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Dawah and Interfaith

We Need To Progress; But Where To?

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abuaaliyapost.jpg Recently, I was surprised to learn that my name had been included in a launch publication which sets out a number of recommendations to combat terrorism. Released in an air of anticipated controversy, it listed a number of emerging progressive, British Muslim voices; of whom I was one. I wasn’t sure if I should feel concerned, bemused, privileged or bewildered by such an inclusion. Given I have no links with the ‘counter extremism think tank’ headed by two former ‘Islamists’ that published the paper,1 I’ve not yet understood what I’ve done to merit an inclusion. Truth be told, bemused or privileged I feel not; bewildered and concerned I most certainly am.

Being associated with a discourse against terrorism is definitely not my worry here. In fact, combating violent extremism, and exposing its false theological underpinnings, has been a core aspect of my outreach programme ever since the early nineties – for which I first thank God for His grace, and thereafter my teachers in Sacred Law for alerting me to its evils. No, my unease, among other things, concerns the idea of progress and being progressive. What does it mean? And what are we meant to be progressing towards?

At first blush, these questions may sound strange; particularly from someone who is supposed to be a progressive, British Muslim voice. But that’s my point. We’ve become so used to using such terms, that more often than not, we seem to have lost the sense of what is being intended by them. Standard dictionary definitions explain the word progress as ‘a movement forward towards a given direction’; or ‘a development towards a more advanced state’. More often than not, it is employed to mean ‘favouring new ideas and social reform’. Here, for many Muslims, the questions that immediately come to mind are: Does Islam need development? Is the Islamic faith crude; primitive – barbaric, even – that it needs to be made more advanced? Who has the right to decide such issues, and who does the task then fall upon to ‘update’ this age-old faith? Some will even ask how such proposed changes square with the Quranic declaration about the religion being ‘complete’ and ‘perfect’: This day have I perfected your religion for you, and completed My favour upon you, and chosen Islam for you as religion.2 The more theologically grounded will assert that believing any established, clear-cut injunction3 of Islam to be primitive or outdated – let alone claiming it to be barbaric – is nothing short of disbelief; kufr. After all, doesn’t the Qur’an insist about God and His judgements: Is not God the best of Judges?4 Moreover: Is it a judgement of [idolatrous] ignorance that they are seeking? Who is a better judge than God for a people who have certainty of faith?5 So faith requires, not just accepting that God’s judgement is good; but that it is, in fact, the best!

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What follows, I suppose, are some reflections about the nature of progress and the social changes we find ourselves in, and the responses we as Muslims are beginning to adopt in order to adapt; keep our faith relevant; and offer healing to a world deeply wounded – wa bihi nasta’in. For the sake of convenience, I’ve divided these reflections into six headings:

1. Divine Law, Human Efforts, Tools for Adaption

What I’d like to touch upon first is the nature of ‘Islamic Law’ or shari‘ah. The words shari’ah means ‘path’ or ‘track’, with its origins referring to the path by which wild animals would come down to drink at their watering place. In the religious vernacular, shari’ah refers to Islam’s Sacred Law: a road, so to speak, that leads to where the waters of life flow abundantly.

The science that evolved so as to understand the shari’ah is called fiqh, usually translated as ‘jurisprudence’, and is culled from the word faqiha; which means ‘to understand’. Fiqh, therefore, is about understanding the divine commands and the way they shape the life-pattern of the believers. Strictly speaking, then, shari’ah refers to the actual body of revealed laws, whereas fiqh is the science of understanding these laws – and this involves human effort.

This ‘effort’ to understand, expound, and adapt the law so as to keep it relevant to the age and place Muslims may find themselves in, is known as ijtihad, and it is the prerogative of mujtahids – those judged to be qualified and capable of such efforts, but only after receiving prolonged theological, legal, grammatical and hermeneutical training. Fathoming the intent of the Lawgiver, or inferring new rulings from the primary sources, is always an uphill task. Oftentimes the jurist has to struggle through long days and nights before reaching an opinion. The Arabic terminology used to signify this is badhl al-juhd, or istifragh al-wus’, which basically means expending all possible effort to evaluate the proof-texts so as to reach a ruling. The mujtahid, in other words, leaves no stone unturned in order to uncover the divine intent. The significance is that ijtihad is not just one of juristic effort or exertion; but of exhaustion! Needless to say, a mujtahid’s ijtihad must not contradict any categorical stipulation in the revealed texts, nor contravene an established point of scholarly consensus (ijma’).

Shaykh al-Shalabi, addressing the charge that Islam seeks to “turn the clock back”, states: “As for that phenomenon questionably termed progress, it has never impaired Islam’s relevance and effectiveness. Islam, as the Prophet taught it, works well in the technological age; indeed it seems to be the only religion which has retained its dynamism and character intact in the modern world.” He goes on to write: “Islam was forbidden to create a priestly class. Rather, it developed a tradition of religious scholars (‘ulema), who, although they were possessed of no special sacramental function, nevertheless provided the intellectual re-articulation of eternal truths to a world in constant flux. It was the religious scholars who assessed new legal situations, new doctrinal challenges, and who suggested ways in which an adaption to novel circum-stances could be effected while remaining loyal to the revelation of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet. This process of adaption is termed ijtihad, a technical and highly sophisticated science of jurisprudence which, while affirming the timeless efficacy of the social teachings set down in revelation, provides a means for the systematic extension of these guidelines when circumstance demands. … This capacity, not for change, but for expansion, undoubtedly constitutes a key factor in Islam’s continuing dynamism.”6

A closing thought to the section. For close to a thousand years, Islam’s juristic enterprise has been a key factor in the stability of Muslim societies. Every now and then, though, there have been those who have claimed the right to exercise ijtihad; and, as Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali wrote, “Among them were those allowed to do so, given that the truth of their claim had become clear. Others, however, had their words hurled back at them, and were deemed to have been false in their claim.”7 Separating the wheat from the chaff is essential if the integrity of our legal culture is to be retained. Islam, without sounding too conspiratorial, has shrewd opponents and intelligent foes who realise this fact only too well. It is sad to see, then, many enthusiastic lay folk now being taught that their faith obliges them to ‘evaluate’ and ‘weigh-up’ the evidences, and to then follow the ‘strongest’ view as per the proofs. Their unqualified dabbling in the fine art of ijtihad – for that is what they are attempting – has not only led to chaos, bitter conflict and social mayhem, it has also served to weaken the juristic tradition which has so lent itself to Islam’s durability. This is not suggesting such people have ‘sided with the enemy’; they have, nonetheless, become unwitting pawns in the attempted dismantling of Islam’s legal tradition. Having strayed this far, others will drift further still.

2. Remembering Our Journey’s End

Progress, as noted before, signifies a movement forward; but it tells us nothing about the direction of this movement. Is it uphill or downhill? Is it an ascent or a descent? Is it a lifting of the Spirit or a fall from Grace? There are many things that march progressively forward. Even cancer is progressive. What I’m trying to say is: how do we know if progress is good for us, and by what standard is it measured? One of Islam’s arbab al-qulub – “spiritual masters” or “masters of the inward life” – once uttered the remark: “fi’l-harakah barakah – in movement there is blessings.” Clearly, though, not every movement is blessed.

Even the point of how far we’ve advanced in terms of science and technology is something of a red herring when evaluating the idea of change and progress. The Qur’an relates a number of narratives about former civilisations and their ‘technological’ achievements of the day. Yet when put side by side with their intransigence and heedlessness of the divine Reality, such progress is seen for what it really is: folly, delusion and civilisational arrogance. Says the Qur’an: Have they not travelled in the earth and seen the end of those before them. They were stronger than they in power, and they dug the earth and built upon it more than they have built. Their Messengers came to them with clear proofs. God wronged them not, but they wronged themselves. Evil was the end of those who dealt in evil, because they denied the signs of God and mocked them.8

Early Muslim pietists were at pains to instil in us the vital Quranic lesson, that material progress – ‘digging the earth and building upon it’ – can never be the measure of any true or meaningful success. Islamic sources relate to us that in 649AD the first Muslim navel expedition was sent against the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which was under the control of a Byzantine empire; now in its twilight years. The Muslim army was quick to overrun the small Byzantine garrison and the Cypriots were soon paying tribute to the Muslims. On seeing the ease with which the people of this once powerful empire lay defeated and subdued, the famous Companion of the Prophet, Abu’l-Darda, began to weep. On being asked why he wept on the day God had granted victory to Islam and the Muslims, he answered: “Woe to you! How insignificant creation become to God when they neglect His commands. Here is a nation that was once mighty and strong, and had dominion. But they abandoned the commands of God, so look what’s become of them.”9

In judging the contemporary world’s unrelenting drive for progress, believers need not concur with all the orthodoxies and popular assumptions of the age. Civilisational greatness and technological progress for their own sake, as can be seen, count for very little in the Quranic scheme of things. We are not to be mesmerised by “the barefooted, scantly-clad, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings,” as the Prophet forewarned.10 Digging the earth is one thing; burying the path to the soul’s salvation is another thing altogether. Hence let us pose that all-important question again: How should change and progress be appraised?

“For Muslims,” wrote Gai Eaton, “there can be only one test by which to assess change. Does it promote piety – awareness of the divine presence – or diminish it? Does it lead to an increasing number of men and women to the gates of Paradise or does it encourage them to stray from God’s path? Does it reinforce the divinely revealed Law or does it blur the distinction between what is commanded and what is forbidden? There are, of course, other considerations but they must take a lower place in a fixed order of priorities. An increase in life expectancy is, obviously, a good thing, but it is worthless if these additional years do not lead to an increasing awareness of the divine Reality which we are soon to meet. There is nothing inherently wrong with the comforts provided by the modern world, better hygiene, better drainage, more convenient means of transport, but these count for nothing if their soft embrace encourages us to forget our origin and our end.”11

3. Muslim Responses to Social Change

I suppose there are a few ways of depicting how we as Muslims are currently trying to square loyalty to the shari’ah with our rapidly-changing social context. Any such description, though, will be a generalisation; an approximation of a fairly complex set of dynamics. Yet to make such subtleties indecently simple, we can say that two orientations towards change are discernible. The first is often referred to as ‘traditionalist’; the second, ‘modernist’. Although these two methods represent the two ends of the spectrum for change, nonetheless there is some overlap as one moves from the poles down to the middle. To add some sense of nuance, I’d like to sub-divide the traditionalists into two groups, thus giving us three broad responses to change:

I. THE ULTRA CONSERVATIVES

The traditionalist position, which is that of the mainstream ‘ulema, or scholars, is conservative; emphasises classical formulations of Islam; and is cautious of innovation and change. At its extreme are the ultra-conservatives; those who believe that Islam has been sufficiently expressed in classical tomes of fiqh, and that it is not the pre-modern formulations of Islam that need changing, but the society that has drifted away from its guidance. When they do permit change, it is seen as something temporary; a sort of weathering the storm.

II. NUANCED TRADITIONALISTS

The second group of traditionalists take a much more nuanced approach. They are careful to distinguish between those aspects of the shari’ah which are fixed and unchanging, and those open to adaption and expansion. In other words, they recognise that some religious rulings are immutable, whereas others are contingent and cultural. They also distinguish between the ‘illah – the rationale which gives rise to a legal ruling, and hikmah – the actual wisdom behind the given ruling. They also draw on the rich body of legal philosophy which deals with the aims of the Sacred Law (maqasid al-shari’ah), as well as give credence to customs and norms – as per the legal maxim: al-‘adah muhakkamah – “cultural norms have the weight of law”, or “custom determines what is law”. There is also the rule which dictates that: taghayyur al-fatwa bi taghayyur al-azman – “the fatwa changes with the changing of time”. Additionally, jurists have at their disposal a large body of fatwas and legal precedents which go under the rubric of: ma ta’ummu bihi al-balwah – “problematic issues that are of general concern to the community”. This refers to those circumstances for which, when certain afflictions become rampant and widespread, and begin to affect many people, allowances must then be made for them due to the legal concept of darurah: “neccessity/vital interest”. It goes without saying that knowing how and when to employ such complex legal devices is the art and craft of the jurist-mujtahid; and none other.

Al-Qarafi, a prominent sixth century jurist, wrote: “Those handing down legal judgements while clinging blindly to the texts in their books, without regard for the cultural realities of their people, are in gross error. They are in opposition to established legal consensus as well as being guilty of sin and disobedience before God … Their blind adherence to what is written in the legal compendia is misguidance in the religion of Islam and utter ignorance of the ultimate aims behind the rulings of the past scholars and great personages of the past whom they claim to be imitating.”12

Two centuries later, Ibn al-Qayyim endorsed al-Qarafi’s approach, affirming: “This is pure understanding of the Sacred Law. Whoever issues legal rulings to the people based merely upon what is transmitted in the compendia – despite differences in their customs, usages, times, places, conditions, as well a special circumstances of their situation – has strayed and leads others astray.”13

Applying the law to new and evolving situations is, without doubt, a difficult task, and at times there may be a fine line between adaption and adulteration: but a line there nevertheless is. The traditional ‘ulema have, during the last few centuries, seen a rising number of charlatans – far removed from fulfilling the requisites of ijtihad – calling for reform of the shari‘ah, and claiming the right to do so for themselves. Hence in the eyes of those learned in Sacred Law, talk of change, or of adapting to the times, has more to do with hawa: caprice; whims; desires, than it does huda: divine guidance.

To sum-up: for such traditionalists, change (or rather, adaptation) occurs under the guidance of jurists and mujtahids, and in a way that is accepting, yet critical and selective of what the West has to offers in terms of science, technology and intellectual thought. Along with this, there must be a realisation that it is in the very nature of the modern, secular world to erode all that is sacred, and that its offerings are seldom neutral or value-free, but are instead enmeshed in profane western values and philosophies: secularism, individualism, materialism. For traditionalists, the issue isn’t about whether the law needs to adapt to change; instead it is about how much and by whom. For traditionalists, also, at the heart of any adaption must lie the preservation of faith, sacred norms, and obedience to the Divine Will.

III. MODERNISTS

As for the modernists, it is difficult to pigeon-hole them into a single unified narrative. Modernism is more of a rubric for a number of diverse ideas, trends and peoples: reformists, liberals, progressivists, secularists. What may be said to characterise them all is their jettisoning of tradition which, in Islam’s case, refers to an unbroken chain of learning and received wisdoms reaching all the way back to our Prophet, peace be upon him. Tradition is backward looking; it suffocates progress; it’s a relic of the past, the modernists would have us believe. Hence the mantra of modernism: “Islam needs a reformation.” After all, they argue, Christianity underwent a Reformation, and look what happened there. Look indeed!

The concluding part of this blog (to be posted shortly, God willing) discusses the modernists’ assertion that Islam requires some sort of reformation. It will also consider their claim that the traditional ‘ulema are still stuck in some sort of ‘nostalgic Madinah’.

Notes

  1.     1. Cf. Quilliam Foundation, Pulling Together to Defeat Terror, 8. The actual document was released during the Foundation’s inaugural launch, 22/4/2008, and may be read at: www.quilliamfoundation.org

  2.     2. Qur’an 5:3.

  3.     3. By “established, clear-cut injunction,” I mean those rulings of the faith stemming from proofs that are univocal and categorical in their content and transmission (qat’i al-dalalah wa’l-riwayah).

  4.     4. Qur’an 95:8.

  5.     5. Qur’an 5:50.

  6.     6. Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 23-4.

  7.     7. Al-Radd ‘ala Man Ittaba’ Ghayra’l-Madhahib al-Arba’ah (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 1998), 29.

  8.     8. Qur’an 30:9-10. Also cf. 6:6, 8:54, 22:45.

  9.     9. Ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, 1:86 – as cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Da’ wa’l-Dawa’ (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1998), 67.

  10.     10. Muslim, Sahih, no.8.

  11.     11. Gai Eaton, Remembering God: Reflections on Islam (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2000), 25-6.

  12.    12. Cited in Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Islam & the Cultural Imperative,  6-7; at www.nawawi.org/downloads/article3.pdf

  13.     13. I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2003), 4:470.

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Abu Aaliyah is the founder of The Jawziyyah Institute, a leading institute for Islamic moderation and contemporary thought in the United Kingdom. Sidi Abu Aaliyah has been in involved in Dawah and Islamic teachings since 1986. He has translated a number of books from the Arabic language into English such as "The Exquisite Pearls". Abu Aaliyah's written works and audio lectures can be found online.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Yasir Qadhi

    December 10, 2008 at 12:54 AM

    Jazak Allah khayr ya Aba Aliyah for this article!

    This issue is really the primary issue of our era; every few centuries the Ummah has faced a theological crises of the largest magnitude, whether it was the issue of the uncreatedness of the Quran, or properly understanding the Divine Attributes, or the veneration of ‘holy men’, or what have you. All of these issues have been dealt with and we still live with the historical ‘baggage’ that those interactions produced. The issue of the hour is the applicability of Islamic law and ethics in modern times. Never before has the Shariah been questioned and challenged the way that it is being done by ‘Muslims’ in our times.

    The response has begun, but the challenge continues, and more needs to be done. Your tripartite division is great, but as you also are aware there are many shades in between, and its in arguing over those shades that yet other problems occur. I think we all consider ourselves to be ‘nuanced traditionalists’ but when it comes down to defining a particular and specific methodology, that is where we encounter problems!

    The question is: in which particular issues do we take into account modern culture and customs, and in which do we not? These are questions that will need many years of thought and many dozens if not hundreds of trained specialists to debate and counter-debate over.

    Just a minor point: personally I differentiate between ‘modernists’ and ‘progressives’. The former assume that the texts have been misunderstood and somehow try to ‘read in’ modern meanings to them, whereas the latter simply view the texts as not being applicable in our times. Once again there are shades of grey in the middle, but overall I do think we need to differentiate between two connected yet separate ‘progressive’ movements.

  2. OsmanK

    December 10, 2008 at 3:00 AM

    One thing to note is to be called “progressive” or “modernist” has simply become a derogatory word in Islam. This leads to confusion because some people dont differentiate between “progress” in theology which most ppl disagree with, and progress in the dunya, which I’m sure most would agree with. This is mostly due to the “progressive” camp basically becoming secular muslims and for the most part, they have been rejected.

  3. Gohar

    December 10, 2008 at 6:03 AM

    Thank you to both Sheikhs for covering this topic. It is ultimately the main reason why I visit this site. I wish more was done on this topic though.

    I think the modernistic viewpoint is more powerful than than that of the progressives since the modernistic view point gives a sense of vindication to its adherent, that they are actually sticking better to Islam and merely rejecting only that which is superfluous to the dean and in addition harmful in their view. An analogy can perhaps be made to the widespread adoption of salafeeya views amongst the youth today since the same thought processes were probably present in both movements.

  4. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    December 10, 2008 at 6:59 AM

    bismillah. brother Osman, remember how people used to protest that there is nothing wrong with the word “fundamentalist”? so people would (and some still do) call themselves fundamentalists because of the dictionary meaning of the word — ignoring the political meaning that society had saddled the word with in recent times.

    “progressive” — “modernist” — just more politicized terms.

  5. moro

    December 10, 2008 at 8:21 AM

    What “progress” can you imagine or hope for when you hear an English-speaking scholar say on an English-language (Islamic) TV channel that (writing/reading) fiction is haram?

    Excerpt:

    “These two men over here,” Hassan pointed at two men on his right, “have money. They can pay for us all. We’ll see how we can settle that. Now, tell us, Muhammad, why do you say:
    “Khalaqany, razaqany, llamany; hadany…”?
    Muhammad smiled and said:
    “Well, when I say Khalaqany I remind myself that I actually exist, and that I do matter in some way, otherwise God wouldn’t have bothered to make me in the first place, and since God made me as a person, as a human being, then I have to behave in the way God had meant me to behave, that is as a human being, not as an animal. When I say razaqany I remind myself that I needn’t worry too much about the future, because God who made me also provided me with the means of subsistence even before I was aware that people should work to be able to keep themselves or their loved ones. And since God did this for me in the past, then He can also do it for me at present and in the future. So I shouldn’t worry too much about the future. When I say llamany I remind myself that this in itself is a great gift, because not all people are literate, and not all literate people put their knowledge to good use. So I keep reminding myself that God wants me to learn more and more about Him, about myself, about life and about the world. And as I think of this, I find myself reminiscing about the past: I remember how I was and how I got to be what I am today. I remember the hardships I went through; I remember the happy moments I lived in the past; I remember the hundreds of people I got to know throughout my life; I think of those people: how they were happy or unhappy; I think about all these things over and over again, and try to soothe myself. And when I say hadany I remind myself that I have a path to follow; I have things to do and things not to do, and I wonder whether I am on the right path. And as I think this way, I blend past and present and future and try to see how I can best live the present, hoping that the future will be brighter. And that’s it!”
    “And what about love, Muhammad?”
    Muhammad sighed and said:
    “You know the story of Yusuf (Joseph), don’t you? Yusuf was the most handsome man in his time. He lived a good part of his life in a palace. For you and me, that’s happiness. But then Yusuf had the misfortune to do many years in prison. He lost maybe the best years of his youth in prison. For you and me, that’s unhappiness. But then Yusuf was released and became almost king. For you and me, that’s happiness, isn’t it? Yusuf did suffer a great deal, but in the end he died a happy man. What more could you or I ask for in his place? All you and I want is to live a happy life. God says, Nay! There’s yet a much happier life, an everlasting happy life. Suleiman (King Solomon) had everything he wanted, everything a human being would ever dream of. So that’s happiness. What more could Suleiman (pbuh) have sought for since he had everything he wanted? Nay! There’s yet a much happier life, an everlasting happy life. And this life was not made for Yusuf or Suleiman only. It’s made for us all. Why should God give us another good life if we had a good life already? You know why? It’s because He is a loving God. It’s because He is a great God. It’s because He is a forgiving God. God doesn’t owe us anything. It’s we who owe God everything. We don’t give God anything. It’s God Who gives us everything.
    “Unfortunately, we are quick to forget God. Maybe because we don’t see God. But we do see God’s creation, don’t we? When you see a beautiful woman, all you see is that beautiful woman. If you fall in love with her, all you think of is her. She’ll become everything to you. You’ll think of her; you’ll worry about her; you’ll wish her all the best in the world– and in the end she mightn’t even think of you. She might be thinking of someone else. You love her, you give her everything, and yet she thinks of someone else. Just like God: He loves you, He gives you everything, and yet you think of someone else. But when you say, as I do, “Khalaqany, razaqany, llamany; hadany…”, you realize that you have been burning your heart for the wrong one. And as your realization gets greater so will be your love of God. You may forget your beloved, and maybe love someone else, –who knows?– but then your love of God gets stronger with the years. One day you’ll get married, and your wife will be by your side, and then there will be ample room in your heart for God. You’ll love God more than anyone else.”

  6. vindicated

    December 10, 2008 at 9:53 AM

    I don’t know which scholar you’re referring to, and maybe this is besides the point, but does speaking English on an English TV channel some how indicate you’ve progressed more than others?

  7. ibnabeeomar

    December 10, 2008 at 1:41 PM

    jazakAllahu khayr for this excellent article. There are a lot of powerful quotes in here, especially the ones from Shalabi and Gai Eaton.

  8. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 10, 2008 at 3:00 PM

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for this thoughtful and thought provoking article Shaykh Abu Aaliyah and Jazzak Allaah Khayr to Shaykh Yasir for your insightful comment.

    You indicated that you will write another post that deals with the idea of Reformation. Personally, I think there is a lot of confusion over this term as it has a general linguistic meaning of positive change but historically and in the context of religion it most obviously refers to the Protestant Reformation in Christianity. The Protestant Reformation was (or is to the extent it is an ongoing movement) a broadly diverse historical movement which is complex and multifaceted and about which I am no expert. However, from the broad outlines of it with which I am familiar I do not think it bears much relevance to the pressing issue facing the Muslims which is, as Shaykh Yasir, framed it, how to manage the interaction between Islam and what is known as modernity? Since “we” are all likely to be “nuanced traditionalists” of a sort, at least in our own minds, what is our methodology for determining what are the truly eternal truths of our theology, law, and ethics and what are those areas in which we are free to adapt and change guided only by broad principles and values?

    In approaching such questions, one model to look to in understanding the challenges is the model of post Englightenment Judaism and its development in Europe and the United States (and eventually Israel). Most of those who call for a Reformation in Islam, although they sometimes seem to be unclear about it themselves, are not asking for a Muslim Protestantism but are looking for a Muslim version of the different movements within Judaism which have become known today as ‘denominations’ (which is itself an adoption of a term from Christianity which is not really fitting to the phenomenon.) It is precisely the different methodologies to approachign the questions framed above which led to the differences between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, and of course within and between and around these broad categories numerous other movements have developed as well. I made some similar observations here.

    Other than the mere fact that this is occuring at a different stage in history when it comes to the Muslims, there are other major differences between ourselves and Jewish people approaching these issues in 19th century Europe. First, Islam is a universal (proselytizing) faith which Judaism is not. Therefore Islam cannot easily be turned into an ethnic group, since it is not one. Second, political questions are much more pressing in Islam since many Muslims believe that Islam should govern all areas of life including politics while for pre-Zionist Jews, this was not a consideration. They were people committed to living in exile, as minorities, in lands governed by non-Jews until the coming of the Messiah. It seems to me that many Muslim thinkers and speakers are basically trying to create a similar environment for Muslims in the West in our times, even if the reasoning is somewhat different. There is a growing move to accept (and this can be seen in our own Shaykh Yasir’s work) that without dividing ourself off from the rest of the ummah, that practically we have different issues. That we should simply accept and acknowledge that we will live as minorities in non-Muslim lands ruled primarily by non-Muslims for the foreseeable future. Amongst the Jews, this resulted in an emphasis by the Orthodox on protecting communal interests, preserving religious identity, practice and knowledge, and supporting a type of secularism and non-discrimination in politics as much as possible. Among those who would become Reform Jews, there were actually similar goals but the means of accomplishing these were throught to come from being as flexible as possible in altering religious laws and customs, adopting practices modelled after churches and trying to make Jews feel comfortable in non-Jewish societies. The alternative was thought to be that once the rampant and pervasive anti-semitism of the pre-emancipation period in Europe was lifted that ambitious Jews given the choice would simply abandon their religious heritage and become Europeans like anyone else, even if not always fully Christian.

    One sees that political questions can affect these considerations a great deal. The coming and triumph of Zionism amongst Jews in the 20th century drastically affected this landscape. Similarly, it is hard to see how Muslims, even those living in the west, can completely separate themselves from the situation of the Muslim lands from which many of them or their parents come, or the ones with which their current home country is in a state of war.

    Another major difference between ourselves and the Jews is that our tradition has historically placed more of an emphasis on theology and correct belief while in Judaism the emphasis has been on correct practice (something not missing from our tradition by any means). Of course, theology and practice are related but we will have to be clear in thinking about our orthodoxy whether we define it purely by theology, by practice, or by some combination of both.

    I look forward to continued posts and commentary in this area. My biggest underlying concern is that if this is indeed the fundamental question facing Muslims in our time and place, and I tend to agree that it is, I feel that despite the fact that a good amount of ink is spilled on related questions, especially within the community, it is not taken with the seriousness that I feel it deserves. Often, I feel that “Islamic” justifications are put forward for social changes that are occuring beyond the control of the religious leadership or thinkers of the community. There is no way to stop Muslims from fully integrating into society and claiming their place in the American political, economic and social environment. The breaks on this full scale integration in the past (recent immigration and the idea that home was somewhere else, anti-establishment feeling amongst Blackamerican and other native converts) are to some extent melting away or at least lessening. The choices now are to become a cheerleader for the integration train, or a lonely isolated voice which seems to be nothing but a critic of the community, unable to inspire anyone or attract followers.

    I’ve already said way too much…but another random thought I always have when these conversations occur is that, since we are talking about terms, I bristle at the terming of those people who tend to think that more of the tradition should be maintained rather than open to change are “conservative.” Yes, that is a valid term in some ways, but it carries itself many connotations in our society with which I, for one, do not wish to identify myself. One can see that almost all Muslims now support Democrats or more “liberal” candidates for a variety of reasons. Are these people still “conservatives”? The tendency to think of Muslims who want to maintain the tradition as socially conservative I also think brings to the forefront the distorting effects of only focusing on certain issues. Like a Muslim nation where justice cannot be found anywhere but Shari’ah is associated only with certain family law provisions or the hudood, we run the risk of becoming a community where the “religious” people only worry about the way people dress, and gender interaction, and Music, becasue these are things we think we can maintain some control over, while we totally relinquish any hope to speak out for a more just criminal justice system, or against the ravages of a riba based financial system, or the foreign policies of a country which literally takes money from us to kill our Muslim brothers and sisters. Such distortions of what Islam is truly about are important not only becasue I personally don’t want to be associated with such a thing, but we have to bear in mind the role how our community chooses to focus and perceive itself has in what our main duty in this environment, to extend the invitation to Islam to all people in the most beautiful manner possible.

    Allaah knows best.

  9. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 10, 2008 at 4:30 PM

    The choices now are to become a cheerleader for the integration train, or a lonely isolated voice which seems to be nothing but a critic of the community, unable to inspire anyone or attract followers.

    So I don’t leave a misimpression, what I am arguing is that there is of course a third choice between these “extremes” (Isn’t there always?)

    In this case, however, the middle way is surely the most difficult and challenging. It is for the intellectual and spiritual religious leadership of the community to engage in the serious thinking and discussion needed to answer these questions and develop a real proactive vision of where the community should be going and what it should stand for. Then, or simultaneously, this intellectual and spiritual religious leadership has to grab hold of the steering of the train or convince those steering the train to buy into this vision and then lead the community in a purposeful way rather than following along with momentum from other sources a path that is not of our choosing, and then trying to maintain relevant by making arguments that really according to the deen all this is perfectly fine (rationalizing) and/or giving up completely on the idea of religiously serious thought driving the train but attempting to assert control over an increasingly narrow sphere of family life marked off as the domain of ‘religion.’

    I’m sure that metaphor made my point perfectly clear, right? :)

    Allaah knows best.

  10. h. ahmed

    December 10, 2008 at 8:50 PM

    This is a great article!!! We as a community need to stress these issues of progress, importance of customs/culture, diversity, etc.

    While categories in general do serve a purpose – we shouldnt label people and judge them based on it. Im sure most of us would like to be nuanced traditionalists. Lets keep this dialogue popular among our communities and continue to promote and support those scholars who have make a conscious effort in tackling these issues like Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah, Dr Jackson, SHaykh Suhaib Webb, and others…

    Note: you should put up a link to Dr. Umar Faruq’s articles [one of which you have cited] on these issues. I strongly believe that they are MUST-READs for all young Muslims living in the west and would be great material to have discussions about.

  11. Amad

    December 10, 2008 at 8:55 PM

    JazakAllahkhair Shaykh Abu Aaliyah…I am still trying to absorb the contents here, the depth of which highlights the difference between people of knowledge like you and laymen like many of us :) May we get more of you and less of us :)

    I too look forward to the concluding part on the “Modernists”. On a related note, many of us are also waiting for the second part on the topic of taqleed.

  12. Amad

    December 10, 2008 at 8:56 PM

    H. Ahmed: If you have the link, please post it here in a comment inshallah.

  13. Osman

    December 10, 2008 at 9:59 PM

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee, Reform Judaism is an even worse alternative then Protestant. Most Reforms have basically shunned every law in the Torah which they deem they dont like, in Islam’s equivalent this would mean no prayers (no sabbath), no halal (no kosher), no shariah etc. . All Orthodox Jews and many Conservatives do not consider Reform to be Judaism. Their theology is vastly different from traditional Judaism.

    The worse thing Islam can do is change aspects of religion.

  14. darthvaider

    December 10, 2008 at 10:09 PM

    ditto what abu noor said (long post…not so sure I followed the entire second one, lol). The one thing I wanted to add was the role of the ‘religious’ and ‘average’ Muslim in lieu of Modernity-

    I find that often times ‘religious’ Muslims struggle to understand their role in the midst of progressive assaults on Islamic Ethics (as shaykh yasir pointed out, they really are the issues of the day). Not every Muslim will be able to contribute at the level of academia and in their own way, sometimes taking up a campaign on smaller issues (gender relations, music, etc.) is their idea of contributing. So I guess my question is(posed to anyone willing to answer), what is the role of the ‘laymen’ muslim, or better yet, the religious muslim in upholding Islamic Orthodoxy?

    jazak Allah khayr Abu Aaliyah for the thought-provoking post and everyone else for the interesting comments.

  15. Joyhamza

    December 10, 2008 at 10:36 PM

    I too look forward to the concluding part on the “Modernists”. On a related note, many of us are also waiting for the second part on the topic of taqleed.

    Yes Amad bhai, thanks for mentioning that! And also Shaykh Yasir’s Salvific Exclusivity. I am the most eager one I guess. :P

  16. sis

    December 10, 2008 at 10:47 PM

    Jazakallahu khairan for this article. I think it’s very important to continue to have discussions on this topic–it can’t really be classified as an old topic or a ‘beaten’ horse because our problems still exist subhanallah, wa Allahu musta’an.

    One thought I have is that we can’t really keep the tree from growing but what we CAN do is to keep watering it and keeping it closely aligned with its roots.

    Similarly we cannot force the Muslim community in the West to stop living, breathing, existing in this Western world of science, academia, politics and… basically life. The average Muslim who immigrates here comes for education and the prospects of financial security. However what we CAN do is re-align our perspective and paradigm and bring our intentions for these events in our life for the sake of Allah (swt) and continue to EDUCATE ourselves about our Deen.

    Truly it saddens me when some Muslim communities here in the U.S. realize this problem of their kids having a different culture / background than their American counterparts and peers and fall into an inferiority complex, so much so that the main activities in the masjid become about how to get into the best college, how to do interfaith, and you see some brothers/sisters at churches and synagogues more than masaajid because of these efforts (of interfaith and ‘assimilation.’)

    However, in the above scenario, the process of keeping strong to ones roots is not present which is very important. The actual and bona fide identity and genuine heritage of Islam that some people are claiming to represent is actually getting watered down! So in 2020 maybe, they will not even be Muslim anymore by belief and action… may Allah not let that be a reality.

    Anyways, I think education and learning about Islam is essential to finding our place here in the West. Looking back and forward is a good way to evaluate our current position. And of course, let’s look to Allah azawajal for Help and make du’aa to Him, as it is to Him we will return, it is to Him we are in servitude and it is for His sake we live and die.

  17. Algebra

    December 10, 2008 at 10:51 PM

    Aslamu-alaikum:
    Ok i like this blog………….. very interesting…………….. i dont’ have time to read most of the comments but whatever i have read i have liked…….
    MashAllah
    salam
    P.S. too many blogs for me to participate in but i like this one.
    after the exams going to come back inshAllah

  18. Pingback: We Need To Progress; But Where To? Part 2 | MuslimMatters.org

  19. h. ahmed

    December 11, 2008 at 2:56 AM

    Brother Amad, All of Dr Umar Faruq AbdaAllah’s articles can be found here:

    http://nawawi.org/courses/index_reading_room.html

    The author of this article cited Islam & the Cultural Imperative ; I would also highly suggest everyone to read Seek Knowledge in China and Living Islam With Purpose

  20. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 11, 2008 at 9:07 AM

    Osman,

    If you understood my comment to be an endorsement of Reform Islam then you have misunderstood me. As you said, Reform Judaism involves not following laws or religious rituals from the Torah which the individual does not agree with or accept as meaningful to themselves. This is exactly what people who are saying that Islam needs a Reformation are calling for — the ability for Muslims to abandon aspects of their faith which are not in line with contemporary values.

    You say Reform Judaism is “worse than Protestant” but as I argued in my comment, the question of Protestantism is not relevant to the issues we are discussing here.

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for your comment.

  21. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    December 11, 2008 at 10:03 AM

    bismillah. mashaAllah, a trove of good.

    a fantastic warning:

    It is sad to see, then, many enthusiastic lay folk now being taught that their faith obliges them to ‘evaluate’ and ‘weigh-up’ the evidences, and to then follow the ‘strongest’ view as per the proofs. Their unqualified dabbling in the fine art of ijtihad – for that is what they are attempting – has not only led to chaos, bitter conflict and social mayhem, it has also served to weaken the juristic tradition which has so lent itself to Islam’s durability. This is not suggesting such people have ‘sided with the enemy’; they have, nonetheless, become unwitting pawns in the attempted dismantling of Islam’s legal tradition. Having strayed this far, others will drift further still.

    and i agree with Omar’s regard for the Eaton quote. i confess that i have never read any of Eaton’s work, but i intend to now, inshaAllah — so jazak Allah khayr for the endnotes!

    An increase in life expectancy is, obviously, a good thing, but it is worthless if these additional years do not lead to an increasing awareness of the divine Reality which we are soon to meet.

  22. Abu Aaliyah

    December 11, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    As-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.

    Jazakumullahu khayran to you all for your comments and observations.

    Sh Yasir: You’re absolutely correct, the tripartite division indeed has many shades in between. It was, as I mentioned, a gross over simplification to help sketch the contours of the issue. How useful the division actually is, I’m not sure myself. More work/thought/discussion does indeed need to happen here. It would seem to me that the differences present even in the ‘nuanced’ category need to be accommodated, provided the commitment to the Book, Sunnah, ijma’ and qiyas is honoured. It’s something I intended to explore in the third and concluding part of the blog. Jzk.k for your point about the progressives and modernists. The second part of the blog may remedy some of the blur. Lastly, it would be interesting to get something from you in writing on the subject, since I consider you more capable on the topic. ‘Trained specialists’: definitely the need of the hour.

    The Housotnian: I do share your concern; these terms can be so politicised. Normally I try to avoid using such labels. I certainly shun using them on specific individuals (unless they profess a label for themselves). My usage of them here was, as I said above, to help flesh out the saga. Allah knows best its usefulness.

    Abu Noor: Mashallah! I need to reread your comment and follow up the link. I’ve said for many years now that there is so much we can learn from the Jewish communities here in the West, and how they have attempted to square the circle. This, despite clear theological and historical differences between the two faiths: Islam and Judaism.

    h.ahmed: Dr Umar’s articles are extremely beneficial. I certainly do encourage that they be read. Please do provide the relevant links to his works.

    Amad: If MM got more of me and less of you all – you’d have to swap :) for this :( …. ;-) As for the second part of taqlid; it needs to progress!

    Darthvaider: I touch upon the role and responsibilities of the Muslim masses in the second part of the blog. May the blog be with you!

    Sis: Subhanallah! “One thought I have is that we can’t really keep the tree from growing but what we CAN do is to keep watering it and keeping it closely aligned with its roots.” What more needs saying. Jzk.k.

  23. UmmA

    December 11, 2008 at 10:44 AM

    Excellent article, jazakallahu khayran.

  24. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 11, 2008 at 12:56 PM

    Yes, Dr. Umar Abd Allaah’s (hafithuAllaah) articles are must reads for any literate Muslim in our times and his thought is hugely influential. For anyone who’s had the opportunity to interact with him or study with him, his character and intellect are shining lights for the ummah. I say this despite the fact that I disagree strongly with a good deal of what he has to say!

    In conjunction with reading his work, I highly recommend people also read the article by Amer Haleem, “Children of a Mixed Message: How the Generational Dynamics have Weakened the Muslim Community in America and made it Harder to Raise our Families” This was a cover story in AlJumu’ah Magazine a few months back, and is now available on the web in a slightly different but substantively the same form. Amer Haleem (hafithuAllaah) does an excellent job of taking a big picture look at the evolution of the Muslims in America over the decades and pointedly problematizes the fetishization of American Muslim culture that characterizes some of Dr. Umar’s supporters.

    Shaykh Abu Aaliyah, several years ago I told a Reform Rabbi who was very intelligent and well read as well as articulate that I really wanted to learn as much as possible about the history of Jewish thought in the “West” because they had been going through a lot of the same issues for hundreds of years that Muslims are addressing now. (Of course as your series shows, Muslims in Muslim lands had addressed similar issues during the same period, but living in a Muslim land during the era of colonialism frames the questions in a completely different way than living as a minority in the “secular” “democratic” “west.”)

    This is of course not to say that we are going to just follow their example, nor is it possible to do that since they differed amongst themselves on what direction to take and took different approaches. This is exactly where the benefit lies, since we can learn from their experiences. Indeed we should study history in general and especially intellectual history if we want to meaningfully engage with our societies and be able to chart a course for our future, as you mention in your series.

    Most of us as Muslims (and I include myself although I have made efforts to educate myself) are shockingly ignorant of the actual intellectual and religious histories and traditions of the societies in which we live. (Of course most of the people around us are not necessarily more aware of it but that is not the point). One thing we are not at all ignorant of is the popular culture of the society around us, and we are constantly creating our own hybrid American Muslim or British Muslim or whatever else subcultures. This is why I find the call to create culture as the imperative somewhat confusing. Then again, I understand that everyone has to deal with culture while not necessarily everyone has to deal with the intellectual complexities of the elites of the societies in which we live. But certainly there has to be enough of us who are aware of that intellectual history and that do not became enamored of it or an adopter of it, but become informed and confident critics of that history. In that sense, although I do not know enough about him to say I agree with his program or even to understand what his program is, I certainly admire someone like Tariq Ramadan and we need more figures like him in some sense.

  25. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 11, 2008 at 12:59 PM

    Yes, Dr. Umar Abd Allaah’s (hafithuAllaah) articles are must reads for any literate Muslim in our times and his thought is hugely influential. For anyone who’s had the opportunity to interact with him or study with him, his character and intellect are shining lights for the ummah. I say this despite the fact that I disagree strongly with a good deal of what he has to say!

    In conjunction with reading his work, I highly recommend people also read the article by Amer Haleem, “Children of a Mixed Message: How the Generational Dynamics have Weakened the Muslim Community in America and made it Harder to Raise our Families” This was a cover story in AlJumu’ah Magazine a few months back, and is now available on the web in a slightly different but substantively the same form. Amer Haleem (hafithuAllaah) does an excellent job of taking a big picture look at the evolution of the Muslims in America over the decades and pointedly problematizes the fetishization of American Muslim culture that characterizes some of Dr. Umar’s supporters.

    Shaykh Abu Aaliyah, several years ago I told a Reform Rabbi who was very intelligent and well read as well as articulate that I really wanted to learn as much as possible about the history of Jewish thought in the “West” because they had been going through a lot of the same issues for hundreds of years that Muslims are addressing now. (Of course as your series shows, Muslims in Muslim lands had addressed similar issues during the same period, but living in a Muslim land during the era of colonialism frames the questions in a completely different way than living as a minority in the “secular” “democratic” “west.”)

    This is of course not to say that we are going to just follow their example, nor is it possible to do that since they differed amongst themselves on what direction to take and took different approaches. This is exactly where the benefit lies, since we can learn from their experiences. Indeed we should study history in general and especially intellectual history if we want to meaningfully engage with our societies and be able to chart a course for our future, as you mention in your series. I personally was guided to Islam through studying Blackamerican history, and feel I have become much more confident in who I am as a person and stronger in my Islam through my study of Irish history, especially Irish republicanism. Being aware of influences on ourselves and the environment around us will always be helpful in charting an intelligent course for the future. How much more so, when we are studying the history of people who faced similar challenges to those lying immediately before us.

    Most of us as Muslims (and I include myself although I have made efforts to educate myself) are shockingly ignorant of the actual intellectual and religious histories and traditions of the societies in which we live. (Of course most of the people around us are not necessarily more aware of it but that is not the point). One thing we are not at all ignorant of is the popular culture of the society around us, and we are constantly creating our own hybrid American Muslim or British Muslim or whatever else subcultures. This is why I find the call to create culture as the imperative somewhat confusing. Then again, I understand that everyone has to deal with culture while not necessarily everyone has to deal with the intellectual complexities of the elites of the societies in which we live. But certainly there has to be enough of us who are aware of that intellectual history and that do not became enamored of it or an adopter of it, but become informed and confident critics of that history. In that sense, although I do not know enough about him to say I agree with his program or even to understand what his program is, I certainly admire someone like Tariq Ramadan and we need more figures like him in some sense.

  26. Talha

    December 11, 2008 at 3:06 PM

    Abu Noor, that was a phenomenal article. Jazakallah Khair.

  27. Miako

    December 11, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    as a scientist, I do not really care what way you decide, so long as you do not decide that science is profane, and act to make it cease in the public sphere (as some Christian Fundamentalists have been doing). As science gets more of people’s mindshare, there is less of an absolute necessity to look at religion for ALL SOLUTIONS ALL THE TIME. I do not necessarily believe this to be a bad thing — although of course not everything should be conceived as something to be solved by science! (Imagine trying to solve charity through science! unbelievable! — and a product of my imagination. do not imagine that someone actually is trying this)

    I read with some amount of worry people talking about having absolute faith in anything written before the modern era, as written and unmodified by our current knowledge. In Judaism, we have both the Written Law (the Torah, as given by Moses) and the Oral Law (the interpretations and traditions that people have derived from the original source). [interestingly enough, I know that both Christian and Jewish pre-modern sages said that the bible should not be taken literally if it contradicts (to use Aquinas’ term) the Book of Nature. That is to say, the sun does not revolve around the earth simply because one passage of the bible says that G-d stopped the sun. I do not know as much about Islam as I would like — that’s why I’m here! Does anyone have any comments on this, from a more Muslim perspective?] It would appear that Islam is also a religion with a considerable amount of flexibility inherent in it.

    osman is absolutely incorrect. Although some Orthodox would consider Reform Jews to be doing Judaism incorrectly, it would be nearly impossible to find a Conservative who would say that Reform Judaism isn’t Judaism. I attended a very conservative shul, and that was certainly not the case there. In Judaism, people who are not Reform have a tendency to look down their noses and grade people based on how close to Orthodoxy their synagogue is! As you’ve said, divisions are not helpful, and grading people based on exactly how well they follow things is not likely to encourage them to go your way.

    I should follow up with some notes on the divisions of Judaism, as it would seem like you’re getting a bit of bias (not that I’m free of that! but it’s important to see all sides…).

  28. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 11, 2008 at 5:23 PM

    Miako,

    Thanks for your comments. Regarding science: as you may know, historically science has not been as big of a problem for pious Muslims as it has been for some pious Christians. In large measure, it would seem that many seeming contradictions between science and religious texts like the Qur’an result from people improperly basing interpretations of the Qur’an on current scientific theories, then when those theories change it becomes problematic — but the problem is not in the Qur’an but the problem was the people in the first place who twisted the Qur’an to fit their own science, or reason — this is what we should avoid. Unfortunately sometimes people who are really big on science (they worship it as the true meaning behind the universe) sometimes will use their own scientific understanding to alter basic moral principles proclaimed in a religious text as the Qur’an. This is a misuse of science.

    I’ll stop there as I’ve already probably said too much but you are right to emphasize that the reason vs. revelation controversy is underlying much of what we are discussing here. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi is working on bringing more of the thinking of such outstanding Muslim theologians as Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah regarding these questions into the english language. Just as among medieval Jewish philosophers like Maimonides you will see a lot of religiously problematic thought on these issues by Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes) despite the fact that Ibn Rushd was a great scholar of Islamic sciences as well as a philosopher (as is true of Musa ibn Maymun — Maimonides). It is basically correct to say that true correct reason will not contradict authentic revelation but determining what is true correct reason and what is authentic revelation is where the action is in that game.

    In terms of your perception of bias I welcome more information and thoughts from you, but I will say that it is unlikely that you will find much love for Reform Judaism, even if understood from the perspective of its proponents, here. The goal of most of us is to prevent Islam from going down the path that Reform Judaism chose to (and surely Islam will be preserved by Allaah and is not in need of our help, but actually what I mean is we are trying to prevent ourselves and other Muslims we care about from going down that path)….although it is clear that many many non-Muslims and a surprisingly small number of Muslims (at this point) would like to go down that path.

    But one thing I do look for more insight on is understanding that Reform Jewish Scholars perceive themselves to be following an authentic if not the authentic Judaism, how did it come about they ceded the term Orthodox to the Orthodox.

    I’m actually going to be participating in a Jewish-Muslim “text study” tonight where we’ll be discussing the concept of revelation as understood by Judaism and Islam…there will be a fairly prominent Modern Orthodox Rabbi there (who has also studied Islam at Oxford), so maybe I’ll get more insight from him on these questions, inshAllaah.

    Peace.

  29. OsmanK

    December 11, 2008 at 7:37 PM

    I remember Sheikh Salman Al-Awdah put it well, that an Islam should not intrude into scientific research (except for funding) but it should intrude into research ethics when science is applied. This is the way it is done in the West (though with different ethical understandings) so its not a problem.

    The only problem that usually arises in research ethics is when research is “outsourced” to third-world countries.

  30. Miako

    December 12, 2008 at 7:06 PM

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee and OsmanK,

    I thank you for your insightful commentary. And I CERTAINLY have no problem with ethical oversight on research. Science does a very good job of saying what is possible, but not whether we should do it.

    As for Reform Judaism (and I will attempt to explain this, taking a more favorable view of Reform and an admittedly biased view, although I am not a scholar of Judaic History), I do not expect you to approve of everything in it, but I think there may be more to it that you may find admirable than you may suspect.

    It is important to understand that in the medieval ages, Judaism was split. Many rabbis were not only the religious but also the civil authority for their little villages. In this spirit, they would often issue opinions from the Torah. As a consequence of the poverty in which they dwelled, and the lack of other sources to verify opinions (no Sanhedrin, for example), a rabbi might make a decision based solely on his whimsy, and attribute it to the Torah. Additionally, many ideas that had no basis in the Torah, and only in tradition had cropped up, and varied widely from place to place. Many of these were peasant traditions (similar to the Easter that Christians celebrate, in that local traditions were incorporated into holidays — and some of these traditions were in wide variance to the actual religious texts). If you look at the Talmud, you will easily recognize a strong component of numerology — that the numbers inherent in hebrew words mean something important (which, as I will run ahead and say, to a Modernistic mind would seem silly). Additionally, there was the added effect of corruption — many rabbis were poor, and rich people in their communities would be able to buy positions of influence which were religiously based. In addition, there was the idea that you were a better Jew the more you studied torah. What this meant in practice was that women would be in charge of businesses, and the men would study. The richer the man, the more he could afford to spend his days studying torah. This sense of reference and prestige accorded to those who could study was, I feel, very important for what comes next.

    I turn to 1800’s Germany, where the Reform movement started. It began partially as a result of more rigorous scholarship of the Torah — finding what were merely traditions, versus what was better derived from biblical verses. It also brought with it the concept that everyone should be able to do what was once the province of the rabbi and the rich — study the Torah. It soundly rejected the doctrine of the Decline of the Ages (that every generation is worse than earlier ones, and thus less qualified to criticise earlier opinions). Combine both of these, and you get the idea that everyone can have their own ideas on religion. (It’s important to note that Maimonides himself said that it was okay for someone who is Jewish to doubt God privately, so long as he continued the practice of Judaism, so this is less at variance than it might seem) — to go off on a tangent, would it be considered ideal for all Muslims to be scholars of their faith, capable of giving opinions on matters? But the Reform movement also came from Jews who were interacting as peers with gentiles, and were anxious to be seen as equals, and not backwater peasants. With the advent of more trade, the German Jews came in contact with the Polish Jews, who were still in a medieval setting. The German Jews wanted to distinguish themselves from their backwater brethren, and took the position that many traditions were not biblically based, and thus should be rejected.

    In the 1800’s, Modernism was at it’s peak — the idea that morality was much more important than divine inspiration, and that science could even go so far as to modify religion. Classical Reform Judaism embodies that outlook as much as Thomas Jefferson (who famously ripped out of his Bible any passage attributing divinity to Jesus, and read his minimized copy) — there was an emphasis on finding the moral center to Judaism, and removing many of the rules and hedges to prevent people from transgressing the rules. Also, there was newfound understanding that the Jewish text, according to rational analysis, were not given to Moses at Mount Sinai, but were latter compilations, which also led to some of the newer understanding. Reform Judaism took the concept of a bar mitzvah — a ceremony when a male reaches the age to be able to read the Torah, the age of majority where he is expected to follow all the commandments — age 12, and looked at it from a very different perspective — in the 1800’s, a twelve year old was no longer considered at the age of majority. They changed the ceremony to a Confirmation ceremony, with basically the same function, that would occur at age 16.

    Obviously Reform Judaism has changed a lot from back then. To a large degree, it has more reconciled itself with the traditionalists. Most Reform synagogues have both a bar mitzvah ceremony and a Confirmation. Reform Jews certainly still believe in the concept of personal autonomy, within the confines of a community (that is to say, you’re still part of a synagogue, you are still part of the Jewish community in general). Reform Traditionalists would say that the default position when it comes to halakha (religious laws) should be acceptance, rather than rejection, whereas Classical Reform Judaism would have more often preferred rejection. As both of these coexist within the Reform movement, along with more moderate views (that hold you should consider and reunderstand halakha within the context of law and ethical understanding).

    Wikipedia has the current Pittsburgh Platform (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_Judaism_(North_America)) I’m not going to quote it here in it’s entirety.

    An interesting note is that neither 19th Century Orthodox Jews NOR Reform Jews believed in Zionism, each for different reasons. The Reform position on the subject was modified only after Israel’s creation (before then, it was often believed that Reform Jews should not consider themselves as not part of the nation that they were in, and that praying to return to Israel was fairly unpatriotic.)

    I think that you may find the idea of removing corruption and corrupt teachings to be something appealing (and to be learned from) and I hope that this commentary on “Why Reform?” may help explain why Reform Judaism is not Assimilationist Judaism (acting as others do, simply to be accepted).

    As to why let them have Orthodox? Well, the word means to adhere to the traditional and generally accepted, which is what the Orthodox Movement does (there are divisions there too, but that’s well beyond my time here — if you’re interested I can look it up later). Reform literally means make changes for improvement in order to remove abuse and injustices. Which is a good description of what Reform Judaism proposed to do.

    I think I might conceptualize Reform Judaism as a conversation between a person, G-d, and the community, drawing inspiration from our holy books, and striving to find the most meaningful way to follow G-d’s teachings. That’s just the way I put it, mind. ;-)

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