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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (03 Aug 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Historicism or Historical Methodology Is Vital to the Evolution of Progressive Islamic Theology: A Contribution to the Ongoing NAI Debate on the Possibility of Reformation within Islam



By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

02 August 2017

The ongoing passionate debate among the progressive Islamic thinkers at NewAgeIslam.com on the possibility of Islamic reformation and fallibility or infallibility of the Qur’anic texts as Word of God has taken a serious intellectual turn now. A graduate of classical Arabic and Islamic studies, Hassan Radwan who identified himself as an “Agnostic Muslim” and campaigns for radical reform within Islam, initiated this continuing debate. He bluntly asked these two questions: “Is Islamic Reform Possible? Should We Just Accept That Quran Is Not Perfect, Infallible Word Of God, If Nearly All Muslims Misunderstand It?”

In his long-winded response to Radwan’s article, Naseer Ahmed, an Engineering graduate and a frequent New Age Islam contributor has attempted to buttress two basic premises: First, Qur’an Is The Perfect, Infallible Word Of God, Even If All Muslims Misunderstand It. Second, the so-called ‘Islamic theology’ is mostly un-Islamic and needs extensive reform of a fundamental nature. “It is not very much different from what the extremists believe which is why it can never effectively counter them”, Naseer Ahmad wrote.

Two more progressive Islamic thinkers, one well-versed Qur’an exegete and the other a critical liberal Muslim thinker, have joined this debate with an academic rigour. Muhammad Yunus, an Engineer engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s and co-author of “Essential Message of Islam” has written a hard-hitting rebuttal, “Some Muslim Intellectuals of This Era Cry Lies or Half-Truths against Islam Creating Doubts and Suspicions against It – Ignorantly or Fraudulently - God Knows Best to Radwan’s piece. His article came crashing down Radwan’s dismissal of the intellectual appeal of the Qur’an in gaining converts. But he has not produced much substance in his refutation except reproducing some of the well-known contemporary Western scholars like Karen Armstrong and Thomas Cleary. To my utter surprise, Muhammad Yunus seems to have belittled the critical framework of Radwan’s thesis by blatantly painting it as an attempt to smear the Islamic doctrines. In an objective academic exercise, one has to bear in mind that speaking about someone or something in a critical manner one does not have to be spiteful. But one wonders as to why moderate Islamic scholars like Yunus Saheb would view the arguments of Muslim sceptics like Hassan Radwan as ‘lies or half-truths against Islam creating doubts and suspicions against it’.

Dr. Arshad Alam, a regular columnist with NewAgeIslam.com has also questioned Muhammad Yunus’ conception of conspiracy against Islam in the writings of Hassan Radwan. He elucidated his argument as follows: “The first and the most obvious problem is that this approach puts the Quran beyond the scope of a critique. Critique is fundamental to how any form of knowledge progresses. Without questioning and a ceaseless search for answers, the human project is not very different from other species with which we share the earth”.

At the same time, Dr. Alam has raised a pertinent question on the approach of the scholars like Naseer Ahmad who argue that, while the Quran is the infallible word of God, the problem lies in human beings' limited knowledge in comprehending it.

Regardless of the various paradoxical underpinnings on the fallibility or infallibility of God’s Word as conceived in this continuing debate, the most crucial point that should not be missed out is “Historicism”. In fact, the historical methodology has the paramount importance in evolution of a progressive Islamic theology as well as the reformation of classical/traditionalist Islamic theologies. In this context, Arshad Alam has an important point to make:

“Unlike other religions, Islam is supposed to have been born in the full light of history. Then why is it that there is so little material on the origins and the early days of this religion? What we have in the name of historical sources is largely hagiographical material written by Muslims themselves. Why is it that this material hardly gets corroborated by materials from non-Islamic sources? It should be a cause of worry for Muslims themselves and they should be at the forefront of this search. And yet we see that because of this fallacious reading of Islam and Quran being of divine origin, there is very little effort on the part of Muslims themselves to try and research Islam also as a historical artefact”.

As a matter of fact, much of the earliest Islamic historical accounts like Sirah (Prophet’s biography) and Maghazi (stories of battles fought by the Prophet) compiled by Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham and Ibn Waqid al-Aslami is nothing but ‘hagiographical material’. Therefore, the first gigantic task to achieve is a robust rethinking and scrutiny of Islamic history. Thus, we cannot simply wash off our hands with the historical methodology or Historicism while engaging with the divine scriptures like the Torah (Old Testament), Injeel (the Gospel of Bible) and even the Qur’an. An evolved, egalitarian, moderate and progressive Muslim theology can only be achieved by employing the ‘theory of history’ or ‘history as a source’ for a robust interpretation of the Qur’anic texts.

To put it simply, Historicism in Islamic studies connotes an intellectual approach for the contextualisation of the Qur’anic texts in order to produce accurate explanations. In other words, it implies that what happened in the past, should be discussed and elucidated in terms of when it happened. Even the early Islamic historians like Ibn Khaldun employed this scientific methodology and remarkably advanced it in his seminal work “Muqaddama”. He referred numerous Islamic traditions back to the pre-Islamic customs of what is known as “al-Arab al-Jahili” (Arab in the era of ignorance).

Recently, this author met an eminent Egyptian-origin expert on Islamic law, Prof. Mohammad Fadel (Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto). Prof. Fadel has patently elucidated as to how Historicism could be applied in pursuit of Islamic research and reforms. There are two kinds of historicism that are relevant to the Islamic reformation, he said. One originates a ‘progressive theory of history’, the other emanates from ‘history as a source for textual interpretation’. The latter has the potential to garner greater support for the progressive Islamic reforms as far as they fall under the ambit of the jurisprudential Islamic theory called “Takhsis al-A’mm” (specification of the general).

Tellingly, Prof. Fadel explores Historicism as a ‘reform strategy’. He has set a legal precedent by analysing a critical Hadith text in which the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have called for excluding women from holding the political authority. By employing the historicism, Islamic hermeneutics as well as the substantive Islamic law, Prof. Fadel contends, an egalitarian and reformed Islamic theology can be introduced without fundamental changes to the well-established Islamic tenets.

Another important point that has emerged from this debate on New Age Islam is the critical appreciation of the ‘political theology’ in Islam. Dr. Arshad Alam has rightly pointed it out: “….we need to understand that interpretations that become hegemonic are necessarily a function of power. It is rather unfortunate that the balance of power in the Muslim world is in the hands of fundamentalists and there are a number of state actors who are backing this kind of reading of the Quran. The reason of controlling interpretations is not just religious but deeply political. A liberal and progressive interpretation of the Quran threatens the status quo of the distribution of power in the Muslim world which is currently in the hands of powerful oligarchs. A different interpretation of the Quran is, therefore, a much-needed political project which Muslims must take seriously”.

Undeniably, the political theology in Muslim countries emerged as exclusivist rather than inclusivist, totalitarian rather than democratic, patriarchal and male-chauvinistic rather than gender-just or gender-neutral, extremist rather than moderate, retrogressive rather than progressive. But in the 21st century, political theology will not go unchallenged or uncontested. The well-established classical Islamic scholars as well as the liberal Muslim thinkers are contesting the Political Theology today as a way forward to Progressive Islam.

Notably, Prof. Ebrahim Moosa is the acclaimed Islamic scholar, well-versed in both traditionalist and rationalist Islamic domains, who first tried to elucidate this widespread phenomenon in his writings. Muslim political theology developed over centuries under conditions of Empire but elements of it continue to resonate to this very day, he wrote in his popular essay “Muslim Political Theology”.

Not many know as to what the political theology, particularly in Islam, stands for. In the words of Jan Assmann, it is “an ever-changing relationship between political community and religious order, in short, between power and salvation”. Going by Prof. Ebrahim Moosa’s understanding, Muslim thinkers like the jurist of Muslim political theory al-Mawardi articulated a similar idea, albeit differently, through the prism of leadership and governance: ―leadership (Imamah) was designed in order to succeed the role of prophecy by protecting the order of salvation (Deen) and managing the affairs of the world (Dunya). Prof. Moosa further writes: “Since salvation was a core idea of Islam as a Deen, the knowledge of practices was integral to that order. In order to reproduce practices over time, and to explain and interpret them, a discursive tradition emerged. The discursive tradition elevated the status as well as power of those who mediated the learned tradition, namely the scholars (Ulema) … Over time this discursive tradition, validated by a variety of sub-traditions within Islam, acquired a quasi-sacrosanct character. Soon, the learned were seen as the true of heirs of the prophetic charisma. Statements attributed to the Prophet state that―the learned of my community were analogous to the Israelite prophets. Given the equivalence between the learned and the prophets of yore, the Ulema and their tradition acquired a power and authority that at least in the past was inseparable from the prevailing models of Muslim political theology”.

In the light of our requirements today in the 21st century, the progressive Islamic scholars will have to acquire the authoritative power by replacing the Ulema tradition. This will greatly help the global Ummah in reopening the doors of Ijtihad that the clergymen have closed for centuries. This is, perhaps, also implied in the line of thinking by Arshad Alam where he calls for the re-interpretation of the Quran as “much- needed political project which Muslims must take seriously”.

But this ‘political project’ is too gigantic a task to achieve without the vital support of the young progressive Muslim thinkers like Arshad Alam. The first step would be an endeavour to keep our co-religionists abreast of the challenges facing them in different parts of the world and how they should cope with them by taking informed decisions. We need to explore opportunities and do everything we can by this way of intellectual activism.

-----

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular columnist with newageislam.com, scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Related Articles:

Is Islamic Reform Possible? 'Should We Just Accept That Quran Is Not Perfect, Infallible Word of God, If Nearly All Muslims Misundetstand It?'

http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/hassan-radwan,-new-age-islam/is-islamic-reform-possible?--should-we-just-accept-that-quran-is-not-perfect,-infallible-word-of-god,-if-nearly-all-muslims-misundetstand-it?-/d/111784

The Quran Is the Perfect, Infallible Word of God, Even If All the Muslims Misunderstand It

http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/naseer-ahmed,-new-age-islam/the-quran-is-the-perfect,-infallible-word-of-god,-even-if-all-the-muslims-misunderstand-it/d/111897

Some Muslim Intellectuals of This Era Cry Lies or Half-Truths against Islam Creating Doubts and Suspicions against It – Ignorantly or Fraudulently - God Knows Best

http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/some-muslim-intellectuals-of-this-era-cry-lies-or-half-truths-against-islam-creating-doubts-and-suspicions-against-it-–-ignorantly-or-fraudulently---god-knows-best/d/111985

Quran is Not the Source of All Problems but It Must Be Brought within the Ambit of History

http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/quran-is-not-the-source-of-all-problems-but-it-must-be-brought-within-the-ambit-of-history/d/112032

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/ghulam-rasool-dehlvi,-new-age-islam/historicism-or-historical-methodology-is-vital-to-the-evolution-of-progressive-islamic-theology--a-contribution-to-the-ongoing-nai--debate-on-the-possibility-of-reformation-within-islam/d/112073

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TOTAL COMMENTS:-   7


  • Dear Mr. Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi,

    You say, “In the light of our requirements today in the 21st century, the progressive Islamic scholars will have to acquire the authoritative power by replacing the Ulema tradition. This will greatly help the global Ummah in reopening the doors of Ijtihad that the clergymen have closed for centuries.”

    At this, many questions arise: who are progressive Islamic scholars? What are the signs of the progressive Islamic scholars? What principle and criteria do the progressive Islam scholars adopt while interpreting the Quran and Hadith? Do you mean that anyone who goes against Ulema is a progressive Islamic scholar? What do you mean by the Ulema tradition?

    Do you too want to replace the Ulema tradition? If it so, then what is included in the Ulema tradition? As the Ulema tradition includes all postulates, doctrines, theology etc., so do you want to completely replace them or do only parts of it? Can you please name those clergymen who have closed the doors of ijtihad? What are the terms and conditions for ijtihad? Is it that anyone without having the sufficient knowledge can do ijtihad? There are many more questions.

    However, each of the above questions can be debated in length. So it will be tantamount to missing objectivity on the rational and authentic historicism, if one comes with short-cut internet scholarship, ignoring the above mentioned questions and claims “his superiority of knowledge and progressiveness”. It is necessary to touch likes of these questions; otherwise it will create confusions among the readers. 


    By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي - 8/5/2017 2:32:17 AM



  • Ghaus sahib,

    Good luck in your work on the infallibility of the Quran.


    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/4/2017 11:34:18 PM



  • Yes Mr. Ghulam Mohiyuddin we must develop intelligent and rational response to Hassan Radwan's article. 
    Our scholars in the past refuted the force-fitted and false arguments that  some propagandists, and orientalists made against the  infallibility of the Quran. 
    I am doing a gigantic study of the pros and cons on the subject of infallibility of the Quran. 
    In Sha Allah we will leave something good, and rational, objective, faithful, irrefutable responses to the anti-Quranic people. Then our forthcoming generation will not fall prey to them. 
    It is true that a person having strong faith in the Quran can not be fooled by them, but it would be much better for him to be aware of the answers to the objections made against the infallibility of the Quran. 

    By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي - 8/4/2017 9:06:32 PM



  • Dear Naseer Ahmad Sb 
    My position on the Quran - Is it the perfect, infallible word of God or not? And is it Kitabum Mubeen or not?--is almost identical to your postulate.
    However, I would not suffice to simply make only that point. Rather, I see an invincible future Muslim with a new relationship between the Quran and Islam if the critical bent of mind flourishes among us.
    Ghulam Mohiuddin Sb has lucidly put it:
    "Islam has to continue to progress as a system promoting  ethicality, rationality and love".


    By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi - 8/4/2017 12:31:36 PM



  • GRD saheb's discussion and review of literature on the subject are excellent. However much we may disagree with Radwan's article, we have to concede that it is an important wake-up call and we have to develop an intelligent and rational response to it. We may decide to ignore it but our children and grand children currently studying in some of  the best universities in India, the United States and Britain will read it and will ask us for answers.

    The second half of Radwan's article does suggest some possible solutions that could lead to a new relationship between the Quran and Islam. Islam has to continue to progress as a system promoting  ethicality, rationality and love.


    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/3/2017 1:24:41 PM



  • Dear Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi Sahab!

    What I wrote in my referenced article and substantiated with the evidence from the Qur'an and internationally recognized and most reputed scholars and historians of the era is this:

    "Scholars are free to hold any view but if they take to lies or half-truths to support their views, they do far greater harm to their community than any good. They become conspirators and traitors."

    As regards my objections to Hassan Radwan's piece I wrote this in my referenced article:

    "Hassan Radwan declares: “He (Muhammad) was accused of recounting nothing but myths and fairy tales and it took a long and violent struggle to win over Arabia - not an intellectual one” It is indeed true that Prophet’s enemies brought all kind of charges against him, including the noted ones, but his accusers eventually converted to his faith voluntarily and thus disowned their own accusations. Radwan’s statement is therefore half-truth. Regarding his allegation of ‘a long and violent struggle to win over Arabia’ the Qur’an, which is by far the most authentic historical source on the Prophet’s mission – having been recorded and memorized simultaneously in real time clearly demonstrates that all the battles that the Prophet fought were either to defending against military attacks or against hostile tribes that were constantly breaking the Peace Treaty, and that he never used force to gain converts. This is well known and expounded on the basis of Qur’anic allusions in my article referenced below [1]. Besides, Hassan’s dismissal of the intellectual appeal of the Qur’an in gaining converts is refuted upfront by some of the most eminent Western scholars of this era, briefly quoted below: 

    Karen Armstrong states: “The Qur’an does not ask Muslims to abdicate reason. The signs are for ‘a people having understanding’, ‘for a people who know’: Muslims are asked to look upon the signs in the world and examine them carefully..”[p.100, Muhammad, 1991] 

     

    Thomas Cleary declares: “Islam does not demand unreasoned belief. Rather, it invites intelligent faith, growing from observation, reflection and contemplation, beginning with nature and all around us.” [The Essential Koran 1994, opening page, Introduction]" 

    I must remind you that while quoting me you omitted my testimony from the Qur'an and stated: 

    "But he has not produced much substance in his refutation except reproducing some of the well-known contemporary Western scholars like Karen Armstrong and Thomas Cleary."

    Are you not engaging in half truth by omitting my critical  argument drawn on the Qur'an?

    Do you believe that our Prohet waged a "long and violent struggle to win over Arabia?" Have you read the Qur'an closely. It refutes this notion as expounded in my article referenced below:


    100. ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF PEACE AND PLURALISM

    URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/islam-is-a-religion-of-peace-and-pluralism/d/108249

    Tell me honestly, have you read article from first to last line or quoted me after reading just a few paragraphs?


    By muhammd yunus - 8/3/2017 9:22:43 AM



  • GRD,

    Thanks for correctly stating my view point "Naseer Ahmed,  has attempted to buttress two basic premises: First, Qur’an Is The Perfect, Infallible Word Of God, Even If All Muslims Misunderstand It. Second, the so-called ‘Islamic theology’ is mostly un-Islamic and needs extensive reform of a fundamental nature. “It is not very much different from what the extremists believe which is why it can never effectively counter them”

    While you agree that Islamic theology needs reform and suggest the historical methodology, what is your position on the Quran - Is it the perfect, infallible word of God or not? And is it Kitabum Mubeen or not?


    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/3/2017 5:49:54 AM



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