Home » All My Posts » Ghamidi’s interpretation of Islam: Is it a fad that will fizzle out with time?

Ghamidi’s interpretation of Islam: Is it a fad that will fizzle out with time?

I have stopped believing strongly since long that Javed Ahmed Ghamidi’s exposition of Islam, more or less like Mutizilite Islam in medieval times and Progressive Islam in modernity, is a fad that will fizzle out automatically with time; however, I still doubt that sometimes. It is primarily a better understanding of traditional Islam, cornerstone of which is Ilm al-Ikhtilaf, which moved me to drop my prejudiced (most probably) contention. Persevered deliberation made me realise that Ghamidi’s Islam, which I often call Contemporary School and which may going to be widely recognised as Islahi’s School, is a movement that would prove to be good for intellectual rejuvenation of Islamic thought; a kind of renaissance, which according to Javed Ghamidi himself began with Shibli Naumani in Indian Subcontinent.

The most striking feature of Contemporary School, to its proponents and those who agree with it, is its effort to posit a simplified and wholesome interpretation of religion. An interpretation which is commonly accessible because unlike classical interpretive methodologies, it is rooted in a singular divine text which can primarily be deconstructed through its language and historical context rather than tradition; an interpretation which is philosophically dynamic as it advances the ethical argument by way of inherent nature of man rather than any textually ordained source; an interpretation which is jurisprudentially liberating because it delimits the ambit of religious obligation by redefining the second most important source of classical jurisprudence, reducing it to a mere handful of practices; most importantly, an interpretation which is intellectually refreshing as it tends to reposition the categories of classical Islam’s legal archetype.

Yet, despite its entirely remarkable outlook, the school of thought in question poses complex paradoxes that seem unresolvable unless the underlying methodology is repeatedly tuned, tweaked and transformed into a consistent whole. A large part of blame, for this contradictory presentation, should be apportioned to modernity itself which has blurred the demarcating lines between various disciplines of religious knowledge, creating an atmosphere which is difficult for sensible and comprehensible communication. It no more matters whether you are getting a religious opinion from a jurist, philosopher or a traditionist; rather most of the times, it is the persuasiveness and sheer strength of argument with which one challenges the ostensible status quo of traditional scholarship that matters. However, whether traditional or contemporary, intensity of the argument should not be allowed to enshroud the underlying incoherence and inconsistency of the method.

Contemporary School asserts that the language of Quran, which is the single most important source text of Shariah, is not polysemantic in nature (a point about which I have already rambled once) and all differences of opinion due to apparent linguistic ambiguities will be resolved by referring to the context of revelation. The assertion, though attractive, is problematic on a number of accounts. It entails that a particular scholar or group’s insistence on absolute meanings of a verse is completely justified and all other explanations may not be seen as acceptable. It also disintegrates the problem of deconstructing the text by introducing an additional variable of context, differences of opinion regarding which will obviously be left unresolved. The magnitude of these contextual differences can be seen by comparing views of Islahi and Ghamidi on al-Ahzab 33: 59. Contemporary school insists that bringing out coherence (nazm) from the textual structure is the foremost principle and prerequisite of Quranic interpretation, which virtually reduces the possibility of true access of Quran to those individuals who have extraordinary command on language and have an exceptionally gifted mind that can appreciate high poetry in another language.

Indeed, we have enough evidence to substantiate that early generations of Muslims preferably interpreted the text through the simplest of meanings unless there is a specific directive from Prophet; otherwise, it seems hard to believe that some of the companions misinterpreted a seemingly straightforward trope, a caliph refused to comment on the meaning of ab’ba, and an exceptional master of language did not know the exact linguistic flavor of faatiris samaawat.

Coherence is a delight of mind and greatly improves one’s involvement in the divine text but it is not a prerequisite for understanding the message of God (not that Islahi contended so).

The ethical argument of Contemporary School is equally implausible, at least when it is applied to the details of religious interpretation. Philosophical skepticism of past two centuries have showed us decisively that ‘human nature’ is one of the most flimsy ground for establishing the moral argument. Even if one avoids the philosophical gibberish, it seems difficult to show arguably why swines and donkeys were made unlawful and camels were made lawful for human consumption; that too, when Ghamidi argues that Quran has prohibited only those comestibles which could not have been decided by human nature alone and Hadith (or Sunnah) cannot add to the Quran. Now, all of us know that camels and donkeys are not mentioned in Quran (in relation to food) and there are people in the world who have no qualms eating a plate full of sliced bacon.

It also seems strange how human nature alone, with its completely relative criteria of judgment, can be trusted to add into the ambit of religious prohibitions? Isn’t it true that Prophet himself used to ‘naturally’ dislike particular kinds of food and edible meat? If not an absurdity, it at least seems a dire contradiction that human nature can be understood as a primary ‘source’ of religion on one hand and cannot be understood to define what is Shariah on the other. Is it also not ‘natural’ for men to grow hair on their faces? If it is, how it is not understood to be ordained by Shariah; if it is not, why should it be a recommended practice in religion at all.

By redefining what constitutes Sunnah, Contemporary School has actually redefined the established archetype of traditional Islamic law. The observation might seem exaggerated to some, as it has presumably happened partially in the past also; yet, the manifestation of any of the applied legal principles in the past has not been so consequential ever to delimit Prophetic legal authority to something like 27 practices. As already said, deducing Prophetic legal authority from established regional practices is not a unique idea, however limiting this authority solely to the transmitted practices – of majority – is a completely modernist phenomenon; one which is paradoxically simplistic and seemingly oblivious to methods of historical enquiry.

It is funny as it successfully circumvents the need of Prophetic traditions for proving extra-Quranic legal injunctions (of different shades from prohibited to obligatory) but seeks historical record to substantiate consensus of community.

As much as I mull over regarding the past, present and future of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi’s interpretation of religion, I see it quickly disentangling itself from the modernist tradition of Shiblis, Farahis, Azads, Iqbals and Islahis of the Subcontinent. It still remains doubtful whether history will remember it as a valid school of thought that steered Islam’s sojourn into modernity or another media-sect of Subcontinent, which struggled with itself to remain skeptical about all that reached us through tradition.

42 thoughts on “Ghamidi’s interpretation of Islam: Is it a fad that will fizzle out with time?

  1. Excellent article but I expected the author to mention the responses which Ghamidi holds. For example, the author mentioned that the criteria of eating animals is relative. This is true, but Ghamidi holds that the Qur’an has only prohibited only those things in which we can go wrong, such as, even if the Qur’an hasn’t mentioned cannibalism as prohibited act but majority of humans have a de-facto consensus that it is abnormality, hence this act will never a norm of society. On the other hand, if the Qur’an wouldn’t stop swine, it would be eaten by every one because of its ease of production and domestication.

    But any case, it is a wonderful essay. Cheers!

  2. >> All differences of opinion due to apparent linguistic ambiguities will be resolved by referring to the context of revelation. It entails that a particular scholar or group’s insistence on absolute meanings of a verse is completely justified and all other explanations may not be seen as acceptable

    It does not entail that. It depends on whose argument about the meaning of a word in context is the strongest.

    >> Contemporary school insists that bringing out coherence (nazm) from the textual structure is the foremost principle and prerequisite of Quranic interpretation, which virtually reduces the possibility of true access of Quran to those individuals who have extraordinary command on language and have an exceptionally gifted mind that can appreciate high poetry in another language.

    This sounds exaggerated.

    >> Coherence is a delight of mind and greatly improves one’s involvement in the divine text but it is not a prerequisite for understanding the message of God (not that Islahi contended so).

    Does that mean an incoherent understanding is acceptable?

    >>It is funny as it successfully circumvents the need of Prophetic traditions for proving extra-Quranic legal injunctions (of different shades from prohibited to obligatory) but seeks historical record to substantiate consensus of community.

    Extra-Quranioc injunctions?!! I thought the contemporary school does not have such a thing. I thought they understood the ahadith to merely elaborate on Quranic injunctions.

  3. It depends on whose argument about the meaning of a word in context is the strongest.
    And who should be the one to decide that. In a way, I am exactly saying the same thing. In classical Islam, disagreement is usually institutionalized in the post formative period of a school. Abu Hanifa and Shafii disagree on the meaning of Thalasaa Qur’oo, i.e. three menstruating cycles or period of three gaps in between these cycles but Shafii and Hanafite jurists accommodate each other’s interpretation and deduce different legal rulings which are equally valid because ‘language’ supports both meanings.
    Does that mean an incoherent understanding is acceptable?
    Again, acceptable to whom? Unless some external authority is invoked to eliminate all other explanations but one, language communicates different things to different minds. One may invoke his own intellect to make the text coherent (and that is not wrong) or somebody else’s explanation; may it be a hadith, a direct student of Prophet or a respected contemporary scholar.
    Extra-Quranioc injunctions?!! I thought the contemporary school does not have such a thing. I thought they understood the ahadith to merely elaborate on Quranic injunctions.
    Yes, thats what I am saying. The school does not need hadith to prove that a practice has been perpetually transmitted from the Prophet right upto our generation; however it relies on history for verifying that practice. Otherwise Sunnah cannot be differentiated from the bida’a.

    wassalam

  4. >> It depends on whose argument about the meaning of a word in context is the strongest.

    >> Abu Hanifa and Shafii disagree on the meaning of Thalasaa Qur’oo, i.e. three menstruating cycles or period of three gaps in between these cycles but Shafii and Hanafite jurists accommodate each other’s interpretation and deduce different legal rulings which are equally valid because ‘language’ supports both meanings.

    Well, nonetheless Hanafite scholars consider their opinion to be more right than the others and vice versa. Just because they recognize each other’s school doesn’t mean that they freely take from each other. Similarly, a scholar from a contemporary school may deem his argument for the meaning via contextual arguments to be stronger than another scholars. That is not a flaw but a natural thing to do. What am I missing in your argument?

    Coming to coherence, that will be quite undefinable for all circumstances. At the best one can only give some scharacteristics of coherence and leave it at that. Establishing superiority through arguments of coherence is a rhetorical art and not a legal systematic one. What the Ghamidi school does is to give deeper and stronger recognition to the artistic elements of interpretation. This, by nature, introduces lot more uncertainty and vague boundaries of definition. It will take more artistically inclined minds to appreciate it. InshaAllah, as time passes one may find more definitions coming up. However, the foundational pillars of this interpretative method – coherence and context – are extremely difficult to comprehensively define. To that extent, it may unsettle a number of people.

  5. Just because they recognize each other’s school doesn’t mean that they freely take from each other.
    No one is arguing that classical schools take freely from each other. However, rather than ‘correctness’ of their conclusion, it is more of their desire to remain consistent in a methodological framework which stops them to take from each other.
    Similarly, a scholar from a contemporary school may deem his argument for the meaning via contextual arguments to be stronger than another scholars.
    I dont contest that but contextual arguments are sometimes accurate and driven by the power of rhetoric at other times. There can be no tangabile rules of language to govern import of words and phrases when one invokes context. For instance, there is no way to decide who among Islahi and Ghamidi has a stronger opinion when they deduce from Ahzab 33:59. Keeping up with this example, if they consistently follow some tangible rules of language we can say that Islahi always take rulings derived from a particular kind of Ayah (veil or head covering in this case) to be valid for all the times and Ghamidi considers these rulings to be specific for a particular historical settings. Interestingly, Islahi comments against that historicity principle in his Tafsir.
    That is not a flaw but a natural thing to do. What am I missing in your argument?
    As you must have figured out by now, I was pointing towards the apparent inconsistency of method.

    Nothing much to disagree with what you have said about coherence.

    wassalam

  6. A person usually doesn’t establish a methodology and than resolve issues accordingly. It is usually the other way around, where a methodology is formed based upon how a person has been solving a problems for a period of time. Further, methodologies are always modified and tweaked in real life situations, because a methodology is really an artifical construct. Working in an IT company with established process in place, this phenomenon happens all the time.

    Further, human beings are human beings. While a human being may develop some framework to resolve issues, this does not necessitate that in every single situation they will always abide by that framework.

    Everybody knows that even within the classical schools, a scholar that ascribes to a certain madhab does not always stay true to the methodology. For example, the established rule where sunnah can never over-ride the Quran is violated many times within the madhab, despite the methodologies maintaining the exact opposite, i.e. it can never happen.

    [b]I dont contest that but contextual arguments are sometimes accurate and driven by the power of rhetoric at other times. There can be no tangabile rules of language to govern import of words and phrases when one invokes context.[/b]

    I don’t get it. Every dictionary in the word establishes the meaning of a word based upon context. Do a brief search on dictionary.com for the meaning of a specific word with multiple meanings. Than examine how the meaning of the words are derived, and the evidence used to substantiae that particular meaning. Could it be a sentence, i.e. context?

    [b]For instance, there is no way to decide who among Islahi and Ghamidi has a stronger opinion when they deduce from Ahzab 33:59. Keeping up with this example, if they consistently follow some tangible rules of language we can say that Islahi always take rulings derived from a particular kind of Ayah (veil or head covering in this case) to be valid for all the times and Ghamidi considers these rulings to be specific for a particular historical settings. Interestingly, Islahi comments against that historicity principle in his Tafsir.[/b]

    This is not an issue of the meaning of the Quran, for the principle at work establishes that the injunction came during Kandaq, and it was the taunting of the hypocrites that caused it. At the same time, the very principle of Surah Noor substantiates that there is no purdah, simply because the verse speaks about apparent beauty. Also, various other verses in the Quran reference marrying women if ‘their beauty pleases thee’. Ghamidi is asserting that there is no directive that says cover the head. Just because Islahi may argue for purdah does not necessitate that his principles of the Quran and sunnah are to be rejected. It just means he is inconsistent in his application of the methodology, and even greats like Imam Malik were called ‘inconsistent’.

  7. “Yes, thats what I am saying. The school does not need hadith to prove that a practice has been perpetually transmitted from the Prophet right upto our generation; however it relies on history for verifying that practice. Otherwise Sunnah cannot be differentiated from the bida’a.”

    Can you provide an example?

  8. I think if anybody is going to make the argument that ‘coherence is simply delightful’, but it is not a pre-requisite for understanding the message of God, one needs to provide legitimate examples. One only needs to access Ghamidi’s tafseer to see how the method is in fact not merely artistic, but very essential in understanding the Quran.

    A simple example is the verse:

    “O People! Serve your Lord who created you and those before you so that you may be safe [from His punishment].”

    Ghamidi’s comments on the verse are:

    The Arabic words used are ‘لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ’. The word ‘لَعَلَّكُمْ’ is also used to state the expected consequences of something. The object (مَفْعُوْل) of the verb ‘تَتَّقُونَ’ is suppressed. The subsequent verse ‘فَاتَّقُوا النَّارَ الَّتِي وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ’ points to this suppressed object.

    If you notice his last statement, it explains the actual meaning of taqwa in this context. If it were not for the context, one can take other meanings of taqwa which would not necessarily give the correct meaning in this particular verse.

    As the Research Companion states afterwards:

    “Sometimes as a discourse progresses, certain connotations are explained by subsequent verses. Here, as pointed out by Ghamidi (ref. 12) the subsequent verse ‘فَاتَّقُوا النَّارَ الَّتِي وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ’ points out the object (مَفْعُوْل) of the verb ‘تَتَّقُونَ’ given earlier. In other words, the verb ‘تَتَّقُونَ’ is used in its literal meaning to denote the fact that people should save themselves from the fire of the Hereafter.”

    These things are completely ignored when not examining the Quran from the picture of coherence. It is not merely artistic expression, but has through and through practical implications.

    Even in terms of inheritance the role of coherence can be seen, i.e. coherence is related to law. As Moiz Amjad points on, the Quran itself follows and ascending and descending pattern in various verses, which clues one in to suppressed objects. It is through this pattern than one can really reject the ‘traditional understanding’ of inheritance which often-times leads to more than the whole of the inheritance sum.

    ” still remains doubtful whether history will remember it as a valid school of thought that steered Islam’s sojourn into modernity or another media-sect of Subcontinent, which struggled with itself to remain skeptical about all that reached us through tradition.”

    The difference between Ghamidi and ‘progressive’ movements are not even close to each other in terms of intellectual depth. To even liken it to another ‘media-sect’ is quite far-flunged and it is a mockery in my view of what Ghamidi is really about. I had no clues into ascending and descending patterns of the Quran until I became familair with Ghamidi, and such patterns are unheard of in the traditional schools.

    This is why I don’t lend real credence to simply asserting their are ‘inconsistencies’ in the methodology. Methodologies are artifical constructs. You need to provide legitimate examples where the ‘traditional method’ provides a more sound explanation to a particular verse than the one which is based upon coherence. This obviously necessitates that they provide alternative explanations. If you focus just on ‘methodology’, your missing the true nitty-gritty of it all.

  9. It is usually the other way around, where a methodology is formed based upon how a person has been solving a problems for a period of time. Further, methodologies are always modified and tweaked in real life situations, because a methodology is really an artifical construct.

    Both kind of methodologies exist in fiqh, i.e. deductive and inductive. In one case the jurist have proceeded from legal rulings of an Imam and his students to generalised and principled conclusion which we call usul of a madhab; in other cases, the imam himself has neatly delineated the usul and followers of the school have consciously tried to remain within that framework. The example of former is Hanafi school and that of latter is Shafii.

    Further, human beings are human beings. While a human being may develop some framework to resolve issues, this does not necessitate that in every single situation they will always abide by that framework.

    True, and that is why he can be termed as inconsistent in his decisions. That does not in anyway entail that his fatwas are meaningless, illogical and must be rejected. Anyone who asserts that is obviously prejudiced and illogical himself.

    Everybody knows that even within the classical schools, a scholar that ascribes to a certain madhab does not always stay true to the methodology. For example, the established rule where sunnah can never over-ride the Quran is violated many times within the madhab, despite the methodologies maintaining the exact opposite, i.e. it can never happen.

    In that case his views are not taken as representative of his respective school. We have examples like Ibn Taymiah and Shawkani in Hanbali madhab. In a traditional framework, Sunnah over-riding the Quran is different than Sunnah adding to or explaining the Quran. They have a rule of Tatbeeq to conciliate and make the sources compatible; the arguments, I agree, are sometimes implausible and far-fetched but they, neverthless, struggle to remain true to the stated methodology. In addition to that, chances of Sunnah over-riding Quran, in a traditional framework, becomes very less when Hadith, as a principle, is understood as a valid source of Quranic exegesis as well as an independent source of law.

    I don’t get it. Every dictionary in the word establishes the meaning of a word based upon context. Do a brief search on dictionary.com for the meaning of a specific word with multiple meanings. Than examine how the meaning of the words are derived, and the evidence used to substantiae that particular meaning. Could it be a sentence, i.e. context?

    I suppose, we are on the same grounds as far as meaning of ‘context’ is concerned, which, in my view, is the discourse that surrounds a language. Do you agree that both of us can understand deliverance of an argument differently; say for example, in a sociology or philosophy class? The difference in our understandings would obviously lead us to different conclusion. It is hard to argue for a third person whom we narrate our respective conclusions that who is right according to what was actually meant to be said in the class by the teacher.

    Ghamidi is asserting that there is no directive that says cover the head. Just because Islahi may argue for purdah does not necessitate that his principles of the Quran and sunnah are to be rejected. It just means he is inconsistent in his application of the methodology, and even greats like Imam Malik were called ‘inconsistent’.

    Isn’t that exactly what I have said? Further, who is contending that Islahi’s principles of Quran and Sunnah should be rejected? When I read Ghamidi’s arguments and juxtapose it with Islahi’s, it seems naive to infer that Islahi overlooked the verses of al-Noor and other places where beauty is mentioned. It seems to me an obvious issue of taking different verses in different context and placing the injunctions therein into the larger context and perspective which Quran wants to convey to believing women and men. It becomes even more complicated in case of legal rulings as they have practical implications to individual and society. Which methodological principle of exegesis in your view has been applied inconsistently by Islahi in this case? In my view, its nothing but his inference from the context of particular verse. Luckily, he states clearly that rulings remain the same even if time and occassion change and those who disagree seems to be more civilised than Prophet and his companions. I am sorry if I have erroneously narrated his view, as I dont have that volume right now.

  10. >> Do you agree that both of us can understand deliverance of an argument differently; say for example, in a sociology or philosophy class?

    Pls give an example.

  11. Pls give an example.

    All of us get into a communication with personal prejudices which we cannot escape to some degree. The phenomenon of finitude of human understanding can be analysed in more than one ways. Read Derrida, Hume or Gadamer.

    In a recent class that I attended, a scholar made some arguments against scientism in context of comparing religious and secular philosophical ideals. At the end of the session, at least 60-70% of the questions and remarks showed that questioners have somehow understood the scholar to be referring to futility of most of the modern scientific disciplines. For instance, one of the questioners asked him whether modern intellectual currents like transhumanism etc have any value at all. Another asked him to compare disciplines of Artificial Intelligence and sociology.

    I just wanted to remark that no amount of interpretative coherence can downplay the inherent ambiguity in a communication.

    wassalam

  12. >> I just wanted to remark that no amount of interpretative coherence can downplay the inherent ambiguity in a communication

    And methodlogies don’t do any better as well in the same.

  13. “In that case his views are not taken as representative of his respective school. We have examples like Ibn Taymiah and Shawkani in Hanbali madhab. In a traditional framework, Sunnah over-riding the Quran is different than Sunnah adding to or explaining the Quran. They have a rule of Tatbeeq to conciliate and make the sources compatible; the arguments, I agree, are sometimes implausible and far-fetched but they, neverthless, struggle to remain true to the stated methodology. In addition to that, chances of Sunnah over-riding Quran, in a traditional framework, becomes very less when Hadith, as a principle, is understood as a valid source of Quranic exegesis as well as an independent source of law.”

    1.

    Is it better to stick to an ARTIFICIAL construct and engage in linguistic gymnastics just ‘to remain true to the stated methodology’?

    2.

    Even if the opinion is stated as not representative of the school, it does not change the fact that it happens ALL THE TIME. Why grant lee-way to the traditional schools and not the contemporary school? Imam Muhammad differed in his opinion with Abu Yusuf on the issue of intoxication as per substances other than khamr. Imam Muhammad bases his view on various ahad hadeeth. Abu Yusuf approaches it differently. The latter was surely not unaware of all the various ahad hadeeth on the topic. The opinion of Imam Muhammad seems to be more in line with the Hanbali madhab, i.e. it is an issue of METHODOLOGY. Does that mean Imam Muhammad isn’t representative of the Hanifi school? Are we to say they aren’t consistent?

    3.

    The issue of hadeeth is really about whether it can be viewed as independent or not. Nobody denies the role of hadeeth in exegesis. They are supplementary. As Mustansir Mir points out, hadeeth are really viewed as a second source for the Islahi school, similar to the Old and New Testament. They are subject to the principles of historical criticism. But as Javed Ghamidi says, if somebody believes a hadeeth actually came from the Prophet and was an order, than it is INCUMBENT on the person to follow it.

    Again, even within the early schools there was no defined methodology in how hadeeth were used. I have yet to see any consistent approach by the founders of the legal schools, until Imam Shafii came. Even Imam Shafii was criticizing the ‘methodology’ of Malik, because he was not consistent. To me it is an empty slogan.

    4.

    You give an example where Ghamidi differs with Islahi in his interpretation. In fact, there are many examples where Islahi differs with Farrahi in defining the amud of the surah. These differences are acknowledged in their school, but they give reasons why they prefer their amud over their teacher. This does not mean they violate their own principle of coherence, because the issue of coherence is still present. It simply means that one can be more precise in determining the amud than the other. This can’t be taken to mean they violate their own methodology.

    And you cannot give one example of a difference in tafseer of a certain verse regarding the two and try and compare this to the traditional school, showing the superiority of the latter. The differences of opinion within the traditional school are way more, it isn’t even close. You have traditional schools arguing, both based upon hadeeth, who was the alleged son of the sacrifice.

    The real issue that should be addresses is which methodology is MORE PRECISE. I don’t see where the traditional schools are even close to as precise.

    5.

    “When I read Ghamidi’s arguments and juxtapose it with Islahi’s, it seems naive to infer that Islahi overlooked the verses of al-Noor and other places where beauty is mentioned.”

    http://renaissance.com.pk/seocrefl97.html

    Islahi’s views are clearly defined by hadeeth. Islahi, especially in this matter, is more traditional than most people assume. Islahi also does not believe in birth-control.

    The Quran explicitly says in Surah Ahzab “That is more proper so that they may be recognized AND ARE NOT HARMED.” (33:59) The wording itself explains the reason behind it, as well as the context of the surah. “It was as if your hearts were coming upto your throats.”

    “Which methodological principle of exegesis in your view has been applied inconsistently by Islahi in this case?”

    The only sense I can make out of Islahi’s opinion regarding purdah is his cultural upbringing. He does not stay true to his methodology in this particular instance. His argument rests purely on hadeeth, though he clearly maintains that hadeeth can’t be an independent source of law. Maududi shares the same opinion.

    Further, these verses regarding apparent beauty are there, so it is really irrelevant. Ghamidi is closer to the truth than Islahi in this matter. That is just the reality of the situation. But none of this distracts from the methodology.

    A real difference between Islahi and Ghamidi is the interpretation of the word hikmah in the verse regarding the Prophet instructing men in the kitab and hikma. Islahi leans towards the traditional opinion, but he bases it on reason, as opposed to text. Ghamidi on the other hand gives interpretation based upon context and usage in the Quran, and it is the best explanation of the matter. Ghamidi was truer to the principle.

  14. “All of us get into a communication with personal prejudices which we cannot escape to some degree. The phenomenon of finitude of human understanding can be analysed in more than one ways. Read Derrida, Hume or Gadamer.”

    The fact is God revealed the Quran in Arabic, so men may understand. Their is no flaw in the method of speech, meaning it is possible for men to gain the understanding of what God entails. If this weren’t the case, we would end up in nihilism and would be tantamount to saying God did something useless.

    Coherence is an essential element of speech. While personal prejudices play a role in how we interpret a sentence, context eliminates the issue of personal prejudice to a very large extent. Even in court of law, one looks at all the SURROUNDING evidence to determine the INTENT of the criminal. Are we suppose to supsend this for the Book of God?

    “In a recent class that I attended, a scholar made some arguments against scientism in context of comparing religious and secular philosophical ideals. At the end of the session, at least 60-70% of the questions and remarks showed that questioners have somehow understood the scholar to be referring to futility of most of the modern scientific disciplines. For instance, one of the questioners asked him whether modern intellectual currents like transhumanism etc have any value at all. Another asked him to compare disciplines of Artificial Intelligence and sociology. I just wanted to remark that no amount of interpretative coherence can downplay the inherent ambiguity in a communication.”

    Because each field has a specific language. If the audience was equipped in the language, than the differences in opinion regarding what he said would be drastically reduced. In our case, we are asserting that a person understands the language that is being spoken.

  15. “I just wanted to remark that no amount of interpretative coherence can downplay the inherent ambiguity in a communication.”

    The trend in philosophy seems to be moving towards justifying an almost nihilistic approach to communication.

    “God is transcendent and we are human, so we cannot ever truly understand the divine text.”

    Philosophy tends to depart from reality. While there may be some ‘inherent’ ambiguities in communication between two entities, this should never be used as an excuse that language can never be understood. In rarely happens in real life where we cannot understand what somebody tells us.

    Even if we accept this principle, than we can carry it to hadeeth, and not just the Quran. What makes one suspend this to the hadeeth? How is this ‘philosophical issue’ resolved through hadeeth?

    The Quran is quite clear that is it revelation, and unambiguous. God revealed it in Arabic. It is a miracle that God chose to communicate men. This is religion, this is not philosophical speculation. This is certainty, not doubt. God is quite clear in his speech.

  16. I think it’d wrong completely if we’d say that Ghamidi doesn’t have particular set of rules to interpret religion. In the first part of his book Mizan ‘Usul-e-Mubadi’, he explain very clearly the rules which he extracted in order to understand the Qur’an, determine the Sunnah and to understand the hadith. It’d be great if someone could comment on these basic principles or the application of these principles.

  17. “It is funny as it successfully circumvents the need of Prophetic traditions for proving extra-Quranic legal injunctions (of different shades from prohibited to obligatory) but seeks historical record to substantiate consensus of community.”

    With all respect, the Qur’an is also not proved by individual reports by the Sahaba, but actually proved by the continuous perpetuation of Muslim Ummah. If Sunnah is equally authoritative in religion as much as the Qur’an is, then why we should be lenient about its determination?

  18. Do you mean the traditional definition of Sunnah? If yes, how do you assert that traditional scholarship is lenient in determining the authenticity of hadith. Additionally hadith, even according to traditional scholarship is not as authentic as Quran i.e. it is a Dhanni source unless it is Matawatir, defintion of which is again disputed.

    Its just that textual methods of deriving rulings from Sunnah and Quran are similar in traditional methodologies; a fact which is often overlooked: Both sources are dealt as a “text” but criticised differently.

    wassalam

  19. I think I couldn’t convey my message properly. Hadith by definition needs scruitining because there are chances of curruption, unlike the Qur’an, which has 0% chance of curruption. On the other hand, the Qur’an is not proved by a group of Sahaba, rather it is proved by the perpetual adherence of complete Ummah. Ghamidi believes that Sunnah and the Qur’an are equally authoritative, hence, they should be proved by the same source i.e. continuous perpetual adherence of whole Muslim Ummah since prophet Muhammad (sws). Ghamidi further believes that the Qur’an and Sunnah are not only equally authoritative but also equally authentic as well because the sources to prove both are the same.

    This is why I said at the end that if they are equally authoritative, then why we should be more lenient towards Sunnah (i.e. they should be equally authentic as well).

  20. I am sorry, call it my dumbness, but I still fail to pick your point crisply; at least that is what I think🙂 Lets try once again.

    Your initial comment quoted me saying
    It is funny as it successfully circumvents the need of Prophetic traditions for proving extra-Quranic legal injunctions (of different shades from prohibited to obligatory) but seeks historical record to substantiate consensus of community.

    from which I mean that for Ghamidi, hadith does not add anything to the corpus of religion independantly, however some kind of historical record does that. Insisting that Sunnah only constitutes perpetually transmitted practices requires some method to establish veracity of these practices by “showing” that Prophet has some how initiated those in the early community. First, what is the method to show that? Ghamidi replies in Mizan that “historical record” of Ummah is in front of everyone. Now is that record of practices agreed upon by everyone in the community? or there are differences of opinion?

    The problem of differences of opinion regarding practices by many members of muslim community is apparently solved in Ghamidi’s methodology by reducing the ambit of Sunnah to only those practices about which there exists a complete consensus. That exhaustively breaks down the list to 27 practices which can be read in Mizan. In my opinion it is a vague definition about which a lot can be speculated. For instance, aint there any prohibitions in Sunnah? How to resolve the difference of opinion regarding details of these practices? Muslims pray according to many methods? Are all of these can be termed as Sunnah? I can go on and on and I am aware that Javed Sahab and his students are doing a lot to satisfy all these questions on their Understanding Islam portal.

    However, I still need to understand which kind of historical data proves and diffrentiates the veracity of one practice from the other, beyond doubt. If it is not hadith due to its inherent degree of inauthenticity, what is it? Because albeit practical transmission is understandably a method to transmit practices through generations, it is not a criteria that a practice may be correct or vice versa. I learnt to pray from my mother and not through reading ahadith but I need some external eveidence to judge whether I pray correctly or not? Ladies of my house do not pray during their menstrual cycles? is it Sunnah? Most of my community wear caps during prayers? Should I observe it as a Sunnah?

    Please remember that I am not arguing about traditional method of deriving fiqh rulings as yet. There can be innumerable problems in that also, but the complete system works well in the archetype it patterns itself upon. I am not even comparing both methods as yet. I am just trying to understand the contemporary approach well and I am afraid that if it is not understood well, it will fade away.

    Quran, on the other hand is transmitted orally with Tawatur initially and later in written form. Nature of its authenticity is entirely different in my humble view.

    I hope I can now make sense of what your actual point was. The vagueness was not in your question but my initial comment, and I am sorry for that.

    wassalam

  21. IMHO, Ghamidi understands transmition of the Qur’an similar to the transmission of Sunnah. As you said, the Qur’an is originally transmitted orally, similarly, Sunnah was transmitted in practice. This is why, he writes in “determination of Sunnah” that Sunnah only deals with practical aspects of rituals.

    According to my reading, Ghamidi never solely proves something from the historical record, but always couple it with prophet’s action, which definitely comes from hadith record. And as far as the differences in Muslims is concerned, taking the example of praying, the differences among different sects is only in those areas which are actually never fixed by the Prophet (sws) himself.

    As a research student, I just know that if you have a practice, which is attributed by a huge community to the same sources and there is no difference among them on that particular practice, it has to converge at one point in history. And because the only personality in Muslim history which is uncontested is of the Prophet (sws), hence, it has to originate from him. The same argument holds for the Qur’an, and the same argument holds for the Sunnah.

  22. I need to read through your comments, but briefly I will say I too have come to believe Islahi’s theory of nazm and its extension into Law by Ghamidi et al. appears like a ‘straitjacket’ into which the Qur’an is forced. This is not to diminish their effort, and very important work at attempting to reinvigorate Qur’anic studies (first and foremost).

  23. “As a research student, I just know that if you have a practice, which is attributed by a huge community to the same sources and there is no difference among them on that particular practice, it has to converge at one point in history. And because the only personality in Muslim history which is uncontested is of the Prophet (sws), hence, it has to originate from him. The same argument holds for the Qur’an, and the same argument holds for the Sunnah.”

    This first sentence is an excellent point.

    Further, the statement:

    “Quran, on the other hand is transmitted orally with Tawatur initially and later in written form. Nature of its authenticity is entirely different in my humble view.”

    I cannot agree with. Sunnah is a practice, the issue of visibility comes into play. Further, there is repetitive behavior as well.

  24. One of the neglected aspects in this discussion about Islahi is the issue of pre-Islamic poetry being a defining feature in the interpretation of the Quran. For example, the issue of shift in discourse, and insertions but the narrator are all features that were common to oral poetry of the pre-Islamic times, with the Quran taking it to new levels an heights.

    As far as Coherence and law, I have written two articles which summarize my views using practical examples:

    http://quranicrestoration.blogspot.com/2005/12/qurans-uniqueness-in-terms-of-law.html

    http://quranicrestoration.blogspot.com/2005/11/movement-of-quran-in-light-of-verse-of.html

    I will say, contrary to thabet’s assertion, the view of coherence doesn’t straight-jacket the Quran, but actually helps understand how the Quran reforms a society and helps one understand the purpose of a particular injunction, preventing it from manipulation.

  25. I agree that Islahi’s coherence helps us to understand in a much better fashion. Obviously Farahi’s and Islahi’s intentions were to get a better understanding of the Qur’an, noting certain factors which had become, if not lost, marginalised in Islamic history.

    However, my point was related specifically to Aasem Bakhshi’s comment that:

    Contemporary School asserts that the language of Quran, which is the single most important source text of Shariah, is not polysemantic in nature

    This, I believe, is an unresolved problem to which I cannot, as yet, see an answer (not forgettnig that all words are defined by other words…).

  26. Awesome article. Its one of the best I’ve seen on the web. Someone should add it to wikipedia.

    The biggest problem with the concept of nazm is that, while it has been considered a facet of the doctrine of the ijaza al Qu’ran, it is remarkably ambiguous. Is nazm merely the principle of non-contradiction of logical arguments? Than how does one account for the doctrine of abrogation? Is nazm with regards to theology or law? If it is law, then clearly their are multiple interpretations of various injunctions due to the presence of dhanni texts. I am not critiquing the doctrine of nazm as a whole, but merely the Islahi-Farahi-Ghamidi construction of nazm. There are severe flaws with their understanding of Islamic jurisprudence and inshaAllah, they will be exposed on the future.

  27. Pingback: Ghamidi’s interpretation post - some afterthoughts about hermeneutics « Non Skeptical Essays

  28. Most enlightening!
    thanks for such an elaborate discourse. However, for me Ghamidi’s politics is most interesting. Given the climate of absurdity and rigidity that surrounds religious debates in Pakistan, he puts forth a set of arguments that is reformist and the expanded space in media has helped this process.
    Notwithstanding its transience, this discourse has challenged the orthodoxy that alas is embedded in Pakistan’s polity due to the mis-led legal changes effected by Zia and his cohorts. And, stirring this stagnant pond is what Ghamidi achieves with considerable effect.
    cheers, Raza

  29. Yes, brother Raza. I completely agree with you. Ghamidi’s discourse has helped considerably in reviving a climate of discussion and deliberation in an otherwise religiously stagnant society. He has moved a lot of young and old people to re-examine their faiths and study religion with a revived zeal.

  30. Good Post, its always hard to find itellectual criticism on islahi school.

    @levitate
    grow up…
    get a life…
    may Allah help you

    Ameen

  31. Assalamu ‘alaikum

    This is a fascinating fascinating piece and I loved the decorum of the discussion in the comments. Very efficient. Jazakallahu khair.
    I’ve only had minimal exposure to the “Contemporary School” of thought. Can any of you brothers point me to a concise exposition of the main principles and methodology? I’m not particularly concerned with the differences between Ghamidi and Islahi, but more the novel holistic interpretive strategies behind them all.

    My main question is .. do we have enough details of history to know exactly when one practice started or ended or changed? There were widespread bid’ah practices in history which took great ‘ulama and mujaddids to remove. What’s “established practice”? The bid’ah? The removal? The practice before that? Do we know?
    Also, this way you get some Sunnah practices, not ALL or even most. How can we confine ourselves to saying these 27 are it?
    Again, I’m not familiar with the details of the methodology used so I don’t know if my concerns are valid or not.
    Salaam

  32. So when do we condemn these contemporary scholars as innovators? That’s what this is all about, right?

  33. Salamalikum,
    no doubt that Ghamdi has introduced a ‘contemporary school’, and no doubt his ideas are ‘philosophically dynamic’. But he has taken the essence out of Islam.
    There have always been new schools that are introduced in Islam, but only those remain which raise you above the level of a normal non-muslim man.
    I feel Ghamdi’s Islam only takes you as high as a non-muslim with good manners and pure thoughts – that is not what Islam does.
    Islam raises you beyond the level of ANY creation (Asraf-ul-Makhlooq; this means a Muslim has the capacity to rise above the level of Angels, let alone humans).
    I havent had too much exposure to Ghamdi’s works, though I’ve spent my entire life in the company of western Muslim thinkers. The little exposer to Ghamdi has made me realise that even though he has fine concepts, they are not Islamic.
    His school is like an easy solution to Religon for the person who thought Islam was very difficult to follow. Its a resort for people who have western philosophies embedded in their mind.
    There is a certain point beyond which you cant include a school of thought in Islam, that happens when it leaves the basics of Islam.
    Ghamdi has introduced a new school of thought, but I cetainly can not call it Islam.

    May Allah give him hidaayat to lead people to the correct path *Amen*

  34. If we wanna take Islam to 21st century and beyond, we have to follow peoplr like Dr Ghamidi. Otherwise we will be kept trapped ine the time capsule of the past.

  35. @shahid: what do you mean by taking Islam to the 21st century? Has the human needs changed in anyway from the time of Adam? Do we, the people living in the 21st century by the Christian calendar, need a different type of guidance? By the way, Ghmadi is not a doctor. He did his BSc in English.

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