Thinking Past Islam and the West: Theorizing the Political Subject in Contemporary Arab Thought

Yasmeen Daifallah
UC Santa Cruz

What is the relationship between the re-interpretation of pre-colonial traditions and the critique and transformation of postcolonial subjects? This project puts postcolonial theory in conversation with contemporary Arab thought to explore its political theory of subject-formation. It closely and systematically examines how three influential Arab thinkers, Abdullah Laroui, Hassan Hanafi, and Mohamed Al-Jabri, theorize the formative effects of the Islamic tradition, colonial modernity, and postcolonial statehood on the political dispositions of contemporary Arab citizens. It posits that these thinkers’ oeuvres should not only or mainly be read as re-interpretations of a cultural heritage, but as attempts at transforming their readers through mobilizing multiple conceptual, interpretive, and rhetorical strategies that draw on a broad range of intellectual resources including the reformist attempts of modern Muslim thinkers, Euro-American philosophy, and the offerings of Islamic law, philosophy, and theology. In so doing, this project shifts the emphasis from questions about the compatibility of “Islam” and “modernity” to ones about theorizing decolonization in contemporary Arab-Islamic political thought. In offering a close, sustained, and granular reading of these thinkers’ writings, it provides a rare and much-needed political theoretical treatment of contemporary Muslim thinkers that takes seriously their insight into the politics of subject-formation and transformation.