chapter  1
Producing Islamic Knowledge In Western Europe: Discipline, Authority, And Personal Quest
Pages 27

In this chapter, I shall be using the term ‘Islamic knowledge’ for whatever Muslims consider to be correct or proper belief and practice – in the widest meaning of those words, and including non-discursive, embodied forms of knowledge. Since Muslims hold different views of what is properly Islamic, there cannot be a single, unifi ed and universal knowledge (though some Muslims make such claims for their particular conception of it), and Islamic knowledge is inherently contested. What makes it Islamic is not necessarily its congruence with some broadly accepted standard of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but its reference to the ongoing series of debates that constitutes Islam as a living tradition. I fi nd Talal Asad’s conception of Islam as a discursive tradition, as he fi rst formulated it in a paper on the anthropology of Islam (1986), very useful, though I would broaden the understanding of tradition to include non-discursive elements as well. Not everything Muslims do is Islamic; Muslims engage in many activities and debates that are not informed by any relation with Islamic tradition. The ‘local knowledge’ of Muslim communities similarly includes much that has nothing to do with their ‘Islamic knowledge’, although the latter may also contain numerous elements that are local. As Asad writes, ‘[a] practice is Islamic because it is authorized by the discursive traditions of Islam, and is so taught to Muslims – whether by an عalim , a khatib , a Sufi shaykh , or an untutored parent’ (Asad 1986 : 15). This obviously includes much belief and practice that in the opinion of at least some other Muslims is non-Islamic, such as Sufi ritual, shrine visits, and certain healing practices; the legitimation by some form of authority deemed to be Islamic is the crucial aspect. I would even argue for the inclusion of rituals such as the Alevi cem and semah , even though these appear to be alien to the mainstream scriptural tradition of Islam and are widely perceived as having pre-or extra-Islamic origins. Both are embedded in a complex of myths and concepts that clearly relate to the broader Islamic tradition, and they share this feature with the rituals of various other heterodox communities that have been present as a counterpoint to the dominant melody of Sunni Islam.