Archive for August, 2010

News and Analysis (8/20/10)

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A 56-year-old from Brooklyn says outsiders propagandizing over the Park51 have “nothing to do with New York and they don’t care about New York.” Even some locals opposed to the center agree that people like Palin and Gingerich “until very recently, didn’t seem interested in New York at all” :

“The actual facts of the case were somewhat complicated. But the need to explain the case was obliterated by the emergence of the perfect phrase: Ground Zero Mosque”:

“As a symbol, its construction demonstrates that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and that Muslims are welcome in America. It communicates a message of moderation that stands in stark contrast to al Qaeda’s bankrupt ideology”:

The Canadian Council of Imams publish declaration, which affirms their belief in “cooperation among all faiths and people for the common good of humanity” that Islamic law “upholds the sanctity of religion, life, intellect, family/society, and property”:

AU’s Akbar Ahmed implores “Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center as a Christian and an American to cancel his burning event, follow the true teachings of Jesus by loving his neighbor”:

Rather than resolve the problem, resuming direct talks on Israeli terms will discredit Abbas and weaken the PNA:

News and Analysis (8/19/10)

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy asks why “zoning issues in lower Manhattan” should be itemized on the top of the national agenda:

“Israeli investigations still fall far short of being thorough and impartial, while Hamas appears to have done nothing at all to investigate alleged violations,”  — Human Rights Watch program director Iain Levine:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says, “blatantly false reporting [has] led some victims’ families to think that this project is somehow designed by Muslims to gloat over the attacks on 9/11. That could not be farther from the truth”:

“When asked how they learned about Obama’s religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media;” most frequently mentioned is “television (at 16%)”:

Writer Edward Schumacher-Matos  says Newt “Gingrich is not the only poor student of American history”:

The Narrative of David and Uriah: An Examination of Selected Classical Exegetes

Thursday, August 19th, 2010


[This is the sixteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 16. Moderator: Ahmad Kazemi Mousavi
Paper Presentation by Khaleel Mohammad
“The Narrative of David and Uriah: An Examination of Selected Classical Exegetes”

II Samuel 12 tells the story of David and Nathan and the rich and poor man. Surah Sâd is different.  Except for Surah 12, every Qur’anic allusion to a Biblical story is truncated. These shared narratives could be the basis of harmonious interfaith interactions, but they can also be the source of incompatibility as in the distinction between the Muslim view of David as a prophet-king and the Jewish view that he is just a king advised by a prophet. Prophets in the Bible are not inerrant. They are, however, agents of God and reminders of kings when they deviate from the divine law. Muslims hold David cannot in some major way deviate from the divine law and therefore he seeks forgiveness only for minor errors, but the Hebrew text is clear that he has committed a major transgression.

Tabari quotes many reports (“it was said”) that David had ninety-nine wives and sent to death a man with only one. He explains the Qur’anic reference with explanations clearly not from the Biblical source. While David is praying, Gabriel comes in the form of a pigeon. David follows it, and sees a beautiful woman washing herself. Learning her husband s in battle, he orders the man be sent into the thick of battle. Twice he survives, acquitting himself with valor, and the third time he dies in battle. When David realizes that he had failed the test he goes into great remorse. God forgives him and when David asks how a just God could forgive him for this, God says on the Day of Judgment he will offer Uriah entry to paradise in exchange for forgiving David. In none of the variations is David accused of adultery. Samarkandy offers that we cannot accept such a grave sin from David and that instead his sin was to pass judgment before hearing the defendant. Hasan at-Tusi relates that the woman was not married but engaged to Uriah and his sin is to propose to an engaged woman. Yet at-Tusi opts for the claim that his fault was one-sidedly accepting the testimony of the plaintiff. Ibn Arabi, a Maliki jurist rebuts several narratives saying that minor sins in Prophets are major because they are prophets, and that for that reason we tend to avoid mentioning the lapses of the prophets. Al-Ashary adds that it was common among the Hebrews in those days that if a man saw a married woman he liked he would ask the husband to divorce her. By the 13th century Ahmad Qurtubi had summarized the narratives into six versions: (1) he looked at the woman too long; (2) he sent her husband away on a military campaign; (3) he intended the husband fall in battle; (4) he proposed to the family; (5) he failed to grieve but hastened to marry; (6) he failed to hear the defendant before issuing judgment. Ibn Kathir in the 14th century finds none of the stories have been proven acceptable and instead we should just accept the Qur’anic narrative as it is and leave the truth to God. Said Hawa, unlike the others, refers to the Biblical text, but in the end agrees that any narratives that impugn the prophets must be rejected. He adds that the émigrés to Medina would make similar requests of divorce from the men of Medina. A later writer says God doesn’t identify David’s transgression. All later writers agree we cannot accept the contradiction of `usma. Maududi claims the story was so well known there was no need for the Qur’an to detail it. What I have shown is that after the 5th century the attempts at exoneration become stronger. In scriptural narratives there is no single story but multiple versions aimed at a moral message.

Discussant 1: Mahmoud Ayoub

I have suggested that a scripture should be read on its own and differences from another simply reflect a difference in their worldviews. For example, Surah 79 asks the Prophet “Has the account of Moses reached you?” and then relates that God sent Moses to Pharaoh not to demand the release of the Hebrews from Egypt but to teach him the unity of God. Pharaoh’s response was rejection, the declaration that he is the Lord most high, and it was from that point that Moses and his people start planning to leave Egypt. The same applies in a way to David’s story. Actually some historians consider David is a prophet not only for his piety, but because he wrote the psalms. Jews generally view him as a king only. In the Biblical version he sleeps with the woman before her husband’s death. That version is in a way a more human treatment, acknowledging the humanity of the prophets. Uriah is more noble, troubled to enjoy his wife while his men are dying in battle. The Qur’an skirts the biblical version, evoking it through David’s remorse without endorsing the details. According to Deuteronomy, David should have been stoned.

Discussant 2: Aisha Musa

It seems the early mufassirs were not as concerned as the later ones about the sinlessness of the prophets. Is there a way in which we see the other scriptures as a form of hadith?

Response by Khaleel Mohammad

Al-Baqa’iyy in the 8th c. H. says some of the Jewish converts informed him that they created this narrative to malign David who is in the genealogical tree of Jesus. Maududi says something similar that those who hated Solomon created it. All these variations are found in the Sanhedron, except the claim that it was common to ask a married man to divorce his wife. In the Talmudic version the story is twisted completely around, saying God meant her to be his and his sin was simply to take her prematurely. When any warrior went into battle he would give his wife a conditional divorce. The Muslim exegetical position is that the particulars of David’s sin are irrelevant since the verse is aimed at our sins and at the necessity of our recognizing them and seeking forgiveness. Some of the rabbis speak of David’s disappointment that people don’t refer to the divinity as the “God of David” and invites is a test that he does not pass.

Louay Safi: I believe we have to exhaust the possible Qur’anic exegesis before we rely on extra-Qur’anic sources. The following verse makes the point of the story about judgment between two people.

Mohammed: All that you say was encapsulated in a statement by Umar ibn Abdul Aziz: Stick to the talâwa and the moral imperative of the Qur’an.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad: The Qur’an does not limit its focus to judgment, but refers to the lusts (hawa) of David’s heart.  I find the failure to mention adultery significant.

Ayoub: Islamic tradition distinguishes between a nabi and a rasûl. A nabi could be an individual, or sent to a small group or a large group, or to humanity, which is a rasûl when he is sent with a new religious dispensation.

Safi: But David received zabûr.

Ayoub: These are poems of praise with no legal implications. The reference to David as khalifah is the only place in the Qur’an where it is used with political implications.

Safi: Hawa means desire in judgment other than what God has revealed.

Ahmad: “Nine parts desire” is a translation of hawa.

Safi: But in the Qur’an it is used to mean judgment.

Ayoub: It is interesting that Solomon is the child of this lady. David is the grandson of Ruth. I appreciate the Bible avoiding making the human superhuman although it goes to far in saying Abraham lies about his wife in Egypt even if it means she will sleep with the pharaoh.

Rafiq: There is no asbab an-nazûl for these verses?

Safi: We have to stick with our understanding of the prophets as humans who can err but cannot commit a sin that would undermine their mission. I have a problem with prophets who bring a message they cannot uphold themselves.

Ayoub: `usma is a general Islamic concept. It is not a quality, like tall or short or dark or light, but it is a divine gift. The Shia argument is that if the prophet or imam can err or lie, how would people know when to believe them?

Safi: Prophets are protected in the context of transmitting the message. There character is beyond question.

Ahmad: Clarify the Shia assertion that prophets and imams have no polytheists in their ancestry. Is the hadith about the dates?

Ayoub: Azar was not Abraham’s father but his maternal grandfather or uncle.

Ahmad: What about 19:41-47? And why doesn’t a maternal grandfather count as an ancestor?

Ayoub: This was not his father; he was only using a term of respect.

Safi: We force the Qur’an to fit our views.

Ayoub: Abu Talib is quoted in the seerah as saying I do not want a religion in which my behind is higher than the rest of my body.

Ahmad: But the Prophet’s grandfather was named Abdul Muttalib—

Ayoub: By mistake.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Exploring the Different Notions of Sunnah and its Relationship to the Qur’an Among Contemporary Muslims

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010


[This is the fifteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 15, Moderator: Imad ad-Dean Ahmed
Paper Presentation by Aisha Musa

“Exploring the Different Notions of Sunnah and its Relationship to the Qur’an Among Contemporary Muslims”

Four different views of Sunnah form the traditional to extreme rejecters of hadith. The latter do not reject Sunnah, but interpret it as the practical implications of Islamic teachings.

Yusuf Qaradawy is one of the most popular Islamic scholars in the world today. He takes a traditional position of the hadith as a source of the Sunnah. His concern is that people pick and choose from hadith as to which they consider weak or strong based on personal preference rather than on traditional well-developed Islamic science on the strength of transmission and of text. There has been progress in recent decades in making the classical sources available. He does not distinguish between hadith and Sunnah, but only calls for a more careful and traditionally scholarly approach to the use of hadith. He criticizes those who focus on the particulars of the reports (length of beards, etc.) rather than on the principles embodied therein.

Muhammad Shahrour, of Syria, prefaces his discussion with the same Qur’anic verses Qaradawi uses to establish the Sunnah, but he challenges the idea that everything Muhammad said and did (outside of the Qur’an) is under the influence of wahy. The verse that says the Prophet speaks only under wahy means only the Qur’an. Then anything in the hadith is only his application of the broader principles of the Qur’an. Then not everything reported in the hadith is Sunnah.

“Naveed” who writes only under a pseudonym represents the extreme rejection of hadith, but not of Sunnah. For him the Sunnah of the Prophet is in the Qur’an and only in the Qur’an. How can the Qur’an put forward both Muhammad and Abraham as examples for us when we have no hadith from Abraham? He says that it is through the hadith that Satan has distracted people away from the Sunnah. It is a blistering critique, without the nuance of other critics of the hadith.

To me the most interesting case is one new on the scene, Adis Aduderija, towards a methodology of understanding the scope and nature of the Sunnah. Everybody seems to agree that the Qur’an requires some sort of interpretation. He is immune to the accusation against Shahrour that he has no understanding of the hadith science. Aduderija makes a distinction between the pre-Shafi and post-Shafi understanding of Sunnah. Like all the others he sees broader principles, but seeks to outline a new methodology for understanding the relationship between Sunnah and hadith. He argues hat Shafi has actually limited the Qur’an and Sunnah by subordinating them to the hadith, which actually severs the organic link between them. He states that the Qur’an has incorporated non-textual sources including “pure reason,” of which he gives no examples. He identifies sunnah aqaliyyah, akhaltiyyah, fiqiyya, and practice-based all of which are linked to the Qur’an and Qur’anic hermeneutics and none default to the hadith. Even if the Qur’an is silent, he maintains one can derive positions from Qur’an using the new methodology. He gives the example of women leading prayer in which he argues that overriding principles of equity an justice make a female leading prayer consistent with Qur’anic principles.

There is a leap that needs further elaboration and explanation, which is how universal principles are deduced from the Qur’an. He gives another example in his treatment of divorce by talaq. He says it is a pre-Islamic practice, kept but reformed by the Qur’an and nuanced by the Sunnah, for example, the requirement that men be just and kind to women. Ultimately he argues this leads to the abolition of talaq under unexplained “Qur’anic-sunnatic principles.” Unsurprisingly, he also brings up the question of stoning adulterers. The hadith is not mutawattir and it contradicts universal principles derived from the Qur’an, such as the principle of human dignity. On the issue of Sunnah of beliefs he brings up the belief in Dajjal, Mahdi, and the return of Jesus. Here too he brings in “reason” but actually never shows why it is unreasonable.

Discussant 1: Mahmoud Ayoub

I think the question that ought to concern us but does not concern the four thinkers is how did Sunnah develop a functioning tool. The Qur’an speaks of sunnah sometimes positively, usually negatively, but nowhere does it mention the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) as an alternative to the jâhiliyya sunnah. The hadith “I leave the Qur’an and the Sunnah” is problematic because the Shia read it “I leave the Qur’an and my progeny,” so it is not a good proof text for anything. Qaradawi’s work is useful as source of traditional Islamic ideas that are contemporary and forward looking. I met Muhammad Shahrour at a MESA conference, and for me he is problematical. I asked his interpretation of the polygyny verses. He said I wrote what I write because I am not interested in what Abd-as-Samiyyah said, but in what Hegal said. But Abd-as-Samiyya is in the tradition and Hegel is not. He does not deny eschatology in Islam but he sees it as a new Marxist synthesis that will not only change the universe in which we live but God as well. His book on God and the Qur’an is interesting, but it is not really authentic. Wilfred Smith said what we say about a tradition is more important if we speak from within the tradition and Shahrour does not.

From the beginning what the Prophet did and said was important for the people. Abu Bakr called himself khalîfat-rasûl Allah, but his opponents in the so-called the rida wars were not attempting to leave the Islamic faith, but to withhold zakat from Abu Bakr. I think it was wise of Abu Bakr to fight these people and that it was an act of maintaining the administrative sunnah.

Discussant 2: Sami Catovic

It seems that the Prophet in his person has presented such a challenge from the time of the Quraysh, to the Christian critiques, to the contemporary ones. His critics seem to ask, “Who are you?” There seem to be competing camps between requiring emulation of the Prophet and trying to remove him from the Sunnah. Qaradawi is in the first camp and Shahrour in the second camp. I wish you had used the ahl-al-qur’an scholars instead of Naveed since I’m unaware of any major impact he is making. Aduderija’s methodology seems very conclusion driven. The Prophet had direct access to the source of revelation and the issue of interpretation need not arise, so delinking him from the revelation is problematical. I think the Risâlah reflects that Shafi was not introducing a new idea, but engaged in an ongoing debate, with Malik among others.

Response by Aisha Musa

Everybody accepts a role for sunnah and all accept obeying the Messenger, but what it means for them is very different. The role the prophet played and how they come to their conclusions about his are unaddressed or at least unclear. I agree that Shahrour’s conclusion-driven methodology does seem to take the Prophet out of the Sunnah completely. This discourse is taking place in the world we live in. I think the rejecters of the hadith see themselves as saving the Prophet from the negative hadith that are used to vilify him while at the same time they see the elevation of his status as having a knowledge beyond what he is given constitutes a form of shirk.

Ahmad Kazemi Mousavi: Today we have hundreds of terms about hadith with little agreement on their meanings.

Musa: Qaradawi makes the same criticism. He calls for a new Encyclopedia of hadith to address this problem. There are software companies that have worked for a decade on this. No final evaluation is added to these works. There is an effort in Turkey also that seems to be aimed at evaluation of the hadith.

Khaleel Mohammed: It would be interesting to see how people like Irshad Munji weigh in on this. There is a rhetoric that the Prophet was an Arab man in his time and we have to remove that Arabness from the transcendent Qur’anic message. Mernissi argues that pre-Islamic Arab society was in some ways more feminist that post-Islamic Arab society.

Ayoub: The Prophet defined an Arab as anyone who spoke Arabic. It is simply a language. The hadith plays the same role in Islam that the oral torah plays in the Jewish tradition. Even today some say that Islam is a religion for the Arabs, but the Qur’an seems to speak against that.

Musa: These writers raise more questions than answers, but raising a question serves a constructive purpose. They diminish the role of the Prophet in saying he has special knowledge.

Ahmad: They do not remove the Prophet but place the hadithic picture with the Qur’anic picture of him, like Abraham of whom the Qur’an twice says is an example to us.

Ahmed Rafiq: What about “munkar as-sunnah” who are actually “munkar al-hadith.”

Musa: They do not see themselves this way at all, because the Qur’an says, “Obey the Prophet,” which they see as a reference to Sunnah.

Catovic: We know that God intervened in the Prophet’s actions, but what if He does not intervene?

Musa: They see prophets as human beings who make mistakes and are sinful. Perhaps they are affected by other traditions, like the Old Testament.

Mohammed: We make a distinction between Sunnah and hadith that the average person finds shocking. How do we overcome that?

Musa: Among members of the second generations, Edip Yuksel is in an intermediate position. There are all kinds of unstated assumptions.

Ayoub: I would not take [Yuksel’s mentor] Rashad Khalifah as indicative of anything. He didn’t just deny the hadith. He wanted to remove “ashhaduanna Muhammad ar-rasul Allah” from the shahadah.

Musa: But he is very influential.

Ayoub: Muhammad was not like the Old Testament prophets, because the Prophet in Islam has a mission as both a prophet and a teacher.

Musa: We need for people to articulate their unstated assumptions. Khalifah would say the Prophet was not a teacher.

Ahmad: Khalifah also rejected the Qur’an. In order to support his theory that the mystic letters appear multiples of 19 times, he had to change the literal text. As someone who criticized his work on these grounds years ago, I was shocked at how few people were bothered by that, but there was a firestorm against him when he turned against the hadith.

Musa: You cannot dismiss him because his arguments have been influential.

Rafiq: Ahl al qur’an are not rejecting the prophet because the hadith come from a later era, but Naveed rejects the Prophet’s authority in his own time.

Musa: That’s why they are extreme.

Rafiq: The interchangeability of Sunnah and hadith can be seen as early as some of the seerah writers.

Mehmet Ata Az: To convince the public can we bring evidence from the Sunnah to reject hadith.

Musa: The problem is the public makes no distinction between hadith and Sunnah. Qaradawi makes such a distinction but does not reject hadith as a body.

Ayoub: The earliest books of hadith like Said ibn Mansur do not use the term sunnah. That usage is after Bukhari and Muslim. How can we write a history of the Sunnah as a factor in Islamic thought? I am not denying the Sunnah; I am saying we need to study its development as a conception in order to relate it to the hadith. Nineteen is a Bahai sacred number.

Ahmad: Do we need to vindicate the Prophet if we see him as only a postman? Christians have no such problems with Noah. We cannot remove the Prophet, but we could remove the Sunnah by arguing that ”obey the prophet” refers to his direct orders to his contemporaries, as “take what the prophet gives you” is revealed in the context of the spoils of war.

Musa: Kahlifah’s use of Qur’anic verses against hadith influenced others, even those who reject him. Ahmad Deedat popularized his ideas.

Ahmad: Deedat’s influence answers the question of how shall we influence the pubic. The public is indirectly influenced by intellectuals, but directly influenced by popularizers like Ahmad Deedat.

Musa: The followers of [Ghulum Ahmad] Parvez rejected Khalifah over the last two verses of the Qur’an, but they themselves reject hadith.

Ayoub: Do you find Naveed convincing?

Musa: Some of his arguments, but not all.

Khaleel Muhammad: If the Islamic definitions of prophet differ so much from those of Christianity and Judaism, how can we ask them to accept Muhammad as a prophet?

Ayoub: It has no bearing on the acceptance of Muhammad. What they object to, particularly the Christian theologians, is that they do not want God speaking after Jesus who they believe came at the fulfillment of time. There has not been a prophet to change world history since the Prophet Muhammad.

Catovic: The body of the hadith rarely deal with did the Prophet did this, or did that, but rather with what is it permitted or forbidden.

Ayoub: The uswat-al-hasanh of the Prophet mentioned in the Qur’an goes to the imitato Muhammad, like the imitato dei of medieval Christianity. Shamâ’id is part of the broader literature.

Musa: Bukhari organizes the hadith in a fiqhi way. Shafi is actually slightly before Bukhari, which sets up the demand for Bukhari’s work. Shafi’s was musnid.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (8/18/10)

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Regulations restricting farmers from assisting Muslim customers from slaughtering animals have unintended — and undesirable — consequences:

Muslim Public Affairs Council, Washington office Director Haris Tarin tells his father’s story of immigration from Afghanistan to “the America he fell in love with”:

NY Governor David Paterson’s office wants to move the Muslim center from private property to state land, but the developers say “We’re not moving”:

Meanwhile, CA GOP candidate Carly Fiorina contradicts her previous statement that NYC Park51 mosque is “a local issue” to stick her nose into the controversy:

Peter Beinhart says, “Whatever his flaws, the man respected religion, all religion,” and Maureen Dowd says he understands that “you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam”:

CNN to show four-week long series profiling Muslims across the world in 2010:

New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. Bush, Dowd explains, understands that “you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.”

News and Analysis (8/17/10)

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

“Men like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should be embraced as vital allies, and we should have only contempt for those who, through ignorance or political calculation, attempt to conflate them with the extremists”:

“Allowing the Muslim community center to be built where it is being proposed represents the best of America, the idea that the United States is a special place in the world, a beacon of fairness that welcomes and protects the rights of all its people”:

He “spoke out against terrorism and extremism and called for democratic reform,” but knew it would take time because “Saudi Arabia has always been based on the principle of consensus”:

PNA mixes state and religion by demanding “preachers should report to the Ministry of Religious Affairs in order to be corrected or called to account in case of a mistake“:

The hostage-taker has worked as an informant in the service of the Israel Police:

Islamic charity is a religious obligation that can be fulfilled through donations to civil society organizations like the Islamic-American Zakat Foundation, and many “choose to pay this amount during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan for increased spiritual benefit:”

The “furor over the Ground Zero mosque and cases including a Florida church that has announced plans to hold ‘International Burn a Koran Day’ on September 11 have triggered concerns of possible hate crimes”:

IIIT’s Islamic Reform Mission

Monday, August 16th, 2010


[This is the fourteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 14. Moderator: Hisham Altalib
Panel on “IIIT’s Islamic Reform Mission”

Panelist Mahmoud Ayoub
Islam is at least a two-dimensional religion. God does not do all things in vain. For all things he has a purpose. His will is represented on earth through the various dimensions of Islam. What then is to be reformed? I wish to argue that Islam does not need to be reformed. We are not in the position of Christianity of the late Middle Ages in which a theology and church institution was in need of reform. To this day a Catholic cannot pray in a Protestant church except as part of some special ecumenical service, while any Muslim can pray in any mosque anywhere.

We have to reform our understanding of Islam and work for a unity of the Muslims that would allow us not to regain our place on the stage of history but to gain a place alongside nations that are working for prosperity and happiness. Islam is not a religion of austerity and asceticism. When Allah gives his servant of his bounty he wants to se his servant enjoy it, but without arrogance or ostentation.  “But seek with the (wealth) which God has bestowed on thee the Home of the Hereafter nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good as Allah has been good to thee and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for God loves not those who do mischief” (28:77). Reform is a cumulative effort.

Panelist Aisha Musa
I agree with Asma Afsaruddin that there is a real lack of appreciation for the depth and breadth of Islamic history.  We have had energetic conversations by people who have different ideas but all want the same things, to better understand how we can be good Muslims. The cure for ignorance is education and the IIIT is in a position to do something about that.

Panelist Louay Safi
Does Islam need islah? Certainly the Qur’an needs no reform. The interpretations, the methodology of understanding the text, the application of the law are another thing. Islah means improvement, but I like the English word reform After things have been deformed, they must be reformed. With the passage of time anything can be deformed. Islamization of knowledge has been the raison d’etre from the beginning of IIIT. I will suggest that maybe it I time to push this concept and give it a new form. What it meant to the originators of the term is (1) to question the presuppositions of modern knowledge and (2) to critically engage both modern Western science and traditional Islamic sciences in order to sort out the particular from the universal. I propose that we no longer employ the term, because it creates more heat than light. I agree with Asma’s proposals, four of which are already done by IIIT. The fifth is to establish a residential scholars program for at least two people, a Muslim and a non-Muslim. I would also include other programs including non-Muslims so that we can directly engage Western thought. All of agree that the Shariah is not for the benefit of God, but for the benefit of people.

Panelist Jamal Barzinji
The founders of IIIT considered themselves to be a product of the Islamic reform movement, but it appeared to us that we were at a dead end in the effort to reform the ummah, to put it in an equal station with the powers of the earth. We came to the bitter conclusion that we needed to reform Islamic thought along five major themes. (1) The Ummah is no longer capable of using the Qur’an as a book of hidayyah (guidance). (2) The Sunnah was no longer helping us but instead was being to justify every conflict in the ummah. (3) During the colonial era we glorified our turâth, but now we need to look critically at this legacy; it is not sacred; there are jewels in it, but we must wipe out the dust. (4) The Islamic movement throughout the world never thought the West was a problem for us, never realizing that there are things in the West that are a serious challenge and that there are good things in the West. (5) The biggest problem is the issue of methodology, for many reasons not least of which that some major scholars  (including Qaradawi) thought there is no way you can touch the usûl al-fiqh. Obviously there are many other problems (political reform, human rights, etc.), but we are dedicated to intellectual reform. We are challenged with different versions of Islam today. What has yet go be achieved is an honest critical assessment of what the West has achieved. In the issue of methodology we focus on the maqâsid ash-shari`a. Now we also have the issue of educational reform. I could mention 15 to 20 universities around the world concerned with what can be done to produce a better caliber of scholars.

“The Future of Faith in a Globalized World” is a conference scheduled for Bosnia. We need help in the distribution of books. We are building our own university in northern Lebanon, scheduled to take in students beginning 2011.

Imtiyaz Yusuf: Instead of critiquing them, we are more attached to classical or modern or post-modern knowledge.

Safi: Study of Islam in many Muslim seminaries is traditional, but even worse than it was a hundred years ago.

Ayoub: I would sound cautionary notes. We should be aware of what is doable and of priorities. Why do have to engage everybody on the face of the earth on what is a matter of our private life? I would like us to put our own house in order. We must be careful when we do scholarship that the reforms we advocate be as acceptable to as wide a spectrum of the ummah as possible. Finally, whatever we do in the way of reform should be balanced with regard to the ideals and realities of Islam. Islam is equilibrium between too much and too little. We should also be wise as to which projects we take on. What needs reform is not Islam but Muslims.

Hisham Altalib: Some people are wise and some people are otherwise.

Ahmad: Muslim women cannot pray in some Muslim mosques. This illustrates the need for reform.

Ayoub: Muhammad died in 632, but he continues to live. He is just a man, but he is more than a man, he is also an inspiration.

Al-Shingieti: To achieve the mission, you need a means of connecting thought to policy and to politics.

Ahmed Rafiq: There is a popular Islam with informal teachers who are unaffected by the ivory tower of the intellectuals.

Khaleel Mohammad: I would reinterpret the hadith that the Prophet had no shadow in modern terms: it means no one is following [“shadowing”] him.

Safi: Intellectuals do not affect society directly, but they influence the influential ones like the writers influence the rest of society.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (8/16/10)

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Polling shows that despite 60 percent of Americans think the construction of the Muslim community center is wrong, 60 percent of Americans also think that the Muslim group has the right to build the mosque if it chooses:

Social networking website Facebook  (check out our page there) makes grassroots political organizing possible for the opposition of Egypt’s ruling establishment:

The immigrant who came here looking for honest work didn’t have “time to immerse herself in the politics of her new country,” and is “deeply puzzled as to why anyone would feel threatened by what goes on in a mosque”:

Gwenn Dyer says a tivists claiming the flotilla’s goals are “purely humanitarian” and Israeli officials claiming “the blockade is solely to stop offensive weapons from reaching” Gaza are “both  lying”:

“The moonlight practice is tailored for Restum and fellow Muslim teammates who make up a majority of the Fordson High School squad in the large Arab community of Dearborn”:

“Mr. Ahmed said fasting teaches him empathy for poor people, because he can feel their hunger and thirst and self-discipline. An added side benefit, he said: ‘Free gym. I lose 10 to 15 pounds every year’ “:

Contextualizing the Common Word—Dialogue or Conflict?

Monday, August 16th, 2010


[This is the thirteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 13. Moderator: Aisha Musa
Paper Presentation by Sami Catovic
“Contextualizing the Common Word—Dialogue or Conflict?”

The controversy over the Pope’s comments at Regensburg led to the issuance of the “Common Word” initiative, but are the verses behind the initiative really appropriate for an invitation to an interfaith dialog? The Pope’s comments had been historically criticized on four grounds: that the verse “No compulsion in religion” was not a Meccan verse, made when the Muslims were weak, as the Pope had claimed, but a Medinan verse made when the Muslims were ascendant; the Pope’s selection of the literalist Ibn Hazm to typify the Islamic view on reason was unreasonable since he is a “respected but marginal figure in Islamic thought” compared to, say, al-Ghazali; interpreting jihad to mean spreading the religion by the sword is not part of the Islamic discourse; when war is justified, it is subject to strict conditions and limitations.

The verses cited in the call to the common word appear to have been revealed in the context of the visit to the Prophet of a Christian delegation from Najran. The Christians attempted to persuade the Prophet of the divinity of Jesus. The Prophet didn’t respond, but awaited the revelation, which called for a mubâhala (3:61), which the Christians declined. The histories differ as to whether they decline because they know that Muhammad is a Prophet, because they deny he is a Prophet and fear his political authority, or because they are uncertain and reason that participation will lead to bad consequences for them either way. The positioning of the common word verse after the verse of mubâhala is problematic as understood by Ibn Ishak for it appears to be more a verse of confrontation and debate than of interfaith dialogue. Muhammad Ghazali saw the Christians’ refusal to engage in mubâhala as the source of subsequent Christian-Muslim hostility. Fakhruddin ar-Razi sees the incident as a progression that begins with debate on the merits, turns to a challenge of sincerity, and ends with “a just approach” that turns “away from binding arguments and proofs.” Other commentators attempt to separate the common word verse from the Najran context, noting that the language applies to both Christian and Jews.  The “common word” document seeks mutual understanding and love rather than confrontation. The Najran meeting was a political meeting that evolved into a religious debate. Only if we divorce the common word verse from the Najran incident can it be used as a basis for interfaith dialog.

Discussant 1: Louay Safi

I like the effort to understand the verse in line with other verses, and the paper provides a good background. When we talk about asbâb an-nazûl, it helps us to understand the circumstances of revelation but it should not limit us to those circumstances. Why stop at the context of mubâhala, we should consider all verses relevant to this issue. I read the common word slightly differently. For me it establishes a principle that doctrinal differences need not be a source for hostility and aggression. The verse calls for establishing a peace based on freedom, and an openness to resolve doctrinal differences through dialogue, debate, and expression of differences.

Discussant 2: Imad ad Dean Ahmed

I appreciate this paper because demonstrates how we can use a proper methodology to understand and apply the Qur’an. … I am especially impressed by ar-Razi’s three phases analysis. It harmonizes what on the surface seem to be three different approaches (argumentative, confrontational, and respectful coexistence) into a logical progression that that defuses the proslytization of the Christians. I think that the progression is helpful to bear in mind when we consider purpose of interfaith dialog. We may come to it seeking to convert or confront the interlocutors, but instead of progressing through phases of argumentation and confrontation to end up at the common word, we could go through understanding our differences, accepting our sincerity, and moving forward on our common base.

Response by Sami Catovic

I didn’t intend the paper to be a guidebook to inter-religious dialog.  I only wanted to ask how pertinent it was to select these verses as the basis for inter-religious dialog. The occasions of revelation must be looked at, though I agree they should not control. I also agree with the intention of the verse. The Imad-ad-Dean’s reading of ar-Razi is interesting and I think it allows the principle behind the challenge of mubâhala to live on.

Imtiyaz Yusuf: I teach at a Catholic school and whenever they talk about the Regensburg speech they note that Muslims mistook the speech, which was about reason and not about Islam.

Catovic: The initial letter to the Pope did argue the role of reason in Islam, although I admit the initial Muslim response may have been unreasonable.

Ayoub: The Pope’s speech would have stood on its own without the reference to Islam. He has articulated his hatred for Muslims elsewhere, like his correspondence with an Italian priest. According to some commentators, the first 80 verses of surat-Imran were revealed about the Najran incident, but I think this is an exaggeration. The word sawâ was interpreted by some commentators to mean “just” or “of equal significance.”  The Prophet allowed the Christians to pray in the Prophet’s mosque over the objections of some of his companions. The Qur’an states that all the places where God’s name is mentioned are permissible places of prayer. Umar would not pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher only because he did not want to provide Muslims with an excuse to convert it into a mosque.

Catovic: I think Najran is a problem taken as a whole because it was a debate that ended in subjugation.

Ayoub: No. It was a peace delegation. When the Prophet challenged them with the mubâhala they declined, I think not for the reasons given by the commentators, but because they saw no good purpose to be served.

Barzinji: But why would they decline unless they had at least a scintilla of doubt about their views?

Ahmad: I think that Allah intended the mubâhala to be declined; that it was a rhetorical challenge.

Ayoub: No. It was the Prophet who started the debate.

Ahmad: The paper suggests otherwise.

Catovic: I am not certain.

Barzinji: In any case, the curse is only on those who lie; why would they fear this? Why is mubâhala not a last resort in cases of mula`ina or muqasilla?

Catovic: It is a plea to people’s tawhîd, I don’t think it was meant to be accepted.

Ahmad: It is a violation of Christian protocol to pray to curse someone. The reference to Islam in Pope’s letter was gratuitous; the target of the Pope’s speech was the Franciscans.

Ayoub: The Christians of Najran were not the only delegation to come. Ilâf al Quaraysh refers to the alliances the Quraysh made with tribes along the trade routes to assure their safety. When the Prophet was not decisively defeated at Uhud the tribes came to negotiate with the Prophet. The Christians, because of their sense of superiority over the other tribes, came in fancy clothes, but the Prophet would not meet with them. There was no sense of hostility. The Christians say we are Muslims, but they “worship the cross and eat pig meat.” The hadith say on his return Jesus will break the cross and kill the swine, but this is symbolic. It is put in the mouth of the wisest of the delegation to say do not accept this.

Catovic: My whole point is that our position is different from that of the Prophet and Najran is distinct from our position today.

Ayoub: But there is much to learn from it.

Safi: I think the Prophet was not above engaging in inter-religious dialog. As to the return of Christ, the Qur’an makes no mention of it although some ahad hadith mention it.

Catovic: Of course the Prophet was interested in dialog, but it is different for him because he is a prophet.

Hisham Altalib: It seems to me that the purpose of the delegation is to seek peace. If you look at the history of the St. Katherine’s monastery in Egypt, the Prophet granted them inalienable rights to the end of time. They are not required to alter their beliefs or make any payments; it is a document of rights without duties, freedom of religion, work and person, etc.

Catovic: Ibn Kathir has a similar letter to the bishops in the context of the Najran event.

Ahmad: There is also the Ottoman sultan’s invitation to the Jews of Spain. Are you saying that all the hadith about the return of Jesus are ahad?

Catovic: Yes, but ahad doesn’t mean a single source, only that it is not mutawattar.

Ayoub: Qur’an says Jesus will be a sign of the end, which is interpreted to mean he will return at the end of time. Ahad does not include all non-mutawattar hadith; it means a chain that goes back through a single source. Khabar al wahid.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Methodological Considerations Regarding Approaching the Qur’an & the Sunna in the Context of Contemporary Life

Sunday, August 15th, 2010


[This is the twelfth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 12, Moderator: Hisham Altalib
Paper Presentation by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad
“Methodological Considerations Regarding Approaching the Qur’an & the Sunna in the Context of Contemporary Life”

Developing a method to understand Qur’an and Sunna in ways that that are both authentic and relevant to contemporary realities and sensibilities in the West and the Muslim world requires an epistemology predicated on the belief that absolute certainty belongs only to Allah and that the best that humans can do is to seek a convergence of the three sources of knowledge Allah has granted to us: reason, experience, and transmission from reliable sources. Research conducted within that epistemological framework requires a rigorous academic discipline. Every hypothesis, every idea, every argument, and every conclusion must be subjected to the most thorough questioning to seek its weakness with the intention of reformulating any analysis until it can withstand any rational scrutiny or empirical test as well as consistency with the scriptural texts.The corpus of hadith ought not be taken as a given neither in text, interpretation, nor authenticity, but rather as historical reports useful as an aid to understanding the Qur’an insofar as, to the extent that they may be deemed authentic, they provide an insight into the sunnah of the Prophet (as). The sunnah, however, is neither a supplement to the Qur’an nor a means of abrogation of the Qur’an (astaghfirullah!) but a set of examples of how the principles of Qur’anic Islam were implemented by the Prophet in his time and place. These examples provide an illustration of the principles that, properly understood, may allow us to formulate equally correct answers appropriate to our time and place and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Reason is a given, but its application is subject to rigorous critique as any chain of reasoning may be erroneous either because it is based on false premises, contains a logical fallacy, or may simply not apply to the point under consideration. Similarly, due weight given to the significance of experience requires critical analysis as to whether observations are mistaken or perceptions false. When under critical scrutiny we find carefully interpreted revelation, sound reasoning, and repeated experience all point to the same conclusion, we may declare ourselves to be as certain as it is possible for humans beings to be, and still, to avoid arrogance, add Allahu a`lam.

Interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunna requires including scholars specializing in the social and physical sciences as well as scholars of the traditional Islamic disciplines.  While there are some good reasons for thinking of social sciences as “soft science,” any work that approaches the sources of Islamic law must maintain the highest standard of rigor. This begins with the requirement to clearly and carefully define terms in our research and also in the planning and discussion of research.

In the methodology we envision, some things we shall take as a given. The received Arabic text of the Qur’an itself is not open to question and constitutes the furqân, or decisive criterion of any inquiry. Muslims, by definition (the second part of the shahadah, Muhammad ar-rasûl Allah) have already been convinced that the Qur’an has been reliably transmitted from its divine source. (Non-Muslims engaged in discourse on such subjects must accept this premise as a hypothetical.) However, this does not mean that any given interpretation of the text is taken as a given, however longstanding or authoritative its progenitors. On the contrary, all interpretations may be questioned and reconsidered.

In my paper I explore three cases in details and get very different answers. In considering the times of prayers one can argue that a systematic standardized prayer, fixed by time zone but changing by season is a more elegant solution to the problem of high latitudes than the ad doc solution of telling people at high latitudes to follow an ill-defined “normal” population center in their time zone. In the case of the punishment for adultery, stoning is not in the Qur’an and no reasonable case can be made for abrogating the Qur’anic punishment, which flagrantly contradicts any form of capital punishment. In the matter of money, on the other hand, the sunnah is upheld, not in the detail of which substances are acceptable forms of money, but in the principle that money must be a commodity that doubles as a store of value in order to avoid fraud, theft, and monopoly.

Discussant 1: Sami Catovic

I don’t disagree in principle, but would like flesh out the ideas. Put a footnote to indicate that there could be another Islamic understanding. Ghazali sought knowledge free from all doubt.

Ahmad: The correspondence principle only requires that the Prophet’s solution be AN acceptable solution; it need not be the only solution.

Discussant 2: Louay Safi

I disagree with the correspondence principle and have problems with the examples. To me faith is faith in God. To grasp the faith you have to take it as a whole. It has to be rooted in personal experience.  Any faith no rooted in experience is a false faith. To me Ghazali was not a Sufi. Rituals must be taken from the Prophet.  For example, what is the intent of the prohibition on trade outside the market? I fear you are taking something that belongs outside the natural science and applying it to the religious sciences. Qur’an implies the times relate to the movement of the sun itself. On money you can find five or six Islamic sources that disagree with you. Gold would be limiting. Or we would create inflation. I don’t see how correspondence can help us.

Ahmad: The prohibition on trade outside the market is an example of what I’m talking about. To make sense of it we need a theory that Islamic law requires a fair price, which is the price, produced by a market. Sale out side the market is not prohibited per se, but only because it may lead to an unfair pricing. The epistemological basis of the methodology is perfectly general and applies in any field of knowledge. The traditional prayer times are not based on any actual movement of the sun but on its APPARENT movement. Apparent movement depends on the location of the observer. The observer in the case of the Sunnah was the Prophet Muhammad, as, at Mecca or Medina. Thus to base the prayer time son the apparent motion of the sun as seen form the latitude of Mecca and Medina is perfectly sound, while basing posit ion the position of the someone at other locations range from ad hoc (such as the latitude of Washington DC) to absurd (such as Vancouver).

Mohammed: Is your methodology similar to the “double movement” proposal of Fazlur Rahman, [to generalize specific examples into moral or social objectives in historical context and then to apply them to the contemporary one].

Ahmad: I believe so. The point is the specific answers may be change with context, but the principles themselves must apply to all contexts.

Al-Shingieti: Value is a convention. Sometimes there is a disparity between barter conventions. If a state can maintain the exchange value of currency why not do it? I take the relationship between knowledge and human experience as necessary because only experienced things can be known. We can only know through history.

Ahmad: Value is subjective to the agent, not conventional. Conventions are but a single factor influencing what we subjectively value. Market value is the social outcome of allowing a large number of people to trade that which they possess for things they would prefer to have in an open market. It is not conventional at all, but changes, sometimes dramatically.

Ayoub: We always talk about Tahâfût and ihyâ, but Ghazali’s theory of knowledge in Mumkidh min ad-Dalâl is based on two important sources, Qur’an and Sufism. In his life his brother was more famous, but it in the end he is the better known. Knowledge is relative, the sun seems like a small thing in the sky but it is many times the size of the earth. Which is correct knowledge? In Qur’an Allah says, indeed you will know. In the ranks of degrees of knowledge, (e.g., ilm, yakin, ayn al yaqin, haqq al yaqin), experience is subordinated to the highest knowledge. We will experience it because it will be opened to us. Knowledge is not something we can acquire; it is given by God, a light that God inserts into the heart of the mu’min. In the end this is the difference between faith and modern scientific knowledge. The value of rational knowledge is that it can lead you to divine knowledge. Tariqat al-khalîl, the way of Abraham.  In a conflict between `aql and nakhl, choose `aql.

Catovic: Looking at the Prophet’s actions from the view of the Qur’an, I’m reminded of Abu Baker’s response: “If he said it I believe it,” reading the Prophet as subservient to the Qur’anic message.

Safi: These problems only occur when we take a fragmented reading of the Qur’anic text.

Ayoub: Ta’bir an-nakhl is not a reliable hadith.

Safi: I don’t accept the reduction of experience to sense experience. Iman and Islam are not the same thing.

Ahmad: The correspondence principle does not require one to accept any particular hadith it can lead to rejecting some hadith.

Ayoub: There is far more to knowledge than we have discussed this afternoon. The most exalted and meaning of knowledge comes from God and how it comes depends on the individual.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute