How Should We Understand The Concepts Of The ‘Islamic Tradition’ And ‘Islamic Authenticity’?
By Dr. Adis Duderija, New Age Islam
12 March, 2014
Often we come across in literature on Islam phrases/concepts such as “the Islamic tradition” (Turath) or “Islamic authenticity” (Asala). This literature also, especially that of non-academic nature, more often than not, does not attempt to clearly define what is meant by these concepts despite their obvious importance. How should we understand these concepts? What are their respective natures? This short article aims to provide a concise discussion on this issue. It is a modified version of part of my book Constructing a Religiously Ideal "Believer" and "Woman" in Islam (Palgrave, 2011) sections of which can be read here: http://malaya.academia.edu/AdisDuderija/Papers.
1. How Should We Understand Islamic Tradition As A Concept?
The word tradition or heritage (Turath) in classical Sunni Islamic thought is usually linked to concepts such as continuity, stability, authenticity and authority. It literally means ‘handing over’ of Islamic practices and beliefs. In its broader sense, Turath can be characterized as a cumulative religio-historic construct with a central intellectual core, primarily the Qur’an and Sunna, and a number of later developed doctrines derived from its core pertaining to philosophy, theology, ethics, jurisprudence, legal theory, mysticism as well as certain sociological and political attitudes and notions.
The concept of tradition includes the idea that it consists of a number of competing interpretations which, at times, can be mutually exclusive, all of which, nonetheless, are regarded as being constitutive of it. These competing interpretations are result of differences in the nature of ‘communities of interpretation’ which engage in the interpretation of the textual sources of the tradition. These communities of interpretation can be historical, sociological or textual. What is common and thus gives rise to these communities is the fact that they “share certain epistemological assumptions, concerns and basic values”. This, in turn, enables them to share and objectify their own subjective experiences by sharing particular epistemological assumptions, linguistic practice and/or overlapping way of talking about meaning”. Communities of interpretation, however, “do not necessarily agree on a whole host of determinations of meaning.”
Tradition is therefore like a rich, dense tapestry consisting of many interlacing or at times parallel running threads all of which put together give the tapestry its unique design. To use another metaphor, tradition is like a flowing river emanating from its source (in the case of the Islamic tradition the Qur’an and Sunna), and its tributary streams, and all those who drink from this river, regardless how far they are from the spring, are seen as part of the tradition.Moosa uses an apt analogy from the science of biology to describe th