Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Deciding to study Islam was a pretty easy decision for me to make when I began applying for Masters programs. I applied to programs in development, gender, sexuality, Islam, sociology - and in the end very easily chose the one about Islam. Since becoming religious, I feel like more moderate Muslims need to speak out and I wanted to be part of that. Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan, Leila Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi - all these authors had the guts to challenge mainstream conservative Islam that takes the Qur'an and Hadith very literally. They had the guts to say "no, we need to re-interpret Islam because we live in a different context." Something that would seem quite logical but actually offends many Muslims, who are probably worried that doing this will change the religion. Before these we had Muhammad Abduh and Al-Afghani, who also argued that Islam needs to change in order to apply to modern times. And the barrier they saw to this process was, of course, the ulama.

The history of the ulama in Islam is definitely something I would love to study. It seems to me that at some point they got very powerful and began to misuse this power. They also became very rigid and conservative, not allowing ANY form of Islam except theirs - hence they would often persecute Sufis, Shia's, liberal Muslims. I think a big point was when the doors of ijtihad were closed. I mean doesn't anyone find that troubling?! Why did that happen and WHO decided it should happen? Couldn't power have played a role in that? Al-Afghani writes:

"What does it mean that the door of ijtihad is closed? By what text was it closed? Which imam said that, after him, no Muslim should use his personal judgment to understand religion, be guided by the Qur'an and the true prophetic traditions and endeavor to widen his understanding of them and deduce, through analogy what applies to the modern sciences and the needs and requirements of the present?"

It's also interesting that Shi'as never closed the door to ijtihad. I've also read that they believe in an uncreated Qur'an, meaning that it is okay to reinterpret it according to the modern situation. This seems to me a much more progressive viewpoint than that of the Sunni ulama (and therefore most Sunnis).

Back to Al-Afghani's quote: it's funny how if a writer said something like that today, he/she would probably get attacked relentlessly, whereas Al-Afghani was one of the foremost Islamic scholars of his time. And that brings me to my point: is studying Islam and going into the field worth it? Will people listen? Or will I just get attacked and labeled an infidel, as we have seen happen countless times, especially with women scholars? It just seems to me that Islam today is dominated by conservative elements who do not want to listen to any views other than their own. Considering that I want to study gender and Islam, a topic that's already pretty controversial, is it worth even putting my view out there?


Umm Omar said...

Salam! As far as your questions go, Islam is obviously something that you are passionate about so I think at the very least, you should study it for yourself. You even said it was easy to choose that program out of the many options you had. As for the rest of your post-it's an interesting topic and yet, one that probably many of us don't think about that often/question.I think that most people have lost even the basic teachings of Islam and so, follow blindly what scholars say and do, putting their full trust in them. I think part of the solution is for us to become educated ourselves; ask questions, read, learn Arabic and begin to know the difference between this and that. I noticed that when one does question what a famous scholar says, people will shame that person into thinking, "How could I have questioned a SCHOLAR?!" Yes, scholars of Islam deserve our respect, but their knowledge doesn't free us of our duty to learn and make decisions.

marzuki said...

Hey there Cairo,

I have a list of blogs on my Google Reader but yours is the only one that has the most number of unread posts.

Your entries are written in a way that forces me to take time off my routine and to sit and really think about what's being said. And I must say that trying to think about such issues have been extremely challenging for me.

I read with great interest on the need for more moderate Muslims to speak out and on your wanting to be part of that. However I feel that the extreme care one needs to put in when dealing with issues of the religion will make the learning a life long process.

I'm have asked myself some of the questions you raised but to bring myself to finding answers of my own is hard. Questions like where and how should I begin and why do I want to ask such questions in the first place have left them unanswered. The drive that Im lacking is exactly what I admire in you.

You asked if studying Islam and going into the field worth it. Will people listen or will u be attacked and labelled an infidel. You also mentioned how Islam today is dominated by conservative elements who do not want to listen to any views other than their own.

I'm of the view that it IS DEFINITELY worth it to go into the field. However, I think it'll be hard to keep an open and unbiased mind throughout your journey into the field. The tendency of you adding on to the many elements "who do not want to listen to any views other than their own" is very high.

BUt to paraphrase what Tariq Ramadhan said in one of the video u posted: talking is easy but to listen is the hard part.

Looking forward to more entries from you and may I one day be moved to embark on the odyssey that never started.

Anonymous said...

Completely worth it. We need more voices. I think it is the best decision you could make.

We all have something in this life we need to fight for, to try to change the world for, no? If not, then we are not really living.

I think you should definitely get your Masters in Islamic studies, and let your voice be heard. Who knows, maybe you will reach people and change their lives.

mezba said...

I did not know someone closed the door to ijtihad. And people actually believe that nowadays?

We need new madhabs!

Stacy aka Fahiima said...

Yes it is worth it to share your view. Believe me, not matter how outnumbered you may be, the world needs you!

Bahlool said...

Wow so weird!! I wrote last night (in swedish) about al Afghani...and used the same picture lol

My thoughts:
According shia view, the rulers enforced that religion should be seen in a certain way, so that the masses dont oppose the corrupt rulers. For instance, shiaislam has a rule that you have to oppose the rulers who are not islamic, while the 4 sunni schools have a hadith saying that you will die a infidels death, if you fight a ruler. Only time its ok to fight a ruler, is if he stops you from if he is like Yazid, drins, kills, if he rapes, if he is like Saddam, threatens muslims, then its not allowed to fight him...
Now why would the Prophet of Islam, the man who time after time told us to fight oppression, say a thing like that?
There has gone some 1000 years after the stop of ijtihad in that to shiaislam..we have some 20 to 30 Ayatollahs or Marja, who do ijtihad on a dayly basis..which is more effective in a society where stooges like Osama bin Ladin can trick masses to follow and love them?
We muslims are sheep and we see how ignorant leaders apply these rules to make us follow them and the corrupt leaders.
As for ijtihad in Shia. Its not in matters of usool al deen, the basics or the fundemental parts of islam, its in matters of furoo al deen, like how to wash how to cleanse yourself how to see on things like cloning and so forth.
So it can never ever threaten islam.
We have for instance a very orthodox ayatollah Shirazi, who is very rigid, while we have on the other hand Ayatollah Fadhallah who has a very open and moderate view on a lot of things, so its a good system..

Jasmine said...

I agree with you so deeply and truly that I cannot find an English word to express the level of "yes, I so agree"-ness that I am feeling.

One author you MUST MUST read is Fazlur Rahman. He has many around the sociological and political aspects of Islam, and covers in detail much of how the politics developed and became what they are.

Keep us updated on your studies - it is absoluely facinating to watch your thought journey...

I always wondered to myself, if I did a course in Medina or some other place perhaps (instead of reading on my own) would I become fundamental or orthodox? Maybe you are a demonstration of the answer to that question ;0)

Peace, love and good vibes from Jasmine xx

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's worth it! Like Umm Omar said, at the very least study it for yourself.

"And that brings me to my point: is studying Islam and going into the field worth it? Will people listen? Or will I just get attacked and labeled an infidel, as we have seen happen countless times, especially with women scholars?"

I think people will listen. You might be attacked and be dismissed as a "liberal" or a "reformist" or some other term like that ... and if you don't wear a hijab you'll be attacked/discredited for that too. :D

NoortheNinjabi said...

It's definitely worth putting your view out there. It'll be interesting in seeing what conclusions you come to and how you get there. Who are your teachers going to be?

Because I'm studying with shuyukh who have studied with shuyukh who have studied with shuyukh (etc etc etc), it'll be interesting to continually contrast our viewpoints while having mutual respect, inshaAllah (if you're up for it.) One thing I've noticed is that the beginners texts that we're working on say the exact opposite of the ulema you're talking about (the current ones we're studying say that all Islam must be accepted unless it is in fact outside the folds of Islam, and then only that part can be rejected, among other things.)

Shahrazad said...

I salute you for taking that extra step to studying Islam. Kudos on you Sara, it is of course well worth every trouble.

I never knew the door of Ijtihad was closed?! Can you elaborate on this please?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: you're right, at the very least I can study Islam for myself. And I totally agree with you - scholars do deserve respect but they are human beings and can make mistakes, even if they are trying to be objective. So we need to also use out own intelligence and study as much as we can.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Marzuki: your comment really touched me, because you're right: it is much harder to listen than to talk, and I also sometimes tend to ignore or not pay attention to more conservative Islamic viewpoints. That is definitely something I can and will work on, insha'Allah. Like you said, it is very difficult to embark on the process of questioning everything, but I think the personal rewards are worth it.

Thanks a lot for commenting!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: I really hope so, and I think it will be worth it in the end, even if it might get rough at times. My intentions are good so insha'Allah everything will be okay :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mezba: yeah it's such a weird idea isn't it?!! But yes, the doors to ijtihad were closed by Sunni scholars and the Sunni ulama around the 10th century.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stacy: I think the fact that I am outnumbered makes me always think twice about the way I see Islam. It's like deep down I feel I'm on the right track, but when I look around and see completely different opinions, I begin to doubt myself.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: wow, weird that we posted about him at the same time! Great minds think alike :P

Thanks for explaining how Shia's see ijtihad. I was speaking to a classmate yesterday who is Shi'a and she also pointed out how illogical it is to "close the gates of ijtihad". It seems to me many Shi'as are more open to logic and personal reasoning than Sunnis.
I love the fact that there are people conducting ijtihad on a daily basis. The context is constantly changing so it just makes more sense to do that.

Ikka said...

First and foremost, let me say i really really love and enjoy reading your blog, it makes me admire you more and more every time i read what you're thinking.

Second of all, to answer your question. i think it is absolutely worth it for you to study Islam, always and forever. Like someone else has commented already, study Islam for yourself. Seek knowledge and learn your own deen for YOU.

In terms of putting your thoughts on Islam out there i think your blog is a great start. Judging from the comments you get on your posts, i think that your views on Islam are well delivered and well received.

Btw i think you already know it's worth it judging from what you wrote:

"I feel like more moderate Muslims need to speak out and I wanted to be part of that."

Don't falter.

"Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan, Leila Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi - all these authors had the guts to challenge mainstream conservative Islam"

Some day you might be part of this list and some other chick will quote you and take you as an inspiration. so keep at it :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: thanks for your sweet comment :) And I LOVE Fazlur Rahman! I just read one of his books last month and it was amazing! Why don't we have many scholars like him anymore?! Which books of his would you recommend, by the way?

I have also wondered about taking classes in Madinah or Azhar and how that would influence me. But I think if you have strong beliefs and good common sense you would come away from them more knowledgeable but not a fundamentalist :P

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: yeah that's what I'm worried about, being attacked as a "non-Muslim" or whatever. It bothers me that people think they can judge who is and who isn't "Muslim". Ugh.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Noor - two of my professors are Dutch and have studied in Holland, and two are Egyptian and have studied at Azhar and then in Holland. They all seem amazing and have done very interesting research.

And yes, I think it would be really interesting to contrast our viewpoints! It'll be interesting to see the academic vs. traditional(?) arguments and views on subjects.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Shahrazad: welcome back to blogging :D
Yes, I've read several times that around the 10th century, Sunni scholars and the Sunni ulama closed the doors of ijtihad because they believed everything had been studied and all decisions and laws had been formulated, so there was no need to continue ijtihad.
I'm planning on studying this in detail because I find it interesting and also kind of illogical.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Ikka: haha it would be awesome to see my name on a list like that! Insha'Allah I'm on the right path and everything will work out :D I think I'm gonna go reward myself with more chocolate :D

Jasmine said...

Cairo, YAY! (re Fazlur Rahman)I feel bonding! When I read "Islam" my whole view of Hadith Changed, and Islam and Modernity is really good as well.
When push comes to shove, a scholar (respected or not) saying "a muslim should not use his own judgement" is saying what can only be described as his own judgement!Its a catch 22 situation - if we are not to use our own judgement, then what is the point of scholars and what is the point of our brain?? I really disagree with this thinking you know, because if one doesnt use ones own judgement then they become a sheep, and they are very easy to lead the wrong way by the wrong shephard - you know what I mean?
I am quite sure that all of the prophet (pbuh)'s followers and wives, demonstrate though all of the historical documents about them that they used their own judgement. Plenty. A LOT.

Everyone is human. Therefore, everyone has tendancies to want to be the best, and not have competition and be in control. Scholars, religious people, world leaders - all of them can be just as bad as they can be good and we need to be aware that scholars and imam's are HUMANS as well as scholars etc. So we are wrong to take their words as law. THey are guidance. But we take them as law. Its not law - its opinion. Thats it. ;0) Jasmine x

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine - I totally agree with everything you said. It seems a very logical position to me, yet not many Muslims believe in it. Maybe out of fear?

I am about to do a post on Fazlur Rahman! I think he is currently my favourite intellectual. Amazing man, masha'Allah!

G said...

Yes it is worth it.

Your passion puts you in the position to change lives. I don't think you even realize the imapct you could have or which u have already reached and are reaching.
I think you are one of the people who know how close to agnosticism I was..... even atheism was not off limits.

But your blog, your words.... YOU have reached me. Touched my confusion and told my soul it's time to give Islam another chance. A few days ago I ordered an English version of Quran. I tried praying for the first time in years.

Impact is impact. Wether u reach one soul or a billion, its still impact.

So yes I think it's worth it. And you know I support you and have ur back in whatever descions you will make in life. God bless you Sara!


cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

G - awww what an amazing comment! I can't believe I didn't get your text :( Would have made me sooo happy.