Thanks to the unmedia, I found a new ‘blog called “Muslims Under Progress.” I like what I’ve seen so far, and look forward to reading more of their posts. (Caveat: The site doesn’t seem to render properly on all browsers. a Gecko based one – Mozilla, Camino, Firebird, etc. should do the trick.)

The first post I read was by Haroon Moghul, called “Choice and Comprehension.” I’ve talked about one of Haroon’s pieces before, and I want to begin by assuring him it’s nothing personal, I just really like his stuff and it gets me thinking. So now some of my thoughts on his post.

Haroon, to me, seems to be struggling with two separate, but linked ideas: free-will and the role/construction of Islamic law. He has a section that reads:

We often view Islam as a religion preaching free will (How often do we hear: “La ikraha fi al-deen,” there is no compulsion in religion? [2 256]). Yet I am coming to the view that what we ignore is that the religion of Islam offers free choice in only the most fleeting manner. Faith is a mystery, when we look into it.

From the Islamic point of view, practicing submission is the only reasonable choice before a person. We are able to accept the divinity of the Qur’an through various investigative techniques, but upon accepting its divinity, we are made to understand that divinity itself is incomprehensible.

I agree with him on two points: Islam, by definition, means submission, and that faith is a mystery, because divinity is incomprehensible. The job of being a Muslim is to submit, but because what we are submitting to is unknown, indescribable, beautiful and majestic, how we are to submit is unclear. Therefore, the job of a Muslim is to struggle, to struggle to understand oneself, to struggle to understand the divine, to struggle to understand one’s relationship to the divine.

Faith, and the struggle it engenders, should create a sense of God-consciousness, taqwa. This analysis is what I find missing in his discussion. One can be a faithful, and submissive, and not have all the answers, but one can insert the awareness of God into one’s actions. I was recently rereading Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and in it she has a wonderful line:

“‘You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?’
‘Yes,’ Mrs. Whatsit said. ‘You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.'”

Using only the Qur’an as the basis of the discussion – his caveat, not mine – there are clear boundaries, although not numerous ones. It gives us our strict form, and we operate within that form, knowing that it was given to us. Once the element of faith is introduced, then there are certain things that we can never receive satisfactory answers to, such as “why did God create humankind?”; I personally am partial to the hadith qudsi “I am a hidden treasure and I wished to be known.” It makes my relationship with the divine reciprocal.

Of course, it doesn’t make the challenge of free-will any easier to understand. The other half of the pair is pre-destination, and the issue I have with this particular debate is that it seems very rooted in our linear, progressive concept of time. It limits God to having existed in the past, and to existing in the present, but not in the future. We are able to accept that God exists in all places, but not at all times. Foreknowledge and pre-destination imply a decree controlling the future. I think the debate becomes much more interesting in trying to conceptualize God’s omniscience and what that means to our conceptions of time and witness.

I’m trying to write my own sonnet, but I accept there is a Master who controls my style.

Haroon’s next point is about Islamic law:

If we cannot define why God created humans, or if even humans have any meaningful choice, then to what extent can our reason, in application to a divine text and supporting texts, produce meaningful law? Yet we are told that the application of Islamic law to society will improve that society (because it is from God). Yet, in this situation, we are forced into something of a dilemma. There will always be a bias towards applying the law, from God, and more than that, there will always be — and necessarily must be — a degree of blind obedience.

My main point of contention here is that Islamic law is from God. It’s a refrain we here quite a bit, but with the small portion of the Qur’an that is dedicated to proscriptions, there is no comprehensive law given by God. The four Sunni law schools are based on the thought of humans; by calling the laws they synthesized divine we are placing Abu Hanifa, Ash-Shafi’i, Malik, and Ibn Hanbal on a higher plane than the Prophet (PBUH); we are placing them on a level with God. They may have used divine sources, but the interpretation was human, so the result cannot be divine and infallible. There cannot be an Islamic law, because it derived from human intervention. The diversity of interpretation results in diversity of laws. In broad principles they all agree, but the particulars vary. What we call Islamic law, shari’ah , is the attempt to further give structure, form, to our sonnet, so that we may write better. But there is still struggle, both at the individual and group level, to write that sonnet and work within the structures. At the end of the day the Master is not human.

Taqwa, to me, is the best guide we have. God is watching us, would He be happy? He is in the room with me, am I embarrassed? Do I need to explain myself? That is the guide to my writing.

Final thought: Haroon uses the term “salad bowl” religion. Is the meme spreading?

2 thoughts on “Taqwa

  1. What’s the answer? What’s the answer? Part 2

    This is a continuation of part 1, below. Please read that first. Also keep in mind these have not been edited- think of them as rough drafts. Comments welcome. So my friend’s question remains, “where, or what is the ethical…

  2. What’s the answer? What’s the answer? Part 1

    This was inspired by a friend of mine, and is, in general, a response to her thoughts. She seeks an answer to the all-important, overlapping questions, “where does one draw the line?” “What is ‘good,’ and what is ‘bad?” She…

Comments are closed.