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.

Riyad Hammadi

While the ‘ulamā’ have placed the condition of ‘non conflict of the content (of the Text) with reason, that is, the necessity of what is handed down to be in accordance with what is reasonable, and that the Text should be rationally acceptable and not demonstrating any weakness in the meaning (even if there is no associated weakness of expression), despite the importance of this condition Muslims have cancelled it out by limiting the evaluation of its agreement with reason as something to be carried out solely by the hadith collector.

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Hashem Saleh

I am well aware that my position differs greatly from the position of major Arab intellectuals who have waged battles against Orientalism, intellectuals such as Anwar ʽAbd al-Malik, Hishām Jaʽīt and Edward Saïd and many others. There are times when I have got to the point of thinking about putting together an entire work on this with the title: In Defence of Orientalism, or In Praise of Orientalism. But until now I have not had the time.

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Tal’at Radwan

This title comes from one of the books of the late Khalīl ‘Abd al-Karīm in which the author categorically denies that one could describe the pre-Islamic Quraysh community as jāhilī (‘pagan, ignorant’). For evidence he cites the words of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb: “Arabs are the raw material for Islam”, the meaning being: Arabs are the source of many rulings, rules, regulations and customs promoted and legislated by Islam. We might even say, quite confidently, that Islam is the legacy of the Arabs with respect to a large part of all practices of worship and society.

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