There is no reading of Islam that supports terrorism -or homosexuality

July 11, 2017

Liberals and far right conservatives (within and outside the Muslim community) have the same problem -they think that one can read absolutely anything into Islam/Islamic texts (primarily the Quran and Hadith). Reza Aslan, bless his heart, continuously goes on TV and talks about his “version” or “interpretation” of Islam, his “reading” of the Quran and his “understanding” of a Hadith. Let me make a note that I actually do like Reza Aslan on many fronts and appreciate his defense of Islam and criticism of Western hypocrisy but in some ways he makes the same error as far-right Islamophobes, far left Islamophobes (I.e. Sam Harris, Bill Maher), and Salafis -he believes that all interpretations are legitimate interpretations.

It’s true that when one reads the Quran they come to it with their own baggage and life experience, no one reading can purely asses what God Himself meant but that doesn’t mean everyone’s interpretation is equally valid. There is a myth that gets repeatedly pass around in the Muslim community that says that unlike Catholics, Muslims to not have central religious leadership. This is sometimes said in a positive way and sometimes in a negative light but the biggest issue with it is that it is simply not true. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi] Since the death of the Prophet, peace to him, Muslims have followed scholarship that is until there was the Wahhabi movement which won over the hearts and minds of many Muslims by telling them they didn’t need to listen to scholars, no -they just need to follow the Quran and Sunnah. While I’m not interested and no have the ability to give an extensive account of that history, it left us in the state we are today where we believe that reading the Quran and Hadith directly is somehow following the sunnah more than if we were to follow scholarship.

Reza Aslan is right in pointing out that we all come to the religious texts with ourselves (our context) and our understanding is tinted by our personal realities but that is precisely the reason we depend on scholarship. A man prone to wife beating is going to enjoy interpreting verse 3:34 as an allowance to beat his wife whenever and however he likes, a woman leaning towards homosexuality will happily interpret the story of Lot not as a punishment for the sin of homosexuality but as a punishment for rape, a man who enjoys being authoritative would be absolutely gleeful to interpret the story of Kidr and Musa as meaning that authority should be listened to without question. This is the reality, yes -but it is also the problem.

A scholar -though they too are not perfect and they too will make mistakes, can tell us the context of these verses, their ruling as it pertains to various areas of life, how they can be understood through a Fiqh lens and the lens of tassawuf, how the companions understood it, what did the prophet do or say in relation to it, what are the verses that connect to those verses to give us a fuller meaning and so on and so forth. Yes, a scholar can be incorrect, insincere and make mistakes. But to pretend that their mistakes are equal to ours is a self-delusion -Is the one who knows like the one who doesn’t know? (39:9) God probes us in the Quran.

The mistake of the wife beater who wishes to believe he has a God-given right to abuse his spouse and the mistake of the homosexual who wishes to interpret away God’s punishment for the sin of homosexuality is the same. One may say they are Salafi and the other may say they are Progressive but they are in fact in the same camp -they want Islam to fit into their already predetermined ideology, that is a grave mistake.

One of the companions -Ibn Majah, may God be pleased with him, said: “When we were young we learned Aqidah (Islamic belief system) then we learned Quran and it increased our belief”. Sadly we lack -in some ways for reasons beyond our control, a systematic approach to learning Islam. We buy sophisticated books of tassawuf before we ever receive a basic education in Aqidah. For this reason one of my shuyukh ruminated on the danger of our printing fever -classical works of Islam are being translated into English and available for all to read, but without the scholarship to match -what use is it? The saints and scholars who wrote these books often didn’t intend for a wide readership, they were guide books for other scholars to teach their students.

Fringe interpretations of Islam and Islamic texts can only be demolished once we reinstate the value of scholarship in our understanding of Islam, without that -all claims will be equal, and equally dangerous.

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