Sakeena Suliman – Opinion | 24 October 2013/18 Dhul Hijjah 1434
The advocators of a “progressive Islam” call for a mixed Islam. An Islam that is Muslim by name and looks and acts Non Muslim, or rather more Western. They hold firmly to the idea that each generation of Muslims must move with the times and become modern.
This is a view shared by many acclaimed international Muslim university scholars and critics of Islam. Thoughts expressed in magazines and journals range from Muslims being boring because we lack a cultural identity and cultural expression to the absurd notion that each generation of Muslims need to re-interpret the Quran and Hadith to evolve with its time.
The recommendation that Hadith and Quran need re-interpretation for a new era is suggesting its interpretation is not timeless and that there is something wrong with it that needs fixing. To re-interpret means to change the essence of what something is, to give it a new meaning.
But new meanings are not always better meanings and to be a critic of something means one finds fault with it.
According to critic Ziauddin Sardar, “Muslims are not very good at expressing joy. We have reduced our religion to a set of rituals which we enact like robots at every occasion. When Muslims want to celebrate something, they go and offer some extra prayers!” he wrote in an article in 2004.
He goes on to say that no society can survive without culture in all its different forms of expressions, which are music, art, dance, sculpture and theatre. “Prayer and rituals may make us pious and righteous, but it is cultural expression that really manifests our full humanity. To say that all we need is prayer and ritual is to diminish ourselves as human beings.”
A growing idea is that the Quran must be analysed within its time and setting and the suggestions that not everything in the Quran is universal and that its verses have significance only for the time they were revealed in is being made. Some have implied that the verses of the Quran solely address the Prophet (SAW) and his followers, and they only speak to them in the historical context in which they lived.
Are we not followers then of Muhammad (SAW)? Or must we be sub followers based on the fact that liberalism has become the chaos of our day?
The rise of social media and commentary on online news websites reveal (besides the increase in the number of “internet molvis”) this thought trend taking shape among South Africans also and the need to mould Islam according to their time and location. Another thought being pushed is that the Ulama have interpreted Quran and hadith according to a strict set of rules.
Whether it is about women and their rights, music being halaal or haraam, the headscarf or nikab being compulsory, homosexuality not being a major sin or intermingling between the sexes, we have found something else to separate us rather than unify us.
We can understand why there are differences of opinion among Muslims when it comes to laws that do not have a clear cut ruling in Quran and Hadith and require analogising. Even after educated discussion differences remain and these should be respected.
But matters that are clear cut in Quran and Hadith have no need for analogising. Homosexuality for example is listed among the major sins in Islam. It is not just disliked, it is haram. Intermingling – to the extent of partying together – is not frowned upon by the so called conservative Muslims; it was frowned upon by Muhammad SAW. Contemporary music, with its profane, sexually suggestive and explicit lyrics, is not something which could “feed our soul” or open our doors of expression. Music and musical instruments becoming rampant is a sign of Qiyaamah.
Before, it was common among South Africans to group each other in terms of the four main schools of thought. Hanafis and Shafis disagreed on something or other about each other. Now Muslims often find themselves in the progressive (slash liberal) and conservative debate.
Matters that were once agreed upon have been opened up for re-interpretation by everyone because the Ulama have apparently gotten it wrong or are trying to control the Muslims with their conservative, Indo-Pak, Deobandi brand of thought.
“South Africa is not India or Saudi Arabia and I have complete disdain for self proclaimed “aalims” who spent a few years in a madressah in a third world backwater, then coming to my hometown to spread zealotry. I’d actually like to enjoin these zealots who label people satans etc, to go back to Deoband in India stay there and live in their utopia. All too often Islamic interpretations are tainted by cultural traditions prevalent in tribal based communities. Problems arise when tribal customs permeate Islam and are then advocated as universal Islamic precepts that everyone must comply with or else we’ll burn in hell!”
A reader’s comment on a mainstream news website clearly states his disdain for aalims (Islamic scholars) whose Alma mater was the Darul Uloom Deoband situated in an agricultural area in Northern India. The madressah (which is Hanafi but teaches the four main madhabs) was opened by a few well known and respected scholars headed by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi in 1866. Contrary to misconception it was not started to preserve an Indo-Islamic culture or teach an extreme or distorted Islam but to teach Shariah which is in line with Quran and Sunnah.
Indian predecessors of Islamic knowledge were giant scholars, Maulana Qassim Nanotvi and Maulana Thanwi, to name a few. According to modern logic, which the flag bearers of Islamic modernity hail as their tool, it is laughable for one to criticise a person or an institution when they know nothing of it or the personalities behind it.
Our differences have now become a means to brand people conservatives in order to push a so called progressive agenda that seeks to modernise and change Islam. That which is clearly impermissible is slowly being regarded as “okay” because we live in a world that is increasingly calling Muslims boring, unfunny, serious and extremist.
Just because a lot of us are able to read a Quranic verse here or pick out a Hadith from there we’re all knowledgeable and disregard the fact that “the few years” – eight to be exact – spent in “a third world backwater” is to study a deeply developed science. Many considerations need to be taken into account before quoting a Hadith or Sunnah. Picking out Hadiths just to suit our claims so we can openly do that which is unacceptable doesn’t make us knowledgeable.
There is no such thing as a conservative, liberal or progressive Muslim. There’s just Muslim. Sticking to the rules out of choice – even if it harms no one – makes you conservative, backward or even extremist instead of maybe just devout. Opening one’s self up to everything mainstream earns you popularity and a pat on the back for being progressive and open minded.
The laws that govern Muslims haven’t been designed by the Ulama but by Allah SWT. The Quran is Allah’s Speech, it is eternal and uncreated. It was sent to His beloved Muhammad (SAW), the seal of all of the Ambiyah (AS), via revelation (Wahi) from the archangel, Jibraeel AS. Muhammad’s (SAW) teachings and the Quran were sent as a guide for all time. Not, just his time.
By fighting each other because we cannot respect each other on matters of difference, by mocking those that try to obey the laws of Islam because we want to change them to suit our whims, by suggesting we re-interpret Quran and Hadith to fit in with a Western lifestyle rather than question the strength of our Imaan, we are beginning to tear apart the Ummah our beloved Muhammad (SAW) fought hard to build and spent many nights shedding tears in prayer for.
We risk passing on to our children and our progeny a diluted Islam. We should not apologise for our Islam. The tendency “to fall back comfortably on age old interpretations” is not becoming “dangerously obsolete” as Sardar advocates. By re-interpreting the Quraan and Sunnah, we risk Islam becoming dangerously obsolete. Islam has progressed to its peak, whether Muslims are practising to theirs is questionable.
Muhammad SAW is narrated to have said: “There will come a time when holding on to your Imaan will be like holding on to hot coal.” [Sahih al-Tirmidhi] It is inevitable that the time will come, whether it is here or not can be pondered. But, we should pray we are always able to hold steadfast on to that hot coal and if it burns brighter and stronger then hope our Imaan is such that it is able to hold on tighter and firmer.Tags: Conservative, Deoband, Islam, Liberal, Modernism, Sakeena Suliman, Ziauddin Sardar