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48 Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, Spring 2010 Toward a Muslim Existentialist Dialogue? Some Reflections on its Fruitful Possibility Noel S. Adams* Ahmad Fuad Rahmat* I. The Idea of an Existential Dialogue Finding religious meaning that is relevant to the modern age is one that members of all of the world’s religions are forced to come to terms with. The nature of religious meaning concerns not only the believers of the religions who interact not only with each other, but also with those who are not believers. When believers try to engage with non-believers, the need for a framework that enables a discourse that is open to all participants becomes evident. Contemporary Muslims are not alone in their need to engage within the framework and commitments of modernity. The challenge of facing modernity is anything but a new problem. In this paper we aim to explore the provocative and promising question as to whether or not it is possible to establish an existential dialogue. We approach this question by looking to two thinkers who posed that question and tried to provide an answer. One is a Christian from nineteenth century Denmark: Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855); the other is a Muslim diarist from mid- *Noel S. Adams.PhD, is an associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University, where he has worked since 2002. His interests include the philosophy of religion, the relation between faith and reason, and especially the work of Søren Kierkegaard. *Ahmad Fuad Rahmat is a graduate student at the philosophy department at Marquette University. His interests include global ethics, the philosophy of religion and Marxism. 49 twentieth century Indonesia: Ahmad Wahib (1942-1973).1 After seeing the ways in which they answer the question, we shall have established why we are optimistic for the possibility of entering into such a dialogue. II. On the Origins and Nature of a Christian Existential Dialogue: Søren Kierkegaard In the mid-nineteenth century, Christian theologians found themselves in a crisis that was brought in large part by the influences from what was then contemporary philosophy. The enlightenment’s emphasis on humanism began the movement away from the divine and towards the human person, and Hegelian idealism took this to its most logical extreme. Christian theologians found themselves doing battle with philosophical models which spawned a widening gap between theologians and ordinary believing Christians. In their attempt to accommodate the prevailing philosophical theories, and to defend Christianity against the charge of unreasonableness, theologians produced what amounted to little more than exercises in philosophy of religion instead of engaging the ordinary, everyday believing Christian. The attempt by theologians to accommodate modern philosophy required the use of a conceptual framework that was in many ways entirely alien to Christianity (perhaps even incompatible with it), so it is no surprise that Christianity began to look less and less like what it traditionally had been. Ordinary, believing Christians soon found themselves having just as little in common with their own theologians as they had with philosophers. The theoretical gap that began to emerge at the academic level trickled down to the practical level of the ordinary Christian. Christianity found itself in a state of crisis unlike it had never seen before. Kierkegaard saw this crisis threatening the very future of Christianity’s legitimacy and relevance. His attempt to meet this crisis head on resulted in a body of literature that resonated not only with the existentialist 1 Ahmad Wahib is a celebrated Indonesian diarist. The diaries were discovered only after his untimely death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 31. The excerpts cited in this paper are translated into English for the first time by Ahmad Fuad Rahmat. The editors, Djohan Effendi and Ismed Natsir (who was a personal acquaintance of Wahib), stated that the overall total impact of Wahib’s reflections were massive and wide-ranging, encompassing questions on theology, philosophy, politics, the Qur’an and Sunnah, atheism, evolution, Indonesian culture and modernity, among many others. It was also claimed that Wahib had planned to eventually produce a treatise of sorts, in attempt to synthesize the fragmented ideas in his journals. They...