The following audio is from a talk delivered at Cal Poly Pomona in conjunction with their MSA entitled, “Why NOT Islam? An Ontology of Tawhid”.
It has been many months since I have posted anything on my site besides an occasional khutbah. The reason mainly being that so much of what I am inclined to speak about would have a negative bent (this years khutbah at the Eid al-‘Adha prayer is an example; I may still address it). Having been pushed somewhat reluctantly into a leadership position, I feel it’s important to stay positive even when so much of what you see wants to make you sigh and weep. So to combat that I have decided to offer up some reflections from my Qur’an reading circle, a khatm, where each of us reads a juz’/30th of the Qur’an every month. These reflections, I hope, are intended to be somewhere between anecdotal and aphoristic. They are not intended to be scholarly. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I (will) enjoy writing them, God willing.
بِسْمِ الله الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“Who could do greater wrong than those who lie about God and deny the truth when it comes to them? Do the Rejectors not have a dwelling place in Hell?”
فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّن كَذَبَ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ وَكَذَّبَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ إِذْ جَآءَهُۥٓ ۚ أَلَيْسَ فِى جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًۭى لِّلْكَٰفِرِينَ
“He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa.”
وَٱلَّذِى جَآءَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ وَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦٓ ۙ أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ
Qur’an, 39: 32-33.
This reminds me here of the modern use of the word “kafir” by Muslims (and non-Muslims as well). It seems to have lost its lexical and contextual meaning (i.e., that of “rejecting” or “covering”, in this case revelation sent by God, and contextually it was sent to the same basic population: Arabs). Instead of referring to those who reject God’s Truth, kafir has now come to be a proxy word for western, white, Christian, non-Muslim. I wrote a piece on this last year entitled Mu’min and Kafir – Negotiating Shared Space, in which I quote Dr. Sherman Jackson saying:
“[The] dehumanized Post-Colonial Muslim, on the other hand, tends to objectify his target and view him as a thing to be conquered, dismantled, and controlled. In contradistinction to his premodern predecessors, he transforms the category “kafir” [i.e., “non-Muslim] into a reference to an almost subhuman species who is inherently and utterly different from Muslims, not only religiously but culturally, ethnically, and civilizationally as well” [Islam and the Blackamerican 94—see footnote #72 below]
I say all this because while kafir is misused, it has also created an opposite reaction: there aren’t any kafirs at all; no rejectors of God’s message. I have seen this expressed in a number of young and liberal—minded Muslims who, not faulting them necessarily, feel uncomfortable with the divisive use of the word: it’s too all-encompassing—have flocked to the other extreme to nullify any possible existence of a kafir existing at all (this reminds me of Günter Grass when he spoke of how many Germans feel uncomfortable speaking about their families’ involvement in Nazi-era Germany and hence the extermination of the Jews: everybody’s parents or grandparents were in the resistance). Clearly, from God’s own words, there are indeed people who do reject Revelation and that some of them will reside in hell. Like Sgt. Joe Friday says: “just the facts, ma’am.”
What I want to highlight here, or at least what stood out for me was the message in the second verse: “He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa (for a more in-depth definition of taqwa see the Glossary as well as this khutbah). (39: 33)”. I ask myself: “Self: did you bring the truth with you today when you went to work?” “Self: did you confirm the truth at home with your wife and daughter?” Facetiousness aside, my take away here is not so much what others reject, but what I confirm. I see this quandary manifested in the Muslim community (yes, particularly here in Philadelphia) where Muslims stand at-the-ready to protest society but they themselves do not bring the truth nor can it be seen to be confirmed in their families and communities (by the way, I include myself in “they”). It is typical for Muslims to squabble over theology (‘aqidah) while doing very little to actually bring about divine wisdom. Amjad Tarsin, the new chaplain at Toronto University (may God make him successful in his charge) said it best recently:
For a Muslim, basic understanding and belief in God’s Oneness (tawhid) should be a given, not a topic of endless discussion and contention.
In the end, it seems to be more about affirming ones own values, morals, ideals than having to have the materialize in the public and political domains.
“They will have anything they wish for with their Lord. That is the recompense of the good-doers. So that God may refuse to accept (incidentally, this is the same root as “kafir“) from them the worst of what they did and pay them their wages for the best of what they did. Is God not enough for His slave? Yet they try to scare you with others apart from Him. If God misguides someone, he has no guide, and if God guides someone, he cannot be misguided. Is God not Almighty, Exactor of Revenge?” Qur’an, 39: 34-37.
لَهُم مَّا يَشَآءُونَ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ
لِيُكَفِّرَ ٱللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ أَسْوَأَ ٱلَّذِى عَمِلُوا۟ وَيَجْزِيَهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ ٱلَّذِى كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِكَافٍ عَبْدَهُۥ ۖ وَيُخَوِّفُونَكَ بِٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِنْ هَادٍۢ
وَمَن يَهْدِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِن مُّضِلٍّ ۗ أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِعَزِيزٍۢ ذِى ٱنتِقَامٍۢ
I am left to wonder just how much of it is genuine desire for God and The Messenger, and how much of it is cowardice that we bicker so much amongst ourselves and why we seem to offer such little to public discourses on major and important topics. Perhaps “they have scared us with others apart from Him.” But in case anyone feels this is some liberal, suit-and-tie wearing philosophy, God commands us directly in the Qur’an to focus on production instead of protest:
“Say: ‘My people, do as you think best; that is what I am doing. You will soon know.” Qur’an 39: 39.
قُلْ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْمَلُوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَكَانَتِكُمْ إِنِّى عَٰمِلٌۭ ۖ فَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
And God knows best.
I came across an engaging exchange between Dr. Sherman Jackson and one Dr. Syed Mustafa ‘Ali, in which Dr. ‘Ali responded to Dr. Jackson’s latest work, Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering . Here are Dr. ‘Ali’s comments followed by Dr. Jackson’s response. The exchange took place via email on 6 April 2010. Continue reading “Between Loathing and Applause”
Traditional Muslim Thought
What is it and why is it important to think like a Muslim? The ability to be “aware” of things and to articulate that awareness in concepts, language, and even behavior that reinforces and appeases TMT, and ultimately, Islam/God [tawhīd, Prophecy and the Return to God].
This endeavor will always involve attempts to appease certain incontrovertible truths and transcendent values found in Islam. However, Islam itself will never look the same in two difference places or two different times. And this process of Muslim thought will always demand intelligence, creativity, and courage from Muslims in their efforts to realize this goal, both individually and collectively.
When speaking about TMT, this in no way implies that:
- Muslims never had to do this in times past. That it is just something particular and peculiar to this term “modernity” that is causing all this hubbub.
- In fact, if we were to look at the past [i.e., Muslim history] and see no such examples [and we are sure to see many!] it would have more to do with the dereliction of duty on the part of those scholars of the past than the absence of the necessity in TMT in every time and space.
So – is TMT just a historical curiosity? Is it relevant in any way to the issues that Muslims face today? If so, then part of this relevance must include a tahqīqī approach. This is especially crucial in light of the recent rebranding of the word “tradition” into such catch phrases as “Traditional Muslim knowledge”.
What Does Muslim Thought Address?
TMT addresses four major things:
- The cosmos.
- The human soul.
- Interpersonal relationships.
The first three form the basis of how reality is conceived in Islam. The fourth is from perceptions obtained through studying the first three in a human interaction paradigm.
Goals of Muslim Thought
To know the reality of lā ilāha illa Allah [there is no god but God] for oneself.
The defining of roles: taqlīd and tahqīq.
Taqlīd: if one wishes to be a member of a group, then one must learn from those who are already a part of that group. Prophetic narrative. No one can better perfect a method of making ablution than that of the Prophet.
Tahqīq: the process of coming to know and own the knowing of tawhīd/la ilaha illa Allah [there is no god but God].
Tawhīd: is outside of taqlīd as “there is no compulsion in faith” لا إآراه في الدين [Q: 2: 256]. Instead, taqlīd is trying to inculcate tawhīd through free-willed, internal/intellectual means.
Muslims need to realize that TMT’s raison d’être is the transformation of the human soul, not simply a collection of textual and historical facts.
TMT allowed for a multidisciplined approach but those branches were tied to a root [tawhīd].
Establish the primacy of The Sacred. Therefore, one needs to come to know and understand what is sacred to Muslims/Islam and what is sacred [if anything at all] to modernity.
Preservation of the human being. Modernity/secularism makes vain attempts at this through language such as freedom, democracy, human rights, efficiency, etc.
Ijtihād – What’s In A Name?
The word is used so much by modernist Muslim reformers that it’s lost any context and meaning.
- To qualify as a mujtahid, one had to master the disciplines [fiqh, etc.]. In other words, master transmitted knowledge [Qur’ān, Sunnah, etc.].
- This bar has been set very high in traditional Sunni schools of thought.
- If one does not attain the level of mujtahid, then one must then follow a school of ijtihād [Sunni: mostly dead masters – Shi’ism: living masters].
- Sharī’ah, for example, can only be learned from someone who already knows it. This is problematic for orthodox, Sunni Muslims if we’re only able to learn from dead people!
Challenges Facing Muslims/TMT Today
Modern Muslim scholarship has been dominated by a non-Muslim spirit of academia in which, only to be partly humorous, one can know everything there is to know about a text except what it’s saying.
Is it possible to think as an engineer or sociologist and still think in a tawhīd-ic mind frame?
How can Muslims/Islam come to really [and in mean real as from The Real] mean anything significant if religion, in the eyes of modernity, is scarcely tolerated so long as it is restricted to ritual and morality. In modernity, religion can have nothing definitive to say about the nature of reality.
When looking at the thought processes behind certain modes of thought or ‘isms, are they/can they be infused or synthesized /re-contextualized by TMT or no? Why/not?
Modern environments are not conducive to inculcating/reinforcing an outlook on the world based on tawhīd. Modern theories of knowledge seek to compartmentalize versus bring varying knowledge disciplines into a unifying vision. This compartmentalization applies to the self as well as knowledge. This leads to a kind of cultural/social schizophrenia [see Daryoush Shayegan]
Science/Scientism: science is often said to be a sign of God but the Qur’ān asks man to think/reflect. But think/reflect on what? The Qur’an emphasizes natural phenomena. Science, however, requires one to first have scientific training as well as accept the supremacy/hegemony that scientific/tistic thought often demands of us.
Modern Muslim thought/scholarship does not challenge the status quo of modern/takthīr thought but rather sees how it can best serve, adopted and co-opt it.
Takthīr – Modernity’s New Gods
Takthīr is, if not the theological opposite of tawhīd, is its antonym in a modern context. The function of tawhīd is to see the many as relating to The One. Takthīr is wanton proliferation.
Tawhīd: to make God one, the recognition of divinity, pointing back to one ultimate source [God].
Takthīr: to make many gods. To refashion the recognition of divine presence as manifold.
Modernity lacks a solid core – a single center of purpose. TMT professes the purpose of life is to realize/worship/prepare for the return to God.
Modernity’s goals [?]: freedom, equality, evolution, progress, science, medicine, nationalism, socialism, democracy, Marxism. More innocuous versions: care, communication, consumption, development, education, information, standard of living, management, model, planning, production, project, resource, service, system, welfare.
TMT & Modernity – A Dialog
TMT may question modernity’s and Muslim reformers’ intentions. And while MR’s may wish to bid “good riddance” to TMT because of its perceived baggage, reform-minded
Muslims are oblivious to the fact that much of what they’re basing their thoughts off of are based on modes of thought that at their core are antithetical to the three crucial aspects of TMT/Islam:
- The Return to God [Ma’ād].
If Muslims are to remain true to the core values that Islam is built upon, those very same values that underpin TMT’ing, then how can the adaption of the above be legitimized?