Thursday, August 9, 2012

Muddle and Puddle within Islam

'We Are Calling for a New Interpretation of the Koran''

A new research centre in Qatar seeks to focus more attention on the ethical dimension of Islam. The founders of the centre and its director, Tariq Ramadan, are calling for a new interpretation of the Koran in order to advance a contemporary Islamic understanding of matters such as environmental ethics and gender issues. Christoph Dreyer spoke to the centre's deputy director, Jasser Auda
Early this year, the Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, of which you are deputy director, started its work within the Qatar Foundation's Faculty of Islamic Studies. Why is there a need for such a centre?
Jasser Auda: The idea behind the centre is renewal. Islamic law and Islamic ethics require renewal from both sides: from the side of Islamic law, the ethical dimension is not stressed enough. And the ethical philosophy in Islam is too abstract and not applied enough to be a law, because the word "law" in Islam means more a code of ethics than a legal system in the modern sense.
When you emphasize the ethical dimension of Islam so pointedly, what is it you are distancing yourselves from?
Auda: We differentiate between looking at Islamic law in terms of the letter and in terms of the purposes, or maqasid in Arabic. We think that once we look at the purposes versus the letter of Islamic law, we give Islamic law the necessary dynamism to cope with current changes and to meet the expectations of Muslims and non-Muslims in today's world.
What role does the concept of ijtihad play in this idea of renewal?

Jasser Auda (photo: © Jasser Auda)
Jasser Auda explains that the founders of the centre think that focusing on the intentions behind Islamic law instead of the letter of the law gives Islamic law the dynamism it needs to cope with the modern-day challenges
Auda: This is exactly what we are trying to do. Contemporaryijtihad cannot be an ijtihad based on scriptures alone, it has to be based on the scriptures and the reality of the people – based on the text and the context. We bring the dimension of context to ijtihad so that it is not only about the text and the linguistic interpretation, but also about more, in light of the realities that the different sciences – social sciences, natural sciences – are revealing to us. This is not something new, but we are redefining it in the contemporary sense.
What might your approach look like in practice?
Auda: For example, the way many Islamists approach politics today is taking the letter, whether the letter of scriptural sources or sometimes the letter of history. They think in terms of making a khilafa (caliphate) in the way it was made after the time of the Prophet Mohammed. But if we look at the meaning of khilafa, it is – as the ancient scholars also said – a state that is based on justice.
So if we look at the purpose of the "Islamic state", which is justice, then it could take the form of a modern state where institutions each play their role and where powers are separated etc. But if we take things literally and try to build a state that is very similar to the Islamic states that existed 1,000 years ago, then we will miss out on justice and freedoms and we will miss out on issues that are themselves core issues in Islam.
The same applies to other issues, like women or human rights. If we focus on the Koranic message of mercy and love and so forth, then we are able to deal with contemporary issues in a better way. That is true especially in the area of politics and women in Islam or the general area of rights, and these are the two areas we think are crucial in the current renewal debate.
Why these two areas in particular?
Auda: The area of politics and the area of women in Islam are full of historical constructs that are not necessarily congruent with Islamic ethics. For example, the Koran describes the marriage between men and women as something that is based on love and mercy. This is not exactly what you find in fatwas from the old times that describe marriage as a contract – and there are all sorts of conditions that are put in that contract, some fair and some unfair. If you take the essence of the Koranic message, you can renew these contracts and these social norms to make them more equitable, and to give women a greater role in the family and to take care of children's welfare.
Of course we are not saying the Koran is unfair, but the Koran was interpreted in an unfair way, and we are calling for a new interpretation, or for a renewal of interpretation, in order to build today's Islamic discourse on ethics. We think that this is the core of Islam.
Tariq Ramadan (photo: dpa)
The well-known professor and Islamic thinker Tariq Ramadan is director of the recently founded Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics in Qatar. Says his deputy, Jasser Auda: "we are not saying the Koran is unfair, but the Koran was interpreted in an unfair way, and we are calling for a new interpretation"
One of your centre's first seminars was on environmental ethics. What does Islamic ethics have to say about that?
Auda: If you read Islam in terms of the letter, you will find little evidence in scriptural sources that will help solve environmental problems. But there is a difference if you read Islam in terms of its values and ethics – the values of equity, cleanness, purity, the stress on the purity of water sources and the encouragement in the Islamic tradition of greenery and health. If we take these values and activate them, I believe we can make some pretty good policy recommendations. 

You recently published a book on Sharia and politics in the post-revolutionary Arab states. What's your message with regard to their situation?

Auda: The question of the application of the Sharia comes to the fore in countries like Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. The first question at this stage is: what do we mean by the Sharia? Do we mean the history of Islamic law or do we mean the values and purposes of the Sharia? If we mean the values and purposes and philosophy of the Sharia, then we are talking about justice and freedom and what we call in the Sharia language the preservation of soul and mind, intellect, offspring and wealth and all these values that are about the welfare of society. So if we are defining the Sharia in this way, then we are able to approach the new legislation and the new constitutions that people are drafting for their countries in a way that is Islamic in that sense.
Other questions relate to the standing of non-Muslim minorities in this part of the world. I don't want to see the application of the Sharia compromise their rights, but religions differ, especially in the field of family law. Therefore I draw a number of circles: a public circle, in which everybody has to be equal and nobody should be discriminated or differentiated against because of their religious background, and a private circle, in which people sometimes opt to be treated differently because of their religion.

An election event organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo (photo: Reuters)
Many in the West and in the Arab world itself are unsure what to expect from the Islamic parties that have been elected to parliament since the Arab Spring. Says Auda: "When people elected Islamists, they elected them with an understanding that they will bring social justice. If they don't bring that, I'm sure they will fail in the next elections."
How far would you take this kind of argument? For example, would you say that the president, in a state like Egypt, has to be a Muslim?

Auda: From the Islamic law point of view, I don't see any problem in allowing anybody – including a non-Muslim man or woman – to run for president. Most of the opinions in the Islamic heritage did not allow that. However, these opinions were not referring to the president of a republic, they were talking about a khaleefa (caliph). But the president of Libya or Syria or Egypt is not a khaleefa, and he would never claim to be one.
We have a nation state, and the nation state has a president based on the foundation of this nation state, which is the equality of all citizens. As long as the state is defined, the president will not change the nature of the state. Realistically speaking, will the Egyptians elect a Coptic president? It's impossible. It's as impossible as the Germans electing a Muslim chancellor or the Americans electing a Muslim or Buddhist president.
But then the Islamists come along with their own definition an Islamic state. So who is to decide whether or not a certain polity can be called an "Islamic state"?
Auda: I think it is important to have an Islamic state in the sense of justice and freedom and equality for all. You want to call this Islamic, or democratic, or modern – the names are not important; it is the values that are important. In this part of the world, the values of equity and justice are viewed through the understanding of Islam; you might as well call it "Islamic state".
That's why this research is important: because the Islamists are calling for an Islamic state anyway. So if we define it for them in a way that is compatible with human rights, civil rights and all of that, then everybody wins. Actually, the revolutions did not happen for Islamic reasons. The revolutions were meant to bring social justice etc. When people elected Islamists, they elected them with an understanding that they will bring social justice. If they don't bring that, I'm sure they will fail in the next elections.
Interview conducted by Christoph Dreyer
© 2012
Jasser Auda is deputy director of the Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics at the Qatar Foundation in Doha. He is a founding member and member of the executive board of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and has lectured on Islamic law, especially its maqasid (intentions), at dozens of academic institutes around the world. He has authored and published numerous articles and several books in Arabic and English, most recently Between Sharia and Politics: 


Personally I smell a 'rat' here. I should not but every time someone says 'we need to reinterpret the Quran' I smell a rat.. The last time was Dr M. Now it is Tariq Ramadan himself. Grandson of Hasan Al Bana. We know who Hasan Al Bana was. He , along with Syed Qutb died for Islam. Tariq Ramadan is a very qualified man, Jasser Auda, well, he is also a scholar. 

When I posed this issue to my long time friend Doctor Azman , a  retired radiologist in Kota Bharu, whose prequalication in 'Islamdom' is very similar to mine : Both of us are Unschooled, NO PHD, NO Masters , not even a BA [ugama]
My only prequalification, is that now I am on my 4th 'reading' of  the voluminous tafseer HAMKA, if that can be called a qualification. Not much. Some hadiths, life experience, world politics, Qatadah, Rida, Al Manar, Ibnu Katsir etc and etc all thrown in , in a 10 volume classic...that is Hamka.
Doc man is worse, He is currently attending some 'pondok' somewhere. 
Very, very 'unschooled' both of us.
The same questions running thru our minds  though:
"Sembahyang tak tinggal ke depa ni ? 
Zuhud macam mana depa ni ? 
How honest are they ? 
Or  indeed if they are truly honest, are they caught in a quigmire in which despite their intelligence and their high qualifications, they comprehend not ?
Do they have the necessary prequalifications to re interprete the Quran ?
Or is this just a futile exercise in 'buying time' ? A 'rebranding' exercise to make the Quran more palatable to the tongues of their Western critics ?
"The Quran need to be reinterpreted" excites the lay public in many ways.Some think all the 'muthashabih' ayats would be looked into with greater detail and scrutiny. No ! Nothing of that sort is going to happen my friends. They are not men of science or physics to be able to look into this. Neither do we have Muslims men of science  of that calibre at present now to contribute significantly towards that.  We are not at the fore front of God Particle or CERN particle to contribute to new knowledge and wisdom at present.

Time will unravel the true meanings of these ayats and if time is not adequate still, we need not hurry. 
We will actually come to the real meaning later on when all of us cross the 'sirat' and are  in 'better surrounding'. HE himself will unravel the true meaning to us !

No , it has nothing to do with those ayats. The 'muhkam' ayats on justice and shariah are going to be to scrutinised and re-scrutinised, made wholesame and 'repackaged', if I understand  Jasser Auda correctly. And who are they to think that they can do better ?
How many ways can one look at an apple and finally make it look like an orange, tell me ??!!
Reading in between the lines of the above interview, the 'reinterpretation' would only provide the necessary respite and time interval to give minority Muslims in the West to readjust themselves against the onslaught of Western thoughts and criticism against Islam. Putting it this way, Tariq Ramadan and Jasser Auda are just buying for time. But do the rest of us need to join in ?
'We' here need prequalification.'We' as per countries of Muslim majority like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Libya Egypt, Pakistan and even Malaysia. Why the do we have to wait for a 'reinterpretation' of the Quran' by people like Ramadan et al before for instance we apply the hudud law in our legislation ? Do we have to wait for perfect justice, equality, zero riba, compassion before we apply the Sharia ? And by whose standard do we adhere to ?
Do we wait for the Americans, Italians, British and the German to agree to the 'standards' before we can apply hudud ? We would be fooling ourselves waiting for them because even when Doomsday arrive they would still insist Islam is not right.
It is not right for them but it is right for us. That should be our only position and standard.
We should not apologise for Islam and we do not need apologists  like Ramadan et al to the do the bidding for us. The ' law of the average' is not applicable in Islam. If British, French, American, Swiss and Italian Muslims  are finding it hard explaining things to the Kuffar, we can very well appreciate that but the Islamic train is leaving and we cannot wait for you guys ! Do take a cab or a bus and we see you  guys at the next station.........insyaaalah, Islam will prevail. 
We do not have to change the face of Islam to appease the West.
Now I want to throw some spanner in the engine and bring you guys back into history, to complicate things a wee bit more, so that you can understand why I titled this issue as ' Muddle and Puddle' in Islam.Let us put ourselves during the period of upheaveal  after Caliph Othman Affan was assassinated in the masjid. Caliph Ali Abu Talib took over. Then  very suddenly we  have Muawwiya  son of Abu Suffyan and Hindun taking over from the murdered Ali. 

Just a couple of decades earlier, Abu Suffian was the staunchest enemy of Islam and his marm was no better. Hindun was the lady who derived much pleasure eating into Saidina Hamzah's liver at Uhud. After Muawwiya we have his son Yazid, who beheaded Husasyn Ibni Ali at Karbala.  We have then as a sequalae, the Khawarij, Sunnis, Shaiah etc etc and etc. Dichotomy and divisions on as many  fault lines as possible.
That was 'political Islam ' at its most worst.
As if this is not enough, in 2012 now we have a few bright sparks who think they have the marbles to give the Quran a breath of fresh air and repackage it so that we can reallign ourselves with Western thoughts and ideas. My God !!! Dunia akhir zaman !
Great ! Good luck to you Prof Ramadan .................
My dear Prof, No ! In my humble opinion the Quran does not need further reinterpretation. 
It need implementation.
Not today or tomorrow or in 500 hundred years time when perhaps your Swiss, French and American hecklers would be ready.
It need to be implemented 'yesterday' in countries like ours, Pakistan, Morocco etc and etc.

Friends, may your RAMADAN and mine be a blessed one.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to you guys !!

Nik Howk


comment from my friend, Nadzru Azahari ,from Bangkok :

Dearest Nik Howk,

Relax. We all see your points and we share your precious sentiments. However mineself unto thee do pleadeth, please be fair to Dr Tariq Ramadan, he is but a humble son of an Egyptian emigre who prefers the Islamic environment of le canton du Geneve and the Swiss alps and swore as all good Swiss do to be a committed and loyal citizen of Switzerland. For where at the feet do steppeth on, thence the sky is heldeth. A man's wisdom and words is as good as the loyalty oath that he took in earnest to keep his place of abode! Dr Tariq and his father did just that. Please do be be harsh and just to the Ramadan family, asketh them not to return to dusty, noisy, unruly Cairo. Islamic urban elegance is Geneva. They can always visit Cairo on invitation and extend that to Kuala Lumpur. Our good hearted brothers in the NGOs will wait like orderlies at the KLIA to receive him.
Dr Tariq is no neuro nor a cardiac chirurgien of a doctor like thineself. nor a doctor-ingenieur in particle physics from the Swiss Federal institute of Technology . He is a doctors of letters in arabic and middle eastern studies , a D Phil in sciences des lettres in his own mother tongue and the studies of his own ancestral village. If we unto him thinketh he a scholar of excellence is, is just like sending Nik Howk to SOAS or Leiden for his DPhil in' Pengajian Kesusateraan Melayu dan Nusantara' and Nik Howk scores a summa cum laude in his oral exams for 'loghat Kelantan dan pemakaian nya'. Nik Howk gets his DPhil and he cometh home a scholar he is. Then we all listen to 'emigre' Dr Nik Hawk speaking about all things wrong with his people.

Blameth not Dr Tariq, blameth thineselves the vulnerable folks!

Wishing you all Ramadan Kareem.

In Bangkok till end of the month.
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comment from Ts Min, from Timbuktu :

it is wise to be wary, that i fully agree. but is there not wisdom, too, in curiousity, in open minds and in seeking to be relevant and in context? methinks the sincerity that guides the search is what matters. salam,


Tan Sri Min and Nadzru,
I can understand Tariq Ramadan's position. He is in a difficult position.  He has been whacked  from all position in the West. 
But the game he is now playing is a dangerous one. Enough that he is telling his Western audience that he has approached the ulama of the East to have a moratorium on hudud and capital punishment, but  this new idea of 'reintrepreting the Quran' and repackaging it so to sooth the tongue of his detractors is an entirely different ballgame.
Nik Howk



Dear Nik Howk,

The muddle and puddle is exactly what makes Islam and The Quran meant for! If there is no muddle and puddle there is no need for a series of Divine Revelation and The Prophets. For God createth and he Guideth! The guidance is in the package deal of his creation and its nature. With that I can reconcile with the much longer period of turmoil in Islamic history than its peace and tranquility. So are Islam's 'sister religions' of the Abrahamic lineage. We are a troublesome lot and have always been. Christians killed christians by the millions for an 8km stretch of land at Verdun and in the end it was a draw and now it is the European Union. What Brother Bashar Al-Asad is doing killing his Syrian co-citizens is extremely tame by the standards of the countries that produced Descartes and Goethe. Our brave soldiers too shot the KKO Indonesian paratroopers like they were patridges in the air not too long ago. Our soldiers and our fellow Indonesian paratroopers all prayed their zuhr and asr before they fought to kill.

Now back to what bro Tariq Ramadan our Swiss scholar said about giving hudud law a moratorium. It is an opinion that must be listened to. He has the right to opine and see The Quranic injunction as he saw it. I seek to defer from him as I am not for a moratorium but for its implementation, irrespective of time and clime, for the Hudud Law is so elastic that it takes a lot of wrongdoing to make it snap and takes effect. It is so tolerant and avoidance proclived that sometimes I feel it is written as a posterity and as a provision of 'extremity'. Indeed it is so I believe, for it is 'hudud' as coming from 'had' , the laws of the limitation of extremities. For that 'extreme' to happen and for the law to be triggered in its retribution it is so so difficult, you really have to exhaust every possible cavity of examination. I think it should stay and no moratorium.

Legal tolerance and interpretation is where we kelantanese muslims are at our best. We made cattle and rice smuggling acceptable and many of us became respectable men of wealth and commerce from that. We forge marriage certificates in Narathiwat. We cheat our wives and vice-versa incessantly. Tapai pulut contains 25% ethanol and budu 10% ethanol and they are both irrefutably halal. Dr Salleh Budu will swear to his last cow for that.

Look at the provisions for 'close proximity' in Islamic law, so much is allowed for it that , it is almost impossible to be punished for willy nilly adultery. 
So I have no doubt we can handle the implementation of the hudud law very well, or better said, how to weave through it legally very well. I am a kelantanese and I know how to seek counsel to get it done.


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brilliant nadzru,
we are on the same wavelenght there
this is what i expect of you, a tiger
the hudud law in essense is what a british law lord used to say years back on laws in general:
'the spirit of the law', not the law itself
the spirit of the hudud law is 'justice, and  equality'
if you have an atom of doubt about the so called crime, the court has no business trying and judging you.
..if the state cannot prove its innocence in providing for the poor, the guy caught stealing go scotts free
...if one cannot produce 4 reliable witnesses seeing the actual sex act, 'anuar' goes scotts free, does not matter 'he does it or does it  not ???'
no necessity to look into everyone's key holes and spy.

you do not have to  have a new interpretation of the Quran.
you, humans implement it and slowly improve on its implementation
whatever it take.

nik howk

...and a story from nabi's time to remind us about the true state with respect to nabi and  the quran :

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