A New Paradigm for a Global World
- ISBN: 9781438482057
- Published By: State University of New York Press
- Published: May 2021
Katrin A. Jomaa’s interdisciplinary work Ummah: A New Paradigm for a Global World addresses a lacuna in contemporary Islamic scholarship, namely the diverse—and seemingly polyvalent— understandings of the worldwide Muslim community or the ummah in the Qurʾān and prophetic Sunnah (the traditional social and legal customs and practices that constitute the way of life of the Islamic community) and the challenges they pose for re-imaging liberal politics and conceptions of community in the modern world. By engaging select premodern and modern Islamic exegetes as well as drawing on the fields of theology, history, philosophy, and political science, Jomaa’s work offers a robust, multi-facetted analysis of the term ummah that provides a workable definition for understanding the ways in which it can be thought of as an alternative socio-political unit to the contemporary nation-state.
While neither a historiography of the evolution of the term ummah nor a translation of its meaning into the practical structures of a contemporary socio-political system (this is the future trajectory of Jomaa’s scholarship), Jomaa’s research definitionally examines the term ummah from the perspective of historical tafsīr (exegesis) and its intersection with the manifested ummah of the so-called “Medina Constitution.” It is from this juncture that Jomaa differentiates the ummah from the modern nation-state and argues that it offers a new horizon for contemporary thinking about the political, one whose potential, as she writes, “has not fully been activated” (5).
The book is divided into three parts, with each building upon and informing the next. These are: (1) hermeneutical analysis, (2) historical analysis, and (3) philosophical political analysis of the ummah.
Part 1 (chapters 1-2) consists of a critical analysis of the ummah in the Qurʾān and prophetic Sunnah. Here, Jomaa hermeneutically examines the conceptual and chronological differences in the meaning of the ummah in the Meccan and Medinan āyāt (verses) of the Qurʾān as well as the ways in which premodern and modern exegetes have made sense of these distinctions. Specifically, Jomaa investigates the works of Abū Jaʿfar Muhammad Ibn Jarīr Yazīd At-Ṭabarī, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm al-Qummī, Muhammad ʿAbduh, Sayyid Quṭb Ibrāhīm Ḥusayn Shādhilī, and Muhammad Ḥusayn Faḍlallah and how these figures have understood the ummah in light of the presence, or lack thereof, of the contemporary nation-state.
Part 2 (chapter 3) explores the historical enactment of the ummah in the so-called Medina Constitution considering the Qurʾān and prophetic Sunnah’s discourse on the eponymous subject (see chapters 1-2). Here, Jomaa meticulously analyzes the Constitution line-by-line and suggests modalities by which the ummah of the Prophet Muḥammad (i.e., the ummah enacted by the Medina Constitution) “activates” conceptual understandings of the ummah present in the Qurʾān and prophetic Sunnah. These modalities include the ways in which the ummah of the Medina Constitution is imagined in three interconnected ways. First, as a covenantal community of choice and responsibility that abides by the Islamic principle of ʿamr bil- maʿrūf wa nahy ʿan al-munkar (enjoying what is right and forbidding what is wrong). Second, as an “open,” and not a “closed” community, in which pluralism (religious, cultural, political, legal, ethnic, etc.) is both premised and directly descendent. And third, as a ḥaram (sanctuary/sacred land) in which the “borders” of the ummah are not demarcated by the law and a legal apparatus as in the case of the nation-state, but by the principles of choice and responsibility of the “nation” (i.e., the people) in relation to the ummah’s covenant.
In Part 3 (chapter 4), Jomaa attempts to combine her preceding analyses into a novel political philosophy, understanding the ummah as an alternative vision to the nation-state. Here, she examines the ways in which the ummah compares with and differentiates itself from the Aristotelian polis and the contemporary nation-state. By striking a particular balance between liberalism and communitarianism in which the traditional Muslim divisions between the dār as-salām (abode of peace) and the dār al-ḥarb (abode of war) cease, Jomaa explains how community is definitionally re-imagined in the forming and continual re-forming of the ummah.
While Jomaa’s hermeneutical analysis in part 1 heeds both conceptual and chronological analyses offered by others, and should be rightly noted for its synthetic richness, her statement that “the exact chronological order of the Meccan verses had to be sacrificed in order to develop” her argument (24) raises a potential concern. Namely, to what degree does her analysis of the term ummah take into account the possibility that chronologically earlier Qurʾānic āyāt may have been abrogated by chronologically later āyāt? And how might this consideration have impacted her analysis of what constitutes the khayr ummah (the best ummah)? Likewise, in part 3, it is unclear how the khayr ummah, premised on the “common belief in one creator for all people” (268, my emphasis), and emblematic of a new paradigm for a global world, is to be “multireligious and pluralistic in its makeup” (267) considering polytheistic faith traditions and their believers. Expansion and clarification of these points would further strengthen Jomaa’s scholarship.
Despite this, Jomaa’s work is a tremendous and timely gift to the field of Islamic studies and the growing subdiscipline of “ummahology.” Not only does Ummah: A New Paradigm for a Global World prove to be an unparalleled resource for understanding the dynamism of the term ummah in the Qurʾān, prophetic Sunnah, and the historically enacted Medina Constitution, but it also lays out the conceptual plane upon which the ummah differentiates itself from the contemporary nation-state and can begin to be “activated” in the present. At its core, Jomaa’s scholarship innovatively re-imagines what it means to be a member of the ummah in the contemporary, ultimately offering a new global paradigm for performing community in in the twenty-first century.
Marcus Timothy Haworth is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame.Marcus Timothy HaworthDate Of Review:June 24, 2022