June 11, 2012
Time-Less Al- Qur’ān Speaks to Reason
It was the year 610AD when a man by the name of Muhammad received the first revelation Iqra’ – Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created man [al-Alaq 96: 1]. And the world changed forever.
He was a simple man, a young merchant with noble values and considered a moral man. He didn’t possess supernatural powers but rather a sincere servant of God with the most excellent character.
Wa-innaka la’ala khuluqin adzim – For behold! Thou keepest indeed to the sublime way of life. [ai-Qalam 68: 4]
The Qur’an describes him as a man amongst you – rasūlun min an fusikum – and your friend – sōhibukum. But then the message was revolutionary. It spoke to the minds of the people at that time and it will continue to speak to every generation of mankind because the Qur’ān is time-less.
The Qur’ān only fixes time-less laws, ethics, rights and restrictions that are universal in its application. It is a constitution containing the basis for mankind’s dealing with life. Everything outside of the Qur’ān is time bound and must be reinterpreted by every generation to fit in to their circumstances.
The most important aspect of this revelation is that it speaks to reason. The Qur’ān aims to heighten certitude in the minds of its readers by presenting rational arguments. Appearing about fifty times in the Qur’ān is the verb aqala, which means “to connect to ideas together, to reason, or to understand an intellectual argument.”
Throughout its pages, the Qur’ān repeatedly invites the reader to use these faculties, to refect upon the created universe, and man’s own self, as signs for finding God. This endeavour is basically to enable man to perceive God by using their intellect – li-qaumin yatafakkarun – for people who think.
The Qur’ān managed to transform a generation of desert-dwelling men into the best generation of their time. However, only a quarter of a century after the Prophet’s time, the age of happiness ended. In July 657AD, two Muslim armies bearing swords and lances, faced each other at the banks of Euphrates River known as Siffin. Army of the fourth Caliph Ali was facing that of Muawiyah. And fellow Muslims were spilling each other’s blood. What happened to the idea that all believers were brothers in faith?
The answer lay not in faith but in another potent factor: political power. And to this Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Hizb en-Nahdah (The Renaissance Party) quotes a renowned Muslim historian, Shahrastani, as saying that it was on the question of Khilāfah (Caliphate) or political power, that Muslims drew sword, fought each other and shed blood of one another.
Due to this reason, Ghannouchi distinguishes between what he calls as ad-deeni (the religious, sacred or absolute) and as-siyāsi (the political, profane or relative). While no disputes ever erupted among early Muslims pertaining to ad-deeni, that is in matters of aqidah (creed) or ‘ibādah (worship); they however disagreed over matters pertaining to as-siyāsi.
The main problem Muslims are facing in the 21st century is within this realm of as-siyasi. Islam has never been monolithic in such a way that any call to revert back to the Qur’an and Sunnah and to follow the as-salaf as-soleh (the pious predecessors as in the first 300 years of Islam) as the main ingredient for unity, remains hollow. As we had seen from as early as the tragedy of Siffin, Muslims have never been united.
Henceforth, any agenda to replicate the earlier generation known as as-salaf as-soleh and assuming that there have been no differences in opinions and approach within them is simply in vain. We have to acknowledge that the community during that time was as diverse as we are right now.
And because of this myopic view and understanding that the Qur’an and Hadith must be read and understood in rigid black-and-white terms, and interpreted the way as as-salaf as-soleh interpreted them; have led to the stagnation of the Muslim community.
In order for political Islam to be able to face the modern world and its challenges, it must be able to adapt and transform itself. Every generation faces different circumstances, and thus many laws and ways for society cannot be fixed for all time. This is why also the Qur’ān only fixes time-less laws, ethics, rights and restrictions that are universal in its application. It is a constitution containing only the basic foundations for mankind’s dealing with life.
This concept was made clearer by non other than two reformist thinkers in the late nineteenth century, Jamaluddin al-Afghāni and Muhammad Abduh. And according to Tariq Ramadan in his latest book The Arab Awakening, the two reformers were the ones responsible to shape the contemporary political Islam.
Their solution would be to return to the basic foundations of the Qur’ān and using the rich, open Islamic tradition of independent legal reasoning or ijtihād. The Qur’ān has laid foundation for a truly democratic society long ago. An Islamic model of democracy would not be restricted to endowing man with political or social rights, but would endow him with a value that surpasses every political or social value.
A value proclaimed in the Qur’ānic verse:
“Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam.” [al-Isra’ 17: 70]
This verse was revealed as if to lay the foundations for a democratic model that is superior to every other model, where the divine element within man is taken into consideration and not just the human or social aspects as in the other models. Thus, a kind of sanctity is endowed upon man; raising his value above whatever value other models may give to him.
The discourse on post-Islamism has led many Islamists to believe in the democratic principle. It is not anymore a contradiction with the idea of Islam as a democratic principle. We now believe that an Islamic state is a civil state. It must be based on institutions and on consultation or shura, and in which the decision-making process requires that its authority be civil in nature.
The civil state must administer majority preferences through the categories of “right or wrong” and not through those of “faith or of its rejection”. It must be in full recognition of the plurality of religions and political ideas. There must also be a fundamental re-examination of relationship between religion and the state.
The Iranian model, with its religious hierarchy and the notion of infallibility connected with the institution of Vilayat-e-faqih, has displayed its limitation. The Islamic Republic has not stood the test of democratic transparency, and has not shown that it can heed the voice of the people. All things considered, the Turkish model appears to have won the day.
Since no particular Muslim can claim to have a theocratic authority, and since there are all sorts of Muslims with diverse views, ideas and aspirations, the only system that would be fair for all would be the one that would include all of them in the political process: a democracy.
Al-“Adl wal-Ihsān, the Morrocan Islamist movement, unambiguously declares that the administration of the affairs of state is a matter of ijtihād (autonomous human legal reasoning). It cannot be a “divine right”, as understood by some Islamist activists when they refer to “al-hakimiyyah”.
Hence the best state for Muslims in our opinion is still a secular state that will allow people to “be a Muslim by conviction and free choice, which is the only way one can be a Muslim.”
It should be noted that there is a big difference between a secular state and a secularist one. The former is a state that is neutral to religion and respects the right of its citizens to live by their faith. A secularist state, on the other hand, is hostile to religion and wants to curb its influence in public life, and even in the lives of individual citizens.
Accepting a secular state will allow Muslims not only to follow Islam in the way they genuinely believe but also to eliminate the endless discussions over the ideal “Islamic state” and its system like “Islamic economy”. We should instead focus on the fundamentals of a civil state such as justice, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, good governance, separation of powers, rule of law and economic equality.
And on the economic system, our reading of the Qur’an made us believe that it is a system that is more left than right, more committed to equality than inequality and more oriented towards redistribution of wealth than accumulation.
These are some of the contemporary understanding that define our reformist agenda. For all that, it is essential for us to engage in self-criticism, to know our strengths and weaknesses, to yield nothing to doubt and to offer everything to hope. Beyond the quest of Islamic reformation, lie knowledge, understanding, spirit and determination.
“I desire nothing but reform as far as I am able. There is no guidance for me except from Allah”. [Hūd 11: 88]
Speech during the book launch Wacana Pemikiran Reformis at the Renaissance Hotel on June 10, 2012.