I subscribe to Dr. Muzaffar’s views and have taken up the initiative to bring about a new dimension in our understanding of Islam in the context of the ever universalizing world. A few abstracts followed by the interview. Mike Ghouse
"The fixation of many Muslims with fiqh, with the externalities of religion in terms of rituals or with Arabic linguistic terms and culture, completely negates what I regard as Islam’s inherent universality."
Sadly, this project has not gone very far, although in the recent past people like Abul Kalam Azad and Iqbal in India, and Malik Bennabi in North Africa, did argue along these lines, even though they may not have termed this as ijtihad as such, perhaps because,
Given the traditionalist ulema’s understanding of what qualifies a person to be called a mujtahid, these people (Abul Kalam Azad, Iqbal, Malik Bennabi) would have been automatically disqualified by them.
We have also tried to promote intra-Muslim dialogue, between progressive Islamic scholars and the traditional, or ‘orthodox’, groups, but here, too, we have failed. One reason for this is that the latter are simply not open to dialogue with the former, whom they consider as having deviated from what they regard as true Islam.
Chandra Muzaffar on Pluralism & Ijtihad
By Yogi Sikand.
Chandra Muzaffar is Malaysia’s best-known public intellectual. He has written widely on questions related to Islam, inter-faith relations and liberation theology, issues that he discusses in this interview with Yoginder Sikand.
Q: Much of your writing focuses on a critique of capitalism and consumerism, or what you very aptly term as ‘moneytheism’, which you contrast with the monotheism of Islam. How do you see Muslim scholars dealing with these issues?
A: Unfortunately, what is in some circles called ‘Islamic Economics’ has not sufficiently critiqued capitalism and the consumerist ethos. In fact, many of those associated with the ‘Islamic Economics’ project have simply tried to apply a so-called ‘Islamic’ gloss on capitalism. If at all those associated with the ‘Islamic Economics’ project critique consumerism, which is such a deeply-rooted phenomenon globally, including in predominantly Muslim countries, it is only at a very general level, in the form of statements to the effect that it is incompatible with Islam, or appeals for balance, restraint and moderation. But this does not go along with any rigorous analysis of economic structures that generate consumerism in the first place. I don’t know of any well-known writers associated with the ‘Islamic Economics’ project who have done this in a sufficient manner. Rather, their focus tends to be more on the technical aspects, such as the ban on interest, interest-free banking and discussions about disallowing the production of things considered to be haraam.
I think one reason why these scholars have not sufficiently critiqued consumerism and capitalism is that they tend not to discuss issues that are not already written about in the fiqh tradition. Then, the references in the Quran that could be interpreted as condemning consumerism are of a general sort, and are not, in most cases, specific, and so these scholars have not gone beyond these generalities. Further, many of these scholars lack sufficient sensitivity to class issues, and so their project ultimately tends to work in favour of the powers that be, the ruling classes, their formulations being easily co-opted into the existing capitalist framework. A good instance of this is what are fashionably called ‘Islamic banks’.
Q: Another major concern in your writings relates to the concept of ijtihad, which you use to argue the case for reformulating traditional Muslim understandings on a host of issues. How do you envisage ijtihad in relation to vital issues of contemporary import, such as gender relations or relations between Muslims and others?
A: Generally, ijtihad, if at all it is discussed by Muslim scholars, is in the context of the nitty-gritty of fiqh formulations, but, personally, I think it should also apply to a whole range of other issues, including our world-views, the way we understand our religion and its relation to other faiths, inter-faith relations, issues of gender, and so on. Sadly, this project has not gone very far, although in the recent past people like Abul Kalam Azad and Iqbal in India, and Malik Bennabi in North Africa, did argue along these lines, even though they may not have termed this as ijtihad as such, perhaps because, given the traditionalist ulema’s understanding of what qualifies a person to be called a mujtahid, these people would have been automatically disqualified by them.
Q: A major issue that ‘progressive’ and ‘modernist’ Muslim scholars are today focusing on is the need to go beyond traditional fiqh formulations, and, indeed, the very tendency to understand every issue in terms of the fiqh tradition. How do you relate to this?
A: Personally, I feel that we need to emancipate ourselves from the traditional fiqh methodology. The moment you view something from the traditional fiqh point of view, or look at it as a ‘Muslim’ issue, rather than one of universal human significance, you limit your own understanding, transforming it into something narrowly communal, which, as a Muslim, I see as going against the fundamental universality of Islam. The fixation of many Muslims with fiqh, with the externalities of religion in terms of rituals or with Arabic linguistic terms and culture, completely negates what I regard as Islam’s inherent universality.
Frankly, I am increasingly despondent about the marked tendency to see and interpret things from a narrow ‘Muslim’ or so-called ‘Islamic’ point of view, and this applies to new fads such as ‘Islamic Economics’ or ‘Islamic food’ or whatever. If one is looking for solutions to problems through traditional understandings of religion—any religion for that matter—at the end of the day, if one’s mindset is not universal, the quest is utterly futile. I think one of the most basic tasks before us today is to evolve universal understandings of spirituality that go beyond, and transcend, religion and communal barriers, as traditionally conceived. Sadly, we are in a situation where religion, in the sense of labels, language, dogmas and rituals, seems to be of more practical importance than God. That is to say, even if we may not recognize it, we worship our own particular religions in place of God. This is precisely what many Muslims tend to do with their exclusivity, their narrow approach to fiqh, their obsession with rituals and laws which they imagine to be the shariah, and, indeed, what amounts to the very idolization of the shariah.
Q: You have been at the forefront of seeking to promote inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and others, in Malaysia as well as internationally. How do you reflect on your experiences in this regard?
A: In Malaysia we have tried to do this sort of thing, but the problems are daunting and we have not been very successful. We have also tried to promote intra-Muslim dialogue, between progressive Islamic scholars and the traditional, or ‘orthodox’, groups, but here, too, we have failed. One reason for this is that the latter are simply not open to dialogue with the former, whom they consider as having deviated from what they regard as true Islam. If at all they are interested in any sort of dialogue, it is simply in order to impose their own perspectives on others. This can hardly be called dialogue, in the true sense of the term. They are simply too-closed minded, whereas dialogue presupposes that dialogue partners should be open-minded and amenable to listening to other views. Otherwise, there is no point in even attempting to dialogue.
As for inter-faith dialogue, I, as a Muslim, believe that there is much that Muslims need to set in order before they can genuinely dialogue with people of other faiths. Certain deep-rooted, traditionally-held notions, shared by millions of Muslims, must be recognized as being gravely inimical to genuine inter-faith dialogue, such as common assumptions about terms such as kafir and jihad, the alleged ‘impurity’ of non-Muslims, the notion of Muslim supremacism and the belief that all non-Muslims are ‘enemies of God’ or are doomed to perdition in hell. We need to revise our understandings of these issues if we are at all to be able to proceed with the task of inter-religious dialogue and solidarity. Many of these understandings emerged after the demise of the Prophet, at a time of Muslim political expansionism. These were later reinforced in the face of Muslim political losses and traumas in the wake of the Mongol onslaught, the Crusades, and, then, European colonialism, and, now, Western, particularly American, imperialism. We need to re-evaluate our views on these matters, and bring them in line with proper Quranic understandings, which I believe to be just and egalitarian.
Chandra Muzaffar can be contacted on email@example.com
Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore.
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PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.
The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.