Tradition Purification Kenosis and Return

Modernity, then, for the contemporary salafi embraces tradition and the past; the truly modern salafi is one who is in love with the past. And, as we have stressed, the key leitmotiv which animates the spirit of the salafiyya is Return. In the light of this, it is useful to survey and analyse how the 'modernist' debate in Islam has run in general.

It is a mixed and multi-faceted picture. The following paragraphs provide snapshots. Some harmonise neatly with the underlying positions of the diverse salafi groups. Others do not. Coherence and uniformity should not - indeed, cannot - be posited of 'modernity' in Islam today.

Paradox is sometimes inherent in a given stance or movement. For example, modern Nigeria has seen the emergence of a society called the Society for the Removal of Innovation and the Reinstatement of Tradition. Its Hausa name is Yan Izala, and it is called Jama'at Izalat al-Bid'a wa Iqamat al-Sunna in Arabic. Its adherents' proclaimed intention, explicit in the name of the Society, is the extirpation of all innovations and a return to the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad.370 However, Ousame Kane has perspicaciously argued that Yan Izala has been a major force for modernity in Northern Nigeria and that its ideology, though WahhabI in orientation and infused with few attempts at positive ijtihad, has attempted to free certain 'l0wer-ranking' peoples from the classical traditions and values of the Islamic African umma.371

Politics may also be at the heart of the matter. In February 2002, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan made a blistering attack on modern Muslims. He berated their lack of enlightenment and their backwardness. The latter was due, he suggested, to the way that Muslims had involved themselves in 'fratricidal conflicts'. He perceived that the Islamic world was 'living in darkness' and that Islam 'had been left behind the developed world because [it] had not invested in education and technology'. He called for the Islamic umma to participate in an act of 'collective self-criticism'. All this, of course, roused the anger of his politico-religious 'fundamentalist' opponents, who vowed to bring him down.372

Antecedents to Musharraf's self-flagellation, and his diagnosis of modern Islam's ills, are not difficult to find. Over a century ago, Jamal al-Dln al-AfghanI (1838/91897) suggested just such a self-reevaluation. Islam could have a universal appeal once again if he, al-AfghanI, 'could show that the essence of Islam was the same as that of modern rationalism'.373

The challenges for contemporary Islam are manifest and manifold, they are, inter alia, p0litical, religious and sociological. They include the questions of exclusion or inclusion, integration or assimilation, pluralism, the role of minorities, the function and process of ijtihad, the licitness or otherwise of violence for religio-political ends and the status of women.374 Parvez Manzoor holds, presciently, that the crisis of modernity today 'is a crisis not of power but of meaning'.375 For him, the delegitimation of modernity at the level of doctrine has undoubtedly opened a new intellectual space and created a different agenda for a dialogue between modernists and others, within the civilisation of Islam as well as between Islam and the West.376

For Soumaya Ghanoushi, in the great debate about modernity and the role of ijtihad, the solutions are clear: 'Ijtihad is the source of Islam's dynamism and flexibility'.377 But fundamental questions of meaning remain: should one be talking about whether Islam and modernity are compatible, or whether certain diverse interpretations ofIslam and modernity are compatible?378 The challenge, or challenges, of modernism and modernity (as we have seen in Western Christianity during the reign of Pope Pius X (reg. 1903-14) and his anti-Modernist Encyclical Pascendi Gregis of 8 September 1907379) appeared to many to undermine the very fabric of the Islamic faith and to reject, or even destroy, centuries of accumulated wisdom, tradition and interpretation which, because they were ancient, had become canonical.

It is no accident that the Arabic word often used for 'heresy' or 'heretical dogma' is bid'a, which fundamentally means 'innovation'.380 In a sense, we hark back here to an ancient pre-Islamic paradigm where that which was customary in the tribe was right.381 Ancient custom, ancient tradition, reconstituted in Prophetic Sunna,382 abhorred innovation. The challenge, then, for modernism and modernity is that they should be perceived as part of a continuity, rather than an epistemic break of Foucault-like proportions.383 For the Roman Catholic Church under Pius X, Modernism, defined specifically as 'the synthesis of all heresies' (cumulatio omnium haeresium)384 represented a radical epistemic break with the beloved continuities inherent in the Apostolic Tradition, which was accepted as having been handed down from the earliest times. Pius X abhorred the Modernists for their 'innova-tions',385 particularly the perceived heretical doctrinal interpretations; his engines or weapons of choice were condemnation, the recommendation to study scholastic philosophy, and censorship.386 His final prescription for 'all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries' was the Anti-Modernist Oath (Sacrorum Antistitum) on 1 September 1910.387

Islam too, at various times, has abhorred the innovations implicit in aspects of modernity and modernism. Its remedy or weapon of choice, apart from condemnation, has been the deployment of ijtihad, or, as it has sometimes been termed, neo-ijtihad. This may be neatly defined in quasi-psychological terms as a 'coping mechanism' by which to face the onslaught of the complexities of the modern age. By contrast, Pius X would never have tolerated a Catholic species of ijtihad. Two particular - now classical - examples of ijtihad as legal tool and 'coping mechanism' in modern times stand out: they are briefly surveyed here by way of conclusion to this section.

The Tunisian Law of Personal Status of 1957 outlawed divorce (talaq) in any arena but a court of law, proclaiming : 'Any divorce outside a court of law is devoid of legal effect'.388 No longer could a husband simply declare three times to his wife that she was divorced for that divorce to be valid and binding. The new Tunisian legislation was based on the application of ijtihad to the following Qur'anic verse:

If ye fear a breach

Between them twain,

Appoint (two) arbiters,

One from his family,

And the other from hers;

If they wish for peace,

God will cause

Their reconciliation:

For God hath full knowledge,

And is acquainted

In reinterpreting this verse, the reformers argued that, in the mid-twentieth century, only a properly constituted court of law was competent to arbitrate in the case of potential divorce. Divorce in itself constituted a prime contemporary example of potential 'breach' between spouses.390 By this ruling, the sanctity of the sacred text of the Qur'an was upheld, since it was reinterpreted not overthrown, and yet the law was harmonised with contemporary need and reason.

The same Statute, The Tunisian Law of Personal Status of 1957, also banned polygamy, again by the judicious application of ijtihad. And again, the sacred text was respected by being reinterpreted rather than being ignored or overthrown. The relevant Qur'anic verse was the following:

If ye fear that ye shall not

Be able to deal justly

With the orphans,

Marry women of your choice,

But if ye fear that ye shall not

Be able to deal justly (with them),

Then only one, or (a captive)

That your right hands possess.

That will be more suitable,

To prevent you

From doing injustice. (Q.4:3)391

In other words, polygamy is permitted but co-wives are to be treated with absolute equality in all respects.392 The reason for the revelation (sabab al-nuzul) of the particular sura, The Sura of the Women (Surat al-Nisa'), in which this verse occurs was the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud (ad 625), a battle fought by the Prophet Muhammad with his supporting Medinans, against their opponents from Mecca, at Uhud, a hill which lay to the west of Medina. Militarily, the battle was a draw; but more than seventy Muslims were killed, resulting in many Muslim orphans and widows.393

Tunisia, however, decided that polygamy was no longer appropriate in the twentieth century and legislated accordingly, reinterpreting the above-cited 'verse of equality' as being impossible to apply in contemporary society. As Coulson notes:

It is evident from the Qur'an . that equal treatment of co-wives is a legal condition of the right of polygamy. It is equally evident that in the circumstances of present-day society such equality of treatment, to the mutual satisfaction of the spouses, is in practice impossible. And with the failure of the condition the right dependent upon it must also lapse. On this ground the [Tunisian Law of Personal Status] tersely declares: 'Polygamy is prohibited'.394

It is clear that the motor or catalyst for such forms of ijtihad was the need for change in the light of contemporary society. It is equally clear that reformers, whether of a traditionalist or 'modernist' persuasion, have always known how to use the tools of Islamic jurisprudence to implement such change and to subvert a seemingly over-rigid or fossilised judicial present. One thinks, for example, of the mediaeval deployment of legal stratagems (hiyal) by the HanafI and MalikI Schools of Law and others.395 As Coulson again notes: 'The Islamic hiyal are simply legal trickery, with the blatant purpose of circumventing an established rule of the substantive law'.396 Of course, the hiyal are not to be identified with ijtihad. They are only cited here to illustrate the fact that change is - and always was - possible in Islamic law. Reform is possible. Reform via return to tradition is also possible. I will leave the last word on the subject to the neat and wise summation of Professor David Waines:

Writing from different legal, regional perspectives and historical contexts, Ibn Rushd [1126-98] and Ibn Taymiyya [1263-1328] were both engaged in and with a developing, authoritative juristic culture; for each, the past and present formed a continuous reality that nonetheless accommodated differences and changes in emphasis and direction.397

Continuity was and is both possible and real in Islam. But, for the Salaf, the key engine or catalyst of change and reform was a return to tradition/Tradition. To extend the metaphor, the fuel which powers that engine is ijtihad.

Ijtihad has been a guiding principle of ShI'I law from the early days. 'Every Twelver believer, according to the dominant Usuli school, is required to follow the dictates of a living mujtahid.'398 In the excellent seminal work which perhaps comes closest to the comparative methodology adopted in my own volume, Bill and Williams's Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims, there are identified a number of 'striking structural similarities' between Shi'i Islam and Roman Catholicism.399 These include 'a transcendent martyr who is part of a holy family'400 (i.e. Jesus Christ and Imam al-Husayn),401 'a powerful mother figure'402 (i.e. the Virgin Mary and Sayyida Fatima),403 redemptive suffering and martyrdom together with a cult of saints/ Imams,404 a shared love of mysticism,405 and a religio-political interest406 sometimes resulting in an uneasy tension between the authoritarian head of Church/ShI'a and the authoritarian Head of State. And, of course, authority is of the essence in many of the debates of both SunnI/ShI'ite Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity. The last main chapter of Bill and Williams's volume is entitled 'Authority, Justice and the Modern Polity'.407 And, since our own work is as much concerned with Sunnism as it is with Shl'ism, it is this chapter which is perhaps most relevant to much of what has been said above.

This is not to say that many of the other 'striking structural similarities' identified between Shl'a Islam and Roman Catholicism do not exist between SunnI Islam and Roman Catholicism as well. They clearly do, especially in such areas as mysticism and religio-political interests. However, what I want to stress here is the mutual emphasis on authority and authoritarian figures in SunnI and Shl'ite Islam on the one hand, and in Christianity on the other, whether in the form of caliphs, imams, ayatullahs, bishops or popes. It is salutary to consider that at least one author believes that 'Humanae Vitae [Pope Paul VI's Encyclical against artificial forms of birth control] is about authority', not sex.408

The other principal area of shared debate, apart from authority and authenticity, is that of umma and community: this is a dominant theme in both Islam and Christianity. Indeed, Bill and Williams insist that 'in Catholic piety, the church and the community of the faithful are equivalent to the Islamic umma'.409

This volume has been written from a comparative perspective although it is not intended to be a mere exercise in comparative religion despite the powerful element of that methodology in what has gone before. It has attempted to make connections by means of the triple sieve of object, sign and the sacred. A dominant leitmotiv has been that of tradition and sometimes 'traditionalism'. The distinction between the two is acknowledged here,410 although the two have sometimes been conflated above and treated as one where the case seemed to warrant it.

To use an antique terminology, is Islam an orthodoxy or an orthopraxy?411 Islamic theology insists that it is both, although we may, for both times past as well as the present, wish to speak loosely of several 'orthodoxies' and several 'orthopraxies'. As we shall suggest shortly, these antique vocabularies are not necessarily helpful, and new terminologies may be more appropriate to the twenty-first century.

To reiterate, Islam is not a 'protestant' religion of justification by faith alone. In Q.57:7, for example, the believer is urged to believe in God and in God's Prophet Muhammad, and to be charitable. The Five pillars of Islam incorporate belief (shahada) and charity (zakat).412 The following short hadIth drawn from the corpus of al-NawawI neatly illustrates the intimate relation between faith and deed:

Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbour, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest.413

However, those Islamic deeds are diverse, diffuse and multifarious in their political, cultural and social articulation. The old vocabularies of 'orthodoxy' and 'heterodoxy', implying as they do a fundamental monolithic perspective from which all else proceeds, and by which all divergence may be measured, are no longer appropriate. We have suggested earlier that new vocabularies may be deployed by which to clothe and articulate the sacred in twenty-first-century Islam.

From all that has preceded in this volume, we suggest by way of conclusion that there are four fundamental paradigms to be derived from our material. The derivation of these paradigms is not intended to be an artificial exercise in the creation of models for their own methodological sake. A paradigm should illuminate and extend the material from which it is formed. It is hoped that the following four will do just that.

Paradigm One may be termed the Neo-cycle of Tradition. This is a basic attempt to 'reclothe' or even 're-invent' a community - in the case of Islam, the umma - in a more 'traditional' or 'traditionalist' guise in order to access the fundamentally sacred. The process may be viewed in some ways as a species of classical Ibn Khaldunesque circle.414 There is a prophetic grounding (Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad) which yields an oral and written tradition/Tradition. This, in turn, with the passing of the years, is given a liberal/modern/Modernist slant or tafsir, after which an animated reaction emerges: there is an attempt to return to that early tradition/Tradition, to the salaf in the case of Islam, to the days before the Second Vatican Council in the case of traditionalist Catholicism. On the one hand, the fruits of modernity are perceived as pernicious and thus denied; on the other hand, modernity is embraced by reinterpreting it, or reclothing it, as tradition/Tradition. Thus is the 'antique sacred' accessed and reasserted for a modern age.

It is not for one moment suggested, of course, that all Muslims, or all Roman Catholics for that matter, adopt this paradigm of prophetic grounding > written and oral tradition > liberalism/Modernism > Return to the Salaf. This volume attempts to trace only one tendency among several.

Paradigm Two is the Paradigm of Purification. Mary Douglas has well articulated the links between purity, purification, ritual and religion:415 'Sacred things and places are to be protected from defilement. Holiness and impurity are at opposite poles.'416

We noted earlier the emphasis by the '9/11' suicide bombers on ritual purity. And this emphasis on ritual, religious and, indeed, intellectual purity has been articulated down the ages by groups as diverse as orthodox Jews, Sadducees, Manichees, Cathars,417 Jansenists,418 Wahhàbïs, Salafîs and Lefebvrists. For many, a departure from the tradition/Tradition(s) of the Fathers or the ancestors was a pollution or, to use the Islamic term, an innovation (bid'a). The required remedy was the purificatory 'fire' of a Return: a return to the tradition of the salaf for Muslims, a return to the pre-Vatican age for Lefebvrists. The paradigm then, simply expressed was Purification > Tradition > Neo-Catharoi of Islam and Christianity. And that purification could operate, in the most extreme cases as we have seen, usque ad mortem in the ritual suicide bombings of '9/11', in contemporary Palestine and elsewhere.

Our Paradigm Three is the Paradigm of Kénosis, the Greek word for 'emptying'. Many of the attempts to access the truly sacred have been via the route of a return to tradition and the consequent 'emptying' of all that is perceived as 'modern' or 'liberal' in faith, society, custom and ritual. This is as true of the Lefebvrists as it is of the contemporary Islamic salafis of diverse orientations. The apparently monolithic orthopraxies of a bygone age, especially where liturgy is involved, have had an insidious appeal and beckoned the anti-modernists/Modernists of all faiths with a siren lure. This is akin to the exclusivist paradigm beloved of historians of religious plurality. Its opposite, of course, is the inclusivist paradigm which prefers to stress not orthodoxies or orthopraxies but rather the diversity and at least partial truth to be found in all forms of sacrovalence (sacred worth), sacrolexis (sacred reading, lectio divina) and sacropraxis (sacred practice).419

Finally, there is our Paradigm Four, the Paradigm of Return. This embraces many elements of the three paradigms which we have already derived and identified. In fact, it would be true to say that there are many Paradigms of Return. They range from the Plotinian doctrine of Neoplatonic emanation, in which the Soul yearns to return to the One420 through the Qur'anic acknowledgement that we all come from God and must ultimately return to Him,421 to the contemporary Salafi/Lefeb-vrist paradigm of God > Prophet > Tradition > Infidelity/Modernism > Reform via Return > Tradition > Sacred > God > Final Judgement.

On this sublime paradigmatic journey, numerous questions and some ironies arise: for example, the salafi Muslim will embrace ijtihad wholeheartedly; the Lefeb-vrist Christian will reject its Christian equivalent if that equivalent represents an unrestrained reinterpretation of doctrine or morals. Return for the Lefebvrist means a return to an ancient interpretation; return for the salafi can mean a redeployment or reinterpretation of an ancient norm or sunna suitable to the modern age. The Tunisian Law of Personal Status provides a distinguished example.

Both Muslim and Christian fundamentalists have, at various times, attempted to grasp the sacred by diverse routes which have sometimes disregarded the roles of historical and contemporary context. This volume has explored and analysed the quest for the sacred via the path of tradition/Tradition in two of the world's major religions, focusing mainly on Salafi Islam but also using Roman Catholic Lefeb-vrist Christianity as a prime point of comparison. Both Salafis and Lefebvrists have clothed the objects of their worship and liturgy with the vocabulary of rectitude - orthodoxy, orthopraxy - rather than the vocabulary of the sacred - sacrovalence, sacrolexis, sacropraxis - proposed above. In so doing, they have sometimes risked obscuring the very signs of the sacred, which their traditionalism was designed to guard and reveal, behind a veil of controversy.

The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, promulgated on 28 October 1965, solemnly proclaimed that nothing that was true and holy in the world's religions was to be rejected.422 While Nostra Aetate did not seek to conceal its Roman Catholic view of what it believed to be the 'right' doctrinal path - its own sirat al-mustaqim, to use the Arabic terminology - it was at pains to stress the existence of the sacred in all religion as well as the concept of one human community.423 This is, of course, a concept with considerable resonance for Islam, overlapping and embracing as it does the Muslim notion of umma.

Tradition, and return to tradition/Tradition, may be one route to the Sacred, but it is not the only one. For both Islam and Christianity, the Sacred may be achieved by community, umma. Notions of community may transform that which is merely profane; and, as Eliade has shown us, we may define the sacred in one way as 'the opposite of the profane'.424

This volume has examined the idea of Islam and the Traditional Imagination, using the triple lens of object, sign and the sacred as a sieve whereby to achieve greater clarity in our analysis. It has derived and identified four distinct, but interrelated, paradigms from the evidence deployed in the Islamic and Christian texts and materials which we have studied. Behind all, indeed, veiled from all, lies the Shadow of the Divine Sacred in both Islam and Christianity.

This volume has surveyed what Eliade terms the hierophany, or act of manifestation, of the Sacred.425 The Qur'an notes: 'We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves'.426 This single verse embraces phenomena (horizons, themselves), semiotics (signs) and, above all, The Sacred (We, Our = Allah). It also underpins the entire Tradition of Islam; and, in this way, the traditional textuality of Islam uncovers a direct route to the Sacred and the Divine.

For the believer of any faith, man lives 'in a sacralized cosmos'.427 The traditions/ Traditions whereby that sacralised cosmos is imperfectly articulated and realised may lead to the Sacred. They are not necessarily coterminous with that Sacred in either Islam or Christianity.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Power of Meditation

The Power of Meditation

Want to live a stress-free, abundant life? Discover The Power of Meditation And How It Can Work For You To Increase Your Success In Your Personal And Work Life. Use These Steps To Practice Meditation In Your Life And Business.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment