Thirteen years ago, my brother, Dr Afif completed the monumental task of memorizing the Holy Quran within a short period of no more than 18 weeks. Instead of pursuing Form 4, he took a break after PMR and chose to become al-Hafiz.
Alhamdulillah, I was proud of my sibling’s genius! Ideas gushed to my mind as to ways to expand his potential. Imagine the lethal combination of excelling both in the knowledge of the revelation and science. I recall having shared such suggestions with him when asked what he should pursue for his upper secondary.
I then had this notion considering his ability to memorize the Holy Book, he should pursue the Science Stream and continue with Medicine. After all, my maternal grandfather had always wanted a -grandchild of the medicinal kind.
I thought by doing so he would be more respected than your ordinary Ustaz. Looking back, what caused my perception? Perhaps, back then the idea of an Ustaz not mastering Science was seen by me as less credible. Many years after that I thought maybe I should have suggested him to pursue Hadeeth as we are severely lacking in Hadeeth experts.
Allama Iqbal (1877-1938) in his Lectures compiled as “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” addressed such pertinent questions. Is science compatible with religion? The modern man has been trying to separate faith from science and history. They have been trying to confine faith within the walls of the mosque. To them, secularism is progress. As a result, man became soulless. For Iqbal, ultimately there can only be one truth. The truth that faith discovers cannot be different from the truth discovered by science or history.
In the same compilation, he argued that, “To have a succession of identical thoughts and feelings is to have no thoughts and feelings at all. Such is the lot of most Muslim countries today. They are mechanically repeating old values…”
The frustration that was felt by Iqbal is not new. Some might argue that he went too far in his ideas. Others was inspired like the reformer Tariq Ramadan. Iqbal’s frustrations reappears from time to time from the birth of Islam until today. An example is of Ibn al-Qayyim, one of Ibn Taymiyya’s most “passionate advocate” who had repeatedly sought new methods to deal with the problems of the 13th century.
He gave more weight to “formulated evidential theories” more than oral testimony. He sought scientific method on how to prove a child and its alleged father by using experts to identify facial similarities. He also opined that a judge can obtain a sample of a husband’s ejaculate for lab tests to measure his impotence when woman sought divorce using that ground.
Today, these examples sounds backward but back in the 13th century that was progress. A marriage of science and faith. At that time, the Imams of the day were kept to the old ways of their ancestors when the problems that was facing and plaguing the Ummah has changed tremendously in all fields, be it science, economics, medicine and every other aspects of human and societal life.
Tariq, Iqbal and Qayyim obviously have disagreements with each other, as an example on innovation (bid’a) but essentially we can agree that we need constant revisit to changing circumstances. Not just them, this also include Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Ridha, Kiyai Hj Ahmad Dahlan, HAMKA and many other thinkers.
The revisiting and reconstruction of Islamic position is a continuous process that can change over time due to various circumstances. Perhaps we need to be reminded that Imam As-Shafie himself had changed his opinion in a certain matter in a short span of time.
The followers of Imam Abu Hanifah have also had different opinions with his earlier followers and remarked that if Abu Hanifah was still alive he might have adopted their new position due to the changes that have taken place. Abu Hanifah himself had made seven different opinions with regards to an issue which had change due to changing circumstances.
Such is the fact that there is room for continuous change in opinion. Whilst many areas of Islam is straight forward and there’s no room for change; mostly in the realm of creed (aqidah), there are other areas where pressing change is required. There are areas where evolution of thoughts are necessary. Continuous reconstruction of religious thought must be allowed.
We have to say no to dogmatism and stop refusing to see things any other way, and to be open to the possibility that we might be wrong. We need solutions for new problems that come with changing times or different geographical location or due to different racial or religious composition of a country. Some has become dogmatic that they have forgotten the basic foundation of legal theory (Usul al-Fiqh) that everything is permissible until proven wrong and not the other way around.
Islam is a religion that inculcates thinking. If we encourage thinking, and if we allow continuous discussions and debates, we will nurture intellectualism and progress. We need to question first, in order to understand the purpose of certain jurisdictions, rulings or systems. On the surface, this may seem like encouragement to partake in unnecessary rebellious activities questioning or threatening the religion. But it should not be the case.
Throughout history we have seen how new ideas are often rejected without proper deliberation. We have seen how the ideas of democracy was initially out rightly rejected as haram and must be fought against. We have seen how the idea of woman being allowed to vote was rejected as haram. As we have allowed a revisit, we find today that democracy is although not perfect but is consistent with the spirit of Islam and we have now supported woman leaders among many other issues.
I have no authority to speak in this subject matter but I fear of what is currently happening. I fear of the ongoing ruckus and the continuous blackening of Islam’s name where most of the time we are partly to be blamed. I fear how people are shying away from Islam in crafting solutions to problems that is plaguing the Ummah. Problems ranging from policy making, health, environment, economy, security, national harmony and many others.
If the intellectuals do not continuously revisit to changing circumstances and their best to provide answers and solution to the people, the concept that Islam is Syumul (complete) and covers every aspect of life will not be felt by ordinary Muslims. They will not feel it as they see that Islam cannot provide a comprehensive answer for their life’s or societal problems.
If the intellectuals fail to deliberate and adapt to new changing circumstances, the people will shy away from following the guidance of the religion and the concept that Islam is Syumul will not weigh any bearing. The concept that Islam is Rahmatan Lil Alamin (blessing to all universe) will not be felt by mankind.
Islam is a religion of love, forgiveness and peace. A religion that inculcates and nurtures strength in its followers. Islam is not a religion that punishes and instil fear.
“The biggest enemy of Islam is the ignorant Muslim, whose ignorance leads him to intolerance, whose actions destroy the true image of Islam, and when the people look at him they think that Islam is what he is.” Ahmed Deedat, (1918-2005)
There is no escape from continuous learning, at times to unlearn and then relearning. Wallahu a’lam.