Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A brief reflection on the religious justification behind wearing of faceveils (burqa and niqab) and its assumptions

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010   No comments
by Adis Duderija

A number of heated debates throughout the western liberal democracies have emerged recently over the issue of wearing of burqas and niqabs by Muslim women. In this short piece I would like to offer a brief reflection on the religious justification behind the practice of wearing of burqas and niqabs and the interpretational and other assumptions that underlie the arguments of those who consider it religiously binding.
There is no doubt that those who advocate the wearning of face veil as mandatory base this on a number of ‘authentic’ ( sahih) hadith (reports repotedly going back to the Prophet Muhammad SAS) and the qur’anic verse ( 33:53- other verses such as 33;59 are also used as well but primarily to argue for the covering of the body,including the hair but not the face ) that , although addressing visitors to Prophet’s residence how to deal with the wives of the Prophet , is interpreted as to applying to all the Muslim women on the basis of examplary role of ‘mothers of all believers’.
In addition, those who argue for a religiously binding character of the face veil justify it on the basis of having a particular understading of male and female sexuality that is not Qur’anic but is present in some ‘sahih’ or ‘authentic ‘ hadith. They also adopt the religiously normative character of the burqa/niqab on the basis of a juristic maxim of ‘blocking the means’ that can be found in the Islamic legal theory and its principals literature which argues that anything can potentially lead to a ‘ morally undesirable’ outcome that is forbidded is initself also forbidded .
The question that is not often being asked in a plethora of analyses on the issue of face veil is how many women would choose to wear the face veil ( or how many men would ask/ force them to do so) if they did not think that it was religiously required/mandated or even desirable? This is especially so if an alternative and ‘authenic ‘ (and in my view convincing interpretation) that remains even within the classical methodological and epistemological framework , was to be offered along the following lines.
1. The ‘sahih’ hadith mentioned are isolated hadith ( ahad) and according even to the clasical Islamic legal theory scholarship cannot be used as sources of law.
2. The verse uses the word ‘hijab’ not niqab/burqa and is to be seen in the context of a Prophet who was very much a public figure and virtually had little or no private life-including his wives. Many people would come and go to his place of residence at will. His residence did not have anything like doors we have these days. In addition , his house and the rooms of his wives were in essence part of the larger ‘mosque’ complex. Thus, a very busy place. Perhaps an analogy would be apt here. For example, those parents who have children who have reached puberty surely would ask their kids to not open the parents’ room door when they are in the room UNLESS they were permitted to do so by the parents.
So the purport of the verse ought to be considered in this context. This is actually confirmed by the hadith that classical Islamic tradition has customary associated with the revelation of the verse in question. Namely, the context behind the revelation is the bedroom of the newly wedded pair ( i.e. Prophet Muhammad SAS and his wife Zainab)wishing to protect their intimacy and exclude a third person (a person called Anas ibn Malik –one of the Prophjet’s Companions). In short the occasion behind the revelation according to hadith accounts on the matter ( in a number of variant versions) is that on the wedding night the Prophet was not able to rid himself of several tactless guests who remained lost in conversation during and well after the wedding supper while he wanted to be alone with Zainab on their first wedding night. After several attempts to indirectly let the men know that it was time that they left by walking out of his house into his coutyard, according to the witness of the events Anas ibn malik, the Prophet recited the verse in question ( 33 :53 – O you who believe, do not enter the prophet’s homes unless you are given permission to eat, nor shall you force such an invitation in any manner. If you are invited, you may enter. When you finish eating, you shall leave; do not engage him in lengthy conversations. This used to hurt the prophet, and he was too shy to tell you. But GOD does not shy away from the truth. If you have to ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a barrier. This is purer for your hearts and their hearts. You are not to hurt the messenger of GOD. You shall not marry his wives after him, for this would be a gross offense in the sight of GOD.) Upon pronouncing the verse, the prophet drew a sitr (hadith uses this synonym of the qur’anic word hijab meaning curtin) between himself (and his wife zainab ) and Anas.
3. Classical understanding of male and female sexuality that are not found in the Qur’an were such that women’s body PER SE is seen as morally corrupting ( in contrast to being sexual) and that men are incapable of resisting women as sources of irressitable sexual temptation leading to social and moral chaos ( fitna). There is some evidence of this mindset in some hadith. However, this view of male/female sexuality is EMPIRICALLY UNTRUE and any hadith evidence that is empirically untrue , even according to clasical hadith sciences, cannot be valid even if it is deemed ‘sahih’. I think most of us would agree that is also morally ugly to suggest that women’s bodies are morally corrupting per se.

4. The juridical maxim found in Islamic legal methodology literature of ‘blocking the means’ is also problematic since it is not only the women that have to carry the burden, this method, if extended logically, is extremely draconian and one can justify just about anything on this basis ( e.g. as they do in S. Arabia in case of women drivers, talking over the phone to an unrelated member of the opposite sex or even exchanging letters ). Finally, the classical view of male/female sexuality renders human beinsg incapable of ethical and moral progress , in sense of training one’s moral /ethical compass and undergoing some moral discipline by suggesting that any ‘temptation’ wil inevitalbly lead to morally bad actions. Instead, men are portrayed to always succumb to the source of moral sexual evil that women embody. By subscribing to this view one inadvertedly objectifies women sexually- something that the proponents of this view so quickly accuse the western civilisation of doing. Isn’t this just plain morally ugly ?
In a way it remindes me of what I recently heard on BBC radio in relation to the introduction of sexual education in Malaysian schools. Namely those who opposed it (conservative traditional Muslims) use the arguent that the introduction of sexual education in schools will inevitably increase the sexual activity of the concerned. This is a twisted logic and at times serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Intra-Muslim Dialogue –is it possible?

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010   No comments
By Adis Duderija

Having recently established an ‘e journal’ which solely aims to focus on intra Muslim dialogue ( www.intramuslimdialogue.org) the first comment sent to the website was , may I add unpredictably so, was “Is such a thing possible ?

This question prompted me to reflect more systematically on (and defend) the decision behind setting up the journal on intra Muslim dialogue.

The very question “Is intra Muslim dialogue possible?” it itself is quite telling the current circumstances surrounding those who consider themselves to be Muslim and belong the Islamic tradition however you define these two.

The numerous events of ‘sectarian’ or religiously inspired/justified violence and ongoing repression of many Muslim communities by other Muslims in many parts of Muslim majority world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia- which have resulted in large number of lost lives- justify scepticism and lack of optimism reflected in the comment I received as an editor of the journal.

However, in my view, this rather grim picture ought not deter us from efforts to trying to improve things for the better. Put differently, the alternative status quo is for many a Muslim today no longer acceptable on both moral and religious/theological grounds.

Dialogue between various religious traditions (inter-religious ) and recognition of irreducible religious pluralism has come a long way recently, at least in theory. I say this as someone who has been active in inter-faith dialogue (predominantly between the Abrahamic religious) at grass roots level as well as someone who has an academic interest in the topic.

But dialogue within religious traditions, especially that of a Muslim kind, has not
kept pace with that of inter-religious dialogue. Why? This is a fascinating question that requires serious academic research and is of course beyond the pale of this short text. Nevertheless, in my view, many socio-political and economic challenges facing Muslim majority countries are at least in part rooted in failures of engaging in intra-religious dialogue. As such, I believe, currently there is a great need to first develop a scholarly discourse around this theme as the preliminary but absolutely necessary step towards fuller, better appreciation and recognition of vast diversity of Muslim experience based on principles of respect and dignity. Hence, the idea of the journal.

I also believe that now there is out there a critical mass of well intentioned and willing people to make greater intra Muslim dialogue based on mutual respect, dignity and celebration of differences and eschewing all forms of violence a reality!

This good will has, of course, exited before as well. To the best of my knowledge, however, most of the discussions on greater Muslim dialogue have been limited to either academic discussions found in institutionalised and commercialised journals very few non-academics have access to or have been ad hoc attempts by individuals.

Hence, this scholarly journal will be of ‘open access’ type and also have a non-peer reviewed section of ‘opinions, analysis and commentary’ open to all not just those who meet the rigorous standards of academic peer reviewing procedures which are so crucial and central to academic endeavour.
One one needs reminding that the global Muslim community is very diverse in terms of race, language, culture, theological denominations and interpretations of religious texts. A call for intra-Muslim dialogue is therefore not a call for imposition of any interpretational hegemony or a push for ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘orthopraxis’. On contrary a call for intra-Muslim dialogue is based upon the absolute need to facilitate dialogue between various contemporary Muslim schools of thought and build bridges of better understanding between them based on the universal values of mutual respect and dignity.
Of course, intra-religious differences and problems, including that of abuse and violence of various kinds, are not limited to the Islamic tradition. Progress that has been made in other religious traditions with respect to intra-religious dialogue and curbing of religiously inspired violence, abuse and rhetoric should give us hope and encouragement that we as Muslims are also capable of the same.

However what will happen in the future will to a large extent depend upon how we approach this very notion of intra-Muslim dialogue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where should Muslims build mosques?

    Sunday, August 29, 2010   No comments
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The Muslim-American community is growing, and with growth comes the need for community centers, mosques, and a public presence. Every state in the United States contains at least one mosque, according to the multicultural marketing agency Allied Media. However, the plan to construct a large community center in Manhattan has started a heated debate about the "wisdom" of building a mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
Some of those who are protesting the plan claim that they are not against American Muslims' rights to worship, they are merely opposed to the erection of a mosque near Ground Zero.
Hence the obvious questions: Why can't Muslims build a mosque there? Where can they build mosques? And why do Muslims really want to build a mosque there?
While some of those opposed argue that building an Islamic center near Ground Zero is disrespectful to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, many are simply opposed to any public presence of Islam in America.
Representatives of American Muslims in Manhattan contend that they need the center because the current prayer hall is too small. They further add that blocking American Muslims from building a place of worship on private land and in accordance with city ordinances would (1) stoke fear domestically and further marginalize American Muslims and (2) give credence internationally to extremists' claim that America is at war with Islam.
Given these positions, the third position (that the center be built elsewhere) obviously makes no sense — Muslims have mosques elsewhere. And where exactly is "elsewhere?" Ten blocks away? Outside Manhattan? Outside New York City?
To suggest that a mosque should be built away from Ground Zero implies that Islam (all forms and expressions of it) is guilty of killing innocent people in the World Trade Center. If we opposed the building of a religious center near areas (or cities) where innocent people were killed, then there would be no place on Earth to build a synagogue, a church, or a mosque — throughout the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, self-described Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and in many cases, official representatives of these faiths) have committed, encouraged, and/or catalyzed acts that resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people.
There is, without a doubt, an undercurrent of hate and total rejection of Islam in the West. There are many (beyond the usual fringe elements) who are opposed to building mosques anywhere. Indeed, there are organized groups around the world whose aim is to ban any public manifestation of Islam in the West. Europe's ban on minarets is one example; the bombing and vandalizing of mosques in numerous American cities is another.
Just recently, a self-proclaimed Christian group in Florida applied for a permit to inaugurate the so-called "International Burn a Koran Day," which would coincide with the remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy. Should the trend persists, 9/11 could turn into "International Bomb a Mosque Day" event.
Sadly, 9/11 is being used as a pretext to demonize Islam and Muslims. And that need to be addressed.
At the same time, Muslims should build their mosque if they need it for the community, not use its proximity to Ground Zero as a context for interfaith dialogue. I am of the view that using tragedies such as 9/11 and the loss of civilian lives anywhere for political or religious propaganda purposes is suspect.
And that applies to both sides.
UI Associate Professor Ahmed Souaiaia teaches courses in the College of Law, International Programs, and religious-studies department.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gender Justice Jihad in Ramadan by Adis Duderija

    Monday, August 16, 2010   No comments
On a recent communal breaking of the fast event I witnessed several events that made me think about the real difficulties behind the changing of people’s behaviour in relation to gender justice in Islam.
Before I do the purpose of what I will write below is NOT meant to be an exercise in self-praise although it can come across as such. I am only too aware of my own shortcomings when it comes to gender justice issues in my own household. I am writing this to hopefully raise some awareness and levels of consciousness in Muslim men, including myself, in relation to just one instance of gender injustice.

Let me elaborate. Having arrived at the venue (a local musala ) with some time to spare I greeted and thanked the organiser of the event and asked him if any help was needed with setting up of the tables and the food. With a smile on his face he remarked that there were ‘many women’ around who can / are doing the job. Indeed apart form the man I spoke to (and another one who was setting up the speaker system and opening up toilets) it was indeed all women who were getting things ready while men were happily chatting away .
Few minutes later when it was time to break the fast I realised that ,upon breaking my fast , all the drinks and the dates were on the side of the musala where the men were.

While the men were breaking their fasts women were waiting in the other part of the musala. When I approached one of them that I knew and asked her to come over where the drinks were she was very reluctant like the rest of the other women. I pointed to her and others (including some men who were around) that it was indeed them who not only cooked the food but also prepared setting it all up. I also remarked that it was more just for them to have broken the fast first. Some of the women , younger ones in particular, acknowledged this reasoning, however, none of them were willing to break their fast with drinks and dates whilst men were still at it. However no men seemed to have noticed this despite the fact that the musala is rather small and that several women were also elderly and looked weak.
Don’t get me wrong this congregation that I know reasonably well is by no means conservative and very few of the women (or men for that matter) conform to traditional let also strict puritan norms and standards of behaviour in their ordinary lives.

The same applied later on with the food. While I was trying to protest by telling one of the women ( in the vicinity of other men) that I will not eat the food until at least one or few of the women had taken some first , one of the male leaders of the community who heard what I had said not only remained silent but without being given permission pushed in front of all of the other women who were lined up. The (self-appointed) prayer leader who was symbolically heavily ‘Muslim’ with the turban and all the other paraphiliacs ( whose qur’anic reading, knowledge of Islam, smoking habit as well as personality make him anything but an obvious choice for the function of the prayer leader that he so willingly assumed) was also oblivious to this injustice and insensivity towards women.

Based on anecdotal evidence I am sure that what I briefly described above has happened in many other mosques/musalas.
Why is it that so many Muslim men are so insensitive to gender justice to the extent of branding those few Muslim men and many women who are as agents of “western culture” ? Could this insensitivity in more extreme cases also explain the presence of misogynist thinking among some Muslim men and acts of abuse may that be in the context of marriage or parent- child relationship?
What good does the fasting during the month of Ramadan serve if we are not even sensitive (or choose to be insensitive) to the needs of our sisters in faith? Why do we easily fall for and unquestioningly accept facades and masquerades over essence and what really matters?

My personal goal and wish is to spend the rest of this fasting month improving my own sensitivity to the other gender. I hope you will too.

Adis Duderija has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Western Australia

Monday, March 15, 2010

Interpreting the Qur’an –Towards a Contemporary Approach -Book Review

    Monday, March 15, 2010   No comments

By Adis Duderija, School of Social and Cultural Studies, University of Western Australia

Abdullah Saeed, ‘Interpreting the Qur’an –Towards a Contemporary Approach’, Routledge, 2006, p.192.

The book ‘Interpreting the Qur’an –Towards a Contemporary Approach’ by Abdullah Saeed is concerned with outlining of a systematic and coherent model for evaluating some of the traditional concepts in the realm of interpretation of the ethico-legal aspect of the Qur’anic Revelation and advocating for an alternative, what the author terms ‘Contextualist’, approach to Qur’anic interpretation which would provide a more suitable Qur’anic hermeneutic for meeting the contemporary ‘needs of Muslims’ living in both Islamicate and non-Islamicate societies.

Indeed, professor Saeed’s book is to be seen in the broader context of the multifold and perplexing challenges that the present and (post)- modernity pose to the what professor Moosa terms pre-modern intellectual Muslim discourses including the spheres of law, theology, ethics, culture and politics.

All religious traditions based on the notion of Divine scriptures, as professor El-Fadl astutely points out, inevitably need to come to terms with the conundrum of reconciling seemingly paradoxical claims of historicity of Revelation with its claims to universality.

Qur’anic historicity and its ‘Deutungsbeduerftigkeit’ stemming from the actual nature of its content and its genesis have never been denied by the Muslim tradition. This is well attested by vast bodies of literature written by Muslims over the last 14 or so centuries on the Qur’an may that literature be exegetical, jurisprudential, ideological/sectarian or mystical in its orientation. A number of interpretive strategies and methodological tools have been developed in order to deal with the Qur’an’s need for interpretation /meaning. Professor Saeed ‘s aim is in this regard two –fold. Firstly, he aims to outline the attempts of previous generations of Muslims in this process of interpreting and giving meaning to the Qur’anic content, their epistemological and methodological assumptions, strengths and short-comings as they apply to the Qur’anic ethico-legal content. Secondly, based on the identified limits of the medieval epistemology of Qur’anic hermeneutics characterised by what he refers to as Textualist and/or Semi-textualist approaches to Qur’anic interpretation, Saeed proposes and presents a number of new heuristical methods, broadly termed the ‘Contextualist approach’, necessary for a contemporary approach to Qur’anic interpretation.

In order to overcome the what Kamali terms the absence of time-space factor in the fabric of traditional usul-ul fiqh methodology, Saeed discusses a number of methodological tools, some of which have been applied by previous Muslim scholars from various phases of Islamic intellectual heritage, along with their hermeneutical relevance and utility in the contemporary context. In several instances the author emphasises that his approach highlights the methodological and epistemological continuity with the established tradition wherever such is possible as his method should be seen as being firmly based, inspired by and stemming forth from the tradition itself.
After the introductory chapter, the second chapter provides a context on the contemporary debates relating to the issue of Qur’anic interpretation by revisiting the issues which have shaped these discussions from the very genesis of Islamic thought up to the leading contemporary scholars dealing with the issue of Qur’anic interpretation. Additionally, it brings to the fore several issues, which are considered helpful in understanding the context behind the contemporary interpretational debates on the ethico-moral dimensions of the Qur’an.

The third chapter outlines the traditional Muslim understanding of the concept of Revelation as it pertains to the ethico-legal dimension of the Qur’anic text and outlines several new features of a new theory of Revelation based on the earlier identified ‘Contextualist’ approach. This includes a ‘broader understanding of Revelation’ based on a four level system in which “the socio-historical context of revelation is a fundamental element of revelation…[and] is not divorced from the human instrument including the Prophet, and all of the subsequent Muslim communities to this day” all of whom are entitled to expanding upon its understanding.

The fourth chapter examines the traditional textually based interpretation of the Qur’an (tafsir bi al-ma’thur/ bi al- riwayah), its development and the factors responsible for its entrenchment and subsequent elevation to the level of normativeness at the expense of other approaches (such as tafsir bi al-ra’y or reason –based interpretation).

Reason based interpretation is the theme of the fifth chapter. The revelation –reason dynamic has a long history in Islamic thought whose exact relationship is yet to be systematically formulated. In it the author advocates a view of the important role reason-based approach to Qur’anic interpretation can play in contemporary approaches. Author also points to the traditional rooted ness of the practice and discusses its legitimacy and scope.
Chapter six focuses on the issue of flexibility of reading the Qur’anic texts (based on the traditional understanding of the seven ahruf ) and the possibility that out of this practice a support for the notion of flexibility of interpretation can be deduced.

Chapter seven explores the relevance of the traditional discipline of abrogation (naskh) in the ‘Contextualist’ approach to Qur’anic interpretation and identifies it as one of the most powerful arguments and tools for relating Qur’anic ethico-legal rulings to changing needs and circumstances of the Muslims. Here Saeed echoes the view of Kamali who, in the context of the role and nature of naskh in usul ul-fiqh, asserts that:
[A] borgation which was originally meant to maintain harmony between the law and social reality began to be used contrary to its original purpose. The classical jurists advocated abrogation as a juridical doctrine in its own right rather than seeking it as an aid to the role of the time-space factor in the development of law.

In the eight and the ninth chapters, expanding upon the work of El-Fadl and Barlas , Saeed analyses and critiques the ‘Textualist’ approach to the theory of meaning as it applies to the Qur’anic ethico-legal content and argues for the recognition of the approximation, polysemicity and indeterminacy of meaning as a result of the interpretational tension between the author, text and the reader. In line with Arkoun’s theories , a crucial distinction between Qur’an as discourse (text & context – ‘Contextualist’ understanding of the nature of the Qur’an) and Qur’an as merely a text (‘Textualist’ understanding of the nature of the Qur’an) is made. Saeed argues that Qur’an should be seen both as a text and a discourse if Muslims are to understand it’s true character and develop an adequate hermeneutical model of its interpretation.

The socio-historical embeddedness of Qur’anic revelation is the theme of the tenth chapter although the call for the recognition of this dimension of the Qur’anic content is highlighted throughout the book along with the interpretational implications of such recognition, especially on the ethico-legal aspect of Qur’anic revelation. In this context Saeed astutely points out the limitations of the ‘Textualist’ approach to Qur’anic interpretation which was largely restricted to philological considerations reducing Qur’anic language to “purely legal language [which] has, in my [his] view, been one of the most unfortunate events in the history of Qur’anic exegesis . Additionally he asserts that Qur’anic language is primarily ‘ethico-theological’ in nature and that inherent weaknesses pertaining to the methodological and epistemological considerations relating to the asbab al-nuzul and maslaha sciences as espoused by traditional Muslim scholars are unable to lead to the uncovering of higher purposes and objectives (maqasid) of Shari’ah as embodied by the Qur’an and Sunnah. As such, and in line with Arkoun’s works , Saeed prudently advocates for an anthropological approach to Qur’anic interpretation as a part of the overall emphasis for a more meaningful and hermeneutically more prominent role of the socio-historical approach to Qur’anic interpretation.

The major strength behind the socio-historical approach to Qur’anic hermeneutics is based on the premise that this heuristic would allow for a development of a systematic, coherent and hierarchical model of general and universal Qur’anic values which, hermeneutically, would be its most powerful interpretational tools. This is the subject matter of the eleventh chapter. Here Saeed, as in many previous instances, refers to the works of late Fazrul Rahman and his “double movement theory.” In this regard Saeed presents a particularly useful hierarchy/typology of values and a methodology that would help determine whether Qur’anic values are socio-culturally contingent /specific or universal in nature.

In the epilogue major arguments of the book are revisited. Additionally a systematic, multifaceted and hierarchical hermeneutical model of Qur’anic interpretation is presented incorporating all of methods the author outlined were necessary for a contemporary approach to Qur’anic interpretation dispersed throughout the book.

Arguments put by Saeed are based on a very perceptive analysis of traditional usul ul fiqh and tafsir sciences and several features of Saeed’s hermeneutical model are highly original, systematic and coherent in nature. They present a major contribution to the field of Islamic hermeneutics, especially as they relate to what Na’eem terms the much-needed reform of the ‘historical shari’ah’. Saeed’s conscious attempt to remain within the traditional epistemological framework as much as possible will certainly find more sympathy among usually very suspicious and sensitive Muslim masses when it comes to the issues of their religious heritage, especially the Qur’an.

The reviewer has one major reservation with Saeed’s conceptual approach to this study. It pertains to the larger notion of the nature of the relationship and the interplay between the Qur’an, Sunnah and hadith as widely recognised primary sources of Islamic Weltanschauung.

Given the above mentioned ‘Deutungsbedurftigkeit” of the Qur’an and the symbiotic, organic relationship between Qur’an and Sunnah during the pre-classical era of Islamic thought, as the reviewer has argued elsewhere, a systematic and coherent Qur’anic hermeneutical model ought to include and address the issues of the definition, nature and scope of the concept of Sunnah vis a vis- the Qur’an as well as the that of the Sunnah (and thus indirectly the Qur’an) vis-a- vis ahadith body of texts. This is entirely absent from Saeed’s analysis although the implications of this on the development of a systematic and coherent, what a reviewer would refer to as Qur’ano-Sunnahic hermeneutical model (rather then just Qur’anic), are very significant as I’ll attempt to demonstrate below.

During the pre-classical period, contrary to the classical era in which the “canonised” hadith body of literature was considered the sole vehicle of Sunnah’s depository, its deduction and perpetuation, the concept of Sunnah underwent several semantico-contextual changes and was deduced on the basis of variant epistemologico-methodological tools to that of hadith. A significant body of evidence suggests that during the first four generations of Muslims the concept of Sunnah was independent (conceived primarily but not exclusively in form of ‘amal or practice-based Sunnah) both methodologically and epistemologically from that of hadith , thus was conceptually and qualitatively different from it. In other words the nature and the scope of Sunnah was distinct from that of the nature and scope of hadith. Upon Sunnah’s complete conceptual identification with hadith, Sunnah’s organic link and the symbiotic relationship with the Qur’an were severed. A new Hadith –based Sunnah was seen as something additional to, a necessary exegetical supplement to, and explicator of the Qur’an rather than the other side of the same coin. The traditional post-Shafi’i function of Sunnah was based exactly on this reasoning and was expressed in the well-known maxim in Islamic jurisprudence affirming that the Qur’an’s interpretational need of Sunnah (in form of its sole vehicle, the hadith) is greater then the Sunnah’s interpretational need of the Qur’an. Thus, Qur’an was, as Saeed astutely alludes to on several occasions and especially in chapter four, increasingly hermeneutically dependent upon hadith. Since a qualitative distinction between the nature, scope and character of pre-classical and classical concept of Sunnah as the most widely accepted or solely normative sources of Qur’anic interpretation existed, this affected the epistemologico-methodological parameters within which Qur’anic interpretation was possible to be developed. Since pre-classical concept of Sunnah, apart from its ‘amal component, was primarily conceived in form of abstract ethico-moral and/or theological terms, was reason inclusive and was conceptualised in terms of the broader Qur’anic objectives and purposes (maqasid), it permitted a wider interpretational playfield /framework than that based on hadith-dependent Sunnah.

Thus, the definition, nature and scope of Sunnah and its relationship vis –a- vis ahadith body of texts, will inevitably affect how the question of Qur’anic interpretation is going to be approached. Therefore, it is essential that any systematic and coherent Qur’anic interpretational model incorporate a dimension relating to the role and function of Sunnahic and Hadith elements in it. In order to do so addressing the broader question of the definition, nature and scope of Sunnah vis-à-vis the Qur’an and hadith is of paramount importance.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The nuclear age has been bad news for Muslim world

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010   No comments

By Prof. Ali A. Mazrui

Two territorial partitions of the Twentieth Century have profoundly affected the Muslim world. One was the partition of India that gave the Muslim world the miracle of a major new member.
The other was the partition of Palestine, which gave the Muslim world the challenge of a new adversary. Those two momentous events occurred within two consecutive years of each other - 1947 saw the birth of the Muslim state of Pakistan. In 1948 we witnessed the birth of the Jewish state of Israel. Islam in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries was never to be the same.
But where does the nuclear factor fit into this complex equation? The Muslims of South Asia lived to witness the nuclearisation of their much larger and powerful neighbour, India. The Muslims of the Middle East lived to witness the nuclearisation of their small but powerful neighbour, Israel. Over time, the question even arose whether India and Israel would conspire to prevent the nuclearisation of Pakistan.
In the Middle East, meanwhile, Israel on her own was exercising a veto over the nuclearisation of Iraq and the rest of the Arab world while, simultaneously, facilitating in the 1980s the nuclearisation of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Israel has also campaigned vigorously for international sanctions against Iran’s current nuclear programme.
This means that the coming of the nuclear age has been bad news for the Muslim world, at least for the time being. This has been compounded by the attitude of the United States. Washington turned the other way, if not actually helped, the nuclearisation of Israel. Yet Washington has been strongly opposed to ‘nuclear proliferation’ in the Muslim world. This was well before Saddam Hussein became America’s alleged possessor of ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ and Iran was accused of seeking nuclear weapons.
The nuclear shadow over the Muslim world probably began in the Middle East rather than in South Asia. The two partitions of 1947 and 1948 created conditions of military rivalry and technological competition in both South Asia and the Middle East, respectively. But technological change occurred much faster in Israel than in any other country in the two regions. To that extent, the nuclear specter began in Israel with consequences not only for the Muslim world but also for Africa.
Ancient Israel died two thousand years ago, only to be re-born in the full scientific glare of the nuclear age. Modern Israel was born within three years of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A Jewish political entity that had died two millennia previously in Biblical times was suddenly re-born and started blinking at the brightness of a ‘nuclear dawn.’
Within a single generation, the youthful Jewish state itself became a nuclear power. That was bad news for the Arabs and for their supporters. Without nuclear power, Israel’s conventional superiority could one day have been neutralised by Arab numerical preponderance.
But acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel has helped to create a potentially permanent military stalemate. Even when the Arabs eventually become the equals of the Israelis in nuclear capacity, the principle of nuclear deterrence will work with even greater certainty than it did in the East-West conflict.
It just so happened that the state of Israel was created when a nuclear stalemate could conceivably ensure its survival. That is good for world Jewry, but it is not necessarily good news for the Muslim world if Jerusalem is forever lost to Muslim sovereignty. The USA and the USSR nearly went to war over Cuba in 1962. Will Israel and the Arabs in the future go to war over Jerusalem?

Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University, New York


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