Fazlur Rahman and his Ideas about Islam

I recently finished a paper comparing Fazlur Rahman’s book “Islam” to Malise Ruthven’s book “Islam in the World”, and I became fascinated by Rahman’s writings. When I first began reading about Islam, I was really turned off by traditionalist and literalist scholars. It has taken me more than two years, but I’ve finally found an Islamic scholar whose work is really inspiring, and seems to embody the kind of Islam I find in the Qur’an.

“Rahman set himself free from traditional Qur’anic interpretation in his effort to render the Message accessible to his contemporaries. Rahman “lamented the loss of this resource to most Muslims for whom it is lost beneath benign neglect, taboolike reverence, or traditional commentary which focuses on the intricacies of grammatical and rhetorical points and views each verse atomistically.”

“Rahman considered the Qur’an a major source of Islamic law but NOT the lawbook of Islam. There is a big difference – regarding the Qur’an as a lawbook limits its scope and application and overlooks its flexibility and its dynamism.”

“Rahman’s critique focuses on how the Qur’an and Hadith were misconstrued by Muslim scholars in medieval times, made into rigid and inflexible guides – for all time, as it were – and not recognized as the products of their own times and circumstances.”

This is it people! This is my main belief when it comes to Islam – the context mattered! Why so few scholars/ulama/Muslims are willing to believe this baffles me.

“Rahman shows how the Qur’an and Hadith became embedded in a rigid, static system of interpretation and jurisprudence. This led to the challenge for Muslims in modern times either to turn away from those sources if they would prosper or to acquiesce to an essentially medieval worldview with an archaic, unworkable religious-legal system that thwarts progress and full participation in the modern world.”

Could this be the central problem for Muslim societies today? Why are almost all Islamic countries lagging behind in science, technology, education, the arts? Why are so many Muslims being forced to choose between being modern and being a “Muslim”? Why on earth do we have some ulama actually saying TV, science, and critical thought are “haram”? Honestly, how will Islamic societies EVER regain any kind of dignity in the world of science, the arts, and literature unless we Muslims begin to be more critical? How did Muslims go from being the leaders in science and intellectualism to being the main proponents of anti-modernism? Why does modernity conflict with Islam anyway?

“Muslims have a choice between secularism or an outmoded system, unless and until they return to the Qur’an and interpret it by understanding much of its content as general moral-ethical guidance and prescription and not rigid law. The Qur’an can and must be liberated from its prison of commentary and law and applied in fresh ways and with flexible principles to new realities.”

It does annoy me when non-Muslims make negative and Islamophobic judgments about Islam and Muslims. However, sometimes I ask myself whether we can really blame them completely. Not all Muslim men marry girls younger than 10, but some do. Not all Muslim women believe men are better than them, but many do. Not all Islamic scholars are against science, debate, or ijtihad – but TOO many are. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and literalists, but the Taliban, the Wahhabis, and many others, are. For every Muslim that is genitally mutilated, for every Muslim who marries an 8-year old girl, and for every Muslim that claims all non-Muslims must be killed, we can find a sheikh, scholar or member of the ulama who endorses that view. This is a problem. And I really don’t feel enough Muslims are standing up to it.

I’m tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy. And I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims.

“Without the believers’ intellectual exertion (ijtihad) to comprehend and apply it within the often confusing and contradictory circumstances of historical process, it will languish as a prisoner of dead tradition instead of being permitted to shed its full illumination and regenerating power in the Umma and the world.”

Okay rant over 😀


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