Home » All My Posts » Tradition (4) – Conclusion and more…

Tradition (4) – Conclusion and more…

This would be my conclusive post building upon the character of tradition as portrayed in the first three entries of this series (1, 2, 3). I would very concisely highlight few important areas of thought which can be viewed from alternate perspectives by traditionalist and non traditionalist alike if they revisit their notion of the concept tradition.

Belonging to one or multiple traditions would seem totally at place if it is understood as a critical indulgence in our past in order to make our existence meaningful. I have briefly adumbrated in the last post that such a critical enterprise is necessary if we want to create and maintain different forms of knowledge in order to help us understand the world around us.

Which tradition(s) should one associate himself with?
Unless it is understood as a meaningful participation, people do not like to play their parts in keeping a conversation alive. Therefore the responsibility of keeping the tradition(s) alive solely rests upon the soulders of people who are existing in present and haven’t faded away in history themselves. The question above is generally asked when people (or a specific group of people) associate themselves with a particular tradition thereby making a statement that rest of the conversations are not worthy of their attention. Such statements set forth the foundation of a duality with groups of people on extremes deafening the atmosphere in between with noises of their respective conversations. It is very important to understand that different traditions can coexist simultaneously in a person simply because he is unable to understand the world around him in one language.

Traditions within a Tradition.
Sometimes in our effort to preserve a specific tradition we tend to confuse it with the concept of history. A living tradition is not like an event in history but an ever renewed phenomena needing fresh participants. While events in history ‘happen’ tradition has to be ‘created’ and ‘maintained’ if its character is understood as something built on eternal foundations. Such a living tradition should not be understood as a single converstion but a cluster where different conversations keep losing their signifcance and others keep gaining dominance. This nature of tradition should be understood as a normal phenomena. A valid example is of several Muslim Traditions belonging to the same Islamic Tradition and constantly keep enriching it in past as well as present.

The Art of Conversation – Education of Tradition or Traditional Education [1].
Active and meaningful participation in this figurative conversation cannot be attributed to human instinct. In other words its a behavior we have to learn and not something rooted in our creation. The process of this learning comprises of both formal and informal means of education. Keeping this in perspective, ‘education of tradition’ and ‘traditional education’ are two essentially different processes of learning. While former is a way to teach people how to imbibe a particular behavior, latter is way to protect the meanings of a mythical past from being contaminated by the contemporary concerns. This is based on an erroneous assumption that the organic link between the past and the present is broken and many unwanted dualities are imminent.

Conclusion.
I have just tried to provide here a sketch how various dichotomies and conflicts are founded on a false concept of tradition. The brands of dualities within Islam are not mentioned on purpose because the debate on Tradition Vs Modernism is not necessarily an Islamic debate. Though Islam has been at the forefront in prompting that debate at first place. A lot can be built on each of these concepts if we want to shed more light with specific focus on Islam. I leave it as a ceaseless exercise for later, insha’Allah.
_____________________________________________________
1. Another subtle difference highlighted by Dr. Yedullah Kazmi

13 thoughts on “Tradition (4) – Conclusion and more…

  1. An old Sufi tradition advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.
    Perhaps all conversations would be cut short if this rule were followed. Or it might improve the level of discourse🙂

  2. assalamu ‘alaykum!

    That was a very good series, brother.

    I was wondering if you’ve come across Alisdair MacIntyre and Talal Asad?

    wasalam

  3. wa alaikum salam,

    Just came to know about MacIntyre few days ago when you linked his book (After Virtue) on some other blog. I have read excerpts and reviews of Talal Asad’s works in few journals but haven’t read a complete book as yet. Both are on my wishlist. Jazak Allah.

    wassalam

  4. AM – Excellent thoughts, which definitely provoke serious questions and contemplation.

    I was thinking of a few things while reading.

    Where does the tradition exactly begin? For an Egyptian, should they seek to emulate the Prophet, or King Tut? Is traditionalism not essentially arbitrary in its starting date and rooted more in the present individuals sensibilities and identity that the society in which they are seeking to emulate? And if that’s the case, does this not defeat the purpose of traditionalism by reflecting modern identity conflicts through historical comparisons wherein those some identities may not have even existed.

    And for those people involved in tradition breaking, like the Prophet, should he be regarded as someone who did not respect the traditions of Hijaz culture leading up to the 7th century?

    Secondly, the Prophet’s time had concubines and slaves. Up until the 19th century Muslim societies had approved of both practices, when all of a sudden the Ottoman Empire outlawed it.

    Now they did so under the cover of principles within Islam which state that its good to manumit slaves. However, does this not suggest that a re-interpretation of tradition can be done to fit modern ambitions of views? And how different is “reinterpretation” from innovation, which is theoretically forbidden?

    But in the end, my main fear of traditionalism is that it rejects change even though at one point in time the “tradition” was a departure from the past.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts. Hope you have a good week.

    -s

  5. Where does the tradition exactly begin? For an Egyptian, should they seek to emulate the Prophet, or King Tut?

    The question of emulation arises in relation to an individual’s enquiry which may or may not consider a particular tradition authoritative. An Egyption can seek to conduct this enquiry with his past as an Egyption or a Muslim or both.

    In each case the individual (or a group or society in general) has to decide the length of time they should seek back in history to construct ‘contemporary narratives’.

    Is traditionalism not essentially arbitrary in its starting date

    I fail to see this absolute arbitrariness which you seem to point me towards. Obviously Islamic Tradition begins with the advent of Islam in the world. Moreover if we consider that Islamic sources built upon Abrahamic Traditions we can go far back but its not an arbitrary time again.

    However I concede that origins of some traditions can be considered as arbitrary located in past. That depends upon the followers of these traditions to explain how they resolve this alleged anachronism.

    …rooted more in the present individuals sensibilities and identity that the society in which they are seeking to emulate?

    Your point is valid only in cases where there are no traditional sources of eternally binding nature to derive from. Understandings of non-temporal character of various sources of a particular tradition vary and can be understood as a traditions within tradition.

    does this not defeat the purpose of traditionalism by reflecting modern identity conflicts through historical comparisons wherein those some identities may not have even existed.

    The purpose is more than just conflict management. As I said we cannot have meaningful forms of knowledge unless we find our present rooted in some conversation with the past. In my view, Conflict is different than complete disorientation and delusion.

    And for those people involved in tradition breaking, like the Prophet, should he be regarded as someone who did not respect the traditions of Hijaz culture leading up to the 7th century?

    One can articulate this in various ways. In a way Prophet did not break away completely from pre-Islamic Arabian Tradition. Many Islamic rituals were rooted in the traditions of that setting, for instance rites of pilgrimage (Hajj) and fasting with minor variations. To be specific, Islamic Tradition is understood as an evolution of Abrahamic Tradition, an evolution directed by the divinity Himself as believed by Muslims.

    On a different note, Prophets of God though human have different epistemological basis for belief and enquiry. For instance Quran specifically says that Prophet did not speak from himself but through inspiration. I understand that this argument might not be entirely useful for your consumption so I leave it here. Of course I do not consider myself eloquent enough to provide you philosophical grounds for testing divinity of revealed truth.

    Secondly, the Prophet’s time had concubines and slaves. Up until the 19th century Muslim societies had approved of both practices, when all of a sudden the Ottoman Empire outlawed it.

    The practice of Muslim socities should not be confused with the ideals of Islamic Tradition. Slavery in various parts of comparatively contemporary Muslim world was neither practiced nor abolished in the strict spirit of Islamic norms and largely depended on the norms of society. Its abolishment in Ottoman empire was more of a following of footsteps of abolishment elsewhere in the world. It has nothing to do with tradition. Tradition however contains canons of law which put the practice in a particular historical setting into the legal and moral ambit.

    Now they did so under the cover of principles within Islam which state that its good to manumit slaves.

    As I said already the virtue of freeing slaves is not something that someone has to deduct methodically from the traditional sources i.e. Quran and Sunnah. Its plainly presented there in black and white. I once skimmed the Ottoman codification of Law which they are re-editing now in Pakistan, I am sure it needs an in-depth look in view of what you assert as a ‘rationale’ behind abolishment of slavery.

    However, does this not suggest that a re-interpretation of tradition can be done to fit modern ambitions of views?

    Yes, the provision is called Ijtihad (independant juridical reasoning) in Islamic legal tradition.

    And how different is “reinterpretation” from innovation, which is theoretically forbidden?

    This difference protrudes out automatically after different arguments by jurists are pitted against each other. This may be considered an oversimplification on my part and there are intricacies, many of which I am constantly becoming aware of. When you find yourself interested in this part of Islamic Law, it will be my pleasure to converse with you according to whatever little knowledge I possess.

    But in the end, my main fear of traditionalism is that it rejects change even though at one point in time the “tradition” was a departure from the past.

    In my humble view, traditionalism incorporates change within its very definition as I have tried to outline in these four posts.

    regards

  6. AS

    I recommend you read: Which Rationality, Whose Justice? MacIntyre
    It llustrates the struggle of religion in a secular world.

    AS

  7. Salam Brother,
    I realized that your last response was posted somewhere in 2006. Wonder if you will respond to my humble opinion which I posted about an hour ago on your piece, Tradition.

  8. Strong words, there is trueness in your words.
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    Iam a christ from germany, and your blog yield hope.
    Keep it on brother, wo need more trueness on the internet!

  9. Strong words, there is trueness in your words.
    I´ve read the text more than one time, they contact my soul!
    Iam a christ from germany, and your blog yield hope.
    Keep it on brother, wo need more trueness on the internet!”

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