Monday, February 7, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 3

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1 and continued in Part 2.

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 "II. Islam and Politics".

The first chapter in this section is "War and Peace: Popular Jihad" by Moulavi Chiragh Ali (1844-95).

All the defensive wars, and the verses of the Quran relating to the same, were strictly temporary and transitory in their nature. They cannot be made an example of, or be construed into a tenet or injunction for aggressive wars, nor were they intended to be. Even they cannot be an example or instruction for a defensive war to be waged by the Muhammadan community or commonwealth, because all the circumstances under which Muhammad waged his defensive wars were local and temporary. (p. 72.)

Nice. Let's hope all Muslims agree: the Quran can in no way be used to support any kind of war. All mentions of war were temporary, none were meant for future guidance.

[I]n the first place, Jihad does not literally and classically mean warfare or fighting in a war. It means, as used by the classical poets as well as by the Quran, to do one's utmost; to labor; to toil; to exert oneself or his power, efforts, endeavors, or ability; to employ oneself vigorously, diligently, studiously, sedulously, earnestly, or with energy; to be diligent or studious, to take pains or extraordinary pains. (p. 80.)

This definition has been cropping up after 2001-09-11. It makes jihad sound like something good, a commendable attitude, something more of us good use in our own lives. Nothing violent or aggressive about it. Wether or not that really is a historically and linguistically accurate definition, one can at least hope that it would be the definition adopted by Muslims.

There is neither such a division of the world in the Quran, nor are such words as "Dar-ul-Islam" and "Dar-ul-Harb" to be found anywhere in it. There is no injunction in the Quran to the True Believers to fight against the infidels till they accept Islam, failing which they are to be put to death. The words "Dar-ul-Islam" and "Dar-ul-Harb" are only to be found in the Muhammadan Common Law, and are only used in the question of jurisdiction. No Moslem magistrate will pass a sentence in a criminal case against a criminal who had committed an offense in a foreign country. The same is the case in civil courts. All inhabitants of Dar-Harb are not necessarily infidels. Muhammadans, either permanently or temporarily by obtaining permission from the sovereign of the foreign land, can be inhabitants of a Dar-ul-Harb, a country out of the Moslem jurisdiction, or at war with it. (p. 91.)

Among other important things here is the point about jurisdiction which I take to be reciprocal in nature: a "Muhammadan" outside of Moslem jurisdiction is under the jurisdiction of the local rule - she cannot expect to be judged by Muslem law. This is a very important point. It can (and should) readily be understood as saying that acting against local laws in countries outside the Moslem jurisdiction (and even customs, matters of civil courts) is actually against the teaching of Islam.

The Muhammadan Common Law is by no means divine or superhuman. It mostly consists of uncertain traditions, Arabian usage and customs, some frivolous and fortuitous analogical deductions from the Quran, and a multitudinous array of casuistical sophistry of the canonical legists. It has not been held sacred or unchangeable by enlightened Muhammadans of any Moslem country and in any age since its compilation in the fourth century of the Hejira. (p. 92.)

This is an important point all Islamists should take to heart. The Common Law, at least, should definitely be open to criticism and change, even by devout Muslims, even by those who believe the Quran to be the infallible word of God, because it is not based on, or even derived from the Quran. In fact, given the sources of the Common Law, there really is no reason to hold onto it. The laws of any community should of course be reasonable, the ones with the best arguments in their favour. Therefore, whatever laws that are seen to surpas those of the traditional Common Law should be adopted. Surely there can be no disagreement on this?

Ali Abd al-Raziq (1888-1966) has made two interesting remarks that I can quote from his excerpts published under the title "The Problem of Caliphate". The first is the claim that "Islam would never favor one community over another, one language over another, one region over another, one time over another, or one generation over another except according to their piety" (p. 95).

Clearly many disagree with that. I believe most Muslims are taught to believe that the Quran must be read in Arabic, because all translations are less perfect. I agree with them to a point. Going to the orginal sources is necessary for historians, surely, but not without a good deal of knowledge about exegetics and the relevant languages. I'm almost certain that very few even of Muslim scholars actually have that requisite knowledge. But the fact remains that Arabic certainly seems to be an important language for Islam, unlike say, Finnish. Same goes for the rest of the claim, mutatis mutandis.

The other remark is longer:

[...] all that Islam has made lawful and that the prophet has made the Muslims observe included conduct, manners, and customs that had nothing at all to do with methods of political rule nor anything to do with a civil government. After all, if we put all of these together, they do not amount to more than a very small fraction of what is necessary for a civil state as regards political principles and laws. (p. 97.)

It clearly follows that there can be no such thing as a purely Islamic State. The necessary laws have to be devised somehow, and that means human decision making, also known as secular politics. (It could also be pointed out that the usefulnes of the Quran as a guidance for us mortals is obviously questionable, but let's forget about that for now. As long as Muslims accept that secular politics are necessary for a functioning State.)

I will have to pass over "Authority and the Problem of Succession" by Amir Ali (1849-1928) in silence, as I can find little of interest or relevance to "Western" states in it at present. I might return to it, if I change my mind about it later.

This section ends with Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) defending "Intellectual Pluralism and Freedom of Opinion", but unfortunately his article is of general nature, and he does not argue from a specifically Islamic point of view, or in a way that would especially appeal to Muslims. He does not provide an interpretation of Islam that would be of use for us in convincing the Muslims that adopting such "Western" notions would be in accordance with their religion. His arguments, of course, are such that any sensible person will accept them, but that is not enough at this point, so I will have to ignore the article here.

Continue to Part 4.

No comments: