The Excesses of Moderation Colloquium on “‘Moderate’ Islam” University of Utah, Feb 21-22, 2004

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Asma Barlas



I was persuaded to come out here at rather short notice by the promise of a
dialogue on some of the issues professor Bernard Weiss has raised in his
conceptually nuanced and politically canny essay on “moderate Islam.”1 In
fact, I found it to be such a compelling articulation of key themes that I have
focused my own comments around it. (So that we are clear, I am referring
to the first draft which has a different slant than the later ones.)
My commentary engages the political rather than the theological
aspects of the debate on “moderate Islam” and it specifies the problems and
the possibilities inherent in two very different approaches to Islam, one that
I am calling the official US position and the other simply a Muslim one. I
should note that the official perspective also reflects the thinking of most
US citizens who support the administration’s policies, so I use the term
In part, this focus reflects my disciplinary bias. As someone who comes
to the study of religion through the conceptual lens of politics, I am very
mindful of the relationship between structures of power and the interpretation
and practice of religion both in states where religion and politics intersect
in obvious ways and in those that are designed to sustain the separation
of church and state. In actuality, of course, religion and politics are inseparable
even in secular states though this does not mean that they are therefore
simply reducible to one another even in states where they exist in open
I make this point because of the tendency to represent Muslim identity
as irreducibly religious, as if we cannot have a will, desire, agency, consciousness,
or purpose that are fundamentally political just because we look
to religion to lend meaning to our lives. I want, therefore, to recuperate
some sense of Muslim political identity in my talk ...

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