Monday, June 02, 2008

Resurgence of Scholarly Thought

For the past several weeks I've had the opportunity to take a class offered by the imam at my masjid about the differences between the four major schools of fiqh. It was a very interesting class, just wrapped up, and this weekend I finally received a copy of The Four Imams. But aside from the basic material of the class, the sheikh gave us a new perspective on scholarly thought and ijtihad in the modern Muslim world.

He explained that after a time of intense scholarly pursuits, during which Muslims pursued knowledge with fierce dedication, the students of knowledge began to simply follow their teachers. Rather than basing a fatwa on daleel (proof) and ijtihad, they would provide a fatwa of a previous scholar, with that scholar being the authority rather than the verses from the Qur'an, hadith from the Prophet (s) or Companions or other sources which were used. Ultimately that led to a breakdown of the intellectual struggle and stifled advances in Islamic thought. Scholars would train exclusively in one school of jurisprudence, and some people (laypeople I presume) even considered that to change one's madhhab was equivalent to changing one's deen--even converting to another religion like Christianity after being Muslim.

I think it's important to understand that kind of development, intellectual regression if you will, because the dearth of capable scholars leaves many Muslims today prone to be misguided.

Let's take for example the medical field--we have seen in this century amazing new advances is in medicine. Advances in medicine are possible because there is an abundance of doctors and research facilities. People collectively view advancement as important and so resources are devoted to the task. As more people study and practice medicine, the brightest minds are given a forum in which to excel, and funds are directed towards that pursuit.

Why shouldn't the study of Islam be the same way? That we devote our resources towards it--that the brightest minds among the Muslims follow a path that not just reviews and copies what has been done before, but continues to flourish with fresh new perspectives analyzing the past and synthesizing a means for the future. The medical field has developed a culture in today's world, but the study of Islam should do the same. A culture that respects the scholars and puts Allah first, which understands global currents but advances the cause of Muslims worldwide, for the sake of Allah.

That has to begin with thought--introspection. Looking inside our past and revitalizing it. I think this is happening today--Muslims are increasingly active in da'wah to Muslims and non-Muslims. They seek to convey the message to those who haven't heard it, teach it to those who accept it, and implement it among those who embrace it. It is a slow process but that's what we see--slowly but surely the scattered ashes of a united ummah are fusing together, congealing to construct a new house for the Muslims. But without the solid bricks of knowledge, the house can only be shaky, and weak, at best.

Many Muslims today are also seeking knowledge--even in the West, students from overseas are founding new schools and institutes to make knowledge more accessible to Muslims who would otherwise be isolated from the powerhouses in the Muslim world. It is a trend I think we should encourage--yes, it is important to have doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc., but we cannot progress as a single nation unless we understand what binds us together, and that is Islam. The scholars of the past have left us towers, which over centuries have begun to decay and fall. We need to make it a priority, to teach ourselves about Islam, to teach our children, and the rest of the world.

I have immense respect for those who have elected to carry the banner, those who devote hours, days, months, years to the pursuit of Islamic knowledge--may Allah reward them.


Jamilah said...

Asalamu Alaikum Amy

I like the last part about the scholars leaving us towers that are starting to crumble.

Now jumping back up to the middle (or there abouts).. you said that sometimes people will refer back to a fatwa of a previous scholar when asked a question. I see where you are coming from that we can't just blindly follow what was said. What we need to do is examine how that scholar came to that conclusion. Most of the time hadith adn Quran ayats accompany a fatwa... if they don't I see it as a red flag that there is something awry.

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam

I think most of us can't really examine a fatwa as to the validity of its daleel... so in a sense we are blindly following. And isn't it obligatory on us to follow the people of knowledge?

The problem is when our scholars don't even know how to derive the fatwas. If THEY don't understand the daleel, and if they are just using a book which refers to another book, all the works of men, then that's the problem.

Because scholars have sort of stopped the independent reasoning, it's caused the Shari'ah to kind of hit an inflexible wall, and we need to break through that, I think.

Saiful said...

Assalamu Alaikum, sister Amy.

I just wanted to point out an alternate perspective on this :

It's true that there were excesses madhhab-bigotry) in the field, where some believed there's was the only right one. But excesses exist in every Islamic science (hadith forgeries, inaccurate tafseers, etc), and is no reason to discount a science altogether.

It is possible to believe that one should follow one particular madhhab (or technique, for deriving legal rulings) and fully accept that other techniques are also completely valid. This is what the vast majority of Muslims following madhhabs believe, from what I have seen. Allahu a'lam.


Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Saif, and thanks for your comment.

I don't really see how I was discounting a science altogether, or suggesting it.

My post wasn't really about following madhhabs, either. I think it's pretty obvious that the average Muslim doesn't need to be an expert in 'usool ul fiqh and it should be enough to follow what the scholars have said on a matter--following a madhhab is a simple enough way to do that.

But I'm talking about scholars, and when the scholars don't have the daleel, nor do they care to get it. I think the whole process just got to a point where understanding how to do ijtihad was totally neglected (by scholars) and it created scholars who were only capable of reporting what they had heard or read, and not applying that to new situations.

Of course for someone who takes that path, he'd probably have to start with a madhhab, and learn the principles and procedures for that school. And he could stop there or go on to learn other schools' methods as well.

Of course I could be wrong--in my original post or this comment--but I'm not really sure how your comment relates to my post in the first place. I certainly wasn't suggesting or advocating departure from madhhabs.