Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Religion & Culture / Religious Studies
Faculty of Arts
Dr Meena Sharify-Funk
This study contributes a decolonial critique of the world-system from the longue durée perspective of the Muslim Atlantic. It connects contemporary Traditionalist Islamic discourse in North America to human networks developed since the long sixteenth century. Traditionalist Islam can be described as a discourse about traditional Islam. Genealogically, it draws upon many sources. Two important ones are (1) the oeuvre of French metaphysician and Sufi René Guénon, and (2) the Shâdhilî school of Sufism born in North Africa. Traditionalist Islam distinguishes itself from what it depicts as fundamentalist (or Salafist) and modernist (or progressive) currents, representing two extremes of the same modern ideological spectrum positioned in violent opposition to tradition. In contrast, it portrays traditional Islam as perpetuating sacred lineages which date back to the early Islamic era. These include Sufi lineages dedicated to transmitting metaphysical knowledge depicted within Traditionalist discourse as the essence of Islamic sacred sciences.
Many North American Muslim scholars associated with Traditionalism are connected to Islamic lineages from Northwest Africa. When they critique modernity by drawing upon Islam as a dynamic, diverse, and holistic tradition, they build upon a transatlantic history of metaphysically centred resistance to modernity/coloniality. Since the Portuguese first invaded the Moroccan city of Ceuta (Sabta) in 1415, Northwest Africans have played a key role in anti-colonial resistance which involves more than a military, political, or economic fight. It is a struggle to protect the spiritual and cultural traditions of Muslims, as well as other religious communities living with Muslims.
This dissertation joins a nascent conversation between Traditionalist Islam and decolonial world-systems analysis. It endorses the call made by decolonial theorists such as Ramón Grosfoguel for multiple inter-epistemic conversations about how to move ahead and beyond the modern/colonial system. And it focuses on the anti-colonial or decolonial aspects of Traditionalist Islam. Two main contentions are advanced: (1) that traditional Islam still needs to be decolonized, and (2) that Traditionalist Islamic perspectives should contribute more to the global conversation on decolonization. Three other arguments based on historical evidence support these main contentions: (1) that a specific type of traditional Islam developed in the Western Islamicate between the eighth and fifteenth centuries; (2) that the disruption and colonization of traditional Islam by European powers was a constitutive aspect of the early modern/colonial world-system born in 1492; and (3) that traditionalism developed as a response to this disruption. These long-term historical processes can be summarized as progressing through three stages: tradition, disruption, and traditionalism. Sections One to Three of this dissertation examines these stages, whereas Section Four is devoted to decolonization (and decolonialization), which represents a fourth stage, concerned with the present and future. In this context, tradition can be understood as an inspired dynamic flow from the past into the present and future. Explicitly affirming the value of the diverse traditions disrupted by the modern/colonial project is itself a decolonial act. A new theoretical framework proposed here is “Traditionalist Islamic decolonization.” Intended as one of many scholarly discourses contributing to global decolonial conversations, this framework begins from the premise that Muslims must revisit their tradition to counter the modern/colonial forces which for centuries have threatened to annihilate their unique ways of being, knowing, and behaving.
Sparkes, Jason, "Tradition as Flow: Decolonial Currents in the Muslim Atlantic" (2020). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2300.