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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (31 Oct 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

God Is Not a Khomeini: The Islam of Identity Should Yield To the Islam of Truth

By Shajahan Madampat

07 November 2016

“It should not come as a surprise to discover that the first book on the future of Islam was written by an Englishman: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. I think Blunt was spot on when he argued that the future survival of Islam depends on an internal reform of law and ethics. But he was sensible enough to suggest that such reforms are best undertaken by Muslims themselves.”

“Futures of Islam, like futures of most cultures, are open to numerous pluralistic and democratic possibilities. The emp­hasis of my own work has been on shaping pluralistic and sustainable futures for Muslim societies. But I have to admit that Muslims, as a whole, are not very good at looking towards the future or exploring alternative future paths. We tend to be nostalgic about the glories of our history and fatalistic about our current problems.”

Ziauddin Sardar

Author of the Future of Muslim Civilisation

Thinking, let alone writing, about the futures of Islam or the Muslim world is fraught with complexities. Theologically speaking, future in Islamic parlance lies well beyond earthly life and humans are accorded no role in shaping it, except that of earning one’s own salvation through faith. The prerequisites of that esch­atology reveal themselves to everyday believers through the pious acts from the lives of numerous forebears in the faith, with the Prophet being the ultimate model to follow. But for many who view the world of Islam from outside, the lethal impact of the promise of an Islamic hereafter is demonstrated through imagery associated with suicide bombers, interlaced with fantasies about the 72 heavenly virgins. In thinking sociologically about the Islamic faith’s future, however, we may start from another vantage point.

Strange Bedfellows:

The convergence of views between the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Islamic State (ISIS), or for that matter any radical Islamist outfit, on what Islam is, is int­riguing. Both Ayaan and ISIS believe that misanthropy, hatred and intolerance of other religions and irreligion, crude expressions of misogyny and all other imaginable tropes and manifestations of medievalism are inherent in the scriptures of Islam. While Ayaan says, on the basis of her reading of the scriptures and on the basis of her own tragic experiences in life, that Islam is incorrigible, ISIS would argue, based on the same scriptures, that talks about ref­orm are heretical and punishable by death. In essence, both deny the intertextuality and interpretability of the scriptures and attribute to them a certain aura of mathematical precision and cultural inflexibility. If fundamentalism is an app­roach that insists on interpreting texts away from their contexts, both Ayaan and ISIS cannot be described in any other terms. That said, one must clarify that it is not to equate the two and draw moral parallels: one is an argument, however disagreeable, while the other is a despicable abomination.   

To be fair, most of what Ayaan says on the scriptures may appear true on the surface, if quotable quotes alone constitute a faith. Similarly, it may appear to some mathematically religious and spiritually monochromatic Muslims that ISIS is implementing true Islam. It is difficult to argue with both the parties for the scriptural quotes that they shoot at you are incontrovertible. The historical events they marshal into their arguments are beyond dispute. It is another matter that you can throw at them scriptural verses and historical events that convey exactly the opposite on most subjects. At the core of the present predicament in Islam is an increasingly popular approach to the texts that deny their discursive dynamism.

A host of compelling perspectives from within and outside increasingly challenge the culture of ossification and textualism that prevails across the spectrum within mainstream Islam today. But the communities of believers in general and the sects/groups/schools/organisations they belong to remain—with exc­eptions—impervious to any whiff of fresh air and steadfastly loyal to the many mutually abrogating and exclusivist versions of literalist textualism. These versions, usually at loggerheads with each other and subtly or overtly dismissive of each other’s Islamic credentials, can come together for self-preservation on rare occasions when the textualist and ethics-neutral approach they stand for is under threat. The best example of this rare union of vested interests in our context is the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. You hear the name of this manifest inanity mostly in the context of a conflict between Islamic jurisprudence and universal values of freedom, justice and equality, such as the present debate on triple divorce. We heard its name prominently for the first time when it claimed to represent the voice of the entire community against that of a frail, old, poor and arbitrarily divorced Muslim woman—Shah Bano Begum.      

Critique of Textualism:

 The liberal voices that interpret the faith in terms of both its ethical cosmology and its adaptability to modernity are no monolith. Although they do not enjoy much support among everyday believers and established sects/groups at present, and in spite of being misconstrued as a procrustean exercise, their mainstreaming is the only hope of liberating Islam from the anachronism, dehumanisation, explicit or implicit violence, intolerance, hyper-identitarianism and atavism of its self-styled defenders.

Islam, as an inclusive faith and as a humane culture, is facing existential threats not from its arch rivals but from its ardent followers. The solution therefore is to seek endogenous remedies because, on the one hand, imagining a future beyond faith is too utopian a dream to achieve and, on the other, like other traditions, the history and textual corpus of Islam could offer ample resources to self-rejuvenate and fight the internal decay.

However, the works that fall within the broad category of liberal Islam are yet to transcend the domain of the academic study of Islam into a public discourse and a social project acc­essible to the laity and to the clergy. There are five reasons that stand in the way of their outreach and popularisation among the Muslims. First, the clergy, of course, are very turf-conscious and resist any non-clerical inroads into their closely guarded territory. As Abdolkarim Soroush famously said in his book Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, “The clergy are not defined by their erudition or their virtue but by their dep­endency on religion for their livelihood.” Second, the laity has been made to believe that any interpretation coming from outside the canonical traditions defined and monopolised by the clergy lacks religious validity and salvational potential. Third, the works of liberal Islam remain largely couched in the terminology and theoretical framework of contemporary soc­ial sciences, making them stand out from the familiar idiom and structure of traditional books on religion.

Fourth, the general approach of all these works denies the now dominant trend of what Soroush calls ‘the obesity of religion’. This point requires some elaboration. As a result of eff­orts, mostly from votaries of political Islam, to present Islam as a comprehensive ideology capable of successfully vanquishing and replacing the dominant ‘isms’ of the 20th century such as communism and capitalism, the faith has been entrusted with far more burdens than it was originally meant to carry. This is how Soroush describes it: “The greatest pathology of religion that I have noticed after the revolution is that it has become plump, even swollen. Many claims have been made in the name of religion and many burdens have been put on its shoulders. It is neither possible nor desirable for religion, given its ultimate mission, to carry out such a burden. This means purifying religion, making it lighter and more buoyant, in other words, rendering religion more slender by sifting, whittling away, erasing the superfluous layers off the face of religiosity.”

Fifth, and most important, is the paradigm shift that distinguishes works of liberal Islam from traditional Islamic scholarship and worldview. These works, unlike in traditional works of theology and jurisprudence, take as their primary point of reference and as the normative core of the faith the ethical values that they derive from the scriptures rather than the contextually interpreted strictures and narratives that are often amenable to narrow and illiberal inferences. Such ethical values include justice, freedom, equality, human dignity, compassion, care and the like which are universal in their scope and beyond spatio-temporal limitations. This paradigm steers clear of the confessional duplicities and ethical contradictions that mark the conventional Islamic worldview.

For example, if justice and freedom are fundamental to the worldview of Islam, Muslims must accept democracy and shun majoritarian tyranny regardless of whether they are in majority or minority, thus rejecting all notions of theocracy and embracing modern ideas of equal citizenship. If equality and human dignity are central to Islam, how can Muslims continue to promote and defend rules and practices that militate against gender equality? If compassion and human dignity are core values of Islam, the rejection of primitive forms of punishment in favour of more evolved forms, such as imprisonment, becomes a social and religious imperative. In short, this approach shifts the focus away from the peripheral to the core and from the clinical and the clerical to the moral-ethical, deriving from the faith itself the wherewithal to prove it equal to the challenges of modernity.

The scholars of liberal Islam replace the static idea of faith and culture in Islam with a dynamic notion, while being apologetic about neither their Islam nor their modernity. (For a broad und­erstanding of their themes and positions, please read Liberal Islam: A Source Book, edited by Charles Kurzman). They have produced a rich body of knowledge that not only add­ressed the vital questions of Islam’s coexistence with contemporary streams, but also sought to reform or subvert many problematic ideas and notions that acquired the status of unquestionable religious tenets over a long time. The areas of enquiry they delved into and the fresh ideas and inferences they came up with included a critique of theocracy and Islamic maj­oritarianism, advocacy for democracy as a political system and as an inclusive culture, promotion of human rights, women’s rights, the rights of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries and the importance of equal citizenship, freedom of thought and expression, and human progress. These are precisely the areas in which the Muslim religious leaderships either totally failed their following or indulged in what Mohammed Arkoun called ‘mimetic overbidding’ (conferring an Islamic origin on every admirable achievement made in the modern West).  

Three Approaches

It is impossible to imagine a future for any faith or worldview in the absence of freedom of expression. The greatest barrier to human progress and cultural effervescence in Muslim societies across the globe can be traced to the system of censorship, either in the mind or in the structures of socio-political control. This emanates primarily from the fact that religious texts are seen as the abode of eternal truth, out of bounds for critical and rational enquiry. It bec­omes problematic when religious texts bec­ome the yardstick by which all other texts are assessed. “This is precisely the biggest problem in the dominant Arab-Islamic culture. The religious text in this culture is simultaneously cultural, social and political. The truth in it is the mother of all truths. Neither disagreement from it nor rebellion against it is allowed. It is like a law that governs your life and thought. Someone who has a different view is not described as a thinker, but as a blasphemer,” wrote Adonis, poet and enfant terrible of contemporary Arab culture. He goes on to exp­lain the implications of this peculiar plight: “The problem with such a culture is that the mind turns captive to the religious text that is adhered to. The truth is not derived from reality or experience, but from text—that is language. In this process, there is the abrogation of reality. In fact, abrogation of language itself as it is closed from inside in this approach. It ceases to say anything new and loses dynamic ties with the world and things.” (Translation from Arabic is mine.) 

Soroush approaches this question from another perspective. Unlike Adonis, who speaks from the position of an independent critic rather than a critical insider, Soroush does not repudiate or problematise the claims to truth, but brings an altogether different argument: “I have distinguished between two kinds of Islam: Islam of identity and Islam of truth. In the former, Islam is a guise for cultural identity and a response to what is considered the ‘crisis of identity’. The latter refers to Islam as a repository of truths that point towards the path of worldly and otherworldly salvation…. I think one of the greatest theoretical plagues of the Islamic world, in general, is that people are gradually coming to understand Islam as an identity rather than truth…..I believe that the Islam of identity should yield to the Islam of truth. The latter can coexist with other truths. The former, however, is, by its very nature, belligerent and bellicose. It is the Islam of war, not the Islam of peace. Two identities would fight each other, while two truths would cooperate.”

Despite fundamental differences in approaches, both Adonis and Soroush are highlighting two fundamental issues plaguing the world of Islam:  textual tyranny and hyper-identitarianism. Mohammed Arkoun adds another fascinating dimension to this debate, bringing in his take on Islam’s historical epistemology and what he calls the ‘mytho-historical mind’ of the Muslims. From his earliest to recent publications, Arkoun “sought to raise the question of the cognitive status of what Muslim theologians, exegetes, historians and jurists have long thought of as revelation, a concept which they have taken, without further question, as a given. In thus resting their elaborate formulations on a not­ion, which itself remains immune to the operations of critical reason, Muslim authors were responsible for creating a tradition which, though rich and intricate on its own terms, depended for its very potency on a vast terrain of the un-thought and the unt­hinkable.” (Islam: to Reform or to Subvert)

An Islamic prototype for free thought and action: Part of the un-thought and the unthinkable in Islam is the lesson to be gleaned from the parting of ways between God and Satan, as described in the Quran. When Satan rebelled against God’s command and threatened to lead humanity astray until the day of judgement, God had the option of doing a Khomeini and deciding to finish off Satan once and for all (in the memorable words of V.S. Naipaul in response to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, ‘an extreme form of literary criticism!’). But he dec­ided to let Satan go and do as he pleased. In other words, God granted Satan absolute freedom of expression and action for eternity. As the Malayali Marxist intellectual K.E.N. recently stressed, the Quranic narrative about God’s decision to grant Satan full freedom is perhaps the best model for Muslims to emulate in matters of freedom of thought and expression. Once they do that, the prospect of a civilisational ascent, as happened during the days of the Abbasid and Andalusian glories, will again beckon.

Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic, writing mostly in Malayalam and English and occasionally in Arabic.

Source: outlookindia.com/magazine/story/god-is-not-a-khomeini/298043

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/shajahan-madampat/god-is-not-a-khomeini--the-islam-of-identity-should-yield-to-the-islam-of-truth/d/108966


  • When the Quran makes clear the kufr of the kafir in every verse that refers to the kafir, it makes clear the meaning of kafir in that verse. Nothing can be simpler, more direct and more authentic than taking the meaning made clear by the Quran. In particular, it has been shown that in verses that deal with this world or the temporal dimension, the word kafir invariably means either an "oppressor" or "religious persecutor" and excludes from its meaning, the faith or the belief system of the kafir. The kafir in these verses is a faith neutral term and therefore never means "disbeliver". 

    Pasting a single fixed dictionary meaning of kafir in every verse has been shown to be both incorrect and misleading.

    Accepting the above, removes a great deal of misunderstanding about the Quran, and is therefore resisted by the Islamophobes like Hats Off. The truth of what is said has been demonstrated with verses 9:1 to 9:13 which contain the so called "sword verses". These are among the last verses revealed, and if in these verses "kafir" does not mean "disbeliever" then even invoking the false doctrine of abrogation cannot make "kafir" a "disbeliever".

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/9/2016 9:02:56 AM

  • Good to see Hats Off expounding on the Quran!

    The Quran contains examples of what was abrogated in the previous scriptures:

    (7:157) "Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper."

    “He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.” What are these commandments in their scriptures which are abrogated and which placed upon them a heavy burden?

    16:118) To the Jews We prohibited such things as We have mentioned to you before: We did them no wrong, but they were used to doing wrong to themselves.

    The earlier prohibitions were abrogated by the Quran as some of these were imposed only as a punishment for their wrong-doings.

     (4:154) And for their covenant we raised over them (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai); and (on another occasion) we said: "Enter the gate with humility"; and (once again) we commanded them: "Transgress not in the matter of the sabbath." And we took from them a solemn covenant.

    (16:124) The Sabbath was only made (strict) for those who disagreed (as to its observance); But Allah will judge between them on the Day of Judgment, as to their differences.

    The Quran does not prescribe the Sabbath. This is another clear example of abrogation.

    As for whether Ayat refer to previous revelations, here is the proof (if proof was needed for what is obvious):

    14:5) We sent Moses with Our AYAT (and the command). "Bring out thy people from the depths of darkness into light, and teach them to remember the Days of Allah."

    The teaching and bringing the people out from the depths of darkness into light is with the help of the revealed scriptures. The word ayat is used for these revelations.

     So much for Hats Off's punditry!

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/9/2016 8:40:21 AM

  • while mr naseer ahmed might not believe in abrogation, there is no where mentioned that the abrogation relates to the torah or the bible.

    it is mr naseer ahmed's personal opinion merely, without any textual evidence.

    this opinion cannot be supported by any stretch of imagination. just like kaffir does not at all mean religious oppressor. it means an unbeliever. or one who deliberately covers the truth. it does not mean a religious oppressor.

    but mr naseer ahmed often has difficulties in differentiating between his opinions with facts and also with factoids.

    by no stretch of imagination can we claim that either kufr means religious oppression or that ayat mean scriptures.

    the dictionary meaning is the only one that can be considered. not someone's unprovable assertions, fond hopes or personal opinions.

    the literal meaning or reading of the word ayat is 'koranic verses'.

    unless you want to go back to "interpreting".

    this proves another issue. koran has to be understood either through a literal reading or through interpretation or through metaphors.

    for those who love convenience, they can use whichever works best in any argument.

    those who prefer rigour and validity may look elsewhere.

    By hats off! - 11/9/2016 4:47:57 AM

  • Ayat refers to all revelations and includes Quranic verses. Abrogation however refers to verses from previous revelations replaced by something similar or better.
    In general, when people use the word ayat, they are talking about the Quranic verses only, just as when they say a Muslim, they are talking about a follower of Muhammad or when they speak of Islam, they mean the religion of Muhammad and his followers only.
    The Quranic use of these words are not what these words have come to mean. Ayat refers to all revelations, Islam was the religion of all the Prophets and all of the Prophets were Muslim.
    So much for learning from the dictionaries!

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/9/2016 1:18:29 AM

  • the online arabic dictionary gives the meaning of ayah as 1) koranic verse, 2) clear evidence, 3) sign of god.

    therefore it is perfectly accurate to translate ayah as a verse from the koran. and that is what it means.

    because clear evidence cannot be abrogated and signs of god cannot be abrogated, it implies that the word ayah as used in the abrogation verse refers only to the koranic verses.

    not to previous revelation.

    so much for mr naseer ahmed's so called scholarship.

    or it could be that the arabians do not know arabic as well as mr naseer ahmed does. very scholarly man.

    By hats off! - 11/8/2016 6:15:20 AM

  • The Arabic word is Ayat and means revelations. It therefore applies to all scriptures and not just verses from the Quran. Even if it is taken as verse, it could be verse from any of the scriptures.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/8/2016 1:10:46 AM

  • the koran does NOT say
    - as i would not like to be a dhimmi, i would not impose jizya.

    - as i would not like the females members of my family to become sex slaves, i shall not capture sex slaves.

    - as i would not like to be a slave, i would not take slaves.

    - as i would not like others to preach their religions to me, i will not preach my religion to others.

    the koran breaks the golden rule everywhere it can. it has done a pretty thorough job of completely demolishing the golden rule. if allah declares that in the hereafter no other religion will be accepted except for islam, it is meaningless to claim "to you your religion and to me mine".

    By hats off! - 11/7/2016 7:59:04 PM

  • The idea of abrogation can be useful if it is subjected to ijtihad. The revised rule would abrogate (or make inactive) all those passages which are judged to be intolerant, hateful, irrational, unjust, exclusivist, supremacist or promoting violence or enmities.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 11/7/2016 2:01:04 PM

  • the science of mansukh is a vast body islamic science.

    whether one accepts it or not is another question.

    but there is no way anyone can simply brush away the centuries of opinions and rules that relate to the science of abrogation.

    if abrogation has engaged so many scholars for so many centuries, there has to be something that motivated such deep and extensive study of the subject.

    what that something is cannot be pushed away to a past revelation.

    no where does it say that the abrogation "only" applies to the other scriptures (even if it does, there are still issues).

    a literal reading of the verse makes it perfectly clear that specific verses are referred to. not jewish or christian scriptures.

    the tourat and injil were well known in the prophet's lifetime. if at all it meant these scriptures, the word "verse" cannot be explained.

    By hats off! - 11/7/2016 7:33:32 AM

  • Correct interpretation. The abrogation/replacement refers to Jews complaints about abrogation/replacements of the commands given to their Prophets and was a major bone of contention between them and the Holy Prophet.
    By Listener - 11/7/2016 6:07:55 AM

  • 41:43. Nothing is said to you that was not said to the apostles before you. Verily your Lord has at his Command (all) forgiveness as well as a most Grievous Penalty.

    2:106 We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?

    16:101 And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse - and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down - they say, "You, [O Muhammad], are but an inventor [of lies]." But most of them do not know.

    10:37 And it was not [possible] for this Qur'an to be produced by other than Allah , but [it is] a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the [former] Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.

    The Quran contains the most refined form of the Golden Rule and every other moral rule. It is therefore both a confirmation of what came before and replacement of it with something that is better which is what abrogation means in these verses.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/7/2016 4:09:57 AM

  • How can the last and final testament contain abrogated verses? Abrogation refers to what is not found in the Quran but other scriptures. For example, the Quran itself says:

    (10:37) This Qur´an is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book - wherein there is no doubt - from the Lord of the worlds. 

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/7/2016 3:49:14 AM

  • I am sure he will. In that respect, I have to admire him. He's indefatigable and ingenious, in addition to a remarkable ability for wriggling out of uncomfortable situations with some more half truths and tortuous logic. I am afraid I do not have the stamina to keep up with him. 

    It is an issue for Muslims to settle. The correct meaning of the Quran. So far, Mr Naseer has not had much success, so I will assume that the mainstream version is correct. 

    By secularlogic - 11/6/2016 8:50:50 AM

  • mr secular logic should look up koran 2.106 and 16.101.
    i am sure mr naseer ahmed will switch on his word blender to produce some comfort soup out of such clear exposition of abrogation.

    the mansukh principle is not some nut-case fringe theory.
    abrogation is an accepted and widely held mainstream theory. it is not a conspiracy by the "islamophobes", nor an attempt by the "khawarij" or it is not something cooked up by the "enemies of islam".

    By hats off! - 11/5/2016 9:03:52 PM

  • Secularlogic,
    I have shown elsewhere, that in these verses you need to read the meaning of kafir not as "disbeliever" but as "Oppressor" or "Religious Persecutor". What is left to discuss after that?

    You may read the article:

    The Much discussed and debated Medinian Verses Relating to Fighting

    The reason is very simple. The Quran permits fighting only against Oppressors and Religious persecutors and not against any other people or for any other reason.

    "Let there be no compulsion in religion" is an absolute law of Islam. There can be no war against any people because of their faith and those who fight others for no other reason except the faith of the other party are the kafir referred to in these verses. These kafirs could be anyone - they could call themselves Muslims also like the ISIS. This is so since kafir is also shown to be a faith neutral term.

    The Quran needs to be correctly understood and not interpreted. The correct understanding is also an interpretation but it is that interpretation which flows directly from the clear meaning of the verse and does not contradict the clear meaning of any other verse. 

    By Naseer Ahmed - 11/5/2016 5:46:14 AM

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