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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Interpreting the Holy Quraan: A Serious Anamoly

In recent times we’ve witnessed a steady increase in the number of modern organisations that encourage and promote self-interpretation of Quran and Hadith. This alarming trend is rooted in the concept of liberalism. People are exhorted to approach the Quran and Hadith with on open mind and free-thinking attitude. In an effort to propagate this ideology seminars and conferences are held throughout the world in which the main thrust is on a free-handed understanding of Quran and Hadith.

These seminars and work-shops are conducted by very eloquent speakers who appear to have attained the gift of the gab. They are fluent and flowing in expression, their fresh ideas appeal to the unwary audience. Furthermore, these proponents of modernity do not bind their attendees to the strict laws of Hijaab; hence we find men and women sitting in the same room albeit in different isles. Amidst all this we also have the factor of impressive degrees and high-sounding institutes. The shallow intellect of a layman is easily swayed under conditions such as these, especially when much leeway is allowed in Islamic practice.

Concepts such as the abandonment of Islamic headgear, trivialising of the so-called smaller sunnats of Islam, minimising the need for full hijaab, are easily embraced by Muslims in today’s society. Perceptions such as these form the ideal breeding ground for a quasi-reformation of Islamic belief and practice, ideals on which such organisations pride themselves. However, the point sorely missed by such thinkers and their followers is that revolution and reformation of Deen is neither possible nor acceptable when it comes at the expense of dispensation of the Pristine Teachings of Quran and Sunnah.

Islamic knowledge is the product of Divine revelation, and the correlation between knowledge and practice in Islam is entrenched. How then can Islamic teaching be imparted in an environment where the very tenets of Shariah are flouted? The purpose of true Islamic knowledge is to equip the learner with taqwa and adherence to the Sunnah. But this brand of teaching seems to create an acute aversion towards the Sunnah. Surely, something is wrong somewhere. An Islamic program of study is supposed to turn out true Muslims imbued with the spirit of Ieman. Again the paradox is too conspicuous to ignore.

In the process of so-called enlightened interpretation of Quran and Hadith, there are numerous dangers that threaten the very roots of this Ummah. One of them is freedom from being bound to a math-hab. When Muslims break out from the confines of a math-hab, they have paved the way for wholesale neglect of Deeni actions.

Another danger is that a free-style understanding of Quran and Hadith gives the laymen a false sense of competence that makes him or her feel independent of ‘ulema. This is a serious predicament that bodes disaster. The Ulema are the guides of this Ummat. It is the height of foolishness to dissociate from one’s guide. Either by design or accident, the consequence of such modernity in Islam is the alienation of the masses from the Ulema. This motive was first mooted by the British when they ruled vast tracts of Muslim land. Later on the Jews contrived to install a wedge between the Ulema and the Ummat. The enemies of Islam realised a long way back that the most effective method of stifling religious and spiritual progress among Muslims is to cut them off from their main source of knowledge, and that is the ‘ulema. Today, sadly, it appears we Muslims are our own worse enemies. We are doing the job for our antagonists. It is from within our own ranks where opposition to orthodox ‘ulema is being fermented.

But back to self-interpretation of The Quran. It has become almost fashionable among people of all walks of life to deduce and infer meanings from Quran and Hadith. The abundant availability of many Hadith works in English, as well as Quranic translations, appears to have suddenly given people a carte blanche to decipher the intricacies of the Holy Quran. Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) warned: “He who interprets The Quran without knowledge let him prepare his place in Hell-fire.” (Tirmizhi) Another hadith qualifies the term “without knowledge”. Also narrated by Imam Tirmizhi, it states: “He who interprets The Quran with his own opinion and is correct, has indeed erred.” This hadith makes two telling points: one, that personal or self-opinionated interpretation of Quran is regarded as interpretation without knowledge. The subtle but indisputable implication here is that knowledge means knowledge acquired through Divine revelation. For without such knowledge, it is impossible to fully understand and decipher the Purport of Allah conveyed through His Divine Speech. If we believe that The Holy Quran is the Eternal, Immortal, and Impeachable Speech of Allah, then by necessity we have to acknowledge that such Speech can only be defined and interpreted through Revelation. That Revelation is the Hadith of Allah’s Rasool (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), referred to by Scholars as revelation not recited (in contrast to Quran which is recited revelation).
The second important point conveyed in the above hadith is that regardless of how accurate one’s conjecture and opinion may be, one has still committed a grave error in rendering an interpretation based on personal opinion. Being wrong in spite of being right is only due to the false methodology employed with regards to interpretation and explanation of Quranic meanings.

In addition to the above, the hadith also sounds a sever warning. A reprimand of this nature is construed by Scholars as a prohibition of the haraam category. It can, therefore, be safely concluded that to attribute a meaning to any verse of the Quran or Hadith that stems from opinion and conjecture is a major sin and is tantamount to adulteration of The Holy Quran. Anyone who ventures to interpret Quran without support from authentic commentators and ‘ulema, is treading on extremely dangerous grounds.

The followers of Christendom committed the same blunder, but in far greater magnitude. They relied on translations of their holy scriptures, versions that underwent change after change according to the personal conclusions and opinions of Christian Scholars and Bible interpreters. Christianity lacked a codified system of exegesis that would provide for authentic interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. The result, as is clear to all, is the total distortion of Scripture and at times mutilation beyond recognition. Should this trend become vogue among the Muslim Ummah, then Allah forbid, our very Quran is in danger of adulteration and interpolation. It is precisely for this reason that Allah Ta’ala has established a Divine and perpetual arrangement for the preservation of Quranic Text and interpretation. This Divine Scheme is the continuous production of Ulema whose duty it is to safeguard Quran and Sunnah.

Muslim must understand that we are not ill-disposed to educating the masses about Islam and its complex system of rules and regulations. What we urge is that such teaching must be conducted within structures that maintain the orthodox values and ideals of Islam, the result of which learners of this system are driven towards practicing on The Quran and Sunnah.

In the final analysis, learning is just not for the purpose of learning; Islamic education is not imparted so that people can be capped with degrees, titles, and certificates. Ibni Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) said: “Seek knowledge, seek knowledge. And when you’ve learnt, then practice.” (Musannaf of Ibni Abi Shayba) The ultimate aim of learning is to observe deeds that will draw one closer to Allah and His Messenger. If this objective is not realized through one’s learning, then know that somewhere something is drastically wrong.

We urge Muslims, in light of the hadith cited earlier, to refrain from attempting Quranic interpretation based on opinion, personal viewpoint, and conjecture. The ideal approach should be to understand the Holy Quran in the light of tafseer as rendered by the ‘ulema in this field, throughout the corridor of Islamic history. Furthermore, verses in The Holy Quran and Hadith that pertain to matters of Fiqh, should be practiced on as interpreted by the Scholars of one’s math-hab. Avoid fusion of conflicting thoughts and opinions, for this is the product of one’s personal and base desires, Allama Ibni Hajar Makki says: “Amalgamating the views of two math-habs results in following base desires (hawaa), and this, according to the Quran, is haraam.” (Rasmul-Mufti on Ibni Aabideen).

A hadith in Mishkatul-Masaabeeh states: “What you (reliably) know of the Quran, say it. And what you know not, leave that to the Aalim of the Quran”.

May Almighty Allah grant us true guidance and knowledge of Islam, aameen.