Islam, as a religious tradition, is interpreted and reinterpreted by Muslims every day in communities across the globe. They assert theological, legal, ethical, political, and other positions in the name of Islam, claiming the authority to do so by both overt and subtle appeals to scripture, tradition, external trappings of religious piety or institutional hierarchy, and the sensibilities of different groups within their religious community. It is impossible to state objectively what Islam “says” about any given issue. Rather we must look to Muslim voices for a sampling of all the various things Muslims say about the issues they confront as Muslims. It has been so since the religion’s inception. This is also true for all other religious—and non-religious—traditions.
It is one thing to claim this and another to illustrate it tangibly. My hope in creating this site is to show some ways that representatives of different institutions, movements, and currents in the contemporary Muslim world appeal to sources of Islamic authority to assert their own and try to undermine that of their rivals in advocating their vision of the tradition. What are the variables in this contest? What are the differences in appearance, venue, carriage, and linguistic register that distinguish a Salafi from a member of the Azhari establishment, or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from a “New Preacher?” What kinds of concerns do these groups have, what kinds of positions do they take on them, and what is it about their presentation that appeals to their audiences? I hope to answer these questions both by providing longer video clips of members of each of these groups, and also by contrasting shorter excerpts of these that treat similar issues, or that directly address other groups, highlighting what I see as key issues and features in written commentary.
The Muslim voices currently presented in this blog are not only entirely Arab, but specifically Egyptian. This is due to my own linguistic deficiencies and lack of experience in Muslim communities elsewhere in the world. But this limited focus also allows us to look at religious authorities of a single society who are in dialogue with one another, which provides more points for direct comparison and contrast. Perhaps the geographic and linguistic scope will expand in the future.
I welcome any comments to the site. Does something here appear mistranslated? Is a particular video unrepresentative? Are there other videos you would recommend my having translated and making available? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.