ISLAMISTS MAKE USE of a tendentious reading of history to justify their causes, for the putative ‘Islamic Nation,’ for the call for the Sharī‘a, for the Caliphate, or for the existence of a ‘perennial struggle’ against the forces of Disbelief. This pre-supposes a view of the universe which does not see history as a sequence of events each with their own conditioning factors. Instead, historical events separated by centuries can be linked up and used to explain a preordained thesis, a ‘metanarrative’ that determines all the contours of history, hermetically sealed from the effects of events that contradict this thesis.

History is unfolding according to a pre-determined logic. The Muslim is held to be part of a great historical enterprise unfolding. This history is constantly repeating itself. Or rather, it is a permanent constant – the past and the present are indissolubly merged. The same formula applies down through the centuries and this provides the correct basis on which to engage with current and future events, for it is essentially one and the same contest – the Primordial Struggle between the forces of Truth and Falsehood. It is a formula of conflict that enables Islamists ideologues to claim that:

the conflict of cultures and the hatred has been burning since long before our attacks and in fact before Huntington and Fukuyama with their books on the Clash of Civilizations. This war has been going on ever since the existence of Faith and Disbelief.                                                               [Abū Muhammad al-Maqdisī]

As a self-contained entity, the Islamist revision of history immunizes its user intellectually, in much the same way as a fundamentalist doctrine immunizes the believer from challenge. In both cases, the immunization is a key tool to enable the exponent to avoid the implications of contradictions to the system.

Left unchallenged the Islamist historical narrative is a radicalizing force. There is therefore a special responsibility placed on the shoulders of the historian to educate the reader to understand the complexities of actions, reactions, developments and evolutions, against the highly manipulable shorthand of the conspiratorial ‘connecting thread.’ The authors of the articles in this section are taking on this responsibility.

Lafif Lakhdar

In your study you propose a road map for changing these psychologically deep-rooted feelings of guilt in the Islamic community into ‘healthy’ feelings of guilt; what is this roadmap and what is a ‘healthy’ feeling of guilt?

A healthy feeling of guilt is one that comes over all of us whenever a real error or sin is committed, and we hasten to seek forgiveness or make reparations for it.

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Lafif Lakhdar

(Editorial note: The following article is a detailed introduction to Lafif Lakhdar’s ground-breaking book: From the Muhammad of Faith to the Muhammad of History and is taken from the text of an interview conducted with him shortly before publication.[1] Due to its length it is presented here in three parts).

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Hashem Saleh

We do not censure Orientalists for applying the historical method to the Arab Islamic heritage. Actually quite the opposite; we thank them for it. We only blame them for stopping halfway, for stopping at the philological, historical or positivist reductionist method which goes back to the 19th century. We say to them that, despite its importance, this is no longer sufficient and that it is necessary to add to this process the methods of modern human and social sciences that emerged in the 20th century such as linguistics, anthropology, comparative religion, psychology, sociology – and in particular historiography as practised by the French École des Annales which has overturned and radically renewed its methodology.

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