Khalid Zaheer
“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i

A further exchange on Dr. Khalid’s summary of various approaches

Once again it is not your intentions I doubt rather the manner of criticism. Simplicity does not mean giving arguments, Sir. Hundreds of thousands of pages have been written on each of these traditions. I do not believe it is fair and intellectually just to dismiss them in a paragraph each. A criticism of each one would merit a volume of books for each.

“The very purpose of presenting my views in such simple and clear way as I have done is to bring them out in the open so that a common person knows what he/she is following.”

But Sir, the common person is not told the details of what they are following. And this is exactly what is being done in your article. You have eliminated other approaches without giving details of what they do, what you think they do wrong, and what alternatives you are offering. In that if we are to accept your criticism, it would be another kind of blind following would it not?

An argument in which you are saying that the Qur’an must be followed and must take precedence over everything else (to which all Muslims agree) and you criticize all the mentioned traditions for not doing so, your argument will clearly win.

You said:
“Those who pursued the hadith-centered approach were the ones who were more interested in proving that the true message of Islam was the one that emerged from the understanding of hadith literature. Even if there was an apparent conflict between what Qur’an was saying and what hadith was implying, it was resolved in favor of hadith with a plea that what we understand from Qur’an was our own understanding and what was mentioned in hadith was the interpretation of the prophet, alaihissalaam, and most certainly, so goes the argument, the interpretation of the prophet was superior to ours. The point that was lost was that a hadith, even if it was authentic, doesn’t give the exact wordings and the correct context of what the prophet had said. Also, it has never been convincingly explained as to how could it be that if our interpretation of Qur’an was unreliable, our interpretation of hadith be not unreliable too?”

Sir, as far as I know the Ahl Hadith do not even entertain the idea of a conflict between two verses of the Qur’an, two sahih hadith or a verse of the Qur’an and a sahih hadith let alone elevating the hadith over the Qur’an. Another thing that has to be seen is that the manner of the Qur’an and the Hadith is very different. The Hadith records the lived practice of what Allah desired and what the Qur’an ordered so it must be looked at in that particular context. It can be separated from the Qur’an and many times it elaborates on what has been said in the Qur’an in terms giving details, particulars and in some cases exceptions to certain rules.

You also said that many people follow Ahl Hadith even though they claim to follow the fiqh-centered approach. I do not see how that is possible. The two approaches are radically different. The Ahl Hadith do not accept the whole construct of the schools of Islamic Law. The Ahl Hadith do not accept the Tariqah/the path of Tassawwuf while we find that it has complemented the fiqh-centered approach as you call it. If we take the example of Pakistan, most people pray according to the Hanafi time of Asr, they pray differently from the Ahl Hadith, they go to Hanafi Muftis with their legal questions etc.

You said:
“Those who followed the fiqh-centered approach were the people who pursued the path of emphasizing the scholarly work done on Islamic jurisprudence by their espoused scholars more than anything else. To defend resolutely what the earlier scholars of their school of thought had already mentioned became the most significant task of the scholars of the later times. The interpretation of the Qur’an was done to ensure that the Qur’anic verses were understood in the light of the fiqhi understanding that had already emerged in their school of thought.”

Sir, this is not true. There isn’t just a fiqh-centered approach. Fiqh deals with law and legal matters. It is not exhaustive. So, people only turn to this approach when legal matters are to be dealt with. And it is not true that if there are such a people, they aim to resolutely defend what their earlier scholars have said. Many times positions taken by earlier scholars are ignored or set aside given new circumstances. The system of Islamic Jurisprudence must be looked at in its entirety. It is not a system in which one man set up a school and all those who attach themselves to it are following what that particular man said. It is true that the principles of jurisprudence are adhered to but those to have been added to with time and the later scholars of jurisprudence did far more than just defending their rules. Massive work was done to apply the principles of the Shari’ah using the Usul developed by the scholars to situations that arose with time keeping the spirit of the Shari’ah, the common good of the people and the customs of the area in consideration. And for all four schools the Qur’an kept the Qur’an as the first and the highest source of Islamic Law and the purpose remained the discovery of the Divine Law and the Divine Intent and not the elevation of mortal scholars to positions beyond what they were.

Surah 5: Verse 38
Cut off (from the wrist joint) the (right) hand of the thief, male or female, as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise.

According to the categories you have made which one would Hazrat Umar fall into after having suspended this punishment for theft at the time of his caliphate?

Keeping the circumstances of that order in question, I believe I will be correct in thinking that you would not find him guilty of not accepting the Qur’an as the most important source dictating a man’s life. The point I am making simply is that the purpose of Islamic Jurisprudence is to seek the closest approximation of Divine Law in all matters of life. The Qur’an only has about five hundred verses dealing with legal matters and as such does not provide answers to all legal questions or even most of them. That is why we need a whole system of Law that works to derive Law from the Qur’an and the Hadith in such a way that the principles of Shari’ah can be applied to all walks of life by the creation of certain methods of deriving rulings from the two and approaching them as legal texts. Otherwise, the development of a whole system of Law would be impossible and Islam would always remain restricted in its applicability.

I will not talk of the history-centered approach/ the Shi’i tradition as my knowledge of it is extremely limited and I am personally in strong disagreement with this approach and cannot reconcile with it in any way.

You said:
“A fourth approach towards understanding Islam is the Tasawwuf-centered approach. According to this approach the basic purpose of all Islamic teachings is to require humans to get back to where they originally belong: God, their Creator. Since man has been required to go through the tragic experience to spend the dreaded time of separation from God in his human existence, which is arrested in the flesh and bones of his body, in this worldly life, he must get out of it for his salvation to be a part of God again. For that purpose, he has to go through the various stages of spiritual exercises to be pure enough to achieve unity with the ‘truth’ once again. The approach has its origins outside the text of Qur’an.”

Sir, this is a very restricted view of the Ahl Tasswwuf. The point of their teachings is not to go God in the way you have put it. The point of the approach is the cleansing of the soul and to go as near to the pristine form that Allah originally created us in. The point is to be a perfect servant of Allah because there is no higher honor or status for a human being. And while one may think as I do that some of their methods are a bit questionable and problematic, that does not mean that their intentions are questionable. You mentioned of the desire of Unity with Allah. Most of them have not even claimed to desire such a thing. I do not think that Hallaj’s exclamation of “An al Haq” can be generalized to all of the Ahl Tassawwuf to say that they seek a “unity with the truth.” We need to differentiate the different branches of the tradition and the excesses of a few. As for their asceticism, they do not disregard life in this world it is as they put it that one should hold the world in his pockets and not in his heart and as such despite their unflinching focus on the after life they should not be confused with the manner of Buddhist monks for example.

Lastly, I would like to talk a bit of the example of the application of the Qur’an-centered approach to Islam. While it is well and good that you were able to provide an answer to the question of how one should live directly from the Qur’an, it is easier said than done for many other things. What does the Qur’an have to say about test-tube babies? What does have the Qur’an have to say about the study of cloning or a hundred other things for that matter? What does the Qur’an have to say about the establishment of an Islamic State in the 21st century keeping in consideration the emergence of the concept of the nation-state, globalization and the context of the current world order and the position of Muslims in it?

I am not trying to downplay the importance of the Qur’an through this exercise. My point simply is to say that it is very easy to say that all Muslims should take a Qur’an centered approach but a near exclusive focus on the Qur’an ignoring the intellectual and legal developments in the Ummah over past fourteen hundred is counter-productive. The Qur’an itself enjoins following the Prophet and the people who have knowledge and who are pious. The traditions that have developed based on the Shari’ah serve to make easy and possible adherence to Islam in all walks of life rather than taking people away from it.

I know I have written far too much but I did not want to oppose your view point by just saying that I am opposed to it without even saying why. I am not scholar of religion and whatever I have said here is based on my study over the past two years. I doubt that I have even articulated my arguments very well. My point here was simply to say that these traditions cannot be dismissed in an article the size of a newspaper column. It is simply unfair. And that even if these approaches may be wrong they merit serious intellectual engagement if nothing else. Hoodbhoy criticized the higher education commission’s reforms in a piece longer than this one Sir. Being simple and being simplistic or over-simplistic in this case are very different things.

I hope this comment clarifies that I have in no way sought to question your intentions but rather your approach and the depth and the scope of its intellectual engagement. I have no desire to incur the wrath of Allah by accusing you of mal-intent in a public forum.

Allah and His Messenger know best.

i) The following comments in your earlier message led me to believe that you doubted my intentions: “... such an over-simplistic and biased analysis cannot be put forward without a gross mis-representation of facts and an extremely narrow scope of research and understanding... I can see the ways in which you have molded the understanding of all these movements to present your argument.” If you are clarifying that such was not the case, I welcome it and thank the Almighty that while we are disagreeing academically on various issues we are not peeping into the hearts of others.

ii) One of the complaints you have made against my article is that while so much positive research has been done on the points of view which I have attempted to criticize, I have not mentioned any of those researches in my criticism. I would respond to it by say that if loads of research has been done on a subject it doesn’t necessitate that someone disagreeing with it cannot criticize it. Are you suggesting that either one should criticize a point of view at length or one shouldn’t criticize it at all? My question is: “Where has this rule come from?” Why can’t those whose espoused views have been criticized bring in arguments to defend their understanding if so much of research has been done on it? What should a common man do if he doesn’t have the time to go through the details of what has been written on the subject and yet he has to make up his mind on the subject?

Let’s be fair to others too if we were to follow the principles you are suggesting. Instead of issuing statements against the Christian claim of trinity in simple small articles, for example, we should first go through the volumes their scholars have written before we criticize them. Also, the same principle should apply to the case of Ahmadis and followers of all other views we intend to criticize. Of course, we cannot criticize atheism too, because in doing so we’ll be violating the golden principle “Don’t criticize a view unless you have read, and presented to your readers, each and every word of what has been written in its support”.

iii) All Muslims agree that Qur’an is the supreme authority in religious understanding. However, this rule s seldom translated into practice. I’ll give you an example: Qur’an prohibits killing of a fellow human except for a killer or someone guilty of mischief. Our traditionalists (Hadith-, Fiqh-,History-, and Tasawwuf-centred scholars) say that an apostate must die. Despite claiming Qur’an to be supreme, it is not supreme in this case. And this is just one example amongst many.

iv) When we talk about Sufis, we don’t take each and every one of them as representative of Tasawwuf. There are some Sufi scholars who write with authority on their subject. Their presentations are representative of what Tasawwuf stands. The ordinary Sufi, I agree, may not even know what his point of view stands for. That’s why it’s so important that the ordinary people be made aware of the arguments of the views they are a part of. Just to say that since volumes have been written on a subject, an ordinary person has no right to know it is, to me, not the right approach. Imam Ghazzali, Abu Ismail Harvi, Ibn Arabi, and Shah Waliullah are some of the prominent Sufi scholars whose works cannot be ignored while trying to understand what Tasawwuf stands for. If one criticizes Tasawwuf by taking in view their ideas, one is justifiably criticizing Tasawwuf.

v) I am not asking my readers to blindly follow me. I am asking them to follow Qur’an and look at all arguments critically from Qur’anic point of view, because it is only the book of Allah which has been conferred the status of being the criterion between right and wrong (al-Furqan) by the Almighty. My difference in approach with you seems to be that while you are emphasizing that one should not form a negative view about any opinion unless the volumes of research done them is properly communicated, I am emphasizing that it is enough for a common man and as well as a scholar to know what Qur’an says on the subject and decide what the truth is. In case some piece of research would emerge that would clarify to us that the view we were criticizing was not contrary to Qur’an, we will welcome it. In that case too, we would still be following Qur’an alone.

vi) The fact that Qur’an mentions very few injunctions and our life requires a lot more to be guided is correct. What I am trying to say is that what Qur’an mentions is from Allah Almighty and binding on us. What humans mention is at times useful but not religiously binding. Moreover, what humans say and do has to be judged against what Qur’an says, because, again, it is Qur’an which is the criterion to judge between what is acceptable and what is not.

vii) You are right in claiming that jurists continued to modify and improve upon their respective schools. The first three centuries were indeed our golden era. But the process stopped at a point. Now the religious seminaries which claim to produce scholars teach their scholars-in-the-making students to follow their elders blindly. Even if somebody like me was to present an understanding contrary to the views of their elder jurists to a good learned of them, he would respond to my claim by saying “Were they (our elders) fools?”

viii) Umar, Allah bless him, always made his best attempts to follow Qur’an and so did the other companions of the prophet, alahissalaam. They would disagree with each other on the understanding of Qur’an but not on the fact that Qur’an was the supreme authority.

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