There are few topics I can think of besides “tradition” that hold as much import and confusion for Muslims today. Often as a means of resisting modernity (not all of these attempts are condemnable either), many Muslims seek to excavate so-called Islamic Tradition and make its archaeological finds available for Muslims today, transplanted wholesale. This endeavor has missed wide of its marker however and the result has been an incremental step towards dysfunction, rather than its intended opposite.
Ustadh Abdullah Ali, from Lamppost Productions and Zaytuna notoriety, has provided for us a brief synopsis and useful elaboration on just what it means to be (neo-) traditional in an ever changing world.
When I say that I am a “neo-traditionalist”, what I mean by it is that I incline towards and participate in the movement to return to the classical adherence to the schools of Islamic law (4 Sunni Schools), the study and contextualization of mainstream Sunni doctrine (viz. Ash’ari, Maturidi), and the study and practice of traditional text-based Islamic spirituality (historically referred to as Sufism). This being so is not to be understood that I am in favor of any sort of dogmatic adherence to any of the three forms of Islamic thought (fiqh, ‘aqida, and tasawwuf). Rather, one is to understand that any school of law, creed, or spiritual path and/or order is merely a means, not an end in itself. Each has a long and complicated history with respect to their formation, promulgation, and standardization. When I speak of being a neo-traditionalist, I also mean the manner that one goes about acquiring Islamic knowledge which is namely through direct contact with living human receptacles of knowledge (at least at the start of one’s scholastic career).