Sunday, April 25, 2010
On the Intellectual Mutilation of Today's Muslims
The average Muslim today has been taught that she/he is not allowed to hold any opinions in Islam because doing so leads to the division of the universal Muslim community—as if suppression of our thoughts will prevent the divisions we so adamantly fear. While it may be understandable to some why lay Muslims are not allowed to opine on any Islamic matters, one has to wonder why even educated Muslim scholars of Islam, with decades of studying Islam, are forbidden the same. We may want to avoid dividing the Muslim community by declaring it haraam for Muslims to speak up, but we should realize that universalizing and eternalizing the opinions and interpretations of certain Islamic scholars while completely eschewing those of other scholars is not the practical way of achieving unity. We should also understand that being united does not mean being the same, or vice versa; indeed, unity can be achieved alongside diversity. By diversity, I am specifically referring to the interpretations of Islam that scholars of differing views have to offer. It is therefore the cry of the day to encourage critical thinking among Muslims so that they might explore new vistas of more intellectually acceptable interpretations of Islam in the contemporary world; this can be achieved by taking the essence of divine guidance on the one hand and the crux of modern social sciences on the other to set free the intellectually mutilated minds and stagnant thoughts among today's Muslims. As an Islamic Studies student, I realize that we lack Muslim women in the field, though not completely. This has been the case since the incipient stages of Islam, and the consequence of this dearth has been a dire one. Since men dominate the world of scholarship, it is often unacceptable for a female scholar of Islam to present her opinions on issues pertinent to women. What’s worse, the labels of "feminist" and "Western" (offensive to some) are carved on the forehead of any female who speaks up and suggests that the mistreatment of many Muslim women just might be a consequence of patriarchal —- and sometimes misogynistic -— interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah. My perception is that if more Muslim women entered Islamic Studies and studied the various interpretations of Islam, we might be able to build a more peaceful, more just world for our later Muslim generations. Unfortunately, today, when disagreements among Muslims arise, at least one side seems to think that it has some divine right to give tickets to hell to the other side(s). We have become intolerant of dissenting views, are afraid of those who object to our way of thinking, and, despite our history of over 1400 years, have yet to discover a more peaceful way to negotiate with each other, to settle our differences, and to appreciate diversity among Muslims. The best way to respond simply suppress dissent, and we have foolishly convinced ourselves that this solves our problems. Let us take the example of Dr. Amina Wadud, who chose to lead both women and men in prayers in
in March 2005. She has been labeled a heretic not just by the ordinary Muslim but by the ulema, the “learned,” the purported “scholars” as well. It has become far more convenient for us to condemn someone to hell than to hold a peaceful dialogue and make sincere attempts at understanding her/his rationales. We have utterly neglected Imam Abu Hanifa’s golden words: "I believe that my opinions are correct, but I'm cognizant of the fact that my opinions may be wrong. I also believe that the opinions of my opponents are wrong, but I am cognizant of the fact that they may be correct." Yet, how many scholars among us today will admit that there is at least a slight chance that they might be wrong and their opponents might be right? How many scholars of Islam today tell us, “This is my interpretation of this Quranic verse, or this hadith, but the interpretation of Scholar A is this; Scholar B believes this; and Scholar C understands it this way”? No. It is as though their conclusions are the only legitimate, the only “correct” ones, and we are then denied the right to choose for ourselves from among various opinions and judgments. It appears that for one to impugn the conclusions of our classical scholars is to invite name-calling upon oneself that include “blasphemous,” “heretic,” and kafir. However, in order to really understand the message of these “heretic” Muslim scholars, we—particularly the average Muslims—need to broaden the presently-narrow hollows of our minds so that we might find space to allow ourselves to respect them.
Further, instead of attempting to figure out more creative and less harmful ways to strengthen the universal Muslim community, far too many Muslims today have indulged themselves in trivial inquiries, such as whether or not we are allowed to believe in evolution, or whether music is allowed in Islam. We have become intellectually mutilated – and through the hands of no one but our own selves. We have deserted our faculty of thinking and forbidden ourselves the right to reason, even though it is one of the Quran’s most constant directives to human: to reason, to ponder before fully accepting. We seem to have unanimously agreed that we are not allowed to have opinions simply because of the fear that we might be disagreeing with those who have the “right” to interpret Islam for us; it is as though Islam has been studied in depth by former scholars, and our only role is to imitate them. But we must wonder – what happens when our scholars do not agree with each other on certain matters? Where does that leave the average Muslim, whose obligation it is to accept only what scholars say and not think for her/himself? It is this prohibition of expressing opinions and thoughts out loud that has smothered those Muslims who attempt to promote the appreciation of the human intellect among their Muslim sisters and brothers.
A fresh effort must be launched to revive the religious institutions and sciences and to re-interpret the basic tenets of Islam in the light of contemporary matters. The interpretations of the original sources need to be revisited, the importance of earlier conclusions be scrutinized, and the issues of the religion be tied up to the practical problems and concerns of the Muslims across the word according to their environments, cultures and national aspects. Sanctity of reason and argument should be restored and that of blind faith, cult, and hero-worship be discarded. This is the only way to attain a revival and renaissance of the lost glory associated with the divine guidance embodied in the Quran and the life example of the Prophet Muhammad.
~ Qrratugai, Apr. 2010