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FARID PANJWANI Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University London, United Kingdom
The article provides a critical appreciation of the educational thought of Fazlur Rahman, a major ﬁgure in the 20th-century Muslim modernist trend. By situating his life and work in the history of Muslim reform, the article brings into relief distinctive elements of his intellectual project. Connections between Fazlur Rahman’s philosophy of education and his proposal for the Qur’an’s reinterpretation are outlined and assessed. In this context, his ideas about the location of meaning, role of tradition, and causes of Muslim decline which underpin his “double movement” theory are investigated. The article notes the wide-ranging impact of Fazlur Rahman’s interpretive approach on educational and reformist thought in many Muslim contexts. Finally, Fazlur Rahman’s theory and its underlying assumptions are assessed, bringing out in particular the tension between his scholarly and reformist aims. History says, Don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. ---Seamus Heaney (1990, p. 77)
The word islah, reform, has been reverberating throughout the last 200 years of Muslim history, carrying with it memory and belief. Memory that, for centuries in the past, hope and history rhymed when Muslims led the world, belief that if only Muslims could get it right—that is, interpret the Qur’an correctly, follow the true Islam, apply the spirit of Islam, work out the normative Islam—hope and history would rhyme again. Those called conservatives or revivalists or traditionalists and those called modernists or progressives all share this memory and belief. Among the modernists, Professor Fazlur Rahman of Karachi and Chicago, as Kenneth Cragg
© 2012 by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto Curriculum Inquiry 42:1 (2012) Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK doi: 10.1111/j.1467-873X.2011.00574.x
(1985) memorably calls him, is amongst the most inﬂuential reformerscholars in the second half of the 20th century. The conjoining of reformer and scholar was both a major strength and a signiﬁcant weakness, as will be discussed in this article.1 Fazlur Rahman was an educationist not in the sense of being concerned with policies and pedagogies, but in the sense of being in search of the theoretical bedrock of “Islamic education,” a form of education which he believed was necessary if Muslims were to successfully integrate the essence of their faith with modern practices and institutions. He did not start his academic career in the ﬁeld of education, but with the passage of time the question of “the sequence of belief within the sequel of generations” (Cragg, 1985, p. 92) attracted his increasing attention. In several of his articles and in at least one of his major books, education is a central theme. This article aims to provide a critical appreciation of Fazlur Rahman’s educational thought situated within his overall modernist (or neomodernist, as he called himself) reform project. It discusses his life and work in ﬁve sections. These introductory comments are followed by a biographical note. The third section situates Fazlur Rahman’s work, including his concern with education in its historical, intellectual, and political contexts. The fourth section provides a survey of his main ideas and their relationship with education. The ﬁnal section discusses the impact of his thoughts and personality on education and the study of Muslim cultures more generally. It also provides some critical comments. BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE Born on September 21, 1919, in British India, Fazlur Rahman belonged to a deeply religious family.2 He received religious education at home under the supervision of his father, who was a scholar in the Deobandi tradition (Masud, 1988).3 After completing school he went to the University of Punjab for higher studies, where he obtained a BA (Hons.) and then, in 1942, an MA in Arabic.4 In 1946, Fazlur Rahman proceeded to Oxford where he studied under Hamilton Gibb and Van den Bergh for his doctoral work on the treatise on psychology by 11th-century philosopher Ibn Sina (Latinized as Avicenna). Later, he published a book by the title Avicenna’s Psychology, an annotated translation of the sixth chapter of Book II of Ibn Sina’s work Kitab al-Najat (Book of Deliverance). After his studies, Fazlur Rahman taught at the University of Durham and then joined the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. The study of philosophy appears to have nurtured a tension between the need to question and what William James (1909) called “the Will to believe,” creating a phase of acute skepticism towards his traditional learning and conventional beliefs (Rahman, 1985). His book Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy (1958) lays out the various attitudes towards
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
prophecy—and implicitly towards Islam itself —with which Fazlur Rahman was struggling. From his later works, it would seem that eventually he felt “reborn” and sought to integrate the intellectual prowess of philosophy with the faith-inspired dynamism of legal-theological tradition. His method to integrate rational enquiry and religious conviction was a Qur’an-centred hermeneutics, a fresh and personal study of the scripture (Rahman, 1985). This task was to remain a fount of creativity for him and an inspiration for many of his students and followers. In 1961 Fazlur Rahman entered a major new phase in his life when he was invited by the then president of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, to help interpret “Islam in rational and scientiﬁc terms to meet the requirements of a modern progressive society” (Rahman, 1976, p. 285). From 1962 to 1968, he was the director of the Central Islamic Research Institute (CIRI) and a member of the Islamic Advisory Council (from 1964). He founded and, for many years, edited a journal called Islamic Studies. As Director of CIRI, he was also responsible for the training of religious scholars. His book, Islam, a long interpretive exposé of the key historical movements, central concepts, and cardinal values of Islam, was published during this period. He also wrote many articles in English and Urdu, on Pakistan’s educational system, social conditions and political direction (Rahman, 1964, 1965a, 1965b). A series of articles concerning methodological issues in hadith (sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad) and law (Ali, 2009) was published in a book entitled, Islamic Methodology in History (Rahman, 1965c). The issue of methodology would eventually become his distinctive contribution to the reformist discourse generally and to the debates about Islamic education in particular. Rahman’s efforts in Pakistan were aborted when his ideas landed him in trouble with certain conservative groups who saw in him the state’s attempt to weaken and bypass their authority. The opposition he faced remains an unfortunate legacy in the history of modernist versus conservative debates in Pakistan and in Muslim societies generally. Among the many issues on which conservatives opposed him were his support for the Muslim Family Law Ordinance; the advocacy of modern banking system as Islamically legitimate; his interpretation of Mi’raj (the Prophet’s ascent to heaven) as a symbolic/spiritual rather than a physical event; his historical-critical approach to ahadith (plural of hadith); his proposals for streamlining tax structure in the spirit of zakat (obligatory contribution for social welfare); and his views on the nature of revelation. The last of these was perhaps the strongest source of controversy he faced, including being labelled as munkir-i Qur’an (disbeliever in the Qur’an) (Ali, 2009; Berry, 1988; Rahman, 1976). On all of these matters, his stances were progressive and courageous, until now matched only by very few reformers.5 Faced with public agitation, threats to his life, and a dwindling support from the government, Fazlur Rahman was forced to leave Pakistan and settle in the United States in 1968. After a brief association with the
University of California at Los Angeles, Fazlur Rahman joined the University of Chicago in 1969, where he stayed until the end of his life. In the United States, Fazlur Rahman emerged as one of the most respected Muslim thinkers, both inside and outside academia. He wrote on a variety of themes, including Islamic education, Qur’anic studies, law and historical-philosophical topics. His most important work on Islamic education, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, was published in 1982. He was widely consulted by Muslim communities in North America as well as by various governments. In 1985 he served as an advisor to the Indonesian government on matters pertaining to the quality of higher education in Islamic Studies (Ali, 2009; Rahman, 1985). In the same year, he received the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award.6 At the time of his death in July 1988, Fazlur Rahman was the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor, an elder statesman, an authority in his ﬁeld, and a beloved teacher of his countless students who remember him as being rigorous, engaging, and affectionate.
CONTEXTUALIZING FAZLUR RAHMAN’S INTELLECTUAL PROJECT Within a hundred years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims were ruling over a vast empire. Thus, from the earliest years of their history, Muslims witnessed a juxtaposition of their faith and worldly power. The Qur’anic assurance that they were the best community (3:110)7 was conﬁrmed by this situation, which continued for another thousand years or so. However, the encounter with modern Europe, particularly in the context of colonization, brought a revolutionary shift in Muslim societies. This was not only a military setback—for such had happened in the past as well—but also a cultural and social invasion, which affected every norm, tradition, and institution of Muslim societies. It was a transformation at the “level of human consciousness, fundamentally uprooting beliefs, values and even the emotional texture of life” (Berger, 1977, p. 70). This total eclipse of Muslim military, political, and intellectual life ruptured the long-standing link between faith and power that Muslims assumed. It raised many questions: Why was the “best community” in disarray? Why were the “inﬁdels” in power? How could the splendour of the past be reconciled with the squalor of the present? How does Islam deal with the modern world? To such questions there emerged many responses.8 While a few called for the total embrace of secular modernity and the corollary minimization of the role of Islam, the vast majority of Muslims retained a belief in the viability and necessity of their religion in the modern world. Modernists and traditionalists, as they have come to be known in academia, all claimed that with correct understanding and practice, Islam can “recover that initiative in world-history which it deserves to have” (Rahman, 1962, p. 6).9
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
Reformers of the modernist camp, while differing among themselves on many points, shared the belief in the compatibility of modern ideas, practices, and institutions with the spirit, essence, or truth of the teachings of Islam. Some modernists went as far as to assert that Muslim history actually foreshadowed gender equality, democracy, and scientiﬁc spirit.10 They believed in the perfection of the religion of Islam, which meant it could not be held responsible for the backward conditions of Muslims. The burden of backwardness fell on Muslims themselves, who had either corrupted or misunderstood the perfect religion of Islam. For modernists, the essence of Islam was buried under the corrupt and misunderstood practices of Muslims. Finding this essence (also called spirit, unchangeable, or universal) was the central concern of modernists. For this they appealed to the past—some to the Qur’an alone, some to the Sunnah11 as well, and some to the so-called “Golden Age” of the earlier centuries. All this was necessary to uphold the perfection of Islam and its continued relevance while explaining the conditions of the followers of the religion and the present dominance of Europe. Fazlur Rahman was heir to more than a century of these modernist activities. He saw himself as a neo-modernist, reviving and extending the work initiated by those he called the “classical modernists” in the late 19th and early 20th century. Modernity was for him, as for the Muslim modernists generally, a Janus-faced phenomenon. Fazlur Rahman saw its technological and organisational sides as useful for the material uplift of Muslim societies, but felt that its underlying secular worldview was a threat to Islamic moral values. The secular, for Fazlur Rahman, was “necessarily atheistic” (Rahman, 1982, p. 15). His entire approach to Muslim reform was shaped by this understanding of modernity. However, according to the academically trained Fazlur Rahman, the modernist movements had a fundamental weakness. They lacked a sound methodology to distinguish the essence of Islam from its various forms. Another way to put it was that the modernists, according to Fazlur Rahman, lacked methodology to separate what he called the normative Islam from historical Islam, two terms I will examine later in this article. By methodology, Fazlur Rahman meant an intellectually defendable and historically justiﬁable approach to the study of the Qur’an that would reveal the real meaning of the message of Islam. He felt that so far the modernists had searched the Qur’an arbitrarily to ﬁnd what suited their ideology. In fact, he argued that this lack of method not only bedevilled modernist, but also was equally an issue in the revivalist approaches (Rahman, 1982). The result of this was intellectual inconsistencies. An example of these inconsistencies is the way in which the Qur’an and Sunnah are appealed to by the modernists to show rapprochement between Islam and modernity: A Qur’anic verse, such as the one about polygamy (5:38), is explained away by appealing to the historical context of the revelation; but a progressivesounding verse, such as the one about the tolerance of different beliefs (109:6), is quoted with no reference to the context. Sometimes the
example of the Prophet is invoked to mitigate a Qur’anic recommendation, such as regarding the treatment of wives (4:34); on other occasions, the prophetic practice would be rejected if it seemed to contradict a Qur’anic verse with a more lenient approach, for instance, to adultery (24:2).12 Fazlur Rahman saw a need to move beyond such inconsistencies generated by the lack of methodology and assigned himself the task of providing the much needed philosophically sound footing to the modernist agenda. He embarked on a search for “intellectual modernism” or “Islamic intellectualism,” as he called it (Rahman, 1982, p. 1). For Fazlur Rahman, this lack of Islamic intellectualism also pointed to a deeper historical problem—the problem of Muslim decline. Whence can one trace the origins of the present decline of Muslims? This question has received much attention both among Muslim reformers and in modern scholarship. Unlike most modernists, who saw the cause of the decline in terms of military defeats, internal disunity, the incursion of “foreign” customs, not seen as justiﬁed by the Qur’an and Sunnah, and laxity in following religious dictates, Fazlur Rahman understood the decline in intellectual terms. He came to the conclusion that the decline of Muslims was due to the failure of Muslim theology and law to evolve a genuinely Islamic worldview that would have been rational, freedom promoting, and just. The writing was on the wall from the earliest period of Muslim history: “stagnation was inherent in the bases on which Islamic law was founded” (Rahman, 1982, p. 26). Thus, Fazlur Rahman saw the Muslim downfall in modern times as an outcome of a longer-term decline. Hence, to put the reformist thought on ﬁrm intellectual grounds was also to correct a longstanding error in Muslim intellectual history.13
CONCERN WITH EDUCATION If the decline of Muslim societies was rooted in their failure to generate intellectual bedrock, their revival was not possible until this task was carried out, and for Rahman this was essentially a task of creating Islamic education. In the very beginning of his book Islam and Modernity (1982), Fazlur Rahman deﬁnes his understanding of Islamic education:
by “Islamic education” I do not mean physical or quasi-physical paraphernalia and instruments of instruction such as the books taught or the external educational structure, but what I call “Islamic intellectualism”; for me this is the essence of higher Islamic education. It is the growth of a genuine, original, and adequate Islamic thought that must provide the real criterion for judging the success or failure of an Islamic education system. (p. 1)
For Fazlur Rahman, the essence of Islamic education was “Islamic intellectualism,” which for him, in my view, is the same as the “genuine, original, and adequate Islamic thought.” Once articulated, this Islamic intellectual-
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
ism (or the adequate Islamic thought) would provide the basis to evolve and judge the rest of the Islamic education system. Fazlur Rahman was by no means the ﬁrst to see education as central to the reform of Muslim societies. Since at least the end of the 18th century, many Muslims saw education as the “secret wisdom” of the West, which they wanted for Muslims (Hefner & Zaman, 2007). Attempts to reform traditional education and import Western education were made from that time onwards. But Fazlur Rahman was distinctive in holding the view that the successful reform lay neither in importing the Western educational systems, nor in the juxtaposition of Western school subjects and traditional Islamic education, nor in the superﬁcial recasting of madrasa education. The way forward, according to Fazlur Rahman, lay in the philosophical task of evolving an Islamic worldview for education. The centrality of education in Fazlur Rahman’s thought was also linked to the fact that in his lifetime, most Muslim societies gained freedom from colonial rule, and in the process transformed themselves from traditional polities to modern states. What role was education to play in these societies? Fazlur Rahman critically observed that as the newly independent Muslim countries embarked on modernization, the economic role of education became dominant, and only an emotional attachment to religious identity was being nurtured (Rahman, 1982). In his view this predominantly utilitarian purpose to which education was being put risked turning it into an atheistic system leading to the desacralization of morality. An authentic Islamic education was needed to provide children with a holistic and non-utilitarian experience of learning. Fazlur Rahman made a distinction between modern institutions— schools, banks, parliament, and so forth—and a modern mind, with its set of work ethics and moral values, including those of freedom, egalitarianism, and justice. Without a modern mind, institutions are modern only superﬁcially. He observed that while Muslim societies have managed an implantation of modern institutions surrounded by a shallow chorus of modern vocabulary, “the modern mind” had not made “any real impact on the Muslim world” (Rahman, 1966, p. 118). The state of educational institutions in the Muslim world was an example of this superﬁciality. He wrote: “We have now had approximately a century of modern education among us and yet our seats of modern learning have been able to add precious little of real originality and worth to the fund of human knowledge” (Rahman, 1967a, p. 321). For Fazlur Rahman, while the inﬂux of modern institutions and technology in Muslim societies was inevitable, the diffusion of modern mind and values was not. Because of his belief that “the hold of Islam” on its followers was likely to remain strong (Rahman, 1966, p. 118), he argued that modern values needed to be integrated with the ethical message and mission of Islam, and only then would they gain a hold in Muslim societies. For him, Islamic intellectualism provided the fertile ground for such inte-
gration. His concern with education was ultimately a search for intellectual conditions that could help integrate modern ideals with Islamic ethos. As Ibrahim Moosa put it, “it was a search for Islamic humanism in the modern age” (Rahman & Moosa, 2000, p. 24). Fazlur Rahman’s engagement with education was thus theoretical in nature. He lamented the lack of an Islamically oriented theory of education, which he believed was needed if all other aspects of education— curriculum, textbooks, teacher education, and assessment—were to have Islamic traits. In the absence of such a theory, education systems in Muslim countries become poor copies of those in the West. DIAGNOSIS OF EDUCATIONAL MALADY Fazlur Rahman identiﬁed the lack of a genuine synthesis of the modern and the traditional educational institutions as the main weakness of the educational systems in most of the Muslim countries. This weakness had led to a dual system of education, which distributed social, intellectual, and economic capital unfairly among the populations of Muslims. For him the roots of the problem went back to the colonial times. Muslim societies had evolved elaborate educational systems in their history. These systems faced intellectual as well as economic pressures when Muslim societies came under the European rule or inﬂuence. In response, a variety of attempts were made by Muslims to implant the new modern education system alongside traditional institutions. Fazlur Rahman saw these attempts as a reﬂection of mechanistic approaches to combine Islamic tradition and modernity. In some cases, as in Aligarh, Islam was taught by traditional religious scholars alongside modern subjects such as math, science, and geography. In others, such as the Deoband, a traditional curriculum was padded with elements of modern educational management, such as examination, annual reports, and record keeping. Still other approaches attempted to Islamize modern education by means that were not clear to anyone, including their advocates. All such attempts failed to integrate modernity and Islamic worldviews, and in fact resulted in an educational and social duality with far reaching consequences.
The most basic trouble with education in Pakistan and some other Muslim countries, however, is its dichotomy: two systems of education are running side by side, one modern and the other the traditional madrasas, untouched by any modern outlook. The former is government-funded, while the latter is privately ﬁnanced. They are producing men of quite different and incongruous outlooks on life and incompatible world-views. It would be no exaggeration to say that two nations are being produced. (Rahman, 1973, p. 198, italics in original)
Those qualiﬁed from the traditional system “are incapable of even conceiving what scientiﬁc scholarship is like and what its criteria are” and those qualiﬁed from the modern system are unable to produce work that is
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
“Islamically purposeful or creative” (Rahman, 1982, p. 124). In fact, the products of these two systems can hardly communicate with each other. Furthermore, because the state was seeking to follow the path of modernisation, the economic interests were associated with the modern system. The result was that the dual system created not only an epistemological divide, but also a class divide. He saw education in Muslim societies caught in the “most vicious of all circles,” which could only be broken if “necessary and far reaching adjustments are made in the present system of education” (Rahman, 1982, p. 86). Taken together, the discussion in the last two sections highlights that for Fazlur Rahman the crisis in Muslim education was intimately connected with the larger issue of reform in Muslim societies. In both matters the lack of Islamic intellectualism, which could provide the touchstone to work out the authentic Islamic teachings for modern times was the main lacunae. The next section will discuss Fazlur Rahman’s attempt to address this issue. METHODOLOGY FOR REFORM IN TRANSFORMATION OF AN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION While Fazlur Rahman’s diagnosis of the educational problems in the Muslim world and the broad outline of his solution are scattered in several works (Rahman, 1962, 1967a, 1967b, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1988), it is in Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition (1982) that he devoted substantial space articulating his methodology for generating Islamic intellectualism. In this section I will focus on this book, though references will be made to other works as well. The book was the result of a major international project titled “Islam and Social Change” which Fazlur Rahman and Leonard Binder had led. The project resulted in several monographs on various Muslim countries. As the project director, Fazlur Rahman wrote Islam and Modernity as a synthesis and a general work on education in Muslim contexts, both in historical and contemporary times. The book has an intellectually substantial introduction followed by four chapters, each of a very wide sweep. At the very beginning of the book, Fazlur Rahman situates the Qur’an at the centre of his project of working out Islamic intellectualism. He justiﬁes it by pointing out the psychological, spiritual, and practical importance of the Qur’an for Muslims. This status “encouraged the Muslim jurists and intellectuals to look upon the Qur’an (and the model of the Prophet) as a unique repository of answers to all sorts of questions” (p. 2). Fazlur Rahman then makes a crucial point that while this approach succeeded initially, with the passage of time—as the context in which Muslims lived became more and more distanced from the context in which the Qur’an was revealed—the approach faltered. There thus arose a need for a “method and hermeneutics,” which was never “squarely addressed by the Muslims” (p. 2). The result was that the Qur’anic worldview was lost very early on in history. Intellectually, this led
to a situation in which by the 10th century the religious sciences (ulum shariya) were separated from rational sciences (ulum aqliya). This “fateful distinction” in fact was the beginning of the decline of intellectual life in Muslim societies, a situation that became inescapably apparent in light of the political fall of Muslims in the modern period (p. 33). The ﬁrst chapter of the book traces this process of decline in intellectual life. In chapter two, Fazlur Rahman tackles the impact of modernity on various parts of the Muslim world and the resulting intellectual responses. Within this broad context, the chapter focuses on the period of classical modernism in the late 19th and early 20th century, comparing developments in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The emergence of the dual system of education, noted above, is discussed in these speciﬁc contexts. The third chapter on contemporary education examines postindependence trends in the same countries. In the ﬁnal chapter, Fazlur Rahman provides his suggestions for the way forward. Interspersed among these historical surveys is Fazlur Rahman’s methodology, which begins with the need to “distinguish clearly between normative Islam and historical Islam” (p. 141). These are two very important ideas, and Fazlur Rahman’s solution stands or falls depending on how these are deﬁned and justiﬁed. Normative Islam was Islam as it was—as it was in the mind of the Prophet and in the Qur’an. Historical Islam, on the other hand, was Islam as understood and practiced by Muslims, the “career of Islam at the hands of Muslims” (p. 147). Once discovered, normative Islam was to act as a criterion by which the historical Islam—including the entire gamut of intellectual disciplines and scholarship of Muslims—was to be judged. In terms of education, it would provide the philosophical bedrock for the construction of genuine Islamic scholarship, leading to the writing of curriculum and textbooks and the training of teachers, all of which would serve as vehicles for the transmission of the normative Islam to the new generation of Muslims.14 The critical question posed in this important text is: How does one access normative Islam? His response was perhaps his single most important and inﬂuential contribution to reformist thought among Muslims. In his answer to this question, he proposed “the double-movement theory,” moving “from the present situation to Qur’anic times” and then “back to the present” (Rahman, 1982, p. 5). He believed that “to the extent that we achieve both movements of this double movement successfully the Qur’an’s imperatives will become alive and effective once again” (p. 7). There was no ﬁxed content to normative Islam; each generation was to make fresh efforts to discover normative Islam and apply it to the issues of its own times. What was ﬁxed was the correct methodology he was putting forward, not the particular interpretation: “it is obviously not necessary that a certain interpretation once accepted must continue to be accepted; there is always both room and necessity for a new interpretation, for this is, in truth, an ongoing process” (p. 145). The Qur’an, according to Fazlur
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
Rahman, consists not only of particular commands but also contains the rationale, ratio legis, for the commands. The rationale is understood when the individual verses are pondered upon by taking into account the whole Qur’an and the larger socio-historical context in which the verses were revealed. In the Qur’an, inspiration and history interact. The ﬁrst of the two movements—that is, the move from the present situation to Qur’anic times—itself was made up of two steps. When faced with a particular issue in the present time, the ﬁrst of these steps would be to understand “the meaning of the Qur’an as a whole as well as in terms of the speciﬁc tenets that constitute responses to speciﬁc situations” (p. 6). This would lead to the ratio legis:
Generally speaking, each legal or quasi legal pronouncement [in the Qur’an] is accompanied by a ratio legis explaining why a law is being enunciated. To understand a ratio legis fully, an understanding of the socio-historical background (what the Qur’anic commentators call “occasions of revelation”) is necessary. The ratio legis is the essence of the matter, the actual legislation being its embodiment. (Rahman, 1980, p. 47)
By understanding the ratio legis one was able to carry out the second step of the ﬁrst movement, which was “to generalise” from the speciﬁc responses and arrive at “statements of general moral-social objectives” (Rahman, 1982, p. 6).15 Armed with the “general principles, values, and long-range objectives” (p. 7) one would execute the second part of the double movement—working out speciﬁc Islamic norms to be applied now. This required a thorough social scientiﬁc analysis of the various aspects of the current situation and the problem being addressed. Once the morally relevant dimension of the current situation was formulated, the reformer was in a position to apply the Qur’anic objective afresh to it. It is important to bring here a distinction between an appeal to tradition and an appeal to the rational interpretation of tradition. As illustrated earlier, a widespread method of modernists has been to appeal selectively to the tradition, including Qur’anic verses, to advocate change. Fazlur Rahman saw this as a ﬂawed approach: “Its fundamental shortcoming consists in the fact that by an appeal to tradition (rather than to a rational interpretation of tradition), one is strengthening traditionalism itself” (Rahman, 1970, p. 325). Fazlur Rahman, in his methodology, was not appealing to the individual verses of the Qur’an, but to the legislative rationale behind the verse—an interpretive act emerging out of the analysis of the context. The application of his theory led Fazlur Rahman to the view that the essence of Islamic teaching, its worldview, was the belief in one God and ceaseless striving for social justice. The two aspects were integrally related. God was neither an intellectual abstraction, as Muslim philosophers construed Him, nor an object of personal experience, as the Suﬁs conceived Him. Rather, this one God, for Fazlur Rahman, was
[t]hat dimension which makes other dimensions possible; He gives meaning and life to everything. He is all-enveloping, literally inﬁnite and He alone is inﬁnite. . . . God is not an item among other items of the universe, or just an existent among other existents. He is “with” everything; He constitutes the integrity of everything. . . . God then is the very meaning of reality, a meaning manifested, clariﬁed, and brought home by the universe, helped even further by man. (Rahman, 1980, p. 4)
For Fazlur Rahman, God served as hope, as the guarantor of the unity of virtue and happiness, helping humans to remain between nihilism and hubris. With God as hope, it was left to humans to bring about social justice (Rahman, 1967b). God and humans were together in creating a just world. Because Fazlur Rahman took social activism to be the essence of the Islamic message, he considered much of Suﬁsm as un-Islamic, as it made God an object of personal experience and left out the message of social activism. Following are some examples of the application of his theory. The ﬁrst is Fazlur Rahman’s analysis of the legal status of murder. The traditional Islamic position, based upon appeal to isolated verses, has been that murder was a private crime against the bereaved family, which thus has a right to decide the fate of the murderer. Fazlur Rahman argued that if these verses were read in the context of other verses, such as 5:32,16 and in light of the historical context, it would emerge that the general principle was that killing a person was like killing humanity. Hence, murder was a crime against society and not against the bereaved family only. The state, and not the bereaved family, must deal with murder.17 Another example was Fazlur Rahman’s proposal regarding the function of zakat in a Muslim country. Generally, zakat is seen as a form of charity, whereby Muslims are required to distribute a formulaic amount voluntarily (though in some countries it is collected by the state). The rate of zakat is ﬁxed, and it is so small that it can only act as a form of charity in modern times. The modern state is run on taxes, with zakat acting as a charitable institution. Against this general view, and based on the application of his theory, Fazlur Rahman saw the zakat as a tax—in fact the only tax—imposed in the Qur’an to meet all the needs of the nascent society of Madina (Rahman, 1970). Hence, the ratio legis of zakat was to meet the social, administrative, and military needs of Muslim societies through their internal means. The particular rate and modes were reﬂective of the needs of that society. In light of this, Fazlur Rahman recommended that “Muslims might rationalize and streamline the taxation structure by reintroducing zakat, reﬁxing its rates in view of the colossal rise in government spending” (p. 328). As noted above, this suggestion was one of the issues for which he faced resistance in Pakistan. Several historical, epistemological, and hermeneutical assumptions underpinning the double-movement theory are worth noting as they relate to the viability of the idea of normative Islam. To begin with, Fazlur Rahman believed in an objective meaning of the text, which can be
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
accessed through a rigorous analysis of intra and extra-textual contexts. He was aware of this assumption, and referred to Gadamer’s work as anti-thesis of his own. Another underlying assumption in his theory was historicism, the belief that ideas cannot be understood unless the historical circumstances surrounding them are taken into account. For Fazlur Rahman, normative Islam was to emerge through an exercise in historicity whereby the teachings of the Qur’an would be understood in their full and proper historical contexts. Rationalism of religious teaching was another assumption in Fazlur Rahman’s theory. He believed that religious teachings are rational and thus comprehensible by the human mind; faith and knowledge, instead of being in separate compartments, were in harmony with each other. In a later section of this article I assess the viability of these assumptions to ascertain the solution as proposed by Fazlur Rahman.
NORMATIVE ISLAM AND EDUCATION How does Fazlur Rahman’s methodology and normative Islam relate to education? As noted above, once normative Islam was worked out, it would serve as the criterion to assess historical Islam, to ﬁnd out what was in line with this normativity and what was not, and thus must be rejected:
The ﬁrst task, I submit to you, indeed the urgent task, is to re-examine the Islamic tradition itself. I would rather call it the Muslim tradition, which contains, of course, many Islamic things, many unIslamic things and many that may be on the borderline. This is extremely important. Is Ibn ’Arabi reﬂective of the Qur’an? How far is Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Ash’arism in conformity with the Qur’an? How far is al-Ghazali’s teaching in conformity with the Qur’an? (Rahman, 1988, p. 8)
Regardless of its philosophical soundness and practical viability, the proposal is nonetheless radical. Few reformists have attempted to challenge the entire tradition of Muslim scholarship or to propose its critical assessment. In Fazlur Rahman’s view, the result of this exercise—of assessing the historical Islam by the criterion of normative Islam—would yield that which was genuinely Islamic. In educational terms, normative Islam would provide the tools with which a selection could be made from Muslim cultures to arrive at an Islamic curriculum, or at least part of such a curriculum. To this historical corpus, scholars would add what was required to lead a modern life according to normative Islam, thus completing the curriculum of Islamic education. The working out of the modern content required an assessment of the world in which we live in a manner that was “unencumbered by the concerns of dogma and imaginary fears about change. In this regard the role of science, the social science, and the humanities were all indispensible aspects” (Rahman & Moosa, 2000, p. 8).
Here, too, normative Islam would be the criterion that would determine what should be adopted in Islamic education from modern knowledge. The pedagogical task of educators would then be to ﬁnd ways in which this Islamically approved knowledge was to be transmitted to the new generation. But these educators must themselves be able to envision the dialectic between the past and the present, which underlies the double movement. This required people who were familiar with both traditional Islamic subjects and modern scholarship. One of Fazlur Rahman’s laments was the lack of such personnel, a situation that he saw linked with the dual system of education dominant in the Muslim world. During his tenure as the director of the Institute of Islamic Research, he attempted to remedy the situation by encouraging madrasa-trained students to learn modern research approaches and by encouraging university graduates to learn classical Islamic learning (Ali, 2009).18 This whole task—deriving normative Islam, sifting through historical Islam, assessing modern knowledge, and creating pedagogy for the transmission of the resulting Islamic education—was envisioned by Fazlur Rahman as a collective and ongoing endeavour. As will be seen in the next section, several Muslim scholars have been inspired by this vision and have devoted their intellectual energies to apply Fazlur Rahman’s doublemovement theory to arrive at the normative Islam. It is less clear that much success has been achieved in applying the results to actual educational practices in the Muslim world. We can conclude this section by asking what kind of Muslim Fazlur Rahman was envisioning that would emerge out of an Islamic education carried out according to his ideals. This can only be speculated as he does not speciﬁcally answer this question. Given Fazlur Rahman’s aim to bring to the Muslim world not only the modern institutions but also the modern values, it can be expected that he was envisioning a Muslim embodying an Islamic modernity with values of egalitarianism, social activism, and what he called “progressive embodiment of the fundamental values of freedom and responsibility” (Rahman, 1979, p. 39). A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF FAZLUR RAHMAN’S WORK As Ibrahim Moosa has noted, Fazlur Rahman tried to open doors, some of which were closed for centuries (Rahman & Moosa, 2000, p. 204). After him, others have tried to keep these doors open and to walk through them to new pastures. Among these are his scores of students, who are perhaps the most important source of his inﬂuence. Many of them went on to become respectable scholars themselves. They have written about the lasting impact of Fazlur Rahman’s personality, mastery of scholarship, and commitment to tradition. As Donald Berry (1988) noted, “the refreshing candour and vitality of Fazlur Rahman has thoroughly permeated the ﬁeld of Islamic Studies in North America” (p. 37).
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
His methodology has inspired fresh readings of the Qur’an on wideranging topics; for many scholars Fazlur Rahman’s approach—bringing together a holistic rather than atomistic approach to the Qur’an with the tools of social sciences and humanities—has become common sense. For them, only a historical understanding can provide a basis for the contemporary application of the Qur’anic teaching. Amina Wadud, for example, writes in her book, Qur’an and Woman (1999), that she used the “method of Qur’anic interpretation proposed by Fazlur Rahman” (p. 4). Deploying this method she criticised the atomistic approach predominant in the tradition of Qur’anic interpretation, which has led to androcentric readings, justifying and reinforcing patriarchal social practices. Similarly, Farid Esack (1997), in formulating an interpretation of the Qur’an that embeds the struggles and aspirations of Muslims for justice and liberation, adopts an interpretive model that is similar to that of Fazlur Rahman. Another example is Fazlur Rahman’s inﬂuence in Indonesia, where he has been a trailblazer in what is called the liberal Islamic revival (Harjanto, 2003). The foremost leader of this school of thought, Nurchlolish Madjid, did his doctorate under Fazlur Rahman. In his writings and speeches, Madjid has been a strong advocate of secularization (which he distinguishes from secularism) and intellectual freedom, the two elements he sees necessary if Muslims are to distinguish between transcendental values and temporal values (Madjid, 1998, p. 286). In general, Fazlur Rahman’s approach underpins the work of many of those seeking to provide progressive interpretations of the Qur’anic text. Though R. Kevin Jaques (2002) observes that Fazlur Rahman “failed to have an impact on Muslim thinking beyond the conﬁnes of academia” (p. 83), this may be changing in recent years. Now he has a notable presence in “cyber Islam” as well as in the world of journalism, and in many blogs and discussion forums people refer to his thoughts.19 Fazlur Rahman’s work could be seen as a major watershed in modernist discourse. As Richard Martin (1998) notes, “Virtually no other Orientalist, Muslim or non-Muslim, reﬂected as Fazlur Rahman did on the theoretical problems and hermeneutical issues involved in interpreting religious texts” (p. 247). The result is that any signiﬁcant work in this tradition must now provide reﬂexive comments about its methodological mode. Thus, there has been a qualitative shift in Muslim theoretical engagement with the discourse of modernity and post-modernity. In the same spirit, Fazlur Rahman is among the pioneer scholars cum reformers who seek to combine academic rigour with commitment to Muslim tradition. He constantly struggled to push his convictions about religion to their utmost limits, seeking to give them as ﬁrm a rational ground as possible. In the years since his time, this combination is now widespread in universities. More speciﬁcally, in terms of today’s education, Fazlur Raman’s insistence that broader human potential rather than economic utility should be the underlying purpose of education remains relevant at a time when there is
an increasing drive to deﬁne, manage, and judge education on economic terms. His thought also shows that concern with the ultimate meaning of education is found across traditions and that it can be the basis of creating dialogue across people from different religions and cultures. Fazlur Rahman’s widespread inﬂuence notwithstanding, questions can be asked about his methodology and assumptions. Because in this article we are approaching him as an educationist, reformer, and an academician, the assessment would be along these lines. Educationally, for instance, it is unfortunate that Fazlur Rahman did not provide any concrete examples of how his ideas can be applied into actual educational contexts. He did not elaborate what a curriculum or a teacher education programme based on his ideas would be like. Perhaps he thought that thinking about the concrete application of his ideas was premature. Before a curriculum could be designed along the lines of his “Islamic intellectualism,” the normative teachings of Islam need to be worked out in a range of areas. In my interviews with the advocates of Islamic schools in the West, I found that some of them believed that Fazlur Rahman’s approach would help them in their search for Islamic education (Panjwani, 2009). If we assess him as a reformist, we note that his central concern was with discovering the normative Islam. This was to emerge through the application of critical historical methods whereby the teachings of the Qur’an would be understood in their full and proper historical contexts. But how much does one need to know about these contexts to be sure that one knows enough to contextualise the Qur’anic teachings? In recent decades, scholars have situated the early period of Muslim history at the tail end of Late Antiquity. This periodization has led to the revision and re-evaluation of many elements that would count as the context of revelation (Cameron & Conrad, 1992; Sizgorich, 2009). Our knowledge of the context of the Qur’an is growing, but it is also leading to different understandings of the same events and to more questions. Similarly, in reading Muslim sources, the imprint of post-Prophetic fragmentations, diversity of outlooks, and the political stances cannot be ignored. The time lag between the “event of the Qur’an” and the sources carrying asbab-e-nuzul (occasions of revelations) poses its own set of historiographical problems. How does one reconcile divergent historical understandings to arrive at the knowledge of the context that would lead to the general principles? It is not clear that one can ﬁnd satisfactory answers to these issues in Fazlur Rahman’s work. Furthermore, the normative Islam Fazlur Rahman arrives at, the Islam of social justice and activism, seems to neglect, or at least underrate, many aspects of religious life—aspects such as love, gratitude, worship, and festivals. As Cragg (1985) puts it, “the Muhammad beloved of the Suﬁs . . . must give way to the Prophet who inaugurated a new society through a revelation essentially geared to action” (p. 91).
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
There is another related problem as well. Fazlur Rahman certainly made a valid point that a simple appeal to tradition was going to ultimately strengthen traditionalism. Instead, he argued that Muslims should aim for a rational interpretation of tradition. The problem is that he seems to equate being rational with being progressive and liberal, yet such an equation does not necessarily follow. The interpretation of tradition can be rational but conservative. In fact, one of the reasons for the appeal of conservativism among the educated sections of Muslim community is that conservatism is presented in a rational manner and not simply by the force of authority. Fazlur Rahman’s approach also comes very close to being unfalsiﬁable. For him, if a particular Islamic solution—found through the application of his theory—did not work, it meant either Muslims did not understand the Qur’anic principle correctly or that the principle was not applied correctly. No other possibility arises:
For if the results of understanding fail in application now, then either there has been a failure to assess the present situation correctly or a failure in understanding the Qur’an. For it is not possible that something that could be and was actually realised in speciﬁc texture of past cannot—allowing for the differences in the speciﬁcs of present situation—be realised in the present context. (Rahman, 1982, p. 7)
It is hard to envisage what would count as evidence against his approach. As with unfalsiﬁable approaches generally, there is even a danger of a totalitarian outlook, and Fazlur Rahman came very close to it. In his view, once normative Islam was found, it must be applied with strength: “The inertia and recalcitrance of people to the establishment of such a social order has to be overcome. People have to be made conscript in the path of goodness, so to say, if they suffer from inertia” (Rahman, 1967b, p. 104). When considering Fazlur Rahman as a scholar, it is important to note his belief in the possibility of accessing objective meanings of the Qur’anic text as it was in the mind of the Prophet. In light of the ﬁndings of modern hermeneutics, is this belief sustainable? Can one go beyond interpretation to an objective meaning? Gadamer (1975) argues:
A person who is trying to understand a text is always performing an act of projecting. He projects before himself a meaning for the text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges in the text. Again, the latter emerges only because he is reading the text with particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. The working out of this fore-project, which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as he penetrates into the meaning, is understanding what is there. . . . This constant of new projection is the movement of understanding and interpretation. (p. 236)
Fazlur Rahman was aware of this challenge and in fact noted that if Gadamer were right, his whole thesis collapsed: “If Gadamer’s thesis is correct, then the double-movement theory I have put forward has no
meaning at all” (Rahman, 1982, p. 8). Yet, he barely engaged with the challenge of those who think that meanings are not objectively in the text waiting to be discovered but exist “only inside the consciousness of living persons” (Smith, 1980, quoted in Cragg, 1985, p. 95), produced and reproduced in the engagement between the text and the reader. To acknowledge this would have meant legitimising “those many Muslim hearts and minds Fazlur Rahman is at pains to exclude or correct” (Cragg, 1985, p. 96). Not surprisingly, Fazlur Rahman (1982) dismissed this challenge by calling it “hopelessly subjective” (p. 9). To be fair, he always qualiﬁed his search for objectivity; he demanded “sufﬁciently objective” knowledge or “fairly objective” judgement, but he never elaborated on what would count as sufﬁcient or fair. In my view, this is evidence of the tension between Fazlur Rahman the scholar and Fazlur Rahman the reformer. The scholar recognised the challenge posed by the interpretive nature of scripture, but the reformer was not able to follow through the implications.20 Finally, Fazlur Rahman calls for a thoroughly rational metaphysics of Islam, reconciling knowledge and faith. But can this be claimed without addressing the challenges posed by philosophers such as Hume and Kant? Again, Fazlur Rahman was aware of this challenge, and in light of it, he made God a regulative idea. Yet he failed to show how this regulative idea related to the notion of revelation and how it served as a divine response to the human condition. Can a modern theology ignore the perplexities about the very possibility of the Word of God?21 As he sought to Islamise modernity, he hardly dealt with the claim that “few ideas are more foreign to modernity and Enlightenment than the idea of revelation” (Wild, 2006, p. 1). Notwithstanding these criticisms, Fazlur Rahman has left many lasting imprints. Perhaps his most important legacy is the boldness with which he made proposals for reforms. Modernity was an opportunity and a challenge for him. Many of his followers, particularly those working on extremely sensitive matters like gender and sexuality, and who wish to engage with modernity as a challenge and an opportunity, draw upon his work. Weaknesses in his approach are not conﬁned to him alone. They are endemic to the entire modernist tradition. They are accentuated in his case because unlike many other reformists, Fazlur Rahman wanted to remain a thoroughgoing scholar; herein lay the tension between Fazlur Rahman as a scholar and Fazlur Rahman as a religious reformer—it is indeed a tension between history and hope. REFERENCES
Ali, N. (2009). A tribute to Dr. Fazlur Rahman: An Islamic modernist with a difference (1919–1988). Islamabad, Pakistan: Council of Social Sciences. Berger, P. L. (1977). Facing up to modernity: Excursions in society, politics, and religion. New York: Basic Books.
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
Berry, D. (1988). Dr. Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988); A life in review. In E. Waugh & F. Denny (Eds.), The shaping of an American Islamic discourse: A memorial to Fazlur Rahman (pp. 37–45). Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. Cameron, A., & Conrad, L. I. (1992). The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East: 1st Workshop on Late Antiquity and Early Islam: Papers. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press. Cragg, K. (1985). The pen and the faith: Eight modern Muslim writers and the Qur’an. London: Allen & Unwin. El-Rouayheb, K. (2006). Opening the gate of veriﬁcation: The forgotten ArabIslamic ﬂorescence of the 17th century. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 38(2), 263–281. Esack, F. (1997). Qur’an, liberation & pluralism: An Islamic perspective of interreligious solidarity against oppression. Oxford: Oneworld. Gadamer, H. (1975). Truth and method. London: Sheed & Ward. Gibb, H. A. R., & Bowen, H. (1950). Islamic society and the West: A study of the impact of Western civilisation on Moslem culture in the Near East. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Harjanto, N. T. B. (2003). Islam and liberalism in contemporary Indonesia: The political ideas of Jaringan Islam Liberal (Unpublished master’s dissertation). Ohio University, Athens. Heaney, S. (1990). The cure at Troy: A version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes. London: Faber. Hefner, R. W., & Zaman, M. Q. (2007). Schooling Islam: The culture and politics of modern Muslim education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Hodgson, M. (1974). The venture of Islam: Conscience and history in a world civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. James, W. (1909). The will to believe, and other essays in popular philosophy. New York: Longmans. Jaques, R. K. (2002). Fazlur Rahman: Prophecy, the Qur’an, and Islamic reform. Studies in Contemporary Islam, 4(2), 63–83. Kurzman, C. (2002). Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Levtzion, N., & Voll, J. O. (Eds.). (1987). Eighteenth-century renewal and reform in Islam. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. Madjid, N. (1998). The necessity of renewing Islamic thought and reinvigorating religious understanding. In C. Kurzman (Ed.), Liberal Islam: A sourcebook (pp. 284–294). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Martin, R. (1998). Fazlur Rahman’s contribution to religious studies: A historian of religion’s appraisal. In E. H. Waugh & F. Denny (Eds.), The shaping of an American Islamic Discourse: A Memorial to Fazlur Rahman (pp. 243–259). Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. Masud, M. K. (1988). Obituary notes. Islamic Studies, 27(4), 397. Merad, A. (1960–). Islah [Reform]. In Encyclopaedia of Islam (Vol. 4, pp. 141–163). Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill. Metcalf, B. D. (1982). Islamic revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Panjwani, F. (2009). Rethinking the educational case for schools with Muslim religious character: Critical analysis of the conceptions of knowledge and autonomy (Unpublished DPhil thesis). University of Oxford, Oxford. Rahman, F. (1958). Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and orthodoxy. London: Allen & Unwin. Rahman, F. (1962). Some observations on education and religion. The Voice of Islam, 10, 157–161. Rahman, F. (1964). Islam aur Pakistan ki salmi’at. Fikr-o-Nazr, 2(2), 89–93. Rahman, F. (1965a). Islami hakumat aur qanun sazi. Fikr-o-Nazr, 3(3), 208–216.
Rahman, F. (1965b). Islami saqafat kia hay? Fikr-o-Nazr, 2(12), 779–788. Rahman, F. (1965c). Islamic methodology in history. Karachi, Pakistan: Central Institute of Islamic Research. Rahman, F. (1966). Impact of modernity on Islam. Islamic Studies, 5(2), 112–128. Rahman, F. (1967a). The Quranic solution of Pakistan’s educational problems. Islamic Studies, 6(4), 315–326. Rahman, F. (1967b). Some reﬂections on the reconstruction of Muslim society in Pakistan. Islamic Studies, 6(9), 103–120. Rahman, F. (1970). Islamic modernism: Its scope, method and alternatives. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 1(4), 317–333. Rahman, F. (1973). Islam and the new constitution of Pakistan. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 8(3/4), 190–204. Rahman, F. (1976). Some Islamic issues in the Ayyub Khan era. In D. Little (Ed.), Essays on Islamic Civilization, Presented to niyazi Berkes (pp. 284–302). Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill. Rahman, F. (1979). Islam (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rahman, F. (1980). Major themes of the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica. Rahman, F. (1982). Islam & modernity: Transformation of an intellectual tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rahman, F. (1985). My belief in action. In P. Berman (Ed.), The courage of conviction (pp. 152–159). New York: Dodd, Mead. Rahman, F. (1988). Islamization of knowledge: A response. American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 5(1), 3–11. Rahman, F., & Moosa, E. (2000). Revival and reform in Islam: A study of Islamic fundamentalism. Oxford: Oneworld. Shaﬁq, S. (1995). Islamization of knowledge: Philosophy and methodology and analysis of the views and ideas of Isma’il R. al-Faruqi, S. H. Nasr and Fazlur Rahman. Hamdard Islamicus, 18(3), 63–75. Sizgorich, T. (2009). Violence and belief in late antiquity: Militant devotion in Christianity and Islam. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Soroush, A. K. (1998). The evolution and devolution of religious knowledge. In C. Kurzman (Ed.), Liberal Islam: A sourcebook (pp. 244–254). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Voll, J. O. (1999). Foundations for renewal and reform. In J. Esposito (Ed.), The Oxford history of Islam (pp. 509–548). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wadud, A. (1999). Qur’an and woman. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Walsh, D. (2011, March 16). CIA spy escapes murder case in Pakistan after US pays “blood money.” The Guardian. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www. guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/16/cia-spy-murder-pakistan-blood?INTCMP =SRCH Wild, S. (2006). Self-referentiality in the Qur’an. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz.
1. Islah has a much longer history, but my reference here is to movements that arose at least partly in response to the impact of the rising European military and political ascendency (Merad, 1960–). 2. Fazlur Rahman’s place of birth is generally given as the Hazara district in Khyber Pakhtunkwa (formerly North West Frontier) Province of present-day Pakistan. However, Ali (2009) notes that sources differ with regard to his place of birth with some claiming that he was born in the province of Punjab.
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
3. Deoband is both the name of a madrasa located in the city of Deoband in India as well as of a school of thought that emerged out of it. The madrasa was established in 1867 (Metcalf, 1982). 4. Some decades later Fazlur Rahman fondly recalled the inﬂuence of his parents:
My mother and father had a decisive inﬂuence in the shaping of my character and earliest beliefs. From my mother I was taught the virtues of truthfulness, mercy, steadfastness, and above all, love. My father was a religious scholar educated in traditional Islamic thought. Unlike most traditional Islamic scholars of that time, who regarded modern education as a poison both for faith and morality, my father was convinced that Islam had to face modernity both as a challenge and an opportunity. I have shared this same belief with my father to this very day. (Rahman, 1985, p. 154)
5. While among his admirers in the West Fazlur Rahman generally receives sympathy for his struggle with conservative sections in Pakistan, many in his own country remain ambivalent, if not critical, of his association with a military dictator. 6. The award is given to recognise signiﬁcant and lasting scholarship in the study of Islamic civilization. It is based at the Center for Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. 7. The reference is to the Qur’an, cited as chapter and verse(s). 8. A consciousness of history going wrong, of the ideals of Islam not being realised in the realities of Muslim societies, is discernable throughout Muslim history. The designation of rulers after the ﬁrst four “Rightly Guided” caliphs as muluk—kings, the belief in the coming of a reviver (Mujaddid) every hundred years, and the long-standing wait for a Mahdi, all point to such a consciousness. However, in the modern period there was now an external factor, a rival civilisation proclaiming its superiority that, at least in the material domain, was hard to ignore or deny. 9. There is no scholarly agreement with regard to the taxonomy of Muslim reformist activities in the late 19th and early 20th century. In this article I have followed the categories used by Fazlur Rahman himself. He distinguishes between several reformist movements: the revivalist movements in the 18th century were the pre-colonial movements which sought to purify Muslim practices by seeking to return to a pure Islam; the modernist (or classical modernist) movements of the late 19th and early 20th century, which tried to reconcile modernity and Islam; the neo-revivalist movements in the second half of the 20th century, which sought to revive the political role of Islam in modern state; and the fundamentalist (or Waahabi) movements, which attempted a strict literalist understanding of the Qur’an. He called himself a neo-modernist. 10. Amir Ali’s The Spirit of Islam, published in 1891, is arguably the most erudite work in the early modernist period. 11. Custom or practice, particularly that associated with the exemplary life of the Prophet Muhammad. 12. For details of these, see various extracts of modernist writings (Kurzman, 2002).
13. In modern scholarship, the meaning of decline, the standard against which the decline is measured, and the period when the decline started, all are vigorously contested. For details, see, among others, El-Rouayheb, 2006; Gibb & Bowen, 1950; Hodgson, 1974; Levtzion & Voll, 1987; Voll, 1999. 14. In several of his works, Fazlur Rahman discussed historical Islam. For instance, in Prophecy in Islam he explored various conceptions of prophethood. In Islamic Methodology in History he showed the historical evolution of Islamic thinking in law. In such works he engaged with history qua history, for he believed that “neither Islam nor the Muslim community will suffer from facing the facts of history as they are; on the contrary, historical truths, like all truths, shall invigorate Islam” (Rahman, 1965c, p. x). This “modern” attitude towards the study of the past was itself a radical stance. He correctly anticipated that the traditional ulema—religious scholars—were unlikely to accept this perspective of history and faith. 15. Here Fazlur Rahman is critical of almost the entire Muslim scholarship on the Qur’an, as he believed that it failed to understand the underlying unity of the Qur’an. This was because the Qur’an was approached in an “atomistic” manner where laws were extracted by focusing on individual verses and not on the underlying ethical principles (Rahman, 1982, pp. 2–3). 16. “Whosoever kills a person unrightfully or without a mischief [i.e., a war] on the earth, it is as though he has killed all humanity; while he who saves one person, it is as though he has saved the whole humanity.” 17. It might be of interest to note that earlier this year a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, was caught in Pakistan on the charges of murder. After much legal manoeuvring he was released through the payment of diyat (blood money) under Islamic legal provision, which was based on the traditional understanding of murder as a crime against the family (Walsh, 2011). 18. It may be useful to note that Fazlur Rahman is sometimes included in another reformist project—Islamization of knowledge—which also had very strong educational elements (Shaﬁq, 1995). The project’s roots can be traced back to the 1950s when a group of Muslims started to argue that Islam provided a way to generate its own distinctive form of knowledge. While there are overlaps, Fazlur Rahman did not share the basic assumptions of this movement. In fact, he seemed to have a very different understanding of knowledge and its relationship with Islam. Unlike the proponents of Islamization of knowledge, he did not believe in the relativity of knowledge or in the possibility of Islamizing knowledge. For him the issue was not cultural speciﬁcity of knowledge but its application (Rahman, 1988). 19. While conducting a teacher education programme in Karachi, I met a teacher of Islamiyat (religious education as it is called in Pakistan) who used Fazlur Rahman’s approach in discussing the Qur’an in his classroom. He had come across these ideas through the Internet, and ﬁnding them inspiring, started using it to explain the Qur’an to his students. 20. Ibrahim Moosa, in his introduction to Fazlur Rahman’s book Reform and Revival (2000), provides useful background to the work of Italian jurist-philosopher Emilio Bette, whose approach to text and meaning appear to have inﬂuenced Fazlur Rahman.
FAZLUR RAHMAN: A CRITICAL APPRECIATION
21. Some more recent Muslim thinkers, such as Abdol Karim Soroush, appear to be engaging with this challenge. Soroush distinguishes between religion and religious knowledge—a distinction akin to Fazlur Rahman’s distinction between normative and historical Islam. However, unlike Fazlur Rahman, Soroush (1998) does not claim that it is possible to reach normative Islam or religion in itself.
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