Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'll take the spirit of Jalal al-Din Rumi .....over the Tafsir al-Jalalayn !!!

"Seek God in self-abasement and self-extinction,
for nothing but forms is produced by thinking.
And if you derive no comfort except from form,
then the form that comes to birth within you involuntarily is best.
Suppose it is the form of a city to which you are going:
you are drawn there by a formless feeling of pleasure,
O dependent one;
therefore, you are really going to that which has no location,
for pleasure is something different from time and place.
Suppose it is the form of a friend to whom you would go:
you are going for the sake of enjoying his company;
therefore, in reality you go to the formless world,
though you are unaware of that being the object of your journey.
In truth, then, God is worshiped by all,
since all wayfaring is for the sake of the pleasure
of which He is the source."
Mathnawi VI: 3749-3755 Version by Camille and Kabir Helminski"Rumi:
Jewels of Remembrance"Threshold Books, 1996

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tafsir al-Jalalayn on Sura 1:7

I just received my copy of the English version of the Tafsir al-Jalalayn translated by Feras Hamza, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Dubai, for the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. To my surprise and dismay, this 15th century commentary on al-Fatiha, which is considered to be one of the most popular tafsirs in the Islamic world, perhaps even the most popular tafsir, foreshadows the commentaries made by others in the present era such as those I have referenced on July 4. 2007 which resort to pointing fingers at our brothers and sisters in the Abrahamic faith traditions. As a Muslim in the post-modern era, I am truly disappointed that the two renowned Jalals (al-Jalalayn) - the Egyptian Shafi'i-madhab scholar Jalal al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Mahalli (d. 1459 CE) and also his Egyptian student, the famous alim and polymath, Jalal al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Bakr al-Suyuti (d. 1505 CE) - had such a limited conception of al-Fatiha. I am even more concerned that their commentary is considered one amongst the 'unofficial Sunni canon of tafsir." According to the general editor of this beautiful and long awaited publication, HRH Prince Dr. Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, Professor of Islamic Philosophy, Jordan University, it is the one tafsir that is available "in almost every bookshop and library in the Arab and Islamic world, in dozen of different editions, and it sits, well-loved and respected, in countless homes, schools and mosques all over the world." It is no wonder then that there is so much division in the Abrahamic family if we as Muslims continue to perpetuate these obsolete notions from the orthodox Classical tafsir. Here is how their commentary on Sura 1:7 is translated:

"(1:7) the path of those whom you have favoured, with guidance, (from alladhina together with its relative clause is substituted by ghayri l-maghdubi 'alayhim) not (the path) of those against whom there is wrath, namely, the Jews, and nor of those who are astray, namely, the Christians. The subtle meaning implied by this substitution is that the guided ones are neither the Jews nor the Christians. But God knows best what is right, and to Him is the Return and the (final) resort. May God bless our Lord Muhammad (s), his Family and Companions and grant them everlasting peace. Sufficient is God for us; an excellent Guardian is He. There is no power and no strength save in God, the High, the Tremendous " (2007, p. 1).

~ Excerpted from "Tafsir al-Jalalayn - Great Commentaries of the Holy Qur'an" translated by Feras Hamza for the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. Dr. Feras Hamza obtained his doctorate from Oxford University (Wolfson College) and was former Research Associate in Qur'anic Studies at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Those who have gone astray...

As a student of Depth Psychology, I find myself asking questions on the nature of evil and wonder how to explain the impulses, motivations, misinterpretations, limiting ethnocentric beliefs and misconduct of "those who have gone astray." (1:7) Surely an Islamic Humanistic approach to our human condition cannot afford to avoid this question. Is it really enough to pray that we be guided on the Straight Path without having some compassion and understanding for those who have found themselves on the Stray Path, the shadow of the Straight Path? Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a South African Clinical Psychologist attempts such an empathic inquiry in a book which came highly recommended by a South African colleague in the mental health field, Amanda Pyper (Thanks Amanda!) : "A Human Being Died That Night" which is based on her work while serving on the Human Rights Violations Committee of South Africa's great national experiment in healing, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

From a Depth Psychological perspective, there is also much to be said about the role of the archetype of Evil or the "whisperers of evil" as they are described in the Holy Qur'an. There is also the notion that the wider society has the responsibility as a collective, through its forms and symbols, such as the Shari'a to promote Jihad as a process of self-refinement or self-cultivation as well as economic and social justice as a result of an enlightened ethos, and to vigorously discourage the Jihad of violence and aggression as a result of oppression and repression of the feminine.

Be that as it may, here are some excerpts of what the author surmises in her chapter on the "Evolution of Evil:"

"In my research and professional practice, I have time and again come across two fundamental positions - partly philosophical, partly empirical - regarding the nature and evolution of violence and personal evil. The first view holds that certain individuals are predisposed toward becoming evil as a result of early childhood experiences of violence that made them suffer shame and humiliation, leaving them with unresolved anger. According to this view, the dynamics of evil that evolve from childhood psychological history often explain the roots of revenge, where anger and hatred resulting from the trauma suffered in the past are carried inside until the feelings of aggression can be enacted toward another in what becomes the individual's moment to reclaim the "honor" lost during the shaming experience. "(2003, p. 55)

"The second view on the issue maintains that evildoing is not the result of a predisposition, since most who have suffered unspeakable trauma do not turn out to be monsters. On this again partly philosophical, partly empirical view, people have free choice. The sovereignty of the heart is essentially inviolable. And though the decision to pursue what is right may on occasion be horrendously difficult, not only can people choose not to commit evil, but also they can make the kinds of choices that later on make it easier to avoid committing evil.
My own position is that the issue is more complex than either of these two stances suggests. Those who have been traumatized are vulnerable to falling into a mode of psychological repetition of the aggression they suffered. Whether individuals turn out this way or that depends on a complicated set of factors, one being whether they are "violently coached," another whether they are exposed to positive experiences that can help mend the humiliation they suffered and restore their sense of identity. Those who turn out to be violent are more likely to have had direct or indirect encouragement to be violent." (2003, pp. 56-57).
~Excerpted from "A Human Being Died That Night - A South African Woman Confronts The Legacy of Apartheid" by Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela who received her doctoral degree from Harvard University.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The search is the Straight Path

Khalid Abou El Fadl, author of a seemingly more scholarly text than "The Great Theft" (which has no index), "Speaking in God's Name" makes the connection between the Straight Path and the search for knowledge of the Divine Will. This, he argues, is the underlying ethos of the Shari'ah:

" Islam's central organizational document, the Qur'an, does not clearly resolve the issue of authority in Islam. There is no question that the Qur'an regards itself and regards God as authoritative on most matters, but the Qur'an does clearly explicate the dynamics of the interrelation ship and appropriate balance between God, text, the collectivity, and the individual. Admittedly, this is not the way that Muslim jurists understood the Qur'anic discourses. They argued that the Qur'an does in fact delineate the proper dynamics of authority. They contended that there is no question that accountability and liability in the Hereafter is personal and individual, and that the individual is personally responsible for ascertaining and implementing God's law. Gos' law represents the abstract notion of God's Will, but the nature and purpose of this Will, as will be seen later, is subject to debate. The individual's pursuit and implementation of the Divine Will is a manifestation of a person's submission to God. God's law as an abstraction is called the Shari'ah (literally, the way), while the concrete understanding and implementation of this Willis called fiqh (literally, the understanding). The Shari'ah is God's Will in an ideal and abstract fashion, but the fiqh is the product of the human attempt to understand God's Will. In this sense, the Shari'ah is always fair, just and equitable, but the fiqh is only an attempt at reaching the ideals and purposes of Shari'ah (maqasid al-Shari'ah). According to the jurists, the purpose of Shari'ah is to achieve the welfare of the people (tahqiq masalih al-'ibad), and the purpose of fiqh is to understand and implement the Shari'ah.

The conceptual distinction between Shari'ah and fiqh was the product of a recognition of the inevitable failures of human efforts at understanding the purposes or intentions of God. Human beings, the jurists insisted, simply do not possess the ability to encompass the wisdom of God. Consequently, every understanding or implementation of God's Will is necessarily imperfect because,as the dogma went, perfection belongs only to God. Muslim jurists had a particularly humble way of acknowledging this assertion. They would often write at the conclusion of their legal discussions the phrase, "And, God knows best" (wa Allahu a'lam). Symbolically, this meant that while the jurist was submitting his or her efforts for consideration, ultimately, only God knows what is right and wrong. This invocation was much more than a rhetorical device - it was an articulation of the very epistemological foundation of Islamic law. It ultimately justified the practice of juristic diversity and the culture of juristic disputations. In fact, the Islamic juristic tradition is replete with similar statements expressing the same epistemological idea. For instance, Muslim jurists repeatedly cited the traditions attributed to the Prophet stating, "Every mujtahid (jurist who strives to find the correct answer) is correct" or "Every mujtahid will be (justly) rewarded."

Every adult Muslim, man or woman, is obligated to understand and implement the Shari'ah. Accountability is personal and individual, and no single person or institution may or can represent the Divine Will. Hence the individual is directly responsible for seeking and learning the way of God - the Shari'ah. In this context, Muslim jurists would often quote the tradition attributed to the Prophet stating that, "Seeking knowledge (talab al-ilm) is a mandatory obligation upon every Muslim." Importantly, although Muslim jurists did not explicitly contend that the "knowledge" addressed in this tradition is exclusive to religious knowledge (ilm al-din), they did argue that the effort to attain knowledge of the Divine Will is superior to any other form of learning. The mark of the search for the Divine Will is the dalil (pl. adillah). A dalil is the indicator, pointer, mark or evidence of the Divine Will. God, for the purpose of edification, and in order to test human beings, and as a sign of His mercy and compassion, demanded that human beings exert an effort in seeking the evidence of His Will (badhl al-juhd fi talab al-dalil or talab al-ilm). God, the jurists argued, placed indicators (adillah) pointing toward God's Way. God placed these indicators specifically so that human beings will engage them in an (al-sirat al-mustaqim). The purpose of the search, however, is not simply to locate the Path, but is the very act of engagement, and the very involvement with the Will of God. A large number of jurists even argued that the reason for the search is the search, and not necessarily to locate the Straight Path at all. In other words, the search is the Straight Path." (2001, pp. 32-33).

~ Excerpted from "Speaking in God's Name - Islamic Law, Authority and Women" by Dr. Khalil Abou El Fadl.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shari'a as symbol to the Divine path

What's fascinating to me as a Depth Psychologist is the notion of Shari'a as a symbol. Khaled Abou El Fadl identifies Shari'a as a symbol of Muslim unity despite the diversity of the Shari'a itself. The notion that a legal exegesis of Siratal Mustaqim is a symbol of this unity is intriguing and appealing, whether one accepts the Shari'a as relevant to contemporary life or not. Clearly even the Turkish Muslims today are questioning the validity of the Shari'a within the context of the pluralistic attitude and ethos needed for Turkey to join the European Union. El Fadl offers this perspective in his book, "The Great Theft:"

" The Shari'a - as a symbol to the Divine path and as the representative of the collective effort of Muslims at understanding what God wants from human beings - functioned like the symbolic glue that held the diverse Muslim nation together, despite its many different ethnicities, nationalities, and political entities. Shari'a became a symbol of unity and commonality for Muslims around the world, and the jurists were the Shari'a guardians and protectors. Throughout the classical period, the Islamic Empire became divided into many principalities and kingdoms ruled by different emirs, sultans, or caliphs that at times were in military conflict with each other. But the Shari'a remained the transcendent symbol of unity, and the jurists, as its articulators and protectors, stayed above the petty political and military conflicts and struggles for power. As such, the jurists, although belonging to a variety of schools of thought, provided the quintessential source of religious authority in the Muslim world.

This whole complex edifice that supplied religious authority in Islam started to crumble with the entry of Western colonialism in the eighteenth century. Domestic elements not related to colonialism, such as inefficient taxation systems and poorly organized militaries, had already started the process of deterioration well before the eighteenth century, but those elements would likely have self-corrected had it not been for the sharp blow that colonialism dealt to the institutions of Shari'a after repeated military defeats of Ottoman and other Muslim forces across the Islamic world. Slowly but surely, the jurists lost their privileged position in society; and with the deterioration in their status, the place of Shari'a in Muslim society was seriously compromised as well."

~Excerpted from "The Great Theft - Wrestling Islam from the Extremists," by UCLA professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. (2005, pp. 34-35).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Legal exegesis of Siratal Mustaqim as Symbol

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, author of "The Great Theft" is an accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar. He is a professor at the UCLA School of Law, where he teaches Islamic Law, human rights law, and international and national security law. He identifies the central place of Shari'a as a symbol of the relationship with the Divine for the vast majority of Muslims of both Sunni and Shi'i persuasions:

"The role played in Islam by self-proclaimed experts is partly explained by the paradoxical nature of Shari'a itself. As noted earlier, Shari'a is, on the one hand, the sum total of technical legal methodologies, precedents, and decisions; it is also, on the other hand, a powerful symbol of the Islamic identity. For the trained jurist, Shari'a is a legal system full of complex processes and technical jargon, but for the average Muslim, Shari'a is a symbol for Islamic authenticity and legitimacy. Throughout Islamic history, the layperson (who in all likelihood knew very little of the technicalities of Shari'a) revered Shari'a as a sacred bridge to the Almighty God. For example, in a well-known passage, the famous Muslim jurist Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350-1) conveys a sense of the reverence and adoration with which the Shari'a was held in Islamic history. He states:

The Shari'a is God's justice among His servants, and His mercy among his creatures. It is God's shadow on this earth. It is His wisdom which leads to Him in the most exact way and the most exact affirmation of the truthfulness of His Prophet. It is His light which enlightens the seekers and His guidance for the rightly guided. It is the absolute cure for all ills and the straight path which if followed will lead to righteousness....It is life and nutrition, the medicine, the light, the cure and the safeguard. Every good in this life is derived from it and achieved through it, and every deficiency in existence results from its dissipation. If it had not been for the fact that some of its rules remain (in this world,) this world would become corrupted and the universe would be dissipated....If God would wish to destroy the world and dissolve existence, He would void whatever remains of its injunctions. For the Shari'a which was sent to His the pillar of existence and the key to success in this world and the Hereafter.

In this passage, Ibn al-Qayyim is speaking of Shari'a not as a technical legal system, but as a symbol, which despite its remarkable diversity and pluralism represents the unified Muslim identity. Because of Shari'a's symbolic role and its ability to appeal to and mobilize popular Muslim sentiment, activists and the leaders of puritan movements have found it necessary to exploit Shari'a in order to win significant popular support." (2005, pp. 39-40)

~Excerpted from "The Great Theft - Wrestling Islam from the Extremists," by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sharia and its psychological consequences

Building on my post on Sharia as a legal hermeneutic of Siratal Mustaqim, I have been thinking about how the development of Sharia over the first two centuries of the explosion of Islam on the world's scene can impact contemporary Muslims in the post-modern secular age. Dr. Shabbir Akhtar's book "The Quran and the Secular Mind" addresses this issue forthrightly and highlights many of the psychological consequences:

"In traditional cultures, especially rural ones, people rarely chose anything since they were rarely confused and uncertain, despite the precarious dependence on nature for food and survival. The range of choice was narrowed down by religion which supplied certainties in areas which, if left to individual regulation, would defy simplification. Not only rites of passage (such as marriage) but all one's life was arranged, pre-arranged, and sometimes well-arranged. The same religious conviction which dictated life choices also consoled victims who had to suffer stoically for a whole life-time for choices wrongly made. Even tragedy and suffering here did not derive their character from the inherent uncertainty of choice but rather from the intensity of what one must suffer.

Life is complicated but religious conviction convincingly simplifies it. A guide, such as a pastor or sheikh, apparently has correct answers to the universal complications of life, identity and relationships and is therefore admired as an expert in the art of living well. Like sages and shamans, religious experts are thought to know the correct solution to every moral dilemma and they speak with seductive clarity and certainty. This was once the province of the philosopher. Modern secularized culture has lost faith in saints,sages and philosophers - though not in heroes, a type that pre-dates the rise of organized religion and outlives its demise.

'Wisdom' sounds pretentious to us; we replace it with psychologically prestigious words such as 'maturity' and 'healthy normality'. Many in secular society replace the authoritative guidance of the religious expert with the expertise of the fallible but learned doctor, the attorney, the car mechanic, the social worker and so on. But the delegation of responsibility and authority is present even in free secular cultures; the existentialists, particularly Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre, were outraged by our modern preference for abdicating our freedom and the burden of responsibility it inevitably brings. They accused us of preferring to live in indolence and bourgeois prudence rather than in the intensity and heat of risky passion.

The range of unregulated, potentially free, conduct is much greater in modern western and western-influenced cultures than in Muslim countries. The tradition-directed Muslim, unlike the inner-directed westerner, feels little need for making private decisions. For Muslims, sacred law (shari'ah; Q: 45:18) regulates in detail all behaviour. Revealingly, all schools of Islamic law are medieval canons formulated between the middle of the eighth Christian (second Islamic) to the middle of the ninth (Christian) centuries. While piecemeal changes were made in these closed legislative canons, no one updated them systematically to accommodate the cataclysmic changes caused by western colonization of the non-western world. Only family law remained, with one exception, unaltered by colonial penetration of the Islamic world.

Through informal and undeclared social pressure and the explicit power of the law, traditional cultures dictate a blind conformity to inherited norms. This restricts freedom while reducing the amount of undue social awkwardness or confusion. Paternalistic legislation regulates conduct on the principle that the citizens are like children and know only their wishes, not their best interests. Both religious and secular ritual ensures that we have ready-made answers and postures for life's complexities, a socially healthy state of affairs since few people are poets capable of penning original lines of condolence or congratulation. So long as religious ritual does not deteriorate into a lifeless and hypocritically formal pose, it facilitates social intercourse.

If Muslims become free of religious structures, what are they free to be or to do? From a religious perspective, there are liabilities in having freedom. For example, free inquiry need not lead eventually to the adoption of religious orthodoxy. Only foolishly optimistic religious professionals would patiently wait for the intellectual curious youth of their community to finally return to the fold after a subversive university education, not to mention the whip and lash of life's less intellectual changes of fortune. Modern liberal philosophy of education is founded on a respect for the autonomy and intrinsic worth of the unended intellectual quest rather than on a persistent defence of a dogmatic creed known beforehand with authoritative conviction. Dogma, concludes the liberal pedagogue, is a worse enemy of truth than mere falsehood.

In a free society with free inquiry, we cannot avoid apostasy from the faithful community. Some will reject the faith of their forefathers and convert to a rival and novel interpretation of life and its mysteries. After experiencing sceptical encounters, believers might sense a weakening in their religious commitment. If capable of thinking reflectively, they might become self-conscious of their faith and experience it as mere faith: a commitment that surpasses the limits of rationally established certainty and thus requires the supra-rational leap of faith. From here, it is a short step to total disbelief since certain liberties of thought tend inevitably towards agnosticism and atheism.

In the aftermath of freedoms of belief and action, we expect dissension in the household of faith. Modern secular societies enable us to study the world's faiths and ideologies; sincere seekers may therefore systematically scrutinize many options and decide to desert their communities of birth. A religiously free society must legalize desertion from the Islamic community too since some Muslims are Muslims only by chance, not by choice. Individual verses of the Quran, if we adopt a verso-centric and atomistic perspective on the book, support individual choice (Q:2:256). The Quran discourages this approach and accuses Muslims and earlier communities of being selective in their use of scripture (Q:2:85; 15:90-1). Islamic law, relying additionally on the Prophetic traditions, the learned community's collective opinion, and analogical reasoning, does not permit the conscience of the individual to over-ride the consensus of the community. Apostasy is punishable by death; and the community is infallible. In a Prophetic report with a fairly strong chain of transmission, Muhammad said: 'God will not permit my community to agree to an error'. The individual believer, however, is neither exempt nor secure from error."

~ Excerpted from "The Quran and the Secular Mind - a Philosophy of Islam" by Dr. Shabbir Akhtar, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. (2008, pp. 54-56).