Write a half (1/2) a page comment or reaction on what you understood from a short reading

Read “The Return to the Koran and Sunna” and write a half (1/2) a page comment or reaction on what you understood from it.
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I would like to draw attention to the notion of ‘returning to the sources’, i.e. the reproduction of the past in the present, which has tended to be interpreted as an attempt to go back to seventh-century Arabia. Islamists who turn to the sources intend to search for the ‘genuine understanding’: what actually happened and what was the genuine intention behind a happening or a saying of the Prophet? This method can be understood as undiluted conservatism: Islamists wish to conserve traditions and attitudes prevailing in the time of the Prophet and his Companions. However, what actually happens is that the interpretation does not focus on how the historical event actually occurred but it becomes an unconscious process in which the most important consideration is: how can one possibly live according to this historical example today? What really takes place is that the reinterpretation becomes a reconstruction of historical events in which one’s own biography and life situation play a large part. What becomes apparent is the unconscious or conscious change in that which is marūf and that which is Munkar within the framework of Islam, in relation to that which is perceived as ‘generally accepted’ or ‘right’ and that which is ‘not generally accepted’ or ‘wrong’ in different social contexts.

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at-Turābī represents an interesting approach to a new interpretation of social issues in Islamic sources. In his book, Minhaj at-tashrī al-islāmī (The Islamic Method of Legislation), he argues that scholars in early Islamic history appealed to the Greek cultural heritage in the formation and understanding of Islam. Likewise, it is possible for the contemporary Muslim generation to apply modern scientific methods while hoping that Muslims will stay aloof from the wrongdoings inherent in these methods and fulfill the wisdom inherent in them (at-Turābī 1990: 12-13). at-Turābī is not only amenable to a reopening of ijtihād, which according to him is an individual interpretation of the sources which anybody with an adequate amount of Islamic knowledge can do, but it seems that he even pleads for a totally new form of legislation.

When I met Sheikh Darsh (d. 1997) in his home in London in December 1995, we discussed the question of changes in sharia and changes in perceptions of women in the cultural encounter with ‘the West’. He explained: It is a matter of understanding the environment in which we live and a reflection of the changing positions and changing situations. We Muslims have to take these changes into consideration when we look into the life of the Muslim woman. Social changes are the reasons why Muslims today talk of fiqh al-aqallīyāt, the fiqh for Muslim minorities.12 In the past, the scholars worked within the fiqh of the Muslim state. Now [in western countries] we Muslims are a minority. Thus, we have to consider these changes in order to be able to reflect on the new situation and to clarify our attitude. We have to know what is cultural and what is Islamic to be able to make valued mature judgments.

As Darsh was the leader of the Sharia Council in Britain, I asked him whether he was working in this way in order to find solutions to contemporary problems. Darsh firmly rejected the idea that he was involved in such work as it is only in its initial phase. ‘What I do’, he said, ‘is only to relieve women who are strained in difficult relationships and in difficult situations of life.’ He stressed that this ‘minority fiqh’ is not necessarily a matter of reinterpretation, since he explained that ‘in the traditional books of Islam law we find every possible point of view This shows the greatness of the law.’

Darsh was very careful to emphasize that he was not in a position to make ijtihād. He also stressed that there are limitations to being a mujtahid. ‘Either one can be fully mujtahid or mujtahid within a particular school [i.e. mujtahid juzī ],’ he said.

If you are mujtahid within a particular school, you must be aware of books by such and such and you have to stick to that particular school. What we can do is to look into what is recorded and the former points of view. What we do in the present situation is to find that which is the more appropriate to the Muslim community, and then we accept that particular point of view.

This attitude of denying that their legal judgments are ijtihāds is true of many recent Islamic scholars and is not particular to Darsh. I believe that it indicates the difficulties and challenges which modern scholars are faced with today, in Muslim society in general with its rapid social changes, and in western countries’ Muslim communities in particular, with their diversity of nationalities, traditions, and Islamic perceptions. The lack of a central authority and the variety of views among scholars have caused internal problems. The challenge of reinterpretation or revaluing of the Islamic sources has brought about conflicts over whose interpretations are valid and who has the right to interpret the sources. Although the validity of an Islamic scholar’s judgment to a great extent depends on his/her audience, e.g. whether judgments are accepted or not by the people, the problem of the scholar’s particular knowledge and authenticity arises.

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