Ahmed presents Islam in global framework
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 08:10
Durre Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Gender and Culture in Lahore, gave a talk last night before a classroom-sized group on the top floor titled Cabot Auditorium on “Modernity and Religion, Gender and Islam: New Heretical Imperatives.”
Ahmed claimed that globalized modernity is changing the way we think about religion, from South Asia to the United States. In the two-hour lecture, she presented a more traditionally spiritual way of conceptualizing connections between religion and culture, examining the impact that Westernized thinking has imposed on these two realms of society.
Ahmed, a psychologist by training, began the lecture by describing the chasm that has been created between modern, Western formulations of religion and what she considers to be the spiritual essence of religious tradition at its roots, noting the importance of gender in the discourse.
In the West, the conception of both the psyche and the divine have become overwhelmingly the Freudian, Apollonian, masculine ideals of power and control at the expense of other types of masculinities and femininities, she said.
Ahmed said that human life has historically thrived on symbolism and subjectivity, but in recent centuries institutionalized religion has gradually erected a divide between religion as a way of life and religion as a system of belief. Mainstream thought in the West has favored compartmentalization of varying elements of the human existence.
Pointing to the unprecedented scope and scale of violence and weaponry that emerged in the 20th century, Ahmed called for a breakdown of today’s conventional perceptions of violence, arguing that any mental belief, whether based in secular ideology or religion, can provoke people to violence. She suggested this idea be applied to looking at terrorism of fanatics in the modern world.
“Rationality can lead as much to murder as faith can,” Ahmed said. “Fanaticism is not born necessarily with religion, but is born with the human psyche.”
Ahmed mentioned that many of the top al-Qaeda leaders were trained in the sciences, and that, for example, Osama Bin Laden was trained as an engineer. She discussed this example with the idea that there are implications of the modern phenomenon of sectioning religious belief away from religious practice and alongside a literal way of thinking.
This bringing of science to religion is a very destructive thing, she said.
Ahmed evoked a legend central in her article titled “Real Men, Naked Women and the Politics of Paradise,” to demonstrate that even in cases of apparent division, like Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, there is an underlying unity.
In this case, the highly gendered body of the woman in the legend draws similarity to Kashmir, which has been compared to the body of a beautiful woman, Ahmed explained.
A woman’s body is an object of claim, and both she and Kashmir are objects of claim between India and Pakistan, Ahmed said.
Ahmed considered the gendered nature of this perspective on the legend and on Kashmir to ultimately reveal a masculine discourse, but that gender as shown in the example may be a less dichotomous conception than modern society perceives. She argued that gender can be considered less a tangible, visible distinction than a deeper internal framework.
“Masculinity can mean many psychological qualities,” she said. “We can conceive of gender as psychological capacities in each of us.”
She continued to say that according to religion, in the eyes of God, everyone is a woman, adding that modern, Western fashioning of thoughts ignores the unifying characteristics of religion, culture and gender.
“There’s this modern mindset that says you have to choose, that there’s only one way meaning of scripture; there’s only one way of performing religion,” Ahmed said.
The culture of globalization is homogenization, according to Ahmed.
“[When there is] diversity and multiplicity, only then can you talk of unity,” she said.