[Reader-list] Rethinking Islam

S. Jabbar sonia.jabbar at gmail.com
Mon Apr 28 12:53:49 IST 2008

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

On 4/28/08 11:05 AM, "we wi" <dhatr1i at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Hi ,

  I understood the problem with you is being citizens of India,
> either Hindu or Non-Hindu, You
  all studied in wrong schools.  You would
> like to live Indian style, either in or out of INDIA but you just hate
> HINDUISM.   You can insult anything,anybody and You commit all mistakes or
> support them knowingly or unknowingly, but no body should say anything.  Damn
> you.  What a .............


"S. Jabbar"
> <sonia.jabbar at gmail.com> wrote:

I asked some perfectly serious
> questions and received an appropriate
response from Shuddha, to which I
> replied; and thus began, what I
considered, a very interesting discussion. I
> have not been able to find
answers to my questions in the books I've been
> reading and so I put them up
to the Sarai list hoping someone would enlighten
> me. Shuddha responded and
I had hoped that others might join in, at least to
> point me to some books.
I am grateful to Radhikrajen for suggesting a library
> in Bangalore.

How tiresome, then, to read your childish post. You are on a
> flight between
Babylon and Ankara (how fascinating, thanks for letting us know
> as this has
everything to do with the subject under discussion) and so you
> don't have
the time or the wherewithal to send me references, but have energy
> enough to
throw e-spitballs at Shuddha. How bizarre. Does one charitably
> assume its
the airline food that's making you dyspeptic or are you
> congenitally prone
to making strange connections where none exist?

What does
> ijtehad— reasoned debate within Islam— have anything at all to do
> yogis? And I asked for 'Islamic scholars' as opposed to 'Muslim
> Some of the finest scholars on Islam are non-Muslim: Arberry,
> Schimmel, Armstrong, Massignon and Hodgson to name a few.
Unfortunate that you
> think Shuddha, and by extension anyone else, must
necessarily become 'Maulvi
> Shuddh' to engage in the study and discussion of

If you had a problem
> with the content of Shuddha's response to me then it
would have been useful
> for all concerned if you'd posted your criticism
(even if barbed and loaded
> with insults), otherwise you only come across as
downright silly.

Ijtehad in
> Islam? I think we need it desperately within the Sarai
> List


On 4/27/08 8:50 PM, "kirdar singh" wrote:

> Very
> interesting... S.Jabbar asked "if there are Islamic scholars who
> can guide
> me..." and quickly jumped in Maulvi Shuddhabrata Sengupta to
> guide her. I
> can very well see Maulvi Shuddh in the sorely needed role
> of a mujtahid in
> Islam in the times to come... Hail Mutazilites, Hail
> Farabites, move away
> you Yogis... Here comes the New Age Islamic
> Ijtehad, Sarai being the new
> Baghdad...
> (Sorry I'll give you the references later, since I am in a
> flight
> between Babylon and Ankara.)
> KS
> (sorry, just couldn't help
> break the serious silence on this issue
> from the other Sarai fellows who are
> as usual spellbound).
> On Sat, Apr 26, 2008 at 4:53 PM, Shuddhabrata
> Sengupta
> wrote:
>> Dear Sonia,
>> Thanks for your post. I have been
> studying Ibn Arabi, Ibn Rushd and
>> the Mutazila for quite some time now. And
> have always been struck by
>> the lucidity and the passion with which free
> thought, reason and a
>> robust universalist humanism finds its expression in
> Islam (at that
>> time, and in these hands). The only other comparable thread
> (to my
>> knowledge) is the core of the Madhyamika tradition centreing on
> Nagarjuna in Mahayana Buddhism. And I take my comforts from somewhere
> between Mutazila and Madhyamika (which resonates nicely when you
>> speak them
> as names), Incidentally, someone like Ram Mohan Roy's life
>> time's work of
> rethinking the corpus of Hinduism occurred as a result
>> of a very early
> exposure to Mutazila reason while in Patna (and his
>> earliers works which
> are in Persian, are actually commentaries on the
>> Mutazila tradition).
> However, the Mutazila, in their time, from what
>> I understand, also became a
> little rigid and intolerant (during their
>> brief ascendancy in Damascus).
>> But the crucial thing that happenned is as you rightly point out, to
>> do
> with the politics of the caliphates, different schools got aligned
>> with
> different aspirants to the different caliphatic expressions, and
>> got
> involved in secterian political conflict that had very little to
>> do with
> their original philosophical orientations. I still hold a
>> candle for the
> somewhat ruthless independence maintained by the
>> Ismaili Nizaris on Alamut,
> who steered clear of the politics of the
>> Caliphate. Perhaps the last and
> crucial factor that broke the back of
>> free thought was the sudden onslaught
> of the Mongols on the last
>> citadel of the Abbasids in Baghdad.
> Incidentally, the Mongols (at
>> least in a token manner, were flirting with
> Mahayana Buddhism at that
>> time, so that remains another enigma) on the one
> hand, and the
>> collapse of Moorish Spain on the west. These two
> developments, which
>> exhausted and scattered the Islamicate intelligentsia,
> led to the
>> 'closure of the gates of 'Itjehad' (interpretation) and the rise
> of
>> dogma and clerics, which Islam (which never had a centralized clergy
> to speak of before) has not recovered from, not yet.
>> What it does make
> me think about is the fragility of thought as a
>> result of its contact with
> power. The most interesting trends in the
>> Islamic world, had they stuck out
> and remained autonomous (and those
>> that did, within heterodox, not orthodox
> Sufism, survived) could have
>> still flourished. Instead, they allied
> themselves to this or that
>> claimant to the Caliphate, (not unlike many of
> today's
>> intelligentsia) and when that centre of power was torn down,
> there
>> was little cover for them. They became vulnerable because they had
> sought refuge in the powerful. The glorious and tragic history of
>> freedom
> and solidarity in the Muslim world is a kind of object lesson
>> for all of us
> today. We could all become like the Mutazila.
>> Remembered, because we are
> forgotten.
>> However, I do think interesting things are happenning now,
> and the
>> current turbulence in the Intellectual currents of the Muslim
> world,
>> which people like Ziauddin Sardar (whom you mention), Tariq
> Ramadan,
>> Fatima Mernissi and several others represent, points to a kind of
> re-
>> opening of the gates of Itjehad. I think that is as exciting a
> development (though it doesnt get the press it deserves) as the
>> renewal of
> serious and rigorous debate within philosophical Buddhism
>> in the twentieth
> century.
>> I dont have my books around me at the moment as I am not in
> Delhi, so
>> I would hesitate to give you precise references, but I would be
> happy
>> to carry this conversation forward in the future (either on or off
> the list)
>> regards
>> Shuddha
>> On 26-Apr-08, at 2:41 PM,
> S. Jabbar wrote:
>>> I¹ve been reading some of the works of philosophers
> like Al Farabi,
>>> Ibn
>>> Arabi and Ibn Rushd and the Mutazila movement of
> the 8th c. and
>>> have been
>>> amazed by two things: 1. The focus on reason
> in Islam and 2. Universal
>>> brotherhood.
>>> I wonder if there are
> Islamic scholars who can guide me through
>>> centuries of
>>> debate. I¹d
> like to know when and why reason was trashed in favour of
>>> faith‹ I know
> something of the debates of the Asharites but how did
>>> their
>>> views come
> to eclipse the Muslim philosophers who took their cue
>>> from the
>>> Greek
> philosophers. And then why did the idea of an Islamic
>>> brotherhood
> eclipse the idea of universal brotherhood? I imagine it had to do
>>> with
> the
>>> politics of the Caliphates, but can someone direct me to some
> resources
>>> please.
>>> Pasted below is an old but interesting essay by
> Ziauddin Sardar. I
>>> found
>>> his book Desperately seeking Paradise quite
> wonderful.
>>> Thanks & regards
>>> Sj
>>> ------------------------
>>> Rethinking Islam
>>> By Professor Ziauddin Sardar
>>> Serious
> rethinking within Islam is long overdue. Muslims have been
>>> comfortably
> relying, or rather falling back, on age-old
>>> interpretations for
>>> much
> too long.
>>> This is why we feel so painful in the contemporary world,
> so
>>> uncomfortable
>>> with modernity. Scholars and thinkers have been
> suggesting for well
>>> over a
>>> century that we need to make a serious
> attempt at Ijtihad, at reasoned
>>> struggle and rethinking, to reform Islam.
> At the beginning of the last
>>> century, Jamaluddin Afghani and Mohammad
> Abduh led the call for a new
>>> Ijtihad; and along the way many notable
> intellectuals, academics
>>> and sages
>>> have added to this plea - not least
> Mohammad Iqbal, Malik bin Nabbi
>>> and
>>> Abdul Qadir Audah. Yet, ijtihad is
> one thing Muslim societies have
>>> singularly failed to undertake. Why?
>>> The why has now acquired an added urgency. Just look around the
> Muslim world
>>> and see how far we have travelled away from the ideals and
> spirit
>>> of Islam.
>>> Far from being a liberating force, a kinetic social,
> cultural and
>>> intellectual dynamics for equality, justice and humane
> values,
>>> Islam seems
>>> to have acquired a pathological strain. Indeed, it
> seems to me that
>>> we have
>>> internalised all those historic and
> contemporary western
>>> representations of
>>> Islam and Muslims that have
> been demonising us for centuries. We now
>>> actually wear the garb, I have to
> confess, of the very demons that
>>> the West
>>> has been projecting on our
> collective personality.
>>> But to blame the West, or a notion of
> instrumental modernity that
>>> is all but
>>> alien to us, would be a lazy
> option. True, the West, and particularly
>>> America, has a great deal to
> answer for. And Muslims are quick to
>>> point a
>>> finger at the injustices
> committed by American and European foreign
>>> policies
>>> and hegemonic
> tendencies. However, that is only a part, and in my
>>> opinion
>>> not an
> insurmountable part, of the malaise. Hegemony is not always
>>> imposed;
> sometimes, it is invited. The internal situation within Islam is an
> open
>>> invitation.
>>> We have failed to respond to the summons to
> Ijtihad for some very
>>> profound
>>> reasons. Prime amongst these is the
> fact that the context of our
>>> sacred
>>> texts the Qur¹an and the examples
> of the Prophet Muhammad, our
>>> absolute
>>> frame of reference has been
> frozen in history. One can only have an
>>> interpretative relationship with a
> text even more so if the text is
>>> perceived to be eternal. But if the
> interpretative context of the
>>> text is
>>> never our context, not our own
> time, then its interpretation can
>>> hardly have
>>> any real meaning or
> significance for us as we are now. Historic
>>> interpretations constantly
> drag us back to history, to frozen and
>>> ossified
>>> context of long ago;
> worse, to perceived and romanticised contexts
>>> that have
>>> not even
> existed in history. This is why while Muslims have a strong
>>> emotional
> attachment to Islam, Islam per se, as a worldview and
>>> system of
> ethics, has little or no direct relevance to their daily lives
>>> apart
> from
>>> the obvious concerns of rituals and worship. Ijtihad and fresh
> thinking have
>>> not been possible because there is no context within which
> they can
>>> actually
>>> take place.
>>> The freezing of interpretation,
> the closure of Œthe gates of
>>> ijtihad¹, has
>>> had a devastating effect
> on Muslim thought and action. In
>>> particular, it has
>>> produced what I
> can only describe as three metaphysical
>>> catastrophes: the
>>> elevation of
> the Shari`ah to the level of the Divine, with the
>>> consequent
>>> removal
> of agency from the believers, and the equation of Islam
>>> with the
> State. Let me elaborate.
>>> Most Muslims consider the Shari`ah, commonly
> translated as ŒIslamic
>>> law¹, to
>>> be divine. Yet, there is nothing
> divine about the Shari`ah. The
>>> only thing
>>> that can legitimately be
> described as divine in Islam is the
>>> Qur¹an. The
>>> Shari`ah is a human
> construction; an attempt to understand the
>>> divine will
>>> in a particular
> context. This is why the bulk of the Shari`ah actually
>>> consists of fiqh or
> jurisprudence, which is nothing more than legal
>>> opinion
>>> of classical
> jurists. The very term fiqh was not in vogue before
>>> the Abbasid
>>> period
> when it was actually formulated and codified. But when fiqh
>>> assumed
> its systematic legal form, it incorporated three vital aspects of
> Muslim
>>> society of the Abbasid period. At that juncture, Muslim history
> was
>>> in its
>>> expansionist phase, and fiqh incorporated the logic of
> Muslim
>>> imperialism of
>>> that time. The fiqh rulings on apostasy, for
> example, derive not
>>> from the
>>> Qur'an but from this logic. Moreover, the
> world was simple and
>>> could easily
>>> be divided into black and white:
> hence, the division of the world
>>> into Daral
>>> Islam and Daral Harb.
> Furthermore, as the framers of law were not
>>> by this
>>> stage managers of
> society, the law became merely theory which could
>>> not be
>>> modified -
> the framers of the law were unable to see where the
>>> faults lay
>>> and
> what aspect of the law needed fresh thinking and reformulation.
>>> Thus
> fiqh, as we know it today, evolved on the basis of a division
>>> between
> those
>>> whowere governing and set themselves apart from society and
> those
>>> who were
>>> framing the law; the epistemological assumptions of a
> Œgolden¹
>>> phase of
>>> Muslim history also came into play. When we
> describe the Shari`ah
>>> as divine,
>>> we actually provide divine sanctions
> for the rulings of by-gone fiqh.
>>> What this means in reality is that
> when Muslim countries apply or
>>> impose the
>>> Shari`ah the demands of
> Muslims from Indonesia to Nigeria - the
>>> contradictions that were inherent
> in the formulation and evolution
>>> of fiqh
>>> come to the fore. That is why
> wherever the Shari`ah is imposed
>>> that is,
>>> fiqhi legislation is
> applied, out of context from the time when it was
>>> formulated and out of
> step with ours - Muslim societies acquire a
>>> medieval
>>> feel. We can see
> that in Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and the Taliban of
>>> Afghanistan. When
> narrow adherence to fiqh, to the dictates of this
>>> or that
>>> school of
> thought, whether it has any relevance to real world or not,
>>> becomes the
> norm, ossification sets in. The Shari`ah will solve all
>>> our
>>> problems
> becomes the common sentiment; and it becomes necessary for
>>> a group
> with vested interest in this notion of the Shari`ah to preserve its
> territory, the source of its power and prestige, at all costs. An
> outmoded
>>> body of law is thus equated with the Shari`ah, and criticism
> is
>>> shunned and
>>> outlawed by appealing to its divine nature.
> The elevation of the Shari`ah to the divine level also means the
> believers
>>> themselves have no agency: since The Law is a priori given
> people
>>> themselves
>>> have nothing to do expect to follow it. Believers
> thus become passive
>>> receivers rather than active seekers of truth. In
> reality, the
>>> Shari`ah is
>>> nothing more than a set of principles, a
> framework of values, that
>>> provide
>>> Muslim societies with guidance. But
> these sets of principles and
>>> values are
>>> not a static given but are
> dynamically derived within changing
>>> contexts. As
>>> such, the Shari`ah is
> a problem-solving methodology rather than
>>> law. It
>>> requires the
> believers to exert themselves and constantly
>>> reinterpret the
>>> Qur¹an
> and look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad with ever
>>> changing fresh
> eyes. Indeed, the Qur¹an has to be reinterpreted from epoch to
>>> epoch
> which
>>> means the Shari`ah, and by extension Islam itself, has to be
> reformulated
>>> with changing contexts. The only thing that remains constant
> in
>>> Islam is the
>>> text of the Qur¹an itself its concepts providing the
> anchor for ever
>>> changing interpretations.
>>> Islam is not so much a
> religion but an integrative worldview: that
>>> is to
>>> say, it integrates
> all aspects of reality by providing a moral
>>> perspective
>>> on every
> aspect of human endeavour. Islam does not provide ready-made
>>> answers to
> all human problems; it provides a moral and just
>>> perspective
>>> within
> which Muslims must endeavour to find answers to all human
>>> problems.
> But if everything is a priori given, in the shape of a divine
>>> Shari`ah,
> then
>>> Islam is reduced to a totalistic ideology. Indeed, this is
> exactly
>>> what the
>>> Islamic movements in particularly Jamaat-e-Islami
> (both Pakistani and
>>> Indian varieties) and the Muslim Brotherhood have
> reduced Islam
>>> to. Which
>>> brings me to the third metaphysical
> catastrophe. Place this
>>> ideology within
>>> a nation state, with divinely
> attributed Shari`ah at its centre,
>>> and you
>>> have an ŒIslamic state¹.
> All contemporary ŒIslamic states¹, from
>>> Iran, Saudi
>>> Arabia, the
> Sudan to aspiring Pakistan, are based on this ridiculous
>>> assumption. But
> once Islam, as an ideology, becomes a programme of
>>> action of
>>> a vested
> group, it looses its humanity and becomes a battlefield where
>>> morality,
> reason and justice are readily sacrificed at the alter of
>>> emotions.
> Moreover, the step from a totalistic ideology to a
>>> totalitarian
>>> order
> where every human-situation is open to state-arbitration is a
>>> small
> one. The transformation of Islam into a state-based political
>>> ideology
> not
>>> only deprives it of its all moral and ethical content, it also
> debunks most
>>> of Muslim history as un-Islamic. Invariably, when
> Islamists
>>> rediscover a
>>> Œgolden¹ past, they do so only in order to
> disdain the present and
>>> mock the
>>> future. All we are left with is
> messianic chaos, as we saw so
>>> vividly in the
>>> Taliban regime, where all
> politics as the domain of action is
>>> paralysed and
>>> meaningless pieties
> become the foundational truth of the state.
>>> The totalitarian vision
> of Islam as a State thus transforms Muslim
>>> politics
>>> into a
> metaphysics: in such an enterprise, every action can be
>>> justified as
> ŒIslamic¹ by the dictates of political expediency as we witnessed in
> revolutionary Iran.
>>> The three metaphysical catastrophes are
> accentuated by an overall
>>> process of
>>> reduction that has become the
> norm in Muslim societies. The reductive
>>> process itself is also not new;
> but now it has reached such an
>>> absurd state
>>> that the very ideas that
> are supposed to take Muslims societies
>>> towards
>>> humane values now
> actually take them in the opposite direction.
>>> From the
>>> subtle beauty
> of a perennial challenge to construct justice through
>>> mercy
>>> and
> compassion, we get mechanistic formulae fixated with the extremes
>>> repeated
> by people convinced they have no duty to think for themselves
>>> because all
> questions have been answered for them by the classical
>>> `ulamas,
>>> far
> better men long dead. And because everything carries the brand
>>> name of
> Islam, to question it, or argue against it, is tantamount to voting
>>> for
> sin.
>>> The process of reduction started with the very notion of
> `alim
>>> (scholar)
>>> itself. Just who is an `alim; what makes him an
> authority? In early
>>> Islam,
>>> an `alim was anyone who acquired `ilm, or
> knowledge, which was itself
>>> described in a broad sense. We can see that in
> the early
>>> classifications of
>>> knowledge by such scholars as al-Kindi,
> al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, al-
>>> Ghazali and
>>> Ibn Khuldun. Indeed, both the
> definition of knowledge and its
>>> classification
>>> was a major
> intellectual activity in classical Islam. So all
>>> learned men,
> scientists as well as philosophers, scholars as well as theologians,
> constituted the `ulama. But after the Œgates of ijtihad¹ were
>>> closed
> during
>>> the Abbasid era, ilm was increasingly reduced to religious
> knowledge and the
>>> `ulama came to constitute only religious scholars.
>>> Similarly, the idea of ijma, the central notion of communal life in
> Islam,
>>> has been reduced to the consensus of a select few. Ijma
> literally
>>> means
>>> consensus of the people. The concept dates back to the
> practice of
>>> Prophet
>>> Muhammad himself as leader of the original polity
> of Muslims. When the
>>> Prophet Muhammad wanted to reach a decision, he would
> call the
>>> whole Muslim
>>> community then, admittedly not very large to the
> mosque. A
>>> discussion
>>> would ensue; arguments for and against would be
> presented. Finally,

=== message truncated ===

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