- Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction
If Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction by Oliver Leaman falls into your hands,1 you may well find it hard to curb your curiosity and resist the challenge, given that "Islamic [End Page 502] topics" are so much in the forefront these days, especially in relation to global politics, but no less in the widely diverse cultural, theological, philosophical, sociological, and other fields of strictly academic interest. With this conjuncture—along with the inflationary interest of the market in everyday politics and journalism, which is shaped by the crisis that has engulfed the world and the globalization of discord, by ideological conflicts and clashing worldviews, by the economic and political struggle for dominance and power, and by the simplifications resorted to by the media culture of today as it promotes a new type of instant, fast-generated, and easily digested knowledge—issues are frequently vulgarized, reducing serious, unresolved questions of understanding cultures and civilizations to the superficial discourse of stereotypes and prejudices and their manipulation in and by everyday politics.
The counter or alternative to this conjuncture and its mundane political motives, which are highly diverse and often marked by opposing interests, ought to be an entirely new cognitive and hermeneutic strategy designed, with regard to the sociocultural and spiritual sciences falling within the term humaniora, both to ensure academic objectivity and methodological dependability and to further a nonviolent hermeneutic openness to the Other—the existential, social, and historical connections and interactions between individuals, societies, cultures, knowledge, belief, and so forth—in which our human lives run their course. This hermeneutic need, however, is not convertible with the new and mutually contradictory developments in globalization—to the extent that globalization means not merely interconnection and political, technological, and economic standardization, but also a leveling down designed to obliterate difference and lead to bland uniformity. To the contrary, this hermeneutic does not mean aspiring to eradicate differences, but rather necessarily involves a dialectic of recognition based on the premise of a nonviolent will for understanding and entente. What is needed, in fact, is a new culture of mutual recognition, for which neither mere spontaneous sympathy for today's much-vaunted "dialogue" nor the moralistic incantations by which public discourse pays lip service to it will be sufficient. Such a culture demands the ability critically to reassess established orders of knowledge, a critique of prevailing clichés and stereotypes, and a positive, systematic knowledge of and familiarity with the material being presented and discussed. In other words, a culture of recognition inevitably presupposes a culture of knowledge, from which alone one may expect cognition, exchange, understanding, and concord.
Clearly, knowledge acquired in the domain of historical, cultural, spiritual, or humanist studies, the domain of the social sciences, is not of the same nature as the positivism and objectivism of the natural sciences, nor does it share the latter's universality, since matters concerning our past existence and our creations and inventions, with their historical mutability and temporal nature, their historical, social, or cultural relativity, are resistant to absolute objectivization and reduction to the cognitive norm of unambiguity. If the hermeneutic task, in its encounter with the current historical material of human thought and formation, is faced with the dangers of an adverse, relativistic infinity in which everything is convertible with [End Page 503] everything else, then, in the absence of a uniform criterion of truth and knowledge and its purposes, one must conclude that "unity of sense" or "unity of meaning" is impossible. Despite this danger, the hermeneutic experience—with, as its basis, the unity of experience of understanding to be found in the postulate of human historicality and finitude, which suggests to us the bond between us in the open human "communication through historical time"—invokes the indispensable openness and free flow of the most diverse human expressions, works, and meaningful acts, in which people in their diverse historical groupings and circumstances, social environments and differing experiences, and languages and cultures meet in the same historical, existential play—the transformation of primal chaos into...