What is Wrong with Us?

2014-07-02 03:05:00

Nazila Isgandarova

A Toronto-based researcher and the author of the Nectar of Passion

Published by Today's Zaman on July 30, 2014

Weblink: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-351711-what-is-wrong-with-us-by-nazila-isgandarova-.html

The division of the Muslim world into the Sunni and Shi’a sects once more became very sensitive with the war in Syria and the recent resurgence of the ISIS in Iraq. Both Muslims and non-Muslims question how come Islam, which is “a peace of religion”, cannot achieve the unity of Muslims. Who represents the “true” Islam? These questions are valid and the answer is important in addressing the problematic areas of our faith.


First of all, as millions of Muslims, I also strongly believe that Islam preaches unity; however, its followers are so diverse in regards to their values, lifestyles, and approach to religious tradition that anyone who attempts to get a monolithic answer will face many dilemmas. One of the diversity of Muslims is with regards to the existence of sects and multiplicity of religious thought.Such diversity is a blessing in many senses; however, Muslims still struggle how to embrace and deal with this diversity. As the internal war in Syria and Iraq once again demonstrates that the invented famous tradition about the seventy-three sects, which are destined for Hell, except one, still produces very many problems indeed. This tradition formed the basis for the history of sects in Islam, which its advocates, such as early Muslim scholars, including Ibn Batta (d.997), al-Shahrastani (1086-1153) and al-Baghdadi (d. 1037), then Ash'arite theologian Adud al-Din al-Iji (c. 1281-1355) and others, tried to identify the successful sect as their own sects of school of thought. Such attempts opened a new direction in Islamic theology: orthodoxy and heresy. This is one of the important reasons that early and later generations of Muslims came to various, unfortunately biased conclusions about the important sources of Islam, its theology and history. However, the later generations failed to embrace the diversity of opinions and thoughts in the Muslim community. One blamed the other for the mischief among Muslims. For example, the radical Sunni groups still explain fractions as an attempt of Islam’s enemies, especially Jews and Persians, e.g. Abdallah ibn Saba’ and Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah. They even invented terms such as ghuluww, ilhad, or zandaqa to describe their “heresy” in Islam. The situation was so tragic that the groups under the Sharia Orthodoxy once rejected even Muslim scholars, such as Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina because the radical Muslim elements did not appreciate intellectual freedom and lacked sympathy, honesty, open-mindness, sensitivity to their fellow Muslims. At the result, the true meaning of diversity of Muslims is still exaggerated and distorted.


Why some ideas are popular while others aren't


The second of aspect of the question with regards to the representation of Islam is even more challenging than the first question. Both the Sunni and Shia groupings in Syria and Iraq attempted to prove their claims using the early Islamic texts, such the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, as an endorsement for their views. The issue becomes more tangible when we pose the question? Why do some ideas become popular and others are rejected among orthodox Muslim community? There are many explanations for this question. Here are the possible responses to the problem:


1. Fazlur Rahman explains it with normative Islam, which is the Sharia with its two important foundations: the Qur’an and Sunna. However, the Sharia is the production of the established Orthodoxy, which became the religion of the state and the existing order during Ummayyads and Abbasids, then its institutions, such as madrasahs were established to spread the state ideology but became not a rigid ideological machine but a vivid and sometimes mystical theology of majority of Muslims as a result of popularity of Sufism.


2. The orthodoxy in Islam problematic because there was not a widely accepted Islamic Council or ecclesiastical institution, similar to Christian Churches, to lay down the principles, or formula that could embrace the whole of the true faith of Islam. As Ignaz Goldziher claims, there were no single authorized interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith. However, what is missed here is that such an approach, using the Christian principles to understand the Qur’an, and other sources and also fractions in Islam, did not help to achieve the whole picture of the measure of orthodoxy or heresy in Islam. Muslims instituted ijma’ or consensus, which served to a purpose to establish a wide area of agreement; that was an important institution and contributed to establishment of a bridge among once hostile Ashari, Hanafi, Hanbali, etc. and recently Ithna Ashari dogmas. As a result, Godziher mentions, almost all orthodox Muslim theologians avoided of condemning or accusing another Muslim, who prayed towards Mecca, as infidels and admitted that the difference of expression did not mean the person became disbeliever, or kafir.


3. The inquisition, which begun by caliph al-Ma’mun against the groups of bid’a, ghuluww, ilhad, or zandaqa, suggests that the state accepted the orthodox doctrines as the state ideology because it did not challenge their title or their rights to caliphate; however, they persecuted the movements or fractions, which challenged their secular and religious status, and accused them under the label of bid’a, ghuluww, ilhad, or zandaqa.


4. As Fazlur Rahman mentions, “there will always be legitimate differences in interpretation.” However, this growth of thoughts is not “a product of Islam” due to “orthodoxification.”


In conclusion, Muslims still have a long way ahead of them to embrace their diversity. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I mentioned before, without acknowledging the problems that damage our unity and asking, “What is wrong with us?” it is impossible to achieve the status of Islam as a religion of peace. It is also impossible to achieve the true and unbiased picture of Islamic fractions. Otherwise, these problems will be a menace to our internal and external peace, as it has already started in Syria and Iraq.


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