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Swedish Islam

What constitutes a barrier preventing Islam from being an indigenous religion in Sweden?

When writing about Islam in the West the most compelling topic must be its relations to our post-modern society, in which respect Sweden is certainly at the forefront. But, how can Muslims, who clearly represent a pre-modern culture, have something to say about post-modernity and its particular issues?

In the famous encounter of the Muslims with the Greeks, they engaged with Aristotle, and largely absorbed and internalised his thinking, but the Enlightenment didn’t touch the Muslim world until colonial times and, while the West quickly moved through the turbulent waters of modernity to post-modernity, the Muslims largely seem still to be floundering in refusal of modernity or, on the contrary, are infatuated with it and with outmoded ideas of state and society. They are apparently ruled in their own countries by grotesque tyrants or are living in nominal democracies in which nepotism reins, or the army or both. All of this appears to culminate in the so-called ‘Islamic State’ which is like the worst barbarities of the French Revolution on steroids.

The fallout from this appalling situation, and, it must be said, from the deluded foreign policies of the great powers, is the tide of displaced migrants and refugees who wash up on our shores. Many of them are recent incomers from provinces and villages to great megalopolises, a transformation that in their countries is happening in an incredibly foreshortened time-scale in comparison to its historical development in Europe.

So, given what is an increasingly turbulent time and an influx of Muslims who are often the objects of extreme forms of that turbulence, and indeed sometimes themselves active propagators of it, what useful input can we expect from Muslims in Sweden, and by extension in the world today?

Retracing our civilisational thread back to the common base of Aristotle, contrary to perception of Islam as a ‘religion’ with a shari’a law, the longstanding Muslim tradition is of a tripartite division of knowledge into rational, empirical and revealed knowledge. The revelation is consonant with the Judaeo-Christian revelations, commenting on it and adjusting it in places. Each of the three divisions is rigorously thought through within its own domain and yet all three have been thought through to be consistent with each other and this is an ongoing project in each generation. So perhaps one contribution Muslims might make to our post-modern world is this axiomatic understanding of the essential unity of knowledge, something long lost in our deeply fragmented age.

As the discourse in our own societies is increasingly polarised into the dualism of right and left to a degree that clearly threatens the very stability of the age, it might be that the Muslims could bring, not ‘the answers to our problems’, but a sense of this unity to the civilisational conversation. We are in much more need of a conversation of civilisations than Huntingdon’s infamous Clash of Civilisation.

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