Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Diversity of Though in Islam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Muslims might not realise it, but in the early days of Islam, until about 500 years or so ago, our intellectual environment was one of the most vibrant.  There were hundreds of schools of thought in jurisprudence, of which Sunni Islam had more than 20.  There was an emphasis on enquiry and learning, as opposed to simply memorising and repeating.

The Maliki madzhab was known for its grounding in the ‘urf, the culture of Madina; the Hanafi madzhab was famous for its scepticism of ahadits and emphasis on reasoning and speculative fiqh; the Shafi’i madzhab was known for its rigorous methodology; and the Hanbali madzhab was known for its conservative approach towards the mutashabihat, verses that could not be understood literally.  Besides these four, there were the major schools that have since become extinct such as the madzahib of Imam Layts ibn Sa’ad (r.a.), Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (r.a.), Imam ibn Hazm (r.a.), Imam ibn Jarir ath-Thabari (r.a.) and so many more.

Imam al-Maturidi (r.a.) dismissed many ahadits that were incorporated in Swahih al-Bukhari, without examining the text and chain; if a hadits was hyperbole and contradicted reason, he discounted it.  Imam al-Ash’ari (r.a.) believed in female prophets.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) did not consider the hijab to be a strict requirement.  Imam ibn Hazm (r.a.) questioned the need to make up missed prayers.  Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) did not believe Salvation was exclusive to Muslims.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) believed that most of the Ahl al-Kitab are extinct.

Our great scholars were people.  In some cases, they liked each other; in others, they hated and cursed each other.  Some groups persecuted others - sometimes to extinction.  They made mutual takfir.  They advanced contradictory positions.  They burned books and banned works.  They were people, not angels.

Now, if someone adheres to a position that the Shafi’i cartel does not, or the Barelvis do not, or adheres to a position that is not widely known, even when it was held by a scholar of Islam, that person is “astray”?  Is this what Islam has come to?  The truth is, these were all accepted positions in Islam, even Sunni Islam, at one time.  Who gave any of them the right to decide who is or is not accepted on such flimsy reasoning?  Suddenly, in this age, to question anything, or to avail oneself to a position that is not “popular” is grounds for kufr.  For example, this issue with “The Study Qur'an”.  I am looking at people like Gibril Haddad and Ibrahim Osi-Efa, who have both made implicit takfir of the scholars involved and discredited their credentials.  Some people do not like the narrative challenged; it diminishes their authority as the gatekeepers of knowledge.

I am not saying that we reject scholars.  But we should not be slaves to their opinions and prejudices.  And not every person who is called a “shaykh”, or an “ustadz”, or whatever fancy term they use, is necessarily a scholar, and not every scholar is necessarily correct.


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