The Need for Contextualisation of Islamic Tradition

“To contextualise rulings”, means to take the foundations of something and make it applicable to the times in a meaningful way, or to grant dispensations in areas recognised by the Shariah.

Much of what we see happening today in the “scholarly tradition” under the pretext of “contextualisation” (and reform) is a desperate attempt to convince the society that the modern standards of life are suitable for our religion; by making permissible what is known to be forbidden, in search of some desirable ease. It is rather unwarranted and unqualified reasoning by those who wish to change the rules and regulations of matters that are well established in our religion only to show the world that we have transcended the draconian scholarship of the past. If it is not to please anyone, then the aim is to show that we are qualified, somehow, to excercise our juristic reasoning in order to come up with rulings that are in conformity with the modern standards of life in the West.

Sadly, such people are mistaken by the common folk to be scholars of Islam, since they “give fatwa”. But because they are assumed to be scholars by the common folk, their Ijtihadi-opinions are respected. When in reality, they are simply Naqilin (transmitters) entrusted with the task of transmitting and ruling by the Mu’tamad (relied-upon position) of the madhhab. They are not Mujtahid (one who is able to exercise independent juristic reasoning) even of the lesser degree. Rather they distort and help in destroying a true representation of the religion (unintentionally, of course).

Sh. Al-Mishri Ahmad Ibn al-Hawi said:

…The well known (opinion) with us is the nonexistence of any mujtahid from approximately the time of Ibn ‘Arafah [d. 1401 CE] or Imam Suyuti [d. 1445 CE].

Sidi ‘Abdullah b. Ibrahim in Maraqi as-Su’ud says:

‘(As for) The Ijtihad in the lands of Islamic West

The phoenix flew away with it to the sky’

Here is an interesting observation made by Daniel Haqiqatjou, he says:

Beware the Muslim reformers coming out of Islamic studies university departments.

Often these are very confused individuals, but they speak confidently about the moral imperative to “reform Islam.”

What makes them dangerous is that they quote from the classical texts to make it seem to the average Muslim like their reform is either informed by the tradition or is necessary in light of the manifest “barbarism” of the tradition. But their citations virtually always are either selective, partial, distorted, or all of the above. Sometimes maybe they just don’t know better. Other times it’s clearly deliberate.

One of the things Western academia teaches you is how to be creative with the source material and how to “craft your own reading.” This approach to “scholarship” stems from the postmodernistic notion — a notion that is rife in all the liberal arts — that text has no inherent meaning and it is only different readers that project their opinions and commitments onto the text. This means, in their minds, that no reading is inherently superior to another. Hence, all readings are worth seriously exploring, which is what the university facilitates.

As you can imagine, this makes it very easy for these Muslims to justify a selective, contorted interpretation of the texts as scholarly and sound because “Well, everyone’s reading is in some way selective, so why is my reading any less plausible?” etc. Suffices to say that all this incentivizes far-fetched interpretations that are presented to Muslim laypeople as accurate and faithful conveyances of the tradition.

To be clear, I am only referring to “reformers” here.

Although the above is not restricted to the “reformers” only, it applies to all those who approach traditional texts the same way.

Some rulings in Islam are easy to practice while others are difficult. So, let’s be thankful for that which Allah has made easy for us and ask Him for forgiveness and strength for that which is difficult. No need to claim that one needs to transcend the barriers of Taqlid (imitation) and centuries of scholarship in order to “reform” the Deen so it fits our times and social constructs; it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—it just can not happen. We can contextualise a text in light of another authorative text, but so long as a precedent exists in our legal texts, we are bound by it. We can find the easiest and appropriate of the two Mu’tamad opinions and practice that. But no need to turn the Deen into a potpourri of Rukhas (dispensations)—“Deen of ease”.

May Allah protect the ‘Ulama al-Haqq and protect us from the Ulama as-Su’.

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