We have to be extremely careful in dealing with a legacy as old and as comprehensive as that of Islamic knowledge, a legacy that dealt with many aspects of life, one that was employed by many communities to deal with all sorts of circumstances. I see different people, groups, and ideologies that are somewhat opposite yet they are all relying on the very same legacy to support their views. For example, one can scan this large body of knowledge, note all the aspects that talks about spirituality, and come up with an ideology that Islam is but a spiritual recipe. Another can follow the political involvement of such knowledge and focus more on its involvement of wars for example, and arrive at an ideology of violence. A third can follow the many mentions of encouraging peace, forgiveness, and patience, and form a pacifist ideology from the same body of knowledge.
Isn’t that weird? What wrong do we do for that to happen. Well, let me share a couple of important points that we should keep in mind to be able to understand this legacy the way it should be understood:
- Know that what is considered the guidance of Islam is 1) what is in the Book of Allah, the Qur’an, and 2) the AUTHENTIC tradition of His Messenger. Anything else–even though it is important to study especially that which is closer to the prophet’s time, is still people’s views and interpretations and should only be attributed to them not to Islam.
- Having a pre-conceived ideology, THEN scanning the legacy of knowledge to support it is definitely the wrong way to go. Rather, one should form his/her ideology based on Islam and not the other way around. (very tough I know)
- It is very harmful to focus on partial knowledge and, intentionally or unintentionally, ignore other parts that address the same subject at hand.
- Be very mindful that context plays a major role: what applies to certain times, societies, or cultures can be quite different from what applies to others. Simply taking a society’s understanding of Islam and borrowing it to another society is very problematic to say the least.
- Scholarly opinions under certain political and social circumstances may not be accepted when these circumstances change.
I wish I have time to swamp you with examples of each points. I also wish I have time to show how these examples can be very harmful to us as Muslims and to the image of Islam itself. But I don’t 🙂
However, I will conclude with my view of a very famous hadith in which the prophet (pbuh) said that Allah sends to this Ummah every century that who will renew its religion. This religion and its pure source of guidance (mentioned in 1 above) interact with societies, cultures, and peoples, and get understood within those societies, interacting with those cultures, and applied by those peoples. This cause the pure message of Islam to be covered by people’s interpretations and understanding, which is acceptable. Someone (or some people) will come every now and then (every century as the Hadith said) and remove those layers and dig deep to the pure source (that is preserved and protected from alteration) and bring it to life in the current context and circumstances.