Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Speaking for Islam

In Islamic tradition, utmost care has been given to the preservation of its source: the Quran, and the Sunnah (Tradition) of the Prophet, which aids in the interpretation of its truth.

JUST one year after the tragic events of 9/11 a dialogue was held in Granada, Spain. It was the inaugural meeting seeking to bring together the different ideologies under a programme entitled Dialogues: Islamic World-US-the West.

The programme itself was conceived in the aftermath of 9/11 to entertain discussions concerning the relationship between Islam and the West. According to the report, the conference witnessed considerable discussion on what constitutes Islamic authority today. Sadly, no answer to the question of who speaks for Islam was offered.

Tthe question was posed in a dialogue where Muslims were invited as “representatives” of the Muslim World.

The organiser was either ignorant of who should have been invited or had intentionally invited those who were not qualified.

The question may also indicate the psychological condition suffered by the inquirer. It betrays a situation where there is a great deal of confusion and disagreement over who should be entrusted with the responsibility of speaking for the Muslim World.

The fact is, we have in our midst government officials, academicians and intellectuals, social and political activists, modernists, reformists and traditionalists, each apparently portraying a different and conflicting interpretation of Islam. In such a situation it is normal to ask: who (truly) speaks on behalf of Islam?

Only those who know Islam should speak for Islam. Normally the reply would necessitate another question: who are they? By “normal” we mean it is a common question. It is not normal in the logical sense.

Logically, if one knows how to define knowledge the question does not arise, because the answer is all too obvious. One who knows what wealth is should know who is wealthy and who is not!

Hence, the correct question should be: what is knowledge? If one knows what knowledge is, one would know who is in possession of it, and the question of who speaks for Islam should not arise.

Returning now to the original question, who speaks for Islam? Thus far we have assumed that the inquirer is ignorant, but sincere in his efforts to rid himself of his own ignorance.

But what if the inquirer is one who denies the possibility and objectivity of knowledge altogether? In other words, what if the inquirer is a sceptic?

To a sceptic there is no difference between knowledge and opinion. In this case, what has been made of the question is actually a statement: that no one truly knows about Islam; and that whatever is being said about Islam is merely an individual’s subjective opinion!

We observe this kind of attitude everywhere, even among Muslims. We hear people asserting that only God knows what is meant by His words, whereas the human interpretation of those words are subjective and historical.

The Quran has to be reinterpreted according to the changes in human history. If this sounds familiar it is because it has been taken by many as dogma regardless of its truth or falsehood.

Scepticism and subjectivism are not alien to Western intellectual tradition, but they are certainly alien to Islam. Islam is a practical and common sense religion, and by virtue of this fact, there is no room for scepticism and subjectivism.

Affirming the possibility and objectivity of knowledge is assumed in “being a Muslim”. How could one “be” a Muslim if it is not possible to know objectively what Islam “is”? The label “a Muslim sceptic” is an oxymoron.

Knowledge is the foundation of Islam. Muslims affirm that adequate knowledge concerning Islam and the worldview projected by it is always possible. They know that it is not possible to understand and practice Islam if the authenticity of its original source is questionable or subject to corruption and alteration.

Hence, we may observe in Islamic tradition, that from the very beginning utmost care has been given to the preservation of its source: the Quran, and the Sunnah (Tradition) of the Prophet, which aids in the interpretation of its truth.

Since the source of Islam is intact, and the method of dealing with the source is established, we can always know who truly speaks for Islam and who does not. The truth of what is being said may be verified and defended, and falsehood exposed, refuted and condemned.

Certainly, we admit that Muslim society today is backward in many respects, but with regard to religion this is certainly not true. Muslims, unlike their Western counterparts, have not – and will not allow – their religion to be corrupted because it is they who are entrusted with the responsibility of preserving it for all mankind until the day of judgement.

However, if one is speaking of the administration of justice and the practical application of this administration, then the onus of responsibility does not assume the religion itself but, rather, the capacity to understand and correctly apply that understanding of the practitioner, namely, the Muslims themselves.

By DR SYED ALI TAWFIK AL-ATTAS and MD ASHAM AHMAD,The Star,IKIM VIEW 12th May 2007