Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Progressive Views of Classical Muslim Scholars

On Tuesdays, I get together with a group of friends for dinner, and we have these really, really stimulating discussions. We try not to select our topics in advance because half the excitement comes from the randomness of the topics. Our group consists of 2 Muslims, a half-Muslim half-Atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a half-Christian half-Atheist. Some weeks ago, I read on this one forum a  comment of this one member telling someone, "So [since you drink and have girlfriends], is it okay in your culture/religion to do that?" And it made me laugh because my friends and I often pick on our Buddhist friend by saying things like, "OMG! Is that ALLOWED in your culture/religion? WOW! So, in Buddhism, you can do XYZ? NO way!" We do the same to the Christian friends and they all do it to me and the other Muslim. It's our way of expressing our resentment towards those ridiculous people who think (no, I guess sneering at the idea) that one person or one group of people can represent an ENTIRE religion or culture or race.

So, as some of y'all know, I'm taking this class called Gender and Sexuality in Islam and that the book we're currently reading is called Homosexuality in Islam. A friend of mine asked what it was all about and which periods the book is covering, and sexuality in which time periods, etc.  And I realized that we (Muslims) have to rely on what our jurists of the 8th - 10th centuries said in order to figure out what's permissible and what's prohibited TODAY. A friend of mine pointed out that "that's ironic. In most other religions, such things were not discussed in the earlier stages of the religion's beginning but discussions/debates on topics in those religions start much, much later!"

An excellent point he made there. It's very true. Muslim scholars and jurists were WAY ahead of their time. I do not believe it was *because* of Islam necessarily. But if you study the works of those guys, they were skilled in MILLIONS of things at once! Read Al-Ghazali, for instance, or Ibn Fadlan, or Ibn Tufayl, or Ibn Sina. Ibn Tufayl, like many others, was one of those people who was a scholar, a philosopher, a theologian, a doctor -- EVERYTHING at once! He also wrote this novel in which his character, Hayy, is a genius like himself. . What he does with the character, the different stages the character goes through ... brilliant stuff, folks. (In a future blog post, ka khairee, I will tell the story of Hayy.)

But what do our "scholars" do today? How do we define a "scholar" today? By our definition, who is included and who's excluded?

My point is, like my (Buddhist) friend said, what Muslim scholars did in the past, scholars of most other religions are doing TODAY. It's TODAY that people are going back to interpretations of sacred texts, turning to debates/discussions to fully understand a scared text. But Muslim scholars, they did this in the past. Unfortunately, we put an end to this whole debating on religions in the 10th century! (As is said, "The doors to Ijtihad have been closed since the 10th century. Everything you study now HAS -- absolutely HAS -- to be based on the conclusions of the Muslim jurists before the 10th century. You may NO longer offer a new interpretation to any text." Forgotten is the fact that those same scholars respected and acknowledged their own limitations. They didn't have a problem openly admitting their weaknesses or faults. Most even wrote in their own texts that "I believe I'm right, but I understand that I MAY be wrong. I also believe that Persons A, B, C, ... Z are wrong, but I admit that they may be right or more right than I am." Who says this today?

Clearly, then, we Muslims today have gone backward: We let our scholars prior to the 10th century (C.E.) decide everything for us, and we think it's blasphemous to go back to the ORIGINAL scripture(s) to study and understand how our scholars said/concluded what they did. What we SHOULD be doing is to appreciate and respect the former interpretations and conclusions and realize that limiting ourselves to only what's already accepted as "tradition" is denying Islam its universality and limiting God's extreme vastness and absoluteness to the understanding of a group of people of one particular time and society only. A major problem in this is that we simply PRIDE ourselves with our "rich" history -- but that's it! We don't go beyond that pride by actually studying that history becuase what those people did back then is considered utterly forbidden by some Muslims today! Often, it's even those same Muslims who say things like, "Study Islamic history! You'll see we had great scholars, scientists, philosophers in that time because of Islam, okay?" I can't help asking myself if they have ever bothered studying it themselves... 'cause those people were very bold, VERY open. Heck, they often discussed things that even I think are "immodest" for public discussions :p (Kidding but not really). That was all because they valued tolerance and intellect. Who does that today? You'd think we should be moving forward; instead, we're moving backward!

What happened then (mostly in the Abbasid Era) was solely because the time and resources were just well-fitting. Nothing lasts forever. We couldn't be successful forever, now, could we? Everything comes to a demise; everything has its own time. That's why I don't lament this. We have a rich and "glorious" history, but it ended just like everything is SUPPOSED to end. No, wait - perhaps "end" isn't the correct word here. I prefer to believe it's come to a halt instead and will continue when the time is apt again. That means we have to work hard, we have to study history and understand why things were the way they were at THAT time and then ask ourselves why things are the way they are today. Once we figure this out while remembering that there are thousands of factors involved in the success and demise of a people/civilization and no one factor is more important than another, we will be able to start working towards a better, more peaceful, more successful future as well. 


  1. couldn't agree more. the logic given by you is exactly why i've started taking arguments by 'scholars' today with a pinch of salt. moreover, imho, every human being is fairly well equipped mentally to understand what is right/wrong. after all, isn't that the basic premise of islam - a religion for everybody - right from the lowest societal denomination to the elitist erudite? so it has to be simple, not complex as it often made to be the case, specially so nowadays.

    nice work btw, will take time to go thru more of yr work.

  2. Hi there, Asif! (Asif, is that?)
    Thanks for dropping by and a big welcome to you!
    I just browsed through your blog, too -- lol, funny stuff :p

    I'm glad, VERY glad, to see others questioning the teachings of our "scholars," even though we've been traditionally raised to believe that it's a crime to disagree with scholars.

    I look forward to your views around here and will be visiting your blog as well!

    Thanks again for your comment!

  3. hi.
    What happened to the chatterbox? :(

  4. LOL, Anonymous!
    Welcome - and thanks for the comment!

    I was testing it and removed it in hopes that I'd be able to put it back up. But now I don't know how to! I'm trying to figure out; it should be back up soon, don't worry.

  5. Can't believe I haven't commented here yet. *head>desk*
    So as usual I am nodding along as I read what you have written. Wherefore the modern Islamic scholar and his interpretation? I mourn for a loss of what I can only call the Golden Age of Islam, when minds were open, scholars were truly that and everything was food for thought. When I read original/authentic Hadith today, I am amazed at the level of frankness and ease with which such topics were openly and fully discussed as would be considered flogging-level taboo today. And not just the males of the time. We see how women in the Prophet's [SAW] era asked him questions that would embarrass the most modern gal amongst us today.
    There is a big psychological impediment to Islam today, and it has set in over years and years of stultifying, narrow-minded authorities on religion.
    Through people like you, inshaAllah, we can see a return to a glorious, learning and sharing-inclined interpretation of Islam and its beauty? Heyyyy. No pressure. :)

    Lovely work again. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your links here and there. Dr Riffat Hussain seems to be a hit. :)

    Salaam alaikum.

  6. you're most welcome :) just about got back to yr blog and saw yr reply to my comment.
    thks for visiting my blog. depends on what you mean by 'funny' - i'll take that as a compliment though :P yr comments are welcome too.

    as far as questioning goes, personally i have found that the best way in which i have discovered faith, not the way it was ingrained in me since i was born, but questioning has helped me understand a lot of things better. plus u wouldn't really believe half of the stuff which gets passed off as a fatwa in this part of the world.

    oh, and it is asif!

  7. LOL @ "No pressure," LBV! hahaha ... all right - I'll take my time, then! lol. ;)

    Girl, tell me about it! How they asked questions so openly (you're right - not just the men but how women discussed with the Prophet, pbuh, as well) would certainly be considered taboo today. When I discovered that, I started asking more questions from my teachers :p After a while, I'd find (and still find) myself saying, "Okay, geez, I'm sorry, but it's just ... I can't believe this! This is TOO good to know!" And they're like, "Yeah, don't worry. The original scholars believed that when it comes to attaining knowledge, nothing is shameful." And so long as your intentions are pure, it doesn't matter what sort of topics you wish to develop a deeper understanding in.

    Oh, and thanks way, WAY too much for sharing links to my blogposts with others, lol. Yeah, the Riffat blogpost does seem to be the most popular by far -- all thanks to you, then, jaan! ~hugs~

  8. Salaam, Asif! Welcome back!

    Oh, I'm well aware of what kinds of fatwas are issued in that part of the world, lol. I seem to find almost nothing more pleasuresome at times than seeking these fatwas and then being numb for a few seconds, thinking, "We are SO headed towards hell."

    And, yes, question is the best way to learn most times. If you don't have a point in seeking knowledge (e.g., certain questions that need to be answered), then why seek it in the first place? Besides, in the process of finding answers to the questions we have in our minds, we end up learning so much more, getting answers to what MAY have become questions eventually, sooner or later, and that's all the more to be appreciated.


Dare to opine :)

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