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Reviewed by:
  • Nietzsche and Islam
  • Peter S. Groff
Nietzsche and Islam. By Roy Jackson. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Pp. 194. Hardcover.

Given its title, one might expect Roy Jackson's Nietzsche and Islam to offer an examination of Nietzsche's views on Islam. Such a volume would be welcome indeed, since with the exception of a short but excellent article by Ian Almond there is a striking lacuna in Nietzsche studies on this particular topic.1 However, while Jackson frequently notes Nietzsche's surprisingly positive assessment of Islam, his concerns here are not so much historical and philological as contemporary and political. The stated aim of the book is twofold: first, to demonstrate (contrary to popular belief) that "Nietzsche is not the standard bearer for atheism" and second, to make the case that his philosophy "has particular relevance for how Islamic identity is perceived in the modern world" (p. 1).

Jackson argues that Nietzsche's insights can in fact help Islam confront the force of secularization on the one hand and revitalize itself on the other through a critical-historical return to its "key paradigms": the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad, the city-state of Medina, and the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs. These paradigms of the [End Page 430] formative period (610–661 c.e.) represent for Jackson the very "soul" or "essence" of Islam (pp. 8–9). Not surprisingly, they also lie at the heart of the utopian "Golden Age" narratives that contemporary political revivalists (Islamists) employ to justify the establishment of a pure Islamic state—a state in which all aspects of life are encompassed by religious law. Jackson's attempt to take back the key Islamic paradigms from such reactive, authoritarian, and stultifying forces—as well as his resistance to the ideology of modern Western secularism—places him firmly in the progressive lineage of the Nahda (the "Awakening" or "Renaissance" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).

Chapter 1 sets the stage for Jackson's project by examining some post-9/11 debates surrounding the "clash of civilizations" thesis, the question of Islamic identity, and so forth. Chapters 2 and 3 are dedicated primarily to the explication of Nietzsche's thought, indicating its relevance to the question of Islamic identity. Put briefly, Jackson finds in Nietzsche's writings a robust and salutary articulation of the critical "Historical" perspective, which he uses to counterbalance the ostensibly "Transhistorical" approach to Islam (i.e., the vision of Islam as pure, pristine, and all-encompassing) proffered by revivalist thinkers like Mawlana Mawdudi. Of particular interest to Jackson is the Nietzschean idea of the soul as something mortal, relational, and irreducibly multiple (pp. 35–36), a model he will ultimately apply to the key paradigms of Islam.

If it seems strange to call upon Nietzsche for help in reclaiming the vital energies of Islam, chapter 3 makes a case for his "religiosity." Jackson's central claim is that Nietzsche does not reject the religious as such, but rather just particular life-denying or otherworldly manifestations of the religious impulse. Indeed, according to Jackson, Nietzsche shares with religious thinkers an obsession with matters of "ultimate concern" (to use Paul Tillich's phrase), the need for redemption, and, perhaps most importantly, a "lack of 'faith' in the secular order to provide humanity with any meaningful existence" (p. 13). Far from announcing the inevitable triumph of atheism, then, Nietzsche's proclamation of the death of God merely signals the contingent inability of a decadent form of Christianity to negotiate the process of secularization. Indeed, according to Jackson, Islam can learn a good deal from Nietzsche's critique of the "dead God" of Christianity and consequently "embrace a 'living God' that does not perceive secularization as an enemy" (p. 13).

The next three chapters focus on Islam, with Jackson endeavoring to apply a putatively Nietzschean perspective to its key paradigms. Building upon the work of Fazlur Rahman, Muhammad Arkoun, and Mohamed Talbi, chapter 4 lays out a hermeneutics of the Qur'an that attempts to strike a balance between the text's ostensibly divine, timeless, universal message and the cultural, linguistic, political, and historical context of its particular audiences.

Chapter 5 interprets the...


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