Muslim Cosmopolitanism by Bruce Lawrence

Muslim cosmopolitanism seemed to me the most natural of dinner table top­ics. But my family and friends around the dinner table had other ideas. Many had never heard of Muslim cosmopolitanism, and so when I asked for initial responses to what it might mean, I received some unexpected responses.

My daughter thought it sounded like an oxymoron. Isn’t ‘cosmopolitan’ the opposite of religious identity? No one talks about Christian or Jewish cosmo­politans. How can there be Muslim cosmopolitans? My brother-in-law exclaimed, ‘I think it’s too elitist. After all, cosmopolitans are jet-setters. Per­haps some wealthy Gulf Arabs might qualify. But the Arab spring is moving towards summer: no folks from Cairo or Tunis or Tripoli are eager to be called cosmopolitan, and so the term is meaningless for them, and for most Muslims.’ My nephew, a high school junior who is studying Arabic, gave his perspective: ‘Kids in my school aren’t too keen even about the Arab spring. They think it’s just another part of Muslim violence. Muslim terrorism, they reckon, is here to stay; none of my friends anticipates a cosmopolitan future that includes Muslims.’ My other daughter and her husband, both college professors, were equally sceptical: ‘How can you use the term Muslim cosmopolitanism when Muslims themselves don’t think that they are cosmopolitan? Aren’t you impos­ing categories on others? Wouldn’t it be better to talk about networks or citi­zenship? After all, aren’t Muslim cosmopolitans just Muslims who want to be global citizens? Doesn’t it make more sense to talk about Muslim world citizens instead of Muslim cosmopolitans?’

Finally, my niece, a junior high school stu­dent, took the serious edge off the discussion. ‘Whatever it is,’ she said with her characteristic humour, ‘it has to rhyme, and Muslim cosmopolitanism is just too long and clunky. What about Muslim cosmo – nifty combo?’ How could I justify the category Muslim cosmopolitanism faced with this barrage of criticism?

Read more...