Undoubtedly, Shaykh Abul Hasan’s thought needs further development. In the passages presented above, one sees the time and audience visible in the nature of the Shaykh’s discourse. He is mainly addressing Muslims in Muslim lands, or Muslim immigrants (still Urdu and Arabic speaking) to non-Muslim lands. The condition of Muslims in the West and the Muslim world has gone through many changes. Applying his thought to current contexts might mean retaining some of his ideas, dismissing others and leaving others to future analysis.
Furthermore, one sees an absence of attention to converts to Islam in the non-Muslim countries in Abul Hasan’s writings; and, although one can logically deduct some general advices for them from the Shaykh’s words, one notices that they and their individual history and needs are never directly approached. This absence is somewhat understandable for the Shaykh because his work concentrated on reality as opposed to dealing with an abstract future, and at the time one had not seen the influx into the faith that one sees now. Moreover, while many of the immigrants to the West who constituted the Shaykh’s audience would have still seen themselves as foreign, this is no longer the case for the children of many of those in those audiences; such children now see themselves as or just are indigenous to a greater extent (even if they are not still fully viewed as indigenous by others who feel more naturally native).
It is interesting how the Shaykh, being foreign to the West yet advising the Muslims of the West, also highlights that the Muslim world as a whole has been beset by many historical tragedies – spiritual, intellectual and political – that have negatively impacted it. These facts, as presented by the noble Shaykh, actually should have the effect of enabling Muslims to reject the idealistic notion that the Muslim world, even the best of their scholars, have the answer to our problems in their entirety or the idea that affairs are necessarily better “over there” rather than here. Shaykh Taqi Usmani, one of the leading conservative Islamic scholars of the age, noted in his Discourses on Islamic Way of Life the inadequacy of the religious scholars to beneficially lead a modern government if they were given even a year’s warning for preparation; and how the “field of research and investigation is only half-way and inadequate” in the realm of “dealings, social living and morality” (in contrast to the emphasis given to “beliefs and worship”). Some of the worst and bitter Muslim polemics in the West have been led by idealistic factions – across the various groups – who have merely imported, wholesale, certain intellectual baggage from the Muslim world, which often has a narrow and merely polemical character, overall; and these have often debilitated the Muslim community as a whole, even if one can point to certain limited benefits that have accompanied the overwhelming negativity. The religious Muslim community in the West is still trying to combat such negative importations.
Therefore we are left with a project that Professor Sherman Jackson has stated specifically for Blackamerican Muslims but meant, and can certainly be taken, as relevant for all Muslims in the West in his Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection and Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering. In the former work, he spoke of Blackamerican Muslims who “master Arabic and the Islamic religious sciences, alongside what they deem useful of the critical Western tradition,…return[ing] to a position of full partnership (if not leadership) in the intellectual life of American Islam.” In the latter work, Jackson repeated that such a venture depended on the “ability to access and deploy the intellectual legacy of the classical Sunni Tradition, both as a means of domesticating Black Religion and of moving beyond it to address important spiritual and transracial issues in a manner that is both effective in an American context and likely to be recognised as Islamic in a Muslim one.” Jackson further notes in the latter work, “Actually, I overstated the matter in Islam and the Blackamerican, speaking of the need for Blackamerican Muslims to ‘master’ the supertradition of Islam. All Blackamerican Muslims need to do is gain enough facility in Tradition to display the requisite degree of ‘rhetorical etiquette’ to be recognized as playing by the rules of Islamic ‘public reason’ when vindicating, crafting, or critiquing doctrinal and practical positions.”
A Nadwi project for the West – as I would understand it from Nadwi Shaykhs like Abul Hasan, Akram and Uwais Namazi – would fall very much within the parameters set–out by Jackson. Indeed, when Professor Jackson and Shaykh Akram recently shared a platform in London to discuss the issue of Muslim minorities in the West (organised by Islamic Courses), with Shaykh Uwais in the audience, I – as the chair who spent time with them all – felt a great congruence and shared sense of purpose and way of thinking, despite the obvious fact that they differ on somewhat subsidiary points. Therefore Western Muslims must faithfully commit to the tradition of Islam and their own Western identity, whereby their essential religious principles are not compromised and where their cultural heritage that is at one with those Islamic principles is not needlessly discarded in the pursuit of some “Islamic-ness” which is the mere imitation of a cultural norm of a Muslim people that is not required by Islam. Professor Jackson has defined such a dynamic Western manifestation of Islam as “Modernized Islam”, which he contrasts with “Modern Islam.” In sum, “Modernized Islam” is defined by Jackson “as the classical Tradition of Muslim law, jurisprudence, and theology ostensibly calibrated to the realities of modern times”; and to show it in action he interestingly highlights a legal verdict issued in Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi’s Fatawa mu’asirah.
In the final analysis, we can see Shaykh Abul Hasan as a vital guide towards attaining “facility” in the “classical Tradition.” Yet, finally, our conclusions on pre-modern Islamic intellectual history, on modern history or even on positions of law and conduct might differ from his, but we will be enriched by engaging his wide attempt at trying to help us tackle the problems we face. A great challenge lies ahead of us. It requires bravery and diligence (as both Shaykh Akram and Professor Jackson have often stressed when addressing the problem), and a great deal of patience, because a “facility” with the tradition does not come quickly and easily. Therefore we must be wary in the West of thinking that any scholarly product with the best publicity package is actually the correct way forward. We must be prepared to dig deep and even be prepared to change course when required; and this changing course is when called for by a commitment to the principles of the religion and not a mere political expediency without principles or even in conflict with our core beliefs (as Professor Jackson has warned). Furthermore, Western Muslims should not be excessively rejectionist about what they perceive to be foreign culture, and to then reject it simply because it is deemed “foreign”; for such a western nationalism and chauvinism would be beyond distasteful and be a gross disservice to the open multiculturalism and global brotherhood of Islam. As an English Muslim, my modern Englishness and Islam are well adjusted and prepared to accommodate “foreign” food, clothing and even outlooks and scholars and scholarly conclusions (whether “native” or “foreign”), whether I choose to follow them myself or merely entertain them as another acceptable point of view. Thus a healthy future project for “Modernized Islam” in the West is going to have to also allow acceptable diversity within its midst, without trying to define a monolithic understanding of what it means to be a “Modernized Muslim” in the West. In the same way we expect global Islam to be culturally sensitive, in part, we should not expect a one-dimensional “English Islam”, or “European Islam”, or “American Islam” or “Western Islam;” in the same way that “Arab Islam” or “Indian Islam” or “African Islam” is not defined narrowly. Those in England, Europe, North America or the West should be even more open to internal cultural diversity in light of us leading globalization and having the most cultural diversity in our cosmopolitan cities. Emotional, cultural and intellectual terrorism is not a healthy way forward for Muslims in the West; and I would love to think that Shaykh Abul Hasan is a bridge that we can cross over our troubled waters, even if the bridge is not a completely smooth one and Abul Hasan is not the only path on that bridge. We ask God for success in trying to meet such challenges.