chapter  2
10 Pages

Islam and Post-modernity

What is modernity? There is no consensus of opinion. Words like “post-modernity” or “modern times” do not have the same deep echo outside Europe as they have in Europe, where they conjure up a whole range of images, from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century. In the European continental tradition, the word “modernity” continues to feed polemics about its origin, its dating, its unity and its limits (Legoff, 1988: 59-104). Even in aesthetics, where the word primarily appeared, the notion is flexible enough to cover modernism and post-modernism. Nor do the social sciences relate to modernity in a similar and coherent definition. Thus, defining Islam as traditional or modern cannot be done clearly and precisely. What, then, does post-modernity entail for Islam? Whether one defines, abstractly and hardly in a crystal clear manner, the founding modernity as the period when being of one’s time is a supreme value (Vattimo, 1987: 105, 109) or as the period “drawing its normativity from itself” (Habermas, 1988: 8), we situate modernity in the spirit of the time (Zeitgeist), borne by a subject able to make the threefold Kantian distinction (nature, ethics and aesthetics). Thus, modernity has inaugurated a new stage of which the historical threshold “can only be apprehended before being reached or after being passed” (Blumenberg, 1999: 533). The ritual of a certain period of time is always transitory, meaning that there will constantly be a discrepancy between modernity and its definition. Benjamin states the paradox in a clear manner: “when modernity sees its rights recognized, its time has passed. Then it will undergo examination. Once it’s dead, we’ll see if it’s able to become antiquity” (Benjamin, 1979: 117). Today the legitimacy of Modern Times has been shattered. Modernity, which we inherited from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century, is today going through a crisis. Touraine has described its manifestations, from the exhaustion of the initial movement of the Enlightenment (Lumières) to the substitution of the society by the market (Touraine, 1992: 111-176). Then Habermas, Manfred Frank and Foucault, as well as the post-structuralists like Derrida, also submitted it to a critical approach, attacking the principle of selfconsciousness (Selbstbewusstsein). This principle supposed that Descartes’s subject builds up its relation to itself, to the other and to the world in full transparency of the founding subjectivity: the “I” (“Je”), the underlying subjectum, master of what it thinks, says and does (Habermas, 1988; Frank, 1989; Foucault, 1994). It has been demonstrated that the concept of the subject, so much sublimated by the Moderns, is based on the unilateral, dominating and self-referential structure of self-consciousness. Even the post-humanists, who remain attached to the tradition

of the argumentation of the Lumières, from Kant, Voltaire and Rousseau, admit that we are, in one way or another, disappointed by Modernity (Ferry and Renaut, 1985: 33). Post-modernism entails the unavoidable historicisation of the project of modernity. What about Islam and the Muslim civilisations?