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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Challenge of Interpretation in Islam by Babbar Sattar.Question a) Give 3 differences that the author gives between strict constructionists and liberal constructionists in their approach towards interpreting the sacred text.Question d) In your opinion,

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Islam and Modernization


Assignment no.


The Challenge of Interpretation in Islam by Babbar Sattar.


Question a) Give differences that the author gives between strict constructionists and liberal constructionists in their approach towards interpreting the sacred text.


Buy custom The Challenge of Interpretation in Islam by Babbar Sattar.Question a) Give 3 differences that the author gives between strict constructionists and liberal constructionists in their approach towards interpreting the sacred text.Question d) In your opinion, term paper




Answer a)


One of the main differences the author points out is the fact that the individuals belonging to the orthodox, strict constructionist school, emphasize on the literal translations on the Holy Texts. Their emphasis is on the “literal interpretation and application” of the word of Allah, the Quran, and the Sunnah, the tradition of the Prophet (PBUH).


Individuals part of the liberal constructionist school, on the other hand, emphasize on understanding the deeper meaning of the Holy Texts. According to the author they emphasize to “comprehend the underlying moral philosophy of Islam…” They instead of literal translation and application, look at the Texts in a more contextual sense.


Another difference lies in the debate over the original intent of Allah’s commands. The orthodox constructionists believe that all the laws can be derived from the plain meaning of the Holy Text. Even though there are several verses in the Quran which may be contradicting each other, the individuals following this school of thought do little to reconcile such differences, as they believe that all the answers lie in the literal translations.


The liberal constructionists believe that the verses have to be studied with a much more in depth analysis, and they need to be enhanced with the understanding of the society at that time. According to the author, these individuals believe that “the texts do not speak unequivocally…” by this he means that the liberalists are of the opinion that the Quran speaks ambiguously and thus we cannot rely solely on the pure, literal interpretation of the Holy Texts.


Stemming from the same argument, the author points out a third difference. The liberalists, he says, believe in a comprehensive approach to the interpretation of the Texts. They propose to “recontextualize” the Texts. They believe, that in order to make the Word of Allah “…a living guide for contemporary times…” we need to look at the society at the time of the Revelations, and how it applies to us now, in the modern day. According to the liberalists, certain laws were era-specific, and need to be looked at in a different light to make it comprehensive to us now.


The traditionalists strongly believe that Allah’s Word holds true, and “…good for all times and milieu.” They do not believe that any law is era specific, and therefore there is no need for to recontextualize. Instead, such an approach according to them is un-Islamic. They believe that there should be no “…deviation from the historical understanding and application…” of the Law.


Question c) Give reasons why Babar feels that the ‘institution of ulema’ is not desirable. How would a traditionalist respond to such criticism?


Answer c)


Babar feels the ulema have been granted a “…monopoly over religious understanding and interpretation…” The author also states the fact that Islam does not allow any form of institution to “…guard or interpret the message of God.” This brings us to the first criticism of the ulema. The ulema, is known to pass fatwas or opinions on the subjects of faith and interpretation. According to the author these “self-styled” ulema, do not provide any form of explanation while passing any of their fatwas. Also the authenticity of the verses maybe questioned. These opinions can very easily influence the Muslims to go against the non-Muslims, in the name of Islam. They can then use Islam as a justification for their various violent acts.


In order to rectify this problem, the ulema have been given ultimate authority on the subject of Shariah and the laws derived from it, on the basis of usul-al-Fiqh (principles used to derive Islamic Law from the Shariah.) This authority, though different from the state and Siyasa (policy), helped in reiterating the authority of the rulers by “…producing convenient interpretations in line with state policies.” This led to a branching of the Shariah, and thus a potential conflict between the two. This gave the ulema an authoritative role in the process of interpretation, understanding and application of the Holy Texts while allowing the state to legitimize their actions and policies in the name of religion.


This according to the author has ultimately led to the “cognitive decay” of the modern day Islamic societies. This has been due to the vertical authoritative system put forward by the ulema. This resulted in the stifling of the individual intellect, and the individual Muslim no longer held responsibility in understanding the “eternal truth”. Thus no matter what the ulema says, their word is taken as the “gospel of truth”. As the author states, the Quran emphasizes the subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and the existence of the ulema discourages the very issue.


Therefore, according to the author, the ulema have been a negative influence on the Islamic societies of today. It has failed to make the understanding of Islam and its Holy Texts easier, and has failed to play a horizontal and cooperative role in the law making. It instead is rigid in its stance and questioning the ulema is like questioning the word of Allah.


Traditionalists’ main argument is based on verses such as


“…if you do not know, ask the people of religion…” (17)


The “people of religion” is what the ulema claim to be. They feel that they are the most knowledgeable and pious to have authority over interpretations and application over law making from the Holy Texts. They may argue that they can certainly gauge the gravity of the problems faced by the common man, and it is only them who can pass any form of verdict or opinion. They may argue that the modern man is too engrossed in his material problems, that he is incapable of putting in adequate effort and thought to interpret and apply correctly. It is therefore the job of the ulema to play the role of the religious authority. In the end the ulema may also argue that by passing fatwas, and their authoritative role will eradicate all sorts of confusion the modern Muslim is faced with.


Question d) In your opinion, how can the differences between the liberal and traditional school of thought be bridged as regards the vision of Islam for the individual and collective life?


Answer d)


The differences of the two schools of thought, basically stem from one major fundamental difference of the interpretation and thus the application of the Holy Texts, the Quran, the Sunnah and the Shariah, to the lives of the Muslims today.


The traditionalists believe in the literal interpretation and application of the texts. They believe that the Words of Allah, and His Prophet (PBUH), transcend through space and time. They are unchanging, and apply universally despite the differences in the society and the times. They according to Lone, believe in adhering to “…the principle of interpreting Islam without any foreign influence.”


The liberalists on the other hand, believe in the fact that some of the commands given by the Almighty were era specific, and thus the Holy Texts should be interpreted through the historic context, and we should reinterpret them to make them applicable today. As Naim in his article ‘Shariah and Basic Human Rights Concerns’, says


“The most that shariah could do… in that historical context…”


And again in the following paragraph;


“…shariah…was justified by the historical context, it ceases to be so justified in the present drastically different context.”


Therefore this school of thought refuses to “adhere to and apply literal dictates” basing them on historical context. (Babar)


The traditionalists’ main argument lies in the fact that Quran is it self explanatory, and if there is a conflict then we may turn to the Sunnah, the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). As Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentions in his article ‘How Tafseer is Performed’;


“…the best way is to explain the Qur’aan through the Qur’aan. For, what the Qur’aan alludes to at one place is explained at the other, and what it says in brief on one occasion is elaborated upon at the other. But if this does not help you, you should turn to the sunnah, because the sunnah explains and elucidates the Qur’aan.” (Taymiyyah, 1)


This is further supported by the following verse;


We have sent down to you the book in truth that you may judge between men, as Allaah guides you; so don’t be an advocate for those who betray their trust. [Al-Qur’aan, 4105] (Taymiyyah, 1)


Also;


So set your … There is no altering (the laws) of Allahs creation. …” [Surat Al-Rum0] (Idris, 140)


This therefore supports the view of the traditionalists’, that we should only look at the Words of Allah and His Prophet’s, without any questioning, and that His laws are immutable.


Therefore in a nutshell the main idea behind the disagreement between the two thoughts is whether or not our present day lives and laws should be dealt literally with regard to the Shariah, or whether the Shariah needs to be rebuilt.


Enver Masud in his article ‘Shariah or Islamic Law’ defines Shariah as;


“... [Islamic jurists] recognized such a conceptual separation and divided the body of Shariah rules into two categories religious observances and worldly matters. The first,... they observed to be beyond the scope of modification. The second [subject to interpretation] covers the following…” (Masud)


According to him the second category involves criminal law, family law and transactions. Therefore I believe that there are certain aspects of the Shariah that have to be followed without questioning. But also on the other hand there are certain aspects such as those regarding to slavery, women’s issues and the issue of non-Muslims. (An-Naim)


The traditionalists could argue to Masud’s opinion by regarding those who act in such a way, would be bound to engage in secularism. This implies that for them religion is only a matter of private life and discourages any form of religious intervention in our public lives.


This may not hold true, as what the modernists believe is to reinterpret the existing laws so that they can make current laws in accordance with Islamic understanding. The traditionalists in this context should try and look at things more objectively, and should be prepared to listen to the various points of view put forward by other learned and modern scholars. Debate should be welcomed but within certain boundaries so as to reach a proper conclusion as to what and how should the laws and the Texts be applicable today. Also we know that the Prophet advocated the use of our own intellect in matters where the Quran or the Sunnah may not be able to give adequate answers. We also know that the primary sources of law are the Quran and the Sunnah, thus without the interpretation of these, the Muslim community would be a lost soul. It is also true that pure literal translation can not in come subjects stand on its own, for which we do require the Sunnah, and if that is not adequate we need to delve deeper into the meanin and the contexts od the various Texts. We thus come to the subject of Ijma, Qiyas and Ijtehad, which is collective thinking, and debate. This is necessary for the Modern day Muslim, where both the schools need to sit together and realize their differences, their drawbacks, and discuss within the boundaries of the Quran. We obviously cannot change the law according to our whims and fancies, but there are certain aspects which can be delved into so that we may apply it to our modern day problems.


BIBILIOGRAPHY


• An-Naim, Abdullahi Ahmed; “Shariah and Basic Human Rights Concerns.” Reading Package for Islam and Modernization.


• Idris, Dr. Ja’far Sheikh; “Secularism and Moral Values” Islaam. Rabii Awal17, 140. Gulf Times. Visited on April 1, 00 www.islaam.com


• Lone, Amar Ellahi; “The Sacred and the Secular.” Reading Package for Islam and Modernization.


• Masud, Enver; “Shariah or Islamic Law.” The Wisdom Fund. Visited on May 1, 00


• Sattar, Babar; “The Challenge of Interpretation in Islam.” Reading Package for Islam and Modernization.


• Taymiyyah, Imam Ibn; “How Tafseer is Performed.” Islaam 1. Al-Hidaayah. Visited on April 1, 00 www.islaam.com


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