not “traditional.” I don’t have time to define it, but the above discussion and the podcast will help.


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