Revisiting the reconstruction of religious thought – envisaging its nature and scope
There are innumerable injunctions put forth by the Quran and Sunnah which warn Muslims about making alterations in the religion of God like the previous nations (Jews) who morphed the divine text under the weight of their own whims and desires; thus earned God’s displeasure. The stigma associated with something known as bid’ah (innovation) is deeply woven into the grassroots of Muslim social fabric and rightly so. Therefore, any call for reform or reconstruction is viewed with suspicion. As we proceed further we will try to identify some of the other reasons behind the genesis of this suspicion, followed by a critical scrutiny of it. Whether it is rightly directed in accordance with the demand of our tradition or whether it is misdirected? We will then discuss on the need for the reconstruction. Whether it is a mere sport, devil’s play or an indispensable necessity deeply rooted in our own tradition?
But before that let me introduce you to what I call as ‘Muslim Irony with Allama Iqbal’. This is a man whose poetic image overshadowed pretty much everything else that he had to offer. The irony is that we call Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal as Allama even though he called for the reconstruction of the religious thought in Islam which according to general Muslim psyche is a preposterous thing to ask for. How dare he call out for such a thing? Dr Israr who undoubtedly was one of the most passionate students of Iqbal & his thought once posited that had our ‘Ulama’ known the language of philosophy to access Iqbal’s “reconstruction” he would have been awarded with various fataawa’ of kufr (disbelief) and irtidaad (apostasy). But since people know Iqbal more as a poet therefore he is still revered. The point anyway is that Allama was absolutely right in what he called for and Muslims like his poetry should accept it and start putting some efforts in this direction.
Calling for reconstruction does not translate into “Christian reformation” which was nothing but a natural manifestation of Paulism. This fear (of secularizing Islam through reformation) is unnecessarily juxtaposing two different civilization contexts. Understand that the separation of religion from the state was not something that was thrust upon Christianity because this separation had already taken place centuries before when the ‘death of law’ was announced. Christianity in the form of paulism was divorced from Jewish law in the very beginning and thus anyway the remainder left was nothing but what we refer to as ‘Christian morality’. But when it comes to Islam and the Quran it cannot be replicated here because the Quran is both the law (Al-Kitaab) and the wisdom (Al-Hikmah). Any such divorce has not taken place here. Muslims who still have the Quran with them cannot conceive of any such separation between the law and the wisdom. The Prophet ﷺ came to perfect the both. Therefore any apprehension of injecting ‘Christian reformation movement’ through reconstruction into Islam is nothing but silly. Now let’s talk about the second fear which is that ‘the reconstruction will cause additions and subtractions in the divine content of the deen’ which again is not possible. Because the divine content of Quran and Sunnah is preserved in the continuity (tawaatur) of Muslims which has travelled through generations and any attempt of subtracting or adding on to that content will certainly fall flat. Reconstruction does not mean changing the basics. The point is that our deen contains “Thawaabit” which transcend time and space, so they will never change but there are “Mutaghayiraat” which are subject to societal and temporal dynamics. It is this part of the work which has stagnated for centuries. Understand that at the end of the day religion has come to solve problems of human being who does not live in a vacuum. Mankind is intertwined, defined and influenced by the surrounding context. Problems change so do the solutions.
Another important point here is to focus on the semantics of this discussion. What Allama called for was not the reconstruction of Islam but rather a reconstruction of religious “thought” of Muslims. This distinction of the content from the thought is rather very important. This is because the text of the Quran and Sunnah is divine but the work of Ulama on that particular content is purely human. If it is not divine, which clearly it isn’t, therefore it is subject to review. Pertinent to mention here that Ibn al Qayyim al Jawzi in ‘Aalaam al Muwaq‘in’ argued for the prohibition of calling a fatwa as ‘a ruling of God’. Therefore what we are attempting to reconstruct is not God’s word but Human thought based on that word. On the importance of reconstruction it is again very pertinent to mention here that the same scholar in the same work whilst describing the conditions for a scholar to be a mujtahid posited that “haalat-in-naas” (context of people) is absolutely fundamental in framing legal opinions. You cannot give a fatwa unless and until you are not well aware about a particular field (like medicine) or a particular group of people and their specific context that you are talking about. This is common knowledge that many of our fuqaha argued that legal opinions change from place to place depending upon the context of people. Remember all of these things are related to Mutaghayiraat and not the Thawaabit which transcend time and space.
Towards the end, let us mention a very important point about reconstruction so that the readers get a general idea for the need of it and why is it a necessity rather than a mere sport. The point is that in our traditional scholarship we do not only have just the “fiqh” (law) but we also have “usool al fiqh” (which is actually the legal framework delineating the philosophy of Islamic law). What that means is that our legal system has an underlying legal philosophy which is the actual goal of the legal system and not just merely framing laws. Our classical scholars differed on various issues only because each of them in their own way was trying to be more faithful to the philosophy of the text. The concept of “Maqaasid” (objectives of Shari‘ah) is central to this discussion. Our scholars did not merely frame laws but they strived hard to encapsulate the very essence (Maqsad) of an Aayah or a Hadith. In other words they need to display the faithfulness to the text where the jurist is not in a hurry to merely apply the law but rather inculcates a deep understanding (Tafaqquh) of what the text is actually intending in a particular context. Being faithful means you try to understand what the text really wants you to do. For example, at some occasions the literal application of aayaat may defeat the whole purpose of those aayaat. Therefore, when we talk of reconstruction the intention is very important here and i.e. we are not talking about it because we want to please the west or something of that sort but in fact we have to ensure that with the changing times we have been faithful to the text! Thus, from this perspective reconstruction is actually our duty and not just a choice!
Please understand that Muslim scholars of present time have to do this work. They live in present world with us. It is their responsibility. Islah al Nafs, Tajdeed al Faham and Ahya’ al Deen is part of their work. While trying to do so they may fail sometimes and succeed sometimes. We need to be patient with them. Of course we will ask questions once we feel they are transiting from mutaghayiraat (variables) to Thawaabit (constants). We have the right to ask and it is their duty to answer. But we should never get allergic to a work which is the necessity of our time. Anyone who even attempts to do it receives hate, which is unfortunate. Moreover the reconstruction will not only fulfill the real purpose of the text for Muslims but rather it will provide us with an opportunity to contribute to our contemporary world on many fronts.
Dr Tariq Ramadan who has done a lot of work in this particular field in contemporary times has shared on various platforms a methodology to do this work in this age. As the traditional scholar Ibn al Qayyim argued that to be a Mujtahid, one has to be a scholar of both the ‘text’ and the ‘context’. Therefore in our times we can kick start reconstruction by getting our ‘Ulama (scholars of text) to work in conjunction with the experts in various fields from medicine, sociology, other human sciences, present day arts, etc (i.e. scholars of the context) and then together they can work and attempt to be more faithful to the text and get more closer to the essence of it in our changing times.
Author is student of Islam, Philosophy and Mysticism. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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