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With articles and events tied to its second issue, Renovatio magazine is hitting its stride

Last spring the inaugural edition of Renovatio, a Muslim journal of ideas published by Zaytuna College in Berkeley, addressed various themes in the field of metaphysics. The investigation of first principles and basic assumptions was an especially appropriate topic for the launch of this new intellectual endeavor. While the first issue sought to find areas of philosophical common ground, especially among religious believers, the journal’s second issue, published this past fall, examined how we can promote harmony and tolerance when that common agreement can’t be reached.

In his opening essay for the issue, Renovatio editor-in-chief and Zaytuna College President Hamza Yusuf questioned where the challenges of true pluralism really lie. Is pluralism difficult because our points of view are so different, or is part of the problem that, counterintuitively, many supposedly pluralistic viewpoints suffer from an unacknowledged and stifling similarity? Beneath our allegedly multicultural societies, Yusuf suggests, we often find something that looks much more like a monoculture: “The clothes people wear, the phones they stare at, the fast foods they eat, the blockbuster movies they watch at multiplexes, the music that blares into their heads through their earbuds — much of it has a sameness that contributes to the monoculture that has swallowed up the diversity.”


If one challenge for pluralism is a lurking sameness, another might be the division of practices that were once unified. In “Wisdom in Pieces,” published in the same issue, Caner Dagli, a professor at Holy Cross College, argues that traditional wisdom has been fractured into distinct fields like science, philosophy, and art which increasingly seem unable to re-engage. This loss of a common language for analysis, Dagli claims, fosters a lack of mutual understanding that spells trouble for the possibilities of tolerance.

“It is fine to tolerate someone who disagrees with you,” Dagli writes, “but it is better to tolerate that person while understanding the parameters of the difference; otherwise, your tolerance will likely be fragile.”

Dagli’s essay, and a companion piece in the issue by Zaytuna College co-founder Zaid Shakir on Islam and nationalism, were the centerpiece of a live event titled “The Art of Disagreement,” held in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 28 of last year, featuring both authors in conversation with Renovatio editor Safir Ahmed.

“It was very well received, both in the room and online,” Ahmed recalls. “Everybody wants to understand these issues better and to solve these problems we have — and this is the beginning of that process I believe.”

A second event tied to the Pluralism issue entitled “With God On Our Side? Islam And The Question Of Pluralism” was recently held at Zaytuna’s main auditorium in Berkeley. There, Hamza Yusuf joined two fellow Renovatio authors who addressed how Islam and Islamic thinkers have viewed those outside of the Islamic community. Professor Maria Massi Dakake from George Mason University spoke about Quranic views of Jews and Christians, while Harvard professor Andrew March explained how Muslims have viewed atheists.

Such discussions have found a growing audience — in addition to a full house at the Berkeley event, Ahmed says that more than 11,000 people tuned in to the livestream or watched videos of the event. “Our goal is to try to get the audience of these events to make sense of the world they live in,” Ahmed says. “How do we look at the other, and how can we be healthy participants in American democracy?”


One of the essays that has drawn the most attention from Renovatio’s second issue was a stand-alone piece by Oludamini Ogunnaike, a Harvard-trained specialist in Islam and West Africa who is currently an assistant professor at the College of William and Mary. In the essay, “The Silent Theology of Islamic Art,” Ogunnaike notes that for many people the best introduction to Islam comes not through philosophical or theological argument, but through beauty. “In traditional Islamic civilization, truth (of which the Qur’an is the highest example) is always accompanied by beauty,” Ogunnaike writes. “In fact, beauty is a criterion of the authentically Islamic. There is nothing Islamic that is not beautiful. This axiom governs every other traditional art such as calligraphy, architecture and geometric design, music, and even dress, food, and perfume.”

The beauty of Ogunnaike’s own words — in print and in a Dec. 17, 2017 presentation at Zaytuna College — struck a chord. The article was one of the most-shared Renovatio pieces, and received a surprise boost from William Dalrymple, a British scholar of India with more than a million followers on Twitter. Commenting on the article link, he added, simply, “This is beautiful …”

Renovatio’s third issue, meanwhile, is in the final stages of production. Its theme will be “The Art of Being Human,” and it will feature essays (some already available online) by Zaid Shakir on Quranic views of what makes us human, Eva Brann on reading sacred scripture in secular settings, and David Bentley Hart on the relationship between science and theology.


Explore Renovatio’s essays, articles and videos.