Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed in this and all my blog entries are my own personal views and not representative of Ashoka, ADEW or any organisation with which I am affiliated.
How many of us read the Quran with the intention of understanding it and without relying on one interpretation only? How many understand that Ijtihad is not a crime and that it was banned by rulers and not by the Prophet (PBUH) or by God? How many researched and read the teachings of Ibn Rushd and others who survived before him, before the ban of Ijtihad and prior to the selection of the writing of only a few thinkers who helped rulers control and subjugate their people?
How many Muslims did not learn about their religion from self appointed satellite sheikhs, or petro dollars sheikhs sent to spread the same beliefs that control the mind and teach the people not to think for themselves, lest they rebel against their rulers? How many of us questioned the status of these so called Ulemah and thinkers, and viewed them as equal human beings, capable of serving certain interests and no better than us in the eyes of God? Who gave them the exclusive right to interpret the Qur’án and to say that their interpretation is better than ours?
If the Prophet (PBUH) wanted to be rigid and inflexible about Qur’ánic meanings created for all eternity and if he did not trust his own community of believers regardless of their status, he could have easily given us a blue print interpretation of our holy text. Would anyone claim that he was not capable of that, so there would be no need for these debates? But he chose to teach by action and he trusted that the message of Islam was so true and strong that we would use the brains that God gave us to interpret it for ourselves. He also wanted his people to be learned and educated and thus he insisted that we should not have a clergy between us and our God and that we could understand and apply our religion to our lives at different periods of history, depending on the context. He had confidence and trust in the message and in his people – two things that we lack now.
Why has no one asked himself why the Prophet (PBUH) did not provide the one and only interpretation of the Qur’án? Surely it’s because Islam was for all eternity and has elements that suit every age. And Islam is a religion that understood and welcomed this, a religion that respected and promoted education and progress. It was not defined according to one rigid way of thinking but according to the changes of the world.
We should all know that Islamic metaphysics and philosophy is divided into three parts. The first part consists of basic doctrines, such as Divine Unity, Prophethood, Resurrection etc. The second part is related to the acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, ablution, ritual cleaning, pilgrimage etc. The third part consists of the laws concerning the lives of the people.
According to the Prophet, only the first two parts are integral to our religion, and something to be preserved for ever. As far as the third part is concerned, it is not an integral part of religion, for religion is not concerned with the daily ways of life of the people. The Holy Prophet himself did not proscribe these laws as a part of religion, for they were not related to his mission as a Messenger. It was only by chance that, as the Head of the State, he had to give some laws also. Otherwise, religion has nothing to do with the worldly life of the people. It is hard to believe that so many people living in a Muslim country should be so ignorant of the precepts of Islam.
We must also be more analytical. Islam was not intended only for the Bedouins of Saudi Arabia. It was not only for the climate of the desert, but for the Equator and the north and south pole. There is no way that Islam was only made for people adhering to only one form of dress or food. So many traditions that people commonly believe are integral to Islam have more to do with cultural contexts within countries than with our religion. A short galabaya might have been alright for the dry and hot weather of Saudi Arabia but not necessarily for a country like Egypt, with its variable weather and pollution, or Lebanon, or China or Paris. For Islam was sent for all people, wasn’t it?