Neo Ijtihad and Return to the Salaf

Our survey of sunna, with its various definitions, distinctions and connotations, is intended to demonstrate and underline the fact that sunna and hadlth have as central a role in Islam as oral and written tradition do in Christianity. Furthermore, they can create and mould a mindset which will automatically reject innovation (bid'a) and, indeed, any criticism of that which is invincibly held to be sacred. Within such a mindset, the historico-literary critical approach beloved of modern Biblical exegesis will have no place; rather, a fundamentalist traditionalism which may espouse a scriptural literalism, whether in Qur'an or hadlth, may flourish.

It was recognised from the early days of Islam that the Qur'an required tafsir, exegesis; and many of the best Muslim minds down the ages have set themselves to explain and contextualise the sacred text. And context is vital to real under-standing.234 'Even so, mysteries remain.'235 Robert Irwin goes on to explain:

Faced with the challenge of modernity, many Muslims today, rather than accommodate themselves to the age-old fudges that have prevailed in so many Muslim societies, have resorted instead to a kind of textual puritanism. Instead of referring to the way things were done in, say, colonial Morocco, or Ottoman Turkey, or, much further back, under the Abbasid caliphs, they prefer to return to the ' simple truths' of the Koran. The Koran, however, is not simple, and in many centres in Britain, Pakistan and elsewhere the standard of training in the basic tenets of Islam, including the meaning and context of the Koran, is staggeringly poor. Naive literal readings are soldered onto modern preoccupations with the menaces of Zionism, globalisation and feminism, and this third-rate religious education is one of the things that fuels fundamentalist violence.236

For a pietist of such a traditionalist persuasion, the message of a hadith/sunna, rather than its historicity, is the bedrock. And the sound isnad, chain of authorities, for that pietist is the formal guarantee of Islamic authenticity.237

The hadith corpus has also been propagated, explicated and used in a manner akin to the usage of the Qur'an at the hands of its fundamentalist and literalist exegetes. Thus, anyone who doubts the authenticity of a single hadith in the Sahih collection of al-Bukhari lays himself open to ridicule, condemnation and worse by fundamentalists and even by many of a more open or moderate persuasion.238 Such partisans of all hadiths, even if the latter clearly contradict the Qur'an itself,239 manifest attitudes akin to those of pre-Vatican II Catholic Christians, or modern US Baptist fundamentalists, who steadfastly refused to use, even countenance, a historico-critical approach to sacred scripture. For the fundamentalist Muslim, textual presence in the Sahih of al-Bukhari was sufficient; for the fundamentalist Christian, the surface word of Scripture, often regardless of context or etymology or difficulty in translation, sufficed.

Traditional Islamic exegesis has never had - and could not tolerate - an exegete of the sublime boldness of the demythologising Lutheran theologian, Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). Bultmann was most famous in Biblical scholarly circles for his work on New Testament hermeneutics and his endeavour to 'demythologise' the New Testament: his great idea was that 'the mythological framework of the NT must be interpreted to expose the understanding of human life contained in it.240 For a far less ambitious literary enterprise with regard to the Qur'an, Dr Nasir Ahmad Abu Zayd, an academic who used to teach at Cairo University, was condemned, towards the end of the twentieth century, by the conservative Egyptian ' ulama' and judiciary; he was forced to flee from Egypt with his wife.241

Even those like Professor Fazlur Rahman (1919-88), who, in Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual System,242 argued 'for the need to distinguish Quranic principles from their application in specific historical settings',243 received a liberal dose of opprobrium and opposition from many 'pre- Enlightenment' fundamentalist Muslims.244

This is not to say that innovatory tafsir was not possible and that all such exegesis was stifled down the centuries. The traditional engine for such exegesis was ijtihad, now to be labelled neo-ijtihad.

The second edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam defines ijtihad thus:

Literally 'exerting oneself' ... the technical term in Islamic law, first, for the use of individual reasoning in general and later, in a restricted meaning, for the use of the method of reasoning by analogy ...245

And Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali proclaims that, after the Qur'an and the Sunna, 'ijtihad is the most important source of Islamic law'.246

Inspired by Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), Salafl groups have rejected the mode of exegesis generated by the four SunnI law schools (madhahib)247 known literally as 'imitation' (taqlid); in effect, this involved the application of 'case law' from the past to present circumstances. They have felt free to espouse a new, wide-ranging and often radical ijtihad.248 Purification of the faith has been the inspiration and the challenge.249 This movement was sometimes, but not always, anti-intellectual,250 an apparent paradox in the light of its espousal of the exegetical tool of ijtihad.

In the context of an essay on 'Muslim Culture and Reform in 18th-century South Asia', Jamal Malik had this to say; his remarks have a contemporary and wide-ranging applicability:

The invitation to appropriate God's message individually and independently through the revealed text certainly meant, on the one hand, the emancipation of the self from immediate and direct ties of authority, and, on the other hand, the reconstruction of Islamic society by laypersons, something that harked back to early Muhammadan times. This was ijtihdd in the widest sense, and it expressed a desire for newness. However, the past to which they referred was not conceived in terms of a heroic era that would return. Instead, it was envisaged as a political and social utopia, which was to be lived and translated into reality. Thus, memory was to be transferred into powerful expectation. The recurring rituals around the hadith were proven devices to monumentalise this expectation. Needless to say, this sort of re-discovery of tradition stood in contrast to the traditionally bound compliance with state/ law and the dependence on authority - taqlid. Taqlid lived on jurisprudence and philosophical theology, based on logic. This logic was, again, a logic of the administration, that is the logic of the state, where philosophical theology and law flourished.251

The preoccupation with sources of authority, the debate over whether the 'gates of ijtihad' ever actually closed (as the classical doctrine proclaimed, but for which there is no real evidence252), the desire to return to a purified form of Islam and the rejection of taqlid all led the 'reformers' (who, at the same time, believed, they were upholding a 'great tradition') to give a new currency to the word ijtihad.253 The reforming founder of the Sanusiyya Order of sufls, Muhammad b. 'All al-SanusI O1787-1869), who took the salaf as his model, refused to accept that the door of ijtihad had closed. For him, 'ijtihad [was] a process that must be continuous and never-ending.'254

One of the chief architects and proponents of what became known as 'neo-ijtihad' was the Egyptian jurist and Chief MuftI Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905). 'As early as 1898 ... [he] had advocated the reinterpretation of the principles embodied in the divine revelation as a basis for legal reform.'255

It was not just legal reform that 'Abduh believed was necessary. As the Chair of an administrative Council set up to implement reforms at the Azhar, he 'improved the living conditions of the students, reorganised the libraries, reformed the administration, tightened up teaching regulations, and lengthened the university year'.256 The curriculum was enlarged with modern subjects 'in addition to the traditional sciences'.257

By the time that the great blind Egyptian writer Taha Husayn came to study at the Azhar, Muhammad 'Abduh was held in high esteem, indeed awe:

[The students ] would talk about the Imam [Muhammad 'Abduh] himself, discussing his extraordinary qualities [wa-sayasta'iduna ma kanu yasma'una min nawadirihi], recalling his judgements on the sheikhs, or theirs on him, and repeating the crushing replies with which he used to silence questioners or objectors and make them a laughing stock to their fellows.258

Muhammad 'Abduh was born in an Egyptian Delta village in 1849. At the age of 13, he began his studies at the Ahmadl Mosque in Tanta, which proved to be a somewhat fraught and bewildering experience for the adolescent boy because of its antique pedagogical method, which relied so much on rote learning. Later, he studied at al-Azhar in Cairo between 1869 and 1877, graduating as a 'Alim (Diplomate) and starting a teaching career at the Azhar. From 1871, he came under the influence of the revolutionary pan-Islamist259 Jamal al-Din al-AfghanI (1839-97). After the failure of 'UrabI Pasha's revolt in 1882, in which he was implicated, 'Abduh was exiled from Egypt. He stayed in Beirut for a while and then joined al-AfghanI in Paris, cooperating on the publication of the periodical al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa (The Strongest Link).

The Khedive permitted him to return to Egypt in 1888, and thereafter his rise was swift. He was made Grand MuftI of Egypt in 1899, and he could now attempt to put into practice ideas which he had developed in exile in Beirut. He firmly believed, for example, that those who were being trained as government officials should be taught logic and philosophy, doctrine with emphasis on the rational proofs of its truth and an exhortation to avoid dissension between the different rites, ethics with the same emphasis on its rational basis and a study of the exemplary lives of the salaf, and religious history.260

Albert Hourani has stressed how 'Abduh made a clear distinction in his writings between the simple - and reasonable - immutable doctrines of Islam, which have been preserved and passed down by the salaf, on the one hand, and mutable law and 'social morality' on the other.261

In his famous Risalat al-Tawhid (The Theology of Unity), Muhammad 'Abduh draws attention to the Qur'an's espousal of reason and its rejection of slavish credulity: 'Well is it said that traditionalism can have evil consequences as well as good and may occasion loss as well as conduce to gain. It is a deceptive thing, and though it may be pardoned in an animal is scarcely seemly in man.'262

Reason in Islam has been liberated from the enslavement of taqlid, 'blind imitation'.263 And many have followed in 'Abduh's footsteps: his espousal of talfiq, the 'piecing together' of views from the different Schools of Law to form a coherent legal doctrine, has received a favourable reception in several quarters.264 If one must follow a particular School of Law (madhhab), it should not be done blindly. It is best to stick to the Qur'an and Sunna. These were the responses of Taha Alalwani, President of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, Leesburg, Virginia, when asked whether it was 'wajib [compulsory] to adhere completely to a particular madhhab instead of picking and choosing from amongst the four schools?'265 Examples of the use of talfiq in modern Arab legal codes, pointed out by Wael B. Hallaq, include the Egyptian Law of Testamentary Disposition (1946) and the Sudanese Judicial Circular No: 53.266

It is an apparent - but not a real - paradox, then, that 'return to tradition' and 'the purity of early Islam', for the salaf, requires and embraces a rejection of 'traditionalism', at least in the guise of taqlid, and a rejection of rigid adherence to the four SunnI Schools of Law, the madhahib. To change means to go behind the madhahib, 'to return to the examples of the first Muslim community'.267 As Wael B. Hallaq stressed: 'The SalafI movement, which stressed the need to reinterpret Islamic teachings with direct reference to the Qur'an and the Sunnah, particularly called for abandoning taqlid in favour of ijtihad'.268

The various groups frequently characterised as salafi are by no means monolithic or possessed of an absolutely identical religious, political or cultural identity.269 Nonetheless, they may often be said to share certain features in common: they reject taqlid and foster the use of ijtihad; they reject the traditional classical interpretation of the Qur'an and Sunna as enshrined in the four madhahib; there is no need to interpret the Qur'an in an esoteric fashion. It is only a return to the purity of early Islam, that of the Prophet and the foundational generations of Muslims, the Salaf al-Salih (the Pious Ancestors), that will guarantee real Islamic reform.270

It is both interesting and instructive that in contemporary, twenty-first century Medina - sometimes perceived as the most salafi of modern cities - the volumes entitled Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid (loosely translated as The Distinguished Jurist's Primer)271 written by the great mediaeval Spanish Muslim jurist, Chief Judge and philosopher Abu 'l-Walld Muhammad b. Ahmad Ibn Rushd (1126-98),272 have a particular popularity and prominence among several modern Medinan scholars.273 Ibn Rushd was a Malikl qadl, and here we find him achieving a degree of popularity in the heart of Hanball Wahhabl-land!

However, this phenomenon becomes clearer when one examines Ibn Rushd's methodology in this great work, whose title might more literally be rendered The Beginning of the Independent Jurist and the End of the Mere Adherent to Precedent, and which took twenty years to write.274 Greg Noakes tells us:

Eschewing partisan polemic, Ibn Rushd goes beyond quoting the Maliki position on various legal questions. Instead, he tackles each issue by first describing the areas of agreement among the madhhabs, then outlining the points disputed by the various scholars, and finally discussing the reasons for these differences. What emerges is a detailed exposition of the principles of Islamic law, their use in each school of jurisprudence, and their practical application in the daily lives of Muslims.275

In this text, Ibn Rushd argues powerfully in favour of ijtihad. He maintains that one of the strengths of Bidayat al-Mujtahid is that the student can become a mujtahid, an independent interpreter of the law, provided that he also has sufficient knowledge of Arabic language, Arabic grammar and the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh)276 In Ibn Rushd's view, mere memorisation of the plentiful minutiae of jurisprudence does not make the best jurisprudent (faqih). The latter needs to be equipped with a proper set of intellectual tools - and clearly, for Ibn Rushd, that includes the capacity for discrimination and, thus, ijtihad. Otherwise, one is like a cobbler with many shoes but without the ability to make such shoes:277 'It is obvious that the person who has a large number of shoes will (some day) be visited by one whose feet the shoes do not fit. He will then go back to the cobbler who will make shoes that are suitable for his feet.'278

The Salafi espousal of ijtihad was thoroughly grounded in early Isamic history and tradition. One notes, for example, the approval of ijtihad famously expressed by the Prophet Muhammad himself in his dialogue with Mu' adh b. Jabal when the latter was sent by the Prophet to Yemen as a judge. Mu adh indicated that, in the absence of a clear ruling in either the Qur'an or the Sunna, he would deploy ijtihad.279 And the enthusiasm for this most useful of legal, linguistic and sociological of tools was continued, inter alia, with Malik b. Anas,280 the Hanbali School281 and

Ibn Taymiyya.282

The Salafi preoccupation with the practice of al-Salaf al-Salih has a truly ancient pedigree. Loosely, it runs as follows: Ahmad b. Hanbal (780-855)283 > Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) > Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92)284 > Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97) > Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905) > Sayyid Qutb (190666) > modern, disparate Salafi movements and groups.285 It is powerful chain of authorities (isnad) indeed! If the Salaf al-Salih are the original 'progenitors', then the luminaries listed here assume just as powerful a significance in terms of transmission, propagation and influence. Indeed, they are recognise as being among the very salaf themselves.286 And return to the salaf, return to the ancient proof texts of Islam - Qur'an and Sunna - gave the partisans of ancient tradition a greater rather than a lesser freedom, freeing them from the shackles of taqlid and fostering an ijtihad all the more powerful for its venerable textual sources.287

Of all the figures mentioned in the above chain, perhaps that of Sayyid Qutb is one of the most significant for the development of the Salafi movements in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is not so much because of any implementation of ijtihad that he might have undertaken as for his rigid adherence to the sacred text of the Qur'an. Qutb spent his life striving to return Islam to the way of the Salaf.288 For, in his view, the lands of Islam had reverted to a state of degeneration and ignorance.289

Sayyid Qutb Ibrahim Husayn Shadhili was born on 9 October 1906 in a village near Asyut in Upper Egypt. It is said that he had become a hafii (memoriser of the whole Qur'an) by the age of 10. In 1933, he graduated with a BA in arts education from Dar al-'Ulum in Cairo, and, from 1933 to 1951, he worked for the Ministry of

Education.290

In 1948, the Ministry sent him to the USA to study Western pedagogy. Here he gained an MA; but, while admiring the US economy and science, he 'was appalled by its racism, sexual permissiveness and pro-Zionism'.291 He wrote:

In America new gods are worshipped, which are thought to be the aim of human existence - the god of property, the god of pleasure, the god of fame, the god of productivity! Thus it is that in America men cannot find themselves, for they cannot find the purpose of their existence The same is true of other states of ignorance, where similar gods are worshipped, and people cannot find the true God.292

On his return to Egypt, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) and was one of those who supported the Free Officers' coup in 1952. Falling out with the Nasserist regime, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison in July 1955. Released in May 1964, he was re-arrested in August 1965 and charged with terrorism. On 29 August 1966, he was executed, a martyr in the view of many of his followers.293 The jahili society which he had so much, and so frequently, condemned had taken its revenge:294

In his Ma'alim (1964) Qutb writes that Islam knows only two types of society, the Islamic and the Jahili. In the first society Islam is applied fully while in the second it is not . Although in his work on social justice he does not use the term al-jahili, Qutb does charge Egyptian society with being un-Islamic. He says: 'Islamic society today is not Islamic in any true sense (laysa Islamiyan bi-halin min al-ahwal).We have already quoted a verse from the Qur'an which cannot in any way be honestly applied today: 'Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed is an unbeliever'. In our modern society we do not judge by what Allah has revealed; the basis of our economic life is usury; our laws permit rather than punish oppression; the poor tax is not obligatory; and is not spent in the requisite ways. We permit the extravagance and the luxury which Islam prohibits; we allow the starvation and the destitution of which the messenger once said: "Whatever people anywhere allow a man to go hungry, they are outside the protection of Allah, the Blessed and the Exalted".'295

Akhavi stresses that Qutb 'is not an advocate of the majesty of human reason'.296 The message of the Qur'an was there in the sacred text for all to see. Islam was 'a timeless body of ideas and practices'.297 Akhavi concludes:

Ultmately, Qutb's worldview rests on a manifest ahistoricity. He is not interested in a historically grounded analysis of the development of law in Islam, for example. Rather, one finds repeated references to the primary sacred texts, overwhelmingly the Qur'an, and to a much lesser extent the hadiths. Qutb does not acknowledge that Qur'anic and hadith texts might not be self-evident and that, as they are interpreted over the centuries, people might come to different conclusions as to their meanings.298

This reading of Qutb makes him one of the most literalist interpreters and, almost, more 'salaf than the later partisans of the Salaf al-Salih.

His views were expressed in a plethora of written works. Two of the best known, and most important, are his extensive multi-volume commentary on the Qur'an, Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Qur'an)299 and his political tract Ma'alim fi 'l-Tariq

(Signposts on the Road).300 The first was completed during his prison years;301 the latter was used by his prosecutors while he was on trial for his life in 1965.302

Robert Irwin sees Sayyid Qutb as 'the father of modern Islamist fundamentalism'.303 For him, Qutb is a proto-Usama b. Laden. But this is perhaps to exaggerate Qutb's role. It is a truism that there are many kinds of what is termed 'Islamism' and many kinds of what is glibly and loosely termed 'Islamic fundamentalism'. The true significance of Qutb is his sacrolexis, his 'sacred textualisation'. He was in love with the sacred text of the Qur'an; for him there was no other solution or guide to life and its manifold problems. In his adherence and fidelity to the Text, he thus provides a sublime model for all contemporary salafi movements.

Sayyid Qutb did not reject the use of ijtihad, but for him it was somewhat circumscribed in that it could only be done within the framework of general Islamic principles and the specific absence of an authoritative text (nass).3°4 His preferred mujtahid of first resort is the Islamic ruler305 ruling in accord with God's law. The first five editions of Qutb's al-'Adala al-Ijtima'iyya (Social Justice) appear to accept that the Gate of Ijtihad had actually been closed and required to be reopened while the last edition argues for a continued historical evolution of Islamic law.306 Qutb proclaims that:

When a Muslim society in fact exists, the field will be wide open for ijtihad and the application of the laws of this religion, in this society, and the crucial factor in our acceptance or rejection of any development [i.e. by ijtihad] will be that we test it by the basic idea of Islam and its general spirit.307

The foundation stones of salafi, and salafi-inspired, dogmatic positions or general tendencies are clearly visible among salaf, and sometimes non-salaf, groups today. Four interrelated aspects stand out in particular: the deployment of an often visceral or, at least, tendentious ijtihad; the emphasis on text, textuality and proof-texts; the emphasis on purity and purification; and a consequent tendency towards a kind of Islamic 'puritanism' or asceticism. Of course, not all are present or true in all cases. However, the first two may generally be said to go hand in hand, imbued by the third, and manifesting the fourth. Bunt has noted that there has been a tendency among some so-called reformers to suggest that ijtihad could provide a key to any transformation process, incorporating a casting off of selective 'anachronistic' interpretations of Islam, and invoking instead a recognition of certain interpretations of Islamic principles, deemed as 'purifying' existing belief-frameworks within Muslim communities.308

In this emphasis on purification, one is vividly reminded of the mediaeval philolo-phers who went under the name of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa')309 as well as the suicide flyers of '9/11'.

Thus, by way of purifying Islam of 'much misinformation [which] has been published regarding the picture of Muslims and Islam towards science',310 ijtihad has been deployed to unveil the Qur'an's perceived concurrence with - indeed, foreshadowing of - modern theories of embryology,311 geology,312 oceanography313

and astronomy.314 Here, in this kind of interpretation, is no anti-Galileo-type shrinking from the manifest and irrefutable phenomena of science, no clash of revelation and science, but a bold emphasis on the idea that modern science and ancient revelation in the shape of the Qur'an are utterly congruent and compatible: 'The Qur'aan [sic],' according to Abdullah M. al-Rehaili, 'which was revealed 14 centuries ago mentioned facts that are only recently discovered by proven scientists.'315 It is the text which provides the evidence316 and the interpretation of that text (ijtihad) which harmonises it with modern science, thus 'purifying' Islam of the idea that it is anti-science.

The case of embryology is of particular interest. We may firstly note the content of verses 12-14 of Sura 23, the Sura of the Believers (Surat al-Mu'minin):

Man We did create

From a quintessence (of clay)

Then We placed him

In a place of rest

Firmly fixed

Then We made the sperm

Into a clot of congealed blood ['alaqa];

Then of that clot We made

Made out of that lump

Bones and clothed the bones

With flesh; then We developed

Out of it another creature.

So blessed be God,

The Best to create.317

I. A. Ibrahim, in his commentary on these verses, notes the three meanings of 'alaqa in Arabic: '(1) leech, (2) suspended thing, and (3) blood clot'.318 He considers that the scientific development of the embryo is reflected in these three meanings and that Qur'anic embryology continues to reflect modern science, with the Qur'anic movement of the embryo from the 'alaqa to the mudgha stage.319

Our second brief case study is taken from the field of music and singing and concerns the antique debate in Islam about the permissibility of both. The theme has been tackled at length in the work by the Muslim Canadian scholar Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi (1950-89), significantly entitled The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing, in Light of the Quraan, the Sunnah and [I emphasise] the Consensus of Our Pious Predecessors.320 The work is heavily textual.

Al-Kanadi notes in his Preface that the whole question about 'the legality of music and singing in the Islamic Shari'ah ... is an issue which is hotly debated among individuals and scholars in Isamic societies of our present day'.321 Al-Kanadi's method is to examine both Qur'an and hadlth before moving to an examination of the views of 'the pious predecessors of the Islamic ummah'.322 His conclusions are stark: apart from a few exceptions,323 singing (ghina') is prohibited, especially when accom panied by musical instruments;324 dancing accompanied by musical instruments is forbidden;325 'the profession of music, singing, dancing and instrument making and selling are all forbidden'.326 Al-Kanadi proclaims that 'it is the duty of a Muslim that he avoid listening to music and singing in so far as it is within his power and jurisdiction (e.g. in his home, office, car etc.)'.327

This Canadian scholar's method, as we have already observed, is closely textual. He examines, for example, verse 6 of the thirty-first Süra of the Qur'an, Süra Luqman:

But there, among men,

Those who purchase idle tales [lahwa í-hadith]

Without knowledge (or meaning),

To mislead (men) from the Path

Of God and throw ridicule

There will be a humiliating

Penalty.328

The Arabic phrase lahwa 'l-hadith has been interpreted by some of the Muslim exegetes as 'singing and listening to songs'.329 Al-Kanadi admits that this interpretation is not conclusive but, if one combines the evidence of the relevant verses of the Qur'an with the hadlth literature, then the prohibitions become clearer: 'Contrary to the commonly-held belief, there are a number of authentic narratives from the prophetic sunnah which clearly point to the indisputable fact that music, instruments, singing to accompaniment etc. are objects prohibited by the Islamic shari'ah'.330 Only taqlid (literally, 'imitation') leads the misinformed to regard all such narrations as weak (da'if) or forged (mawdu').331

The final evidence for the prohibition on music, for al-Kanadi, is to be derived from the salaf.332 Their views reinforce the already very clear prohibition established by the Qur'an and the sunna. 333Al-Kanadi insists:

One of the attributes of sound Islamic methodology is the reference to the views and positions held by the pious predecessors of the Islamic ummah and the respectful consideration with which one approaches them.334

And if some later scholars differed from the salaf, then the former were guilty of deviation.335

We have here, then, an interpretation of a range of texts - Qur'an, hadlth and others - which aims to purify Islam of actions and speech which might give rise to sexual excitation or lewdness.336 The result is a fundamentally ascetical stance with regard to such matters which bears comparison with the ascetical tendencies which developed in other areas in the early Christian Church.337 The emphasis is on the Text, with primacy being given to the Qur'anic Text, and then a specific interpretation of that text resulting in a prohibitory ijtihad, and asceticism. Clothing that prohibition is the garb of purity or purification. That which might give rise to uncontrolled or unrestrained sexuality is to be eschewed: the fabric and control of the umma depend upon it.

Mary Douglas, in her seminal work Purity and Danger,338 noted that 'for us sacred things and places are to be protected from defilement. Holiness and impurity are at opposite poles.'339 Because music and singing, for the salafi 'cast of mind', introduced the possibility of consequent sin and defilement, they were to be eschewed, indeed prohibited, except in very clearly defined circumstances such as the unaccompanied chant (tajwid) of the Qur'an.

Our third and final case study, designed to illustrate what I will term 'the salafi paradigm of textual intent and purification', linking and interrelating text, ijtihad, purity and asceticism, lies in the field of taswir. Taswir in Arabic, according to one modern dictionary, may be translated as 'drawing, sketching; representation, portrayal, depiction; illustration; painting; photography'.340 The Islamic debate on the licitness, or otherwise, of taswir ranges widely and embraces related matters such as the use of videos and watching television.

The early Islamic ban on the representation of the human form derives specifically from the hadith literature rather than from the Qur'an.341 Oleg Grabar succinctly reminds us that, in the Qur'an 'there is nothing similar to the concise strength of Exodus 20.4: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images or any likeness of anything that is in heaven or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth".'342

It is true that only God is a musawwir, a 'fashioner', as Grabar translates, noting that the word also means 'painter'.343 Hans Wehr has the following translations for this word: former' 'shaper', 'creator', 'photographer' and 'illustrator'.344 Yusuf Ali, by contrast, prefers the (almost Neoplatonic!) 'Bestower of Forms':

He is God, the Creator [al-Khaliq]

The Evolver,

The Bestower of Forms

(Or Colours) [al-Musawwir].

To Him belong

The Most Beautiful Names.345

However, the Qur'an also portrays the jinn building tamathil for Sulayman.346 Yusuf Ali translates tamathil as 'images';347 Grabar notes the ambiguity and wide semantic range of the word, while translating as 'statues';348 A. J. Arberry's translation of the Qur'an also says 'statues';349 while finally, Wehr's Dictionary notes that timthal (pl. tamathil) also means 'a sculptural image'.350

What the Qur'an actually prohibits is the worship of idols (asnam):351

Lo! Abraham said

To his father Azar:

'Takest thou idols [asnam] for gods?

For I see thee

And thy people

In manifest error.'352

However, early Islam's major fear was the spectre of all that might contradict, or seem to contradict, the central Islamic doctrine of Allah as the sole Creator of everything ex nihilo, and the equally important doctrine of the Oneness of God (tawhid). So the hadIth literature came into its own.

Oleg Grabar gives us several examples, including this: 'Those who will be most severely punished on the Day of Judgement are the murderer of a Prophet, one who has been put to death by a Prophet, one who leads men astray without knowledge, and a maker of images or pictures'.353

What is clear from this brief analysis is the emphasis on text and the deployment of text, in this case hadIth, to support a particular attitude or chosen stance: the purity, or purification, of the doctrines of creatio ex nihilo and tawhid demanded an absolute concentration on Allah as al-Khaliq (The Creator) and al-Wahid (The One); all that might remotely or tangentially seem to infringe or dilute these central tenets of the Islamic faith was to be ruthlessly purged. An ascetical, rigid, almost Pharisaical deployment of apposite hadIth became a major adjunct to the fight against polytheism and potential polytheism.

In our own age, those who have chosen to follow what they perceive to be the example of the salaf have been similarly textual in their interpretations and legal rulings (fatawa). It is acknowledged by scholars that the subject of taswir has been a subject of controversy since the early days of Islam.354 This is because of the potential dangers, to which we have already alluded, of shirk (polytheism) and imitating God in His creative activities.355

In his book, The Islamic Ruling Concerning At-Tasweer, Abu Muhammad Abdur-Ra'uf Shakir, a New York convert to Islam in a 1975, firstly presents, in a heavily textual manner, twenty-one famous ahadIth concerning taswir and its prohibition, drawn from the most famous of the collectors of Traditions like al-BukharI and Muslim.356 This is followed by three contemporary commentaries,357 including those of the famous blind Shaykh 'Abd al-'AzIz ibn Baz (1912-99), the former Grand MuftI of Saudi Arabia;358 although the latter was known to have belonged to the HanbalI School of Islamic jurisprudence, it was insisted, in a very salafi way, that 'his legal verdicts [were] based on the evidences from Qur'an and Sunnah' for which, as a renowned jurist, traditionist (muhaddith) and scholar, he was entitled to apply his own personal ijtihad.359

Shakir's book concludes with a section clarifying and correcting what he perceives are the mistakes in the works of Shaykh Yusuf al-QaradawI,360 followed by a selection of Islamic legal rulings.361 The Appendices cover such topics as the avoidance of doubtful matters362 and 'the problem and dangers of television'.363

Shakir's conclusion, drawn from the classical hadIth literature, is that taswir, TV, photography and sculpture are prohibited by Islam.364 He does not attempt to interpret the more difficult data in the Qur'an such as those verses which concern Sulayman, the jinn and the tamathil.365 'Twisted ijtihad' is to be condemned,366 and Shakir feels free to deploy others' ijtihad which seeks to correct and overturn that of more liberal scholars like al-QaradawI, who in his writings proclaimed that some types of taswir like photography, were permitted (mubah).367 The ultimate arbiters for Shakir in matters of taswir and its prohibition must be the salaf and their sunna, except where such salaf have 'deviated'.368

To conclude: our three case studies of science, music and taswir show clearly that the purification of Islam for contemporary salafis demands, inter alia, a return to the example and teachings of the first salaf via the fourfold engine of text, ijtihad, purity and asceticism. Tradition means a return to the salaf. And any advance towards the achievement of what is perceived to be true Islam has to embrace the doctrine of Return. That Return will yield inspiration, example and foci for ijtihad.369

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Meditation For Peace

Meditation For Peace

Free Your Mind And Achieve Peace. Discover How To Live In Peace And Harmony In A World Full Of Uncertainty And Dramatically Improve Your Quality Of Life Today. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Tools For Achieving Peace And Calmness And Live A Life Of Comfort That You Deserve.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment