Islam is a religion established by reason and evidence, and the supreme bases of its teachings are the Quran and the Sunnah. Islam does not exist without reason, and any utterance beyond reason is unworthy of association with it. Islam is the religion of Allah the Creator, the Omniscient. It is therefore impossible to find in its teachings anything that opposes truth, evidence and fact. If an opinion produced in the name of Islam fails the test of reason and evidence established in the Quran and Sunnah, then such an opinion cannot be said to derive from the teachings of Islam even though the one who makes that opinion assumes a religious title or dresses in a manner that reflects piety.
Similarly, any view must be excluded from Islam if it contradicts demonstrable truth or scientific certainty, or if it is prejudicial to the good of common humanity. A prominent scholar of Islam, al-Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah (d. 751H), said:
Indeed for the shariah of Islam, its construction and foundations are built on all wisdom and goodness for humanity in this world and the Hereafter. The shariah of Islam is all about justice, goodness and wisdom. Therefore, if any aspect that departs from justice into vindictiveness, from blessing into curse, from goodness into evil, from wisdom into foolishness, then it is not from the shariah of Islam even though it is interpreted as such. (I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in, Beirut: Dar al-Jail, 3/3.)
Facts not Personalities
Whichever observation about Islam that conflicts with the Quran and Sunnah, or which contradicts the fundamentals of human welfare established by shariah must be rejected without consideration of who makes that observation. Therefore, the opinions of even a mufti, a respected teacher or an ustaz or maulana (religious teacher) can be accepted or rejected on this basis.
The opinion of any individual —even the most respected Islamic scholar— may be questioned if it does not concur with evidence provided in the Quran and Sunnah. No one is maksum (infallible) other than the Prophets of Allah. The religious opinions of the esteemed, or of an ustaz, should not be swallowed without proper chewing. Allah proclaims in Surah al-Isra, verse 36:
“And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).”
Imam al-Shatibi (d. 790H) said:
Thus, it is compulsory for us to follow the one that was guarded from making mistakes (that is, the Prophet Muhammad pbuh) and to stop from following whoever is not being shielded from mistakes whenever there may be doubt. Moreover, we should consider whatever comes from all imams (scholars) side by side with the Quran and the Sunnah. Whatsoever is accepted by both (Quran and Sunnah), we consequently accept, and whatsoever is rejected by both we consequently abandon. (Al-I’tisam, Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, p. 165.)
Respect and the observation of good manners when dealing with ulama (the Muslim clergy) are commanded by the nas (Scripture) of Islam, but this has never stopped a person presenting intelligent criticisms, or prevented his questioning the opinions of ulama, even though he maintains the disciplines of religion. This is a principle of truth that has long been practised by all established Muslim scholars.
Consider al-Hafizd al-Zahabi (d. 748H), the celebrated historian and biographer of distinguished members of the mediaeval Muslim community. In one of these biographies, Imam al-Zahabi praised the great scholar Waki’ Ibn al-Jarrah thus: “He was between the sea of knowledge and the imams (scholars) of huffaz (hadith).” Later, Al-Zahabi recorded the words of Yahya bin Aktham: “I befriended Waki’ at his home and also when he travelled. He fasted al-dahr (every day) and finished reciting the Quran in one night.”
Al-Zahabi commented on Waki’s achievements thus:
This is an amazing ibadah (act of worship) but for it to be practised by an imam (scholar) amongst the imams of hadith, then that is not normal. Indeed it was sahih (authentic) that the Prophet pbuh prohibited daily fasting and reciting the Quran (until completion) in fewer than three days. The religion is simple. Adhering to the Sunnah is more imperative. May Allah bless Waki’. Where can we find an individual as great as he? Nevertheless, he frequently drank nabiz (date wine) that could be intoxicating if consumed a lot. He made his own judgment with regards to drinking it (he does not consider it as prohibited so long as it does not intoxicate). Should he forsake it (the drink) on the ground of devoutness, that would be much better for him. This is because whoever avoids elements of doubt, thus his religion and dignity will be saved.
Indeed, it is sahih that nabiz is forbidden and prohibited, but this is not the place to deliberate it. For every person, each of his opinions can be accepted or abandoned (except for the Prophet pbuh). Take not as an example the wrong deeds of an alim (knowledgeable person). (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala, Beirut: Muassasah al-Risalah, 9/142-144.)
Waki’ was an established ulama, but an academic fault must be acknowledged as such and judged accordingly. It is clear that, while we are enjoined to respect others, especially religious teachers, respect should not impede our speaking the truth while always maintaining the discipline and manners taught by Islam.
Reject Unproven Views
I discuss this subject because there those in our community who will not dare question those regarded as ustaz, even though what an ustaz claims may be utterly groundless. It is as if such an ustaz has somehow obtained an infallible licence to say anything in the name of religion without presenting reason or evidence. Worse, some religious teachers in the old days warned their students that “whoever asks a lot of questions shows that his faith is weak.”
It is unsurprising, therefore, that some states in Malaysia have issued a number of strange fatwa, such as prohibiting the sale cows to Chinese, or that budu (pickled fish) is impure when spilled on clothing but is pure when consumed. However odd these edicts might be, no one has dared question the grounds on which these fatwa were issued for fear of being labelled “weak in faith”.
There is a religious speaker who goes about our country saying that, according to Islam, the remedy for AIDS is 100 lashes of a cane on one’s back. He claims that this is a genuine “cure” based on the teachings of Islam and is derived from research based on both the Quran and science. One wonders which scientist gave him that information; but on the strength of this claim alone, the speaker has received a number of invitations to provide religious enlightenment in a similar vein—and there are those who have received him well. I wish to pose some questions: since not all those with AIDS have been involved in immoral sexual activities, is it therefore “right” to whip everyone? Is having AIDS sufficient justification in the eyes of the shariah to subject a person to 100 lashes? Such ideas are clearly mistaken; but unfortunately there are mosques, even in Kuala Lumpur, that extend speaking invitations to those who champion such views. I am perplexed when I come upon people who are seemingly highly educated and trained to make best use of their minds—but when confronted by matters of religion, they prefer to abandon their education in favour of a silence that makes it seem as if Islam opposes logic and the intellect.
There was another religious speaker who claimed that he buried the body of a rich man, which later transformed into a supernatural entity without anyone knowing a thing. What is fascinating is that in a country based on the rule and application of law, no one looked into the matter of a missing person until the one who buried him told this astonishing story. Whatever the case, the story involved a celebrity and this in turn affected the religious beliefs of many. It was a baseless claim that should not have been made, but unfortunately there were many who believed it.
We have also heard about a certain individual who declared another an apostate; and later did the same thing to the students of a college on no greater merit than some news reports, the truth of which could not be ascertained. An allegation of apostasy—if it is at all true—is very serious and requires careful scrutiny, that is, iqamah al-hujjah (the construction of proof). Apostasy cannot be declared haphazardly, but there were many who accepted these allegations without further thought and in the name of religion, and regrettably the allegations were made by one learned in religion.This attitude extends even to matter of sin.
In some Malaysian states there are religious groups that impose various types of “taxes” on bereaved families, and sometimes these taxes amount to thousands of ringgit. Many rituals associated with the religion are performed and the corresponding bills will then be charged to families of the deceased. For this reason some grin widely upon hearing news of death, and even recitations and forms of solat (prayer) that were not taught by the Prophet pbuh are included in the list of costs incurred. The community dares not ask if religion is really so cruel that even distressed families deserving of support should be burdened further by these “costs”. Or is Islam so materialistically driven that only those with the largest purses can be assured of the absolution of sin and the attainment of reward in the Hereafter? If this is the case, then the Gates of Heaven will open only for those with the means to pay these “agents of Allah” here and now on this transitory earth. Does this truly represent the beauty of Islam that commands believers to perform good deeds and not depend on others?
My point is that it is the community’s right to ask questions in any discussion of religion. Neither an ustaz nor a respected teacher is God’s appointed agent, unlike the Prophets of Allah, such that their declarations are binding even if they lack nas. Islam is not man’s ultimate justification to do as he pleases—it is, instead, a religion built on reason and evidence. If each of us asks the ustaz for the causes of and reasons behind every one of his religious opinions, then we should, by doing so, help realise the principles of Islam and thus improve intellectual discussion in our own community.
We must guard against the complacent satisfaction of merely memorising religious opinions without thinking about them analytically and rationally. One of the foremost scholars of our own times, Prof Muhammad Qutb, said:
From another point of view, Islamic scholarship is bound to the way it was studied around five centuries ago. There was (then) the influence of Greek thought from ilm al-kalam (Scholastic theology) that was futile and unrewarding. More than that, the speculative excesses of ilm al-kalam diverted the study of faith towards matters that overloaded the mind to no purpose. It took the concept of faith away from that which provides the essence of life, and turned it towards mere philosophical disputation without direction or benefit. Religious students devolved from thinkers into mere memorisers: a student could appear learned simply on the strength of how many texts, lectures and footnotes he managed to memorise. However, he could not think for himself or even think independently. Consequently, the authenticity of knowledge was lost to the ulama and they turned to taklid and simply quoted from others. Scholarship was impaired further by a third factor, namely the obsessive devotion towards a certain mazhab, which affected all students. Everyone fixated on the mazhab that he grew up in. He turned his ultimate religious duty into an effort to prove that his mazhab and sheikh (teacher) were superior to any other…” (Waqi’una al-Mu’asir, p. 176.)
The practice of blind taklid was never taught by any imam of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah (the Sunni community as a whole). On the contrary, imams have demanded that each person must strive to build his or her own intellectual ability. We read the following mentioned by a student of Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam al-Muzani (d. 264H):
“I have summarised all of this from the knowledge of al-Imam al-Shafi’i and from the meaning of what he taught in order to impart it to whoever wants it, along with notice of his prohibition of taklid (of his opinions) or of those of others, so that the reader will himself consider the evidence for the sake of his religion, and so as to be the more circumspect about it”. (Waliyy Allah al-Dahlawi, Al-Insaf fi Bayan Asbab al-Ikhtilaf, p. 100.)
If this form of learning should flourish, Islam will no longer be considered exclusivist such that only a privileged few may reflect upon it while the rest must follow blindly. Indeed, we are commanded to respect rigorous study and never to accept blind taklid. The development of the Muslim community will not take place as long as the intellectual competence of our religious leaders fails to meet the academic standards of an increasingly competitive world. The Muslim community must rally to support the advancement of tajdid (revitalisation) that began decades ago and which is still in progress.
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