Postmodernism & Islam

Postmodernists are skeptical of the Quran's claims to absolute truth.
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Postmodernism is skeptical of absolute truth claims. Therefore, Islam, like many religions, often views postmodernism as an enemy. Postmodernism, for example, can be hostile to recognized authorities in Islam such as the Holy Quran. Postmodernism can, however, be helpful to Muslims as a means of decolonizing Western thought toward Islam and undermining the power of reason as the sole means of gaining knowledge.

1 Defining Postmodernism

Scholars have a difficult time defining postmodernism. As the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy puts it: "That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism." Postmodernism is often defined more by what it rejects, such as absolute truths and the belief that one standard can apply to all people. Postmodernism usually includes a distrust of authority, as well. When it comes to religion, postmodernism usually has elements of literary criticism, which means analyzing historical, cultural and gender bias in sacred texts. A postmodern theologian seeks truth not from the text as it is, but by how and why it was constructed.

2 Postmodern Critiques of the Quran

Standard Muslim belief is that the Quran is the direct Word of God transmitted through the Prophet Muhammad. This means that the words contained in the Quran, being of divine origin, are authoritative for all people. Postmodernists, however, would be suspicious that any standard text can be a fair moral norm for all people. A postmodernist would also be suspicious of the source. Surah 5, verse 92 instructs the people to "obey the Messenger," referring to Muhammad. A postmodernist would be suspicious of who was saying this, God or Muhammad.

3 Postmodern Critiques of Islamic Practices

Islam includes a set of standards that applies to all people, which is something a postmodernist would reject. For example, Muslims try to follow the "sunnah," or practice, of Muhammad, in an attempt to replicate his holiness. This can mean method of prayer, or it can be something as mundane as which hand Muhammad used for eating. In this context, a postmodernist would point out that Muhammad was a product of a right-hand dominant culture. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to make a modern left-handed child eat with his right hand just because in was proper in seventh-century Arabia. Islamic Law asserts that there is a right and wrong way to do things, and this is against postmodernist thought.

4 Postmodern Concepts Helpful to Islam

Postmodernism can aid as well as undermine Islamic belief. Postmodernism is skeptical of the power of reason itself, as is Islam. Postmodernism rejects the worship of reason as the sole arbiter of knowledge, and Muslims believe that sacred knowledge is a higher form of epistemology, the study of the origin of knowledge, than pure reason. Surah 2, verse 16 of the Quran states "And Allah knows, while you do not." The Quran is full of statements similar to the one above that emphasize the limit of human reason, and this is a very postmodern sentiment. Postmodernism is also helpful to Islam in the form of post-colonial thought, which seeks to undo centuries of biased attitudes toward Islam and the Middle East, also known as "Orientalism."

Michael Brenner has been a writer for almost 10 years for various outlets including the "Chicago Tribune," "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," other newspapers and various business websites. He holds two master's degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the areas of interfaith relations and world religions.