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Fazlur Rahman: A Framework for Interpreting Ethico-Legal Content of the Qur'an

Fazlur Rahman: A Framework for Interpreting Ethico-Legal Content of the Qur'an

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Fazlur Rahman MALIK: A Framework for Interpreting Ethico-Legal Content of the Qur'an
Fazlur Rahman MALIK: A Framework for Interpreting Ethico-Legal Content of the Qur'an

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Published by: Dynamic Sunni Orthodoxy on Jul 30, 2012
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FazlurRahman:aframeworkforinterpretingtheethico-Iegalcontentofthe
Qur'an
ABDCLLAHSAEED
T
HE
Pakistani-AmericanthinkerandscholarFazlurRahman
(1919-1988)
wasoneofthemostdaringandoriginalcontribu-torstothediscussiononthereformofIslamicthoughtinthetwentiethcentury.AstheQur'aniscentraltoanysuchdiscussion,innovativeapproaches
to
itsinterpretationarepartofanyreformagenda.Giventheimportanceoftheethico-IegalcontentoftheQur'aninthedebateonrenewalandreform,Rahman'sworkinthisareaisthefocusofthischapter.FazlurRahmanwasbornon
2I
September
1919
inHazaradistrict,inwhatisnowPakistan,
1
inanareawithstrongconnec-tionstoIslamicreligiouseducation.Hisfather,MawlanaShihabal-Din,wasan
'alim,
agraduateofDeobandSeminaryinIndia.Underhistutorship,ratherthaninaseminary,Rahmanreceivedhisreligiouseducationin
tufsir,
hadithandlaw,theologyandphilosophy.HeattendedPunjabUniversityinLahore,andobtainedBachelor'sandMaster'sdegreesinArabic.HethenwenttoOxford,wherehewrotehisdissertationonIbnSina'sphilos-
ophy.f
ThoughhisprimaryinterestearlyinhisacademiccareerwasIslamicphilosophy,hewaswidelyreadinIslamiclawandhistory,andinethics,
tafsir
andhadith.HavingcompletedhisstudiesatOxford,Rahmanmoved
to
DurhamUniversity(UK),wherehetaughtIslamicphilosophyfrom
19,,)0
to
I958.
HethenlefttotakeupthepositionofassociateprofessorattheInstituteof
37
 
AbdullahSaeed
IslamicStudiesatMcGillUniversityinCanada,whereheremainedforthreeyears.Atthattime,GeneralAyyubKhan,thethenpresidentofPakistan,wassearchingforaliberalreform-rnindedMuslimintellectualtoheadtheIslamicResearchInstitutewhichwasestablishedbyAyyubKhan,inRahman'swords,'toadvisethegovernmentonreligiouspoliciesthatwouldbetruetotheprinci-plesofIslam,interpretedbyusforapplicationinthechangingcontextofthemodernworld'."ThustheInstitutewastoprovideintellectualsupportforAyyubKhan'smodernisationprogram.Pakistan,anationfoundedasa'homelandforMuslims',hadfromindependencebeentornbetweenthetraditionalistIslamofthegeneralpopulationanda'modernist'Islamespousedlargelybytheintellectualandseculareliteofthecountry.Forpoliticalreasons,AyyubKhanneededtosteerapathofmodernisationthatwouldnotoffendtradition.Withhisextensivetrainingintradi-tionalIslamicscholarshipandhiscontactwiththeWest,RahmanwasoneofthefewPakistaniintellectualsatthetimewiththebreadthofknowledgeandintellectforthetask.AttheinvitationofAyyubKhan,RahmanreturnedtoPakistantotakeup,first,avisitingprofessor'spositionand,later,thedirectorshipoftheInstitute,whereheremainedfrom1961to1968.Intakingupthisposition,RahmansawanopportunitytohelpreformthePakistanireligiousestablishmentandinparticularits-educationalsystem.AttheInstitutehebegantrainingyoungPakistanischolarstoapproachtheIslamictraditionfromacriticalperspective.AtthesametimeheprovidedpolicyadviceandrecommendationsonmattersrelatedtoIslamicissuesfromfamilylawreformtobankinterestand
zakat.
Inthis,hisviewswere'liberal'andoftenatoddswiththoseofthetraditionalistreligiousestablishment.AccordingtoRahman,thestiffestresistancehefacedwas'fromreligiousconservatives,anditcenteredmainlyonthequestionoftherightsofwomenandthereformoffamilylaw'."ThediscontentofAyyubKhan'spoliticalopponents,ledbyinfluentialpoliticalandreligiousfigures,foundanidealtargetinRahman,whosymbolisedforthemtheworstaspectsofthemodernisationproject-religiousandsocialreform.
38
Aframeworkforinterpretingtheethico-legalcontentoftheQur'an
ThusRahman'sideas,combinedwithacertaindegreeofidealismandpoliticalnaivety,notonlyputhimonacollisioncoursewithPakistan'spowerfulreligiousestablishment,butalsomadehimapawnintheestablishment'spowerstrugglewithAyyubKhan.Thecountry'sdeep-rootedtraditionalismandmassilliteracyexacerbatedtheproblem.Inanatmosphereofhysteria,threatsweremadeagainstRahman'slifeandhefinallyhadtoresignandleavePakistan.HereturnedtohisacademiclifeintheWest,intheUnitedStates.HewasappointedProfessorofIslamicThoughtattheUniversityofChicagoin1968,andheremainedthereuntilhisdeathin1988.AtChicago,RahmanplayedasignificantroleintraininganumberofpostgraduatestudentsfromcountriessuchasIndonesiaandTurkey.WhilehisthoughtisnotgenerallyknownintheArabworldorintraditionalistreligiouscircleselsewhere,itisinTurkeyandIndonesiawhereRahmanismostinfluential.ManyofhisstudentsoccupysenioracademicpositionsinIslamicStudiesinthosecountries.InIndonesia,forinstance,NurcholishMadjid,oneofthemostinfluentialpublicintellectuals,studiedunderRahmanatChicago.IntheUnitedStates,whereRahmanspentthefinaltwentyyearsofhislife,severalstudentsofIslamtookuphisideasandattemptedtoreinterpretspecificareasoftheethico-legalcontentoftheQur'an.AgoodexampleisAminaWadud,whosework
Qur'anandWoman
isanexcellentexampleofanappli-cationofRahman'sideastotheinterpretationoftheQur'an.AlthoughhespentmostofhisacademiclifeintheWest,Rahman'sprimaryengagementwaswiththeIslamictradition,whichhefeltitwashismissiontoexplaintoalargelyMuslimaudience.
As
Waughcomments:
[F]orallhissojournintheWest,andhisimportanceattheUniversityofChicago,FazlurRahmanneverconsciouslyintroducedanalyticproceduresderivedfromWesternthinkersinamajormanner.Eveninthoseareasthatinfluencedhismethodology...hewasnotattractedtotheongoingdebate.HefeltverydeeplyhisIslamicorigins,remainedcommittedtoanIslamicprocessofknowledge,andrestedwithinanessentiallytraditionalframeworkinhistheoreticalunderpinnings.P
39
 
AbdullahSaeed
Rahman'swritingsareextensiveandmuchbroader
t
h.u
i
Ill'
primaryfieldofIslamicphilosophy.Hiswritingsinclude
J(I()III)
"I
Islamiceducation,Qur'anichermeneutics,hadithcriticism,
";11
IIdevelopmentofIslamicintellectualtraditions,reform
or
bblllH
lawandIslamicethics.Thusitwouldbealmost
imposxil.k
I"
summarisehisthoughtinashortarticlesuchasthis.Ilis
1."'1
knownworksare
Islam
(1966),
IslamandModernity:TransformauonofanIntellectualTradition
(1982),
MajorThemesoftheQur'an
(I~nl)',111.1
ThePhilosophyofMullaSadra
(1975)'Morerecently,his
Reuinatau.tReform
(I999)hasbeeneditedbyEbrahimMoosaand
pu
hlixh•
.I
posthumously.
An
extensivearrayofarticlesattesttothede]
>III
,111.1
breadthofhisscholarship.POneprominentthemeinall
"I
hi',workisreformandrenewal,andtheimportanceofmethodill
1111'.
reform.AmongthemostimportantprojectsforhimwasrefIll
III
"I
Islamiceducation.Unlikemanyreformersofthemodern
1)('11("
I.
Rahmanwasnotinvolvedinamassmovement,anddidnotsedoutpoliticalconflict.Heeschewedapropagandistappm.l.
II.
avoidedactivism,andwasmorecomfortableinconfininghilliselltotheteachingandresearchenvironmentofauniversity.
Rahman'scritiqueoftraditionalIslam
Rahmansawthattheprimaryreasonforthedeclineof
MIISIIII)
societieswasrootedintheintellectuallegacyofIslam.Tit
I~
decline,forhim,didnotbeginwiththeWesternencroach
IIII'III
onMuslimsocietiesfromtheeighteenthcenturyonwards,
;1',
claimedbymanyamodernreformer,butmuchearlier.For11
III
i
I
wastheintelIectualossificationandthereplacementof
srhol.u
shipbasedonoriginalthoughtbyonebasedon
comrncnt.u«:
andsuper-commentaries,theclosingofthegateof
ijtiluul.
;t
I
If
I
thebasingofIslamicmethodsolelyon
taqlid
(blindimit.n
iou
t
whichledtothe
decline."
Giventhis,fromhispointofview,
;1111'
hopeforrevivalshouldbebasedonaddressingthis
intelk-rt
11;11
problem,andgivingittoppriority.ForRahman,then,thefirststepintherenewalof
Isbilli.
thoughtwasahistoricalcritiqueofthelegal,theological
;11111
mysticaldevelopmentsinIslam.
It
wasessentialtohisproject
I.,
40
Aframeworkforinterpretingtheethico-legalcontentoftheQur'an
revealthedislocationbetweentheworldviewoftheQur'anandareassuchastheology,interpretationandlaw:
AhistoricalcritiqueoftheologicaldevelopmentsinIslamisthefirststeptowardareconstructionofIslamictheology.Thiscritique.."shouldrevealtheextentofthedislocationbetweentheworldViewoftheQur'anandvariousschoolsoftheologicalspeculationinIslamandpointthewaytowardanewtheology."
RahmanrelentlesslyarguedthatpristineIslamasreflectedinthemessageoftheQur'anhadbeenlostwiththeformationoforthodoxy,thatis,whatlatercametobeknownasSunnism.AlthoughSunnismclaimstorepresentthe'original'Islam,SunnisminRahman'sassessmentannouncedadeparturefromthepristinefaith.
It
'owesitselflargelytoearliersectariandevel-opments'
,9
and'hadincertainfundamentalways,undergonearadicalchange,indeedametamorphosis,vis-a-visits"original"stateandtheteachingsoftheQur'an'
.10
Thus,hedatedthe'trau-maticdeparturefromtheQur'an'totheperiodthatsawtheformationof'SunniOrthodoxy':namely,theadventoftheUmayyadrule.Hebelievedthattheappearanceof'dynasticrule'hadthemostnegativeimpactonthedevelopmentofIslam.ForRahman,Sunnismcoincidedwiththebreakbetweenpoli-ticsandlawinthenascentMuslimcommunityandtheethicsoftheQur'an.OnlythroughthelaterdiscoursesofSufismwasthisbreakquestioned.ThestressonSufipietybyfiguressuchasal-Ghazali(d.
IIII)
representedrelieffromthelegalrivalriesthatwereoftenmotivatedbybasepoliticalagendas,althoughRahmanpointedoutthatal-Ghazali'didnotcallforsocialorcommunityvirtuesthatwouldonceagainpreparethecommunityassuchtoplaytheroleintheworldthattheQur'anrequiredofit'.llRahmandeplored
zuhd
(renunciationofthisworld),andevenitsgreatfigureslikeHasanal-Basri,forholdingsuchanegativeviewofthisworld.FHealsocriticised'cognitiveSufism'fordisparagingreasonandgivingtheseatofhonourto
kashf
asameansoftrueknowledge.Inhisview,thisstancebolsteredan
,.I'
t
13
alreadystronganu-ranonaIsmmovemen.-RahmanadmiredtheMu'tazilitheoriesofprophecyandthenatureofrevelation,which,afterhistory,formedthemost
41

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