He begins by looking not so much at European reactions to Islam, but at Muslim visitors to Europe as long ago as the 16th century. He begins there as this talk carefully circumambulates modernity. Modernity is, of course, a very slippery term when you dig below the surface, but is useful as clearly something changed in European, and today’s child of Europe, the West with the advent of ‘modernity’. Prof. Ansary does mention here and there in his talk western perceptions of Islam, but what interests him more are Islamic reactions to modernity and therefore the West. He details the reactions of some Muslim visitors to Europe as modernity takes hold and notes their surprise at the profound changes in world view and mentalité that are intrinsic to modernity.
Syncretism is a term that is under attack and often rejected these days, but I have yet to find a workable replacement for what it signifies. In the university course I teach on Religion and Society in the modern western world, I have students consider such things as Tequitqui in the former Aztec lands, or the very individual case of an Oji-Cree Anglican priest active in his northern Ontario parish in the 1950s, 60s and 70s who also functioned as a traditional medicine man. Of course his Anglican bishop knew nothing of his parallel track job, but there it was. This fact of syncretism, whether it can be defined as a melding of beliefs and local cultural practices, or an acceptance in some locales of parallel belief systems existed also for any other religion that spread beyond its original socio-cultural setting.
Abdou Filali Ansary is none of these. He points to a different path to Muslim modernity, one little noticed, but perhaps needing to be so noticed.