Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fazlur Rahman and his Ideas about Islam

I recently finished a paper comparing Fazlur Rahman's book "Islam" to Malise Ruthven's book "Islam in the World", and I became fascinated by Rahman's writings. When I first began reading about Islam, I was really turned off by traditionalist and literalist scholars. It has taken me more than two years, but I've finally found an Islamic scholar whose work is really inspiring, and seems to embody the kind of Islam I find in the Qur'an.
"Rahman set himself free from traditional Qur'anic interpretation in his effort to render the Message accessible to his contemporaries. Rahman "lamented the loss of this resource to most Muslims for whom it is lost beneath benign neglect, taboolike reverence, or traditional commentary which focuses on the intricacies of grammatical and rhetorical points and views each verse atomistically."

"Rahman considered the Qur'an a major source of Islamic law but NOT the lawbook of Islam. There is a big difference - regarding the Qur'an as a lawbook limits its scope and application and overlooks its flexibility and its dynamism."

"Rahman's critique focuses on how the Qur'an and Hadith were misconstrued by Muslim scholars in medieval times, made into rigid and inflexible guides - for all time, as it were - and not recognized as the products of their own times and circumstances."

This is it people! This is my main belief when it comes to Islam - the context mattered! Why so few scholars/ulama/Muslims are willing to believe this baffles me.

"Rahman shows how the Qur'an and Hadith became embedded in a rigid, static system of interpretation and jurisprudence. This led to the challenge for Muslims in modern times either to turn away from those sources if they would prosper or to acquiesce to an essentially medieval worldview with an archaic, unworkable religious-legal system that thwarts progress and full participation in the modern world."

Could this be the central problem for Muslim societies today? Why are almost all Islamic countries lagging behind in science, technology, education, the arts? Why are so many Muslims being forced to choose between being modern and being a "Muslim"? Why on earth do we have some ulama actually saying TV, science, and critical thought are "haram"? Honestly, how will Islamic societies EVER regain any kind of dignity in the world of science, the arts, and literature unless we Muslims begin to be more critical? How did Muslims go from being the leaders in science and intellectualism to being the main proponents of anti-modernism? Why does modernity conflict with Islam anyway?

"Muslims have a choice between secularism or an outmoded system, unless and until they return to the Qur'an and interpret it by understanding much of its content as general moral-ethical guidance and prescription and not rigid law. The Qur'an can and must be liberated from its prison of commentary and law and applied in fresh ways and with flexible principles to new realities."

It does annoy me when non-Muslims make negative and Islamophobic judgments about Islam and Muslims. However, sometimes I ask myself whether we can really blame them completely. Not all Muslim men marry girls younger than 10, but some do. Not all Muslim women believe men are better than them, but many do. Not all Islamic scholars are against science, debate, or ijtihad - but TOO many are. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and literalists, but the Taliban, the Wahhabis, and many others, are. For every Muslim that is genitally mutilated, for every Muslim who marries an 8-year old girl, and for every Muslim that claims all non-Muslims must be killed, we can find a sheikh, scholar or member of the ulama who endorses that view. This is a problem. And I really don't feel enough Muslims are standing up to it.

I'm tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy. And I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims.

"Without the believers' intellectual exertion (ijtihad) to comprehend and apply it within the often confusing and contradictory circumstances of historical process, it will languish as a prisoner of dead tradition instead of being permitted to shed its full illumination and regenerating power in the Umma and the world."

Okay rant over :D

24 comments:

Jaz said...

I totally agree. Muslims are very quick to protest and cause chaos when a non-Muslim disrespects Islam, or does something very non-Islamic (example; the Muhammad cartoons). They are not so quick to protest the things that are destroying the Muslim community from within.

I always think that the Islam of Muslims should be upheld before the attitudes of others - we should be protesting about these men marrying little girls, we should be protesting about the way some women are treated - rather than spending all our time ignoring that and burning effigies and Danish flags when a *non*-muslim doesn't follow Islam (or insults Islam).

Perhaps if we did that and concentrated on preserving our own behaviour, people would find less to think bad of us for.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

I'm tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy. And I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims.

"Without the believers' intellectual exertion (ijtihad) to comprehend and apply it within the often confusing and contradictory circumstances of historical process, it will languish as a prisoner of dead tradition instead of being permitted to shed its full illumination and regenerating power in the Umma and the world."



Excellent, beautiful, no one could have said it better.
This is why after 3 years of conversion I have stopped trying to be "the right" Muslim for other people, and found some courage to be myself through my reading about Islam. Yes, I am Muslim, but I am also many other things, and they all complement each other. I don't think people have to sacrifice their ideals to be a Muslim. For example, I am and have always been a liberal progressive, yet people tell me that Muslims don't believe in abortion, or even human rights!! (A blog friend of mine just wrote an entire post about a Muslim scholar who said Human Rightism (ism?) is contradictory to Islamic ideals).. Wha? This stuff can be ignored when one knows who they are as a Muslim. But what about all those out there who change their perspective the moment a scholar or other member of the Ulama say so? I have witnessed this myself in small ways. I received an email from a member of my Mosque who told everyone to no longer eat at Burger King because they cook their food with Pig fat. So the new gossip was Muslims who eat at Burger King..I don't know if this is true or not, so I don't eat there anymore. Imagine if the Imam or a scholar at our Mosque said something else??
Another example is pants. Women in my Mosque cannot wear pants, only long skirts or Abaya are allowed.. So much for a free choice, and everyone else goes along with it.
The gossip was about me when I showed up to my Arabic class in Jeans... Scandal! I didn't own a long skirt, and I am not Arab so I did not own an Abaya, so was I supposed to just not go to class? Would my lack of education been preferred over my wearing of jeans?

I agree with you and this book so much it makes my heart hurt. I can see our loss of thinking on our own in so many situations. It is like the rigidity has constricted so many, and also given people a measure of who is a good muslim or a bad muslim. Where is the diversity of thought? Isn't it needed in order for this religion to survive? Do we really want to remain static and unchanged from way back in the day? We follow rules and laws and THOUGHTS from hundreds of years ago! We will all languish in mediocrity and ridiculousness if we don't start practicing Ijtihad once again and make this religion our religon, not the Ulama's religion, or the scholars religion. Following them so blindly could almost be called idol worship in my mind. Treating them as if they are priests with the only line to God.

marzuki said...

Hey there,

2 comments in a row. One more and I'll risk being labelled a stalker.

One question: Cant a Muslim be both modern and happy at the same time? I personally believe we can.

Perhaps those Ulama have their reasons for saying science, TV and critical thought as haram. Perhaps by science, TV and critical thought, they meant it as certain aspects of it. Like cloning, or entertainment or thinking to the point that we begin to question God. I believe there's a line that

I wouldnt have an issue if anyone told me TV was haraam looking at the contents on the media nowadays - but it has to depend on each individual coz One cant possibly say that tv/internet is all that bad.

Perhaps in future, there's a specific example or 2, the different views on it and also your views? (:

marzuki said...

I was reading Sarah's comment.

I used to think that women have to dress decently in the mosque. And I was disturbed when i attended a class and there were a handful of ladies not properly attired. I was equally disturbed that the teacher didnt say a word about it.

The teacher happened to be a friend of mine, so I asked him after class why didnt he told them off like some would. His reply was, if he had told them off, chances are they wouldnt attend the class after that and how was he to teach if no one attends. He added that these women knows full well of the need to cover up, to wear pants that arent tight etc etc. All that he prays for is that by the end of his series of classes, he could somehow move them into changing on their own free will. And my rigid view on things changed.

With regards to abortion, I might have read somewhere how the foetus is a living thing and aborting for whatever reason is akin to taking a life. So perhaps for that reason, abortion is not an option.

I believe the scholars are there as a guide. We need to listen to various scholars and various teachers in order to have a rough idea of whats right and whats not. And never ever follow blindly.

And just pray for God's guidance in our daily routine. And constantly seek forgiveness for the wrong that we think we might be doing. God knows best.

My sincere apologies for the wordy comment. (Strike 3 im out)

Aynur said...

"This is it people! This is my main belief when it comes to Islam - the context mattered! Why so few scholars/ulama/Muslims are willing to believe this baffles me."

Yes! That's what I believe too. My viewpoint has been developing over the years, but that is what I think...

"Could this be the central problem for Muslim societies today? Why are almost all Islamic countries lagging behind in science, technology, education, the arts?"

I think so. I know there was a period of time when the Muslim world was ahead of the rest, but that stopped - when? I believe shortly after the doors of itjihad closed.

@Sarah Elizabeth -
"For example, I am and have always been a liberal progressive, yet people tell me that Muslims don't believe in abortion, or even human rights!!"
I actually don't view abortion as "right" or "wrong". What about those who are raped and get an abortion very early on? I think there is a difference between an early abortion and a late-term abortion when the fetus is totally developed. What about when the mom's life is in danger? I don't think it's black and white - there are gray areas.
And not believing in human rights? WTH?

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Aynur, yes, I so agree about the whole abortion issue. I don't think there is such thing as being "pro-abortion", but my main view is that there are circumstances where it may be necessary and a woman should not have that taken away from her by the state, or her religious leaders.

Jasmine said...

BRAVO Cairo!
**roaring applause and standing ovation**
What a fantastic post - I am suddenly filled with inspiration and I am getting visions of a society / organisation coming from you: a movement, a voice.
And when you do it: let me know. I'm joining.
Jasmine xxx

Jasmine said...

On the topic of saying everything is haram and then banning it - I call this "lazy teaching" - because to teach people to be good and faithful is to teach them to regulate themselves WITHOUT external laws and regulations. IF you have done a good job in teaching people about the straight path and faith, and trust, and peace and everything else that is Muslim - then you will not need to retrict their activties and / or behaviour: down to the personal things such as jeans or skirt, or even burger king.

Yes, we need laws to keep society safe. But laws are to punish crimes: not to punish thoughts, choices and feelings.

Restricting all activities is lazy and does not teach anything. Like the child who is never alowed to go outside to play in case they do something wrong: do you think he learns? Do you think he has revelations? Or do you think he spends the day fantasizing about what he will get up to the day that law is released.

If a person, or indeed a society is truly moral: they will make moral choices and decisions without threats and without coersion.

Look at the example of how consumer behaviour is steering fair trade and organic produce, look at the example of the many many global and worldwide charities and activities that are born out of free choice and education.

You cannot, you simply CAN NOT achieve anything through restriction. Only inspiration.

And as for criminals, rapists, murderers and other such criminals - they will exist no matter what the laws because they are already deviant. Restrictions will not stop them.

What we are seeing in these societies is a panoptic structure operating through threats and fear instead of free choice and will.

There is a big difference in covering one's body through choice or through force - a big difference. One intends to cover and the other intends to avoid punishment. In restricting absolutely everything you convert people into something different to Muslim, and forcing them to obey you instead of GOd. Its the days of Firaun by in a different form.

And every time, every-single-time I read the Quran find example after example on the evil of such leadership, and then I look at what-is and see it replayed out again and again in front of my eyes and its like people are asleep and not noticing the clear, crystal clear hypocrisy at work.

I think you could make an excellent comparitive essay on the Firaun of the Quran and the so called pious leaders of today and find a significant amount of similarities between them.

Jasmine

PS: Cairo, I would add Kemal Ataturk's biography & political stance to your readings and his intentions for Islam, which he was never able to fulfil.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jaz - that's so true. Another example that came to mind is the fact that not many Muslims demonstrated against the attacks of 9/11. All this controversy over the Danish cartoons and yet if Muslims are so pro-human rights then why didn't we demonstrate en masse when 9/11 happened, to show we don't support Al Qaeda?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: you're so right, being Muslim is part of our identity but there are other parts, and we shouldn't repress them. I think a lot of converts do this too; they see Islam as a complete identity and try and forget their own culture etc and end up adopting Arab culture.

I love your comment!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Marzuki: I'd love it if you commented on every single post actually :P

My problem is that, like you said, not everything on TV is haram, but many ulama make it seem that way. They tend to treat Muslims like small children who do not have enough morals or responsibility to know right from wrong. When I choose not to watch crap on TV, it's important to me that *I* made that decision, not that I am being forced to make it.

I love what you said about asking for God's forgiveness all the time for the things we might be doing wrong. Masha'Allah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur - there are def. grey areas when it comes to abortion, for example in the case of rape. I've also heard that it depends on the age of the foetus because the soul only enters it at a certain point. Not sure though.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: awww thanks for that comment! It means a lot to me :):):)
I will def. add Ataturk to my reading list.

I love what you said about lazy teaching. You're completely right - when someone forces someone else to do something, it loses all significance. I wonder when Muslim leaders will realize this? How many Saudi or Iranian women even see the veil in a positive light anymore, since they are forced to wear it, and are punished for not doing so?

Like you said - if the religious leaders have done a good job teaching people about Islam, then they should not have to worry about imposing any restrictions.

marzuki said...

Hi there cairo.

In response to ur comment, I believe my inability to relate to your frustrations is due to the fact that where I come from, there's no one forces us to do things but ourselves - or when we're younger, our parents. Like you said, we're no longer small children. There's no rules that forbids you from buying alcoholic drinks, no punishments for women who do not wear the headscarf etc.

The Islam that I know comes from attending religious classes once a week since I was young till about I was 14 .... when school began to take too much time. However, alhamdulillah, Ive always been in the process of learning. Whenever I hear someone mention something "interesting" I would read a little online but if im lazy, I wud accept it as it is - only if it sounds right. Hence, the reason why i really want to enrol myself in a hadith class... waiting for an opportune time to do it.

One example would be smoking. Some believe smoking is haram while others say it's makruh. As a non-smoker, Id have no problem with the opinion of the former. However, for a smoker, no matter how hard one tries to convince them, they'll come up with a million and one reason to skirt around the issue. And when sucha situation arise, based on everything that is presented, I believe one can think like mature young adults and decide.

With regards to the Danish prophet caricature, I do not see any reason to be mad. I'd always remind myself of the story about the Prophet(PBUH) and the old jewish lady who threw rubbish and human waste at him. And seeing how the Prophet visited her when she was ill, I realised that perhaps, the reaction to the whole incident was very shameful.

We need to learn how to spread the beauty of Islam through our actions. And on a personal level, I believe in getting people to notice Islam through my own little actions and the little things that I say.

G said...

It's rants like this that make me addicted to your blog.

AMEEEEEN SISTA! Amen!
It's like ur in my head. My own thought's little bloggist :D lovin it!

Why oh WHY don't we live in the same country anymore? :(

Shahrazad said...

I really admire your thinking process and how you put matters into perspective. Also, how you've managed to re-embrace Islam but have not stopped at that and went forward to understanding it from the core!

What I notice is that converts or those who start practicing Islam after a certain incident tend to take it very rigidly. As much as it satisfies them to start with, as much as it plays against them as they go on. Many of them cannot cope with that sudden drastic change and therefore go onto relapse (astray) again, only to (wrongly) prove to themselves and others around them that Islam isn't the right path!

There is a Hadith that says (mind my translation) "This Religion is Grand/Great, so immerse into it gently".

You said: "I'm tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy"

Do it what you believe is right, again mind my translation but there is a Hadith that says "Consult your heart, even if they issue fatwas on you". This could be an open interpretation, specially for those who want to have their ways out on certain matters, so be careful when you use it, but you get the point?

You said: "I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims"

Been there, done that. It's difficult, I'd say if you feel you're getting no where with such defence, just pray for Allah to guide them or show them the way in His own way!

Off note, do you speak/read Arabic? Just because I was going to quote the Hadiths in Arabic :)

Muni said...

"It does annoy me when non-Muslims make negative and Islamophobic judgments about Islam and Muslims. However, sometimes I ask myself whether we can really blame them completely. Not all Muslim men marry girls younger than 10, but some do. Not all Muslim women believe men are better than them, but many do. Not all Islamic scholars are against science, debate, or ijtihad - but TOO many are. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and literalists, but the Taliban, the Wahhabis, and many others, are. For every Muslim that is genitally mutilated, for every Muslim who marries an 8-year old girl, and for every Muslim that claims all non-Muslims must be killed, we can find a sheikh, scholar or member of the ulama who endorses that view. This is a problem. And I really don't feel enough Muslims are standing up to it."

Exactly, makes me wonder, why bother? should we respect their opinions, and agree to disagree? shall we try our best to prove that no, we're different? why? should we practise to preach and boast? or do it ONLY for personal fulfillment?

Argh.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Marzuki: I think for sure the way you are brought up and the context in which you were raised makes a big difference in terms of how you go on to see Islam and religion in general. If you were never forced to do anything this will probably have a positive impact on the way you practice religion later.

Thanks so much for posting the part about the Danish cartoons, and how it was opposite of what the Prophet did with that woman. Masha'Allah!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

G - I know, I can't believe we never used to talk about this when we lived in the same country!!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Shahrazad: I've noticed that a lot of converts are very rigid in their approach to Islam too, and thought it'd be interesting to study that. I guess many see it as a full identity, which is why they also sometimes adopt Arab customs, dress etc.

Thanks for posting those Hadith! They were really interesting, masha'Allah. I do understand Arabic, but more Egyptian Arabic than classical.

I especially liked this one: "Consult your heart, even if they issue fatwas on you". Amen!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Muni - really good questions! I also wonder whether we should engage in dialogue when the other person isn't even willing to listen. And what are we trying to do? Prove they are wrong or simply explain Islam? Should we even be taking a defensive position if we think we are right?

Muni said...

"Should we even be taking a defensive position if we think we are right? "

That's a really good question. Do we think we're right though? Aren't we still exploring and getting to know the religion more. What we know is a weapon, what we don't know ( or what we know we don't know) makes us doubtful and thus we get defensive.

Perhaps.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

It's true that we're always exploring but as a Muslim I'm 100% sure Allah exists and that the Qur'an is his word and that Islam is the true religion. I think this is a basic supposition you have to think is true/right to be a Muslim.

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