Friday, February 4, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 2

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I turn to the book's "Part One: Islamic Modernism", and that part's section "I. Jurisprudence, Rational Sciences, and Differentiation of Knowledge".

Some excerpts from Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97) follow, concerning "Religion versus Science":

All religions are intolerant, each one in its way. (p. 24.)

In truth, the Muslim religion has tried to stifle science and stop its progress. It has thus succeeded in halting the philosophical or intellectual movement and in turning minds from the search for scientific truth. A similar attempt, if I am not mistaken, was made by the Christian religion, and the venerated leaders of the Catholic church have not yet disarmed so far as I know. (p. 25.)

It is permissible, however, to ask oneself why Arab civilization, after having thrownsuch a live light on the world, suddenly became extinguished; why this torch has not been relit since; and why the Arab world still remains buried in profound darkness.

Here the responsibility of the muslim religion appears complete. It is clear that wherever it became established, this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvelously served in its designs by despotism. (p. 27.)

Religions, by whatever names they are called, all resemble each other. No agreement and no reconciliation are possible between these religions and philosophy. Religion imposes on man its faith and its belief, whereas philosophy frees him of it totally or in part. [...] It will always be thus. Whenever religion will have the upper hand, it will eliminate philosophy; and the contrary happens when it is philosophy that reigns as sovereign mistress. So long as humanity exists, the struggle will not cease between dogma and free investigation, between religion and philosophy; a desperate struggle in which, I fea, the triumph will not be for free thought, because the masses dislike reason, and its teachings are only understood by some intelligences of the elite, and because, also, science, however beautiful it is, does not completely satisfy humanity, which thirsts for the ideal and which likes to exist in dark and distant regions that the philosophers and scholars can neither perceive nor explore. (p. 28.)

The Enlightenment has clearly influenced al-Afghani. It is very easy to adopt such a pessimistic view of mankind, but I believe recent history shows there is still hope. Certainly Europe has become very secularized. With the help of the Internet, knowledge is spreading faster and more widely than ever before. The great challenge at present is how to reach the Muslim masses, and to convince them of the superiority of the modernist version of Islam? This is no time to lose nerve and give up.

The following are excerpts from Maulavi Cheragh Ali (1844-95) on "Islamic Revealed Law versus Islamic Common Law":

The Muhammadan states are not usually considered theocratic in their system of government. The first four or five khalifates were of a republican nature, and after them, the system of government was changed with the Ommiade dynasty into monarchy and despotism. (p. 29.)

The common code of Islam, or the Muhammadan system of jurisprudence, is the unwritten law of the Muhammadan community, compiled at a very late period, so that it cannot be considered as essentially and eternally unchangeable; nor can it be binding on any other nation than the Arabs, whose customs, usages, and traditions it contains, and upon which it is based. The Muhammadan Common Law is not to be confounded with the Muhammadan Revealed Law. The Muhammadan Common Law is the unwritten law that has been compiled from a avery few verses of the Quran, as well as from the customs and usages of the country, supported by traditions contradictory in themselves, and based on the Ijmaa, or the unanimous consent of the Moslems. (p. 31.)

Those writers are greatly mistaken who either confound the Quran, the Muhammadan Revealed Law, with Fiquah or Cheriat (Cheri), the Muhammadan Common or Civil Law; or think that the Quran contains the entire code of Islam; or that the Muhammadan Law, by which is invariably meant the Muhammadan Common Law, is infallible and unalterable. The Muhammadan law books, the fundamental codes of Islam, take very little or nothing from the Quran, and all the Muhammadan jurists, casuists, mooftis, and moojtahids, have by a tacit consent removed the law points from the text of the sacred book to the jurisdiction of the canon or civil law. Muhammadans rely principally on the latre lego-religious books instead of the Quran. (p. 31 - 32.)

As I see it, Ali makes there a historical case for the separation of the Mosque and State in the so-called Islamic countries. He argues against theocracy, and the idea that Islamic laws could be unchaning. What he fails to note is the interesting admission that the Quran actually is pretty useless, or I should say irrelevantwhen it comes to morals and laws. This is good news for the project of secularizing the Islamic countries, because it allows the moderates to keep revering the Quran while adopting (more) secular morals and laws.

Ali then makes these encouraging claims about his religion:

Islam is capable of progress, and possesses sufficient elasticity to enable it to adapt itself to the social and political changes going on around it. The Islam, by which I mean the pure Islam as taught by Muhammad in the Quran, and not that Islam as taught by the Muhammadan Common Law was itself a profress and a change for the better. It has the vital principles of rapid development, of progress, of rationalism, and of adaptability to new circumstances. (p. 33.)

There's, among others, that mention of rationalism in Islam that I have mentioned. I can only hope that this kind of progressive attitude becomes ever more popular among Muslims. It is sad, though, that in Ali's article it is followed by this dogmatic statement:

The only infallible law is Leges Scripta, or the Quran. (p. 33.)

One can hope that this dogmatism will fade and Ali's view on the acceptability (from the point of view of Islam) of changing laws to fit the times wins over the stupid, dogmatic traditionalism still prevalent in some countries. He argues that:

[...] the fact that Muhammad did not compile a law, civil or canonical, for the conduct of the believers, nor did he enjoin them to do so, shows that he left to the believers in general to frame any code, civil or canon law, and to found systems which would harmonize with the times, and suit the political and social changes going on around them. (p. 33.)

Sayyid Amir Ali (1849-1928) is trying to present a case for "The Rationalistic and Philosophical Spirit of Islam", but this is all he really has to offer (in the excerpted article published in the book):

Like all other nations of antiquity, the pre-islamic Arabs were stern fatalists. The remains of their ancient poetry, sole record of old Arab thought and manners, show that before the promulgation of Islam the people of the Peninsula had absolutely abandoned themselves to the idea of an irresistible and blind fatality. Man was but a sport in the hands of Fate. This idea bred a reckless contempt of death, and an utter disregard for human life. The teachings of Islam created a revolution in the Arab mind; with the recognition of a supreme Intelligence governing the universe, they received the conception of self-dependence and of moral responsibility founded on the liberty of human volition. (p. 35.)

Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) writes about "The Necessity of Religious Reform" but is even less useful: he is mainly doing so in the context of Egypt at the end of the 19th Century; also, he seems uninterested in actual secularization of the state. Rather, he is merely interested in purging the people of harmful beliefs promoted by such groups as the Sufis:

Sufis have introduced one of these opinions: faith in God [...] is in contradiction with saving and making money, seeking work, and utilizing modern medical care. The believer in God, they would have us accept, would not be a true believer until he "cut off all means of livelihood." Faith in God is also in contradiction with precaution, prevention, and carefulness. In their opinion, faith in God implies a disregard for the consequences of one's worldly actions and a rejection of carefulness. (p. 48.)

It is clear that Abduh admires the West, and wants to (re)vitalize the Muslim people(s) by what to him at least would probably be a return to orthodoxy. He is, unfortunately, of the opinion that religion is necessary for the people, so he is not interested in reforming society by the separation of religion and state, the from the public sphere. On the contrary, he merely seeks to purifying Islam from harmful superstitious. In reading about this, I got a chilling feeling when I thought of what this might entail to minority groups. But he seems to trust that his reform would succeed through merely the education of judges, teachers, social workers, and other key people.

The next piece is on the "Methodology of Historical Writing", by 'Allama Shibli Nu'mani (1851-1914). This writer seems to have issues with European history, and a very high opinion of traditional Muslim history. While amusing, I will not dwell on these. He has some of the methodology right, but he should have been more critical. He is far too biased to see some glaring problems with the methods. Also, I think the article is outdated, because it deals with the Hadith and similar texts, with the purpose of pointing out that much of this tradition is false - but surely this is common knowledge among Muslims by now? The good thing about this kind of approach then, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend, is the embracing of critical, historical exegesis of the important texts of Islam. If (moderate, or modernist) Muslims can agree with this, then we are clearly on the same track.

Continue to Part 3.

No comments: