Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ramadan 2014 -- Day 24, Learning About Shari'a Part 4

(This is the fourth installment of my read through "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" by Mohammed Hasim Kamali, you can find part three here)

Okay, so I’ve covered the Qur’an and how Islamic Scholars analyze the authenticity of hadiths in determining Islamic Law. Yet there is still more work to be done on just those two sources. The book I’m reading dedicates a full two chapters (around 70 pages) to interpreting the words in the sources to determine their intended meaning. 70 pages! As you could imagine it gets complicated. While with most words the meaning is clear there are some where the precise meaning could be open to interpretation and even a few instances where it is not entirely clear what the intended meaning of a word is. Much like English, words can have multiple meanings and usually the context lets the reader understand which meaning was intended. Occasionally though more than one meaning could work and the context does not provide enough to be able to distinguish which meaning was intended. This is another area where scholarly opinion can differ.

An example given was a passage that states a dowry for marriage can be waived by one “in whose hands is the marriage tie”. Scholars differ in opinion as to whether it refers to the spouse (Shafi’i interpretation) or the guardian (Maliki interpretation). The interpretation can impact the Law. Even things such as whether a command has to be obeyed once or on every single occurrence during someone’s lifetime has been debated on some passages. How that is interpreted will make a huge difference.

The chapters go on to discuss things like determining implied meaning in words, and how to judge varying meanings of words to determine which meaning should take precedence when comparing its usage across multiple examples. I won’t go into more detail than that, it would require someone fluent in Arabic to be able to do that kind of analysis anyway, something I won’t be tackling anytime soon.

Finally there’s the issue of Naskh (abrogation) in the Qur’an and Sunnah. A declaration in those works could have been superseded at a later date by another declaration. All scholars appear to be in agreement that naskh can only have occurred during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, when the Qur’an was revealed and the actions that formed the hadiths occurred. Nothing that occurred after the death of the Prophet could be naskh to the Qur’an or Sunnah.
Like everything, naskh can be complicated. Does the abrogation only occur in specific circumstances (partial abrogation) or was in meant to completely supersede the previous text (total abrogation)? Can a sunnah be naskh to the Qur’an? Scholars differ on their opinion but most disagree.

Naskh can be contentious, scholars have disagreed on just how often naskh occurs in the Qur’an itself, let alone in all of the Sunnahs. Issues trying to determine the exact timing of revelations or hadiths, combined with debates over whether a naskh is partial or total, leads to a huge variance in how naskh is applied by scholars.

Still only half-way through the book, more to come on Shari'a Law.

1 comment:

Bruce Dauphin said...

Glen, you seem to be of the mind that complexity within Islamic scholarship is in itself a kind of validity of its credibility. You suggest that the likes of ISIS and critics of Islam will take a simple passage or two and attribute meaning to it, without taking into account the wider historic and literary context, as a proper Islamic scholar might do. And, therefore, the position of ISIS or many critics of Islam can be discounted. But my argument would be that the complexity revealed through analyis and debate over varying interpretations of Islamic tenets does not make the position of the scholars any more valid than those who take a more casual approach to the faith.

I don't think that this very scholastic form of Islam has much relevance to the average adherent of the faith. Rather, it is just one of many competing ideologies which influence how each person practices his/her faith. The answer to countering ISIS is not to argue the validity of Islamic scholarship. Instead, simple common sense is enough to argue that the views of ISIS are bankrupt.

Of course, you want to emphasize the point that ISIS is not only perverted but also non-Islamic, and therefore you bring in the role of Islamic scholarship in defining what is true Islam. But again, Islamic scholarship, I feel, for being so esoteric is itself not very representative of the reality of Islamic practice across the globe. Local cultures, for example, seem to define the character of Islam in many places more than any deep research into the the meaning of this or that hadith.