Thursday, July 20, 2023

Interpretations (Tafsir) Of The Qur’anic Context: A Discourse – Part Two

By Dr Uzma Khatoon, New Age Islam 20 July 2023 Abstract The primacy of the Qur’an in the Muslim world has always been accepted. In modern period, renewed emphasis has been placed by the Muslim scholars on the Qur’an as a source of guidance. Due to this change and emphasis, it become a challenge to many facet of the accepted tradition, the theological, legal other spheres. In recent years, different approaches to the Qur'an and the Muslim exegetical works reflect a wide variety of methods, presuppositions, focuses of interests and substantive conclusions. The various interpretations of the Qur'an belong to different stages of the intellectual history of Islam, and reflect in themselves the development of Islamic thought. In this paper I intended to examine how to different interpreters tried to examine and rethinking of the context of the Qur’an. I will also try to examine very briefly different feminist approach in this regard. ------- Relating the Qur’an to the Modern Muslim Several reformist thinkers of the modern period strived to fill the gap between the Qur’an and the everyday life of Muslims that had been caused by the decline of the Qur’anic teaching in a legal manner. One of their main caused was the distance between the Qur’an and young Muslims who were deeply impressed by the achievements of Western civilization. In the twentieth century, these Muslims often studied at Western universities, learnt European languages, such as French, English and German. Through this medium they read widely in European literature and thought and influenced by them. They were ignorant about the Qur’an and traditional Islamic scholarship, including its discourse, language and vocabulary. Although, Muslim scholars of a ‘modern approach’ who wanted to recapture the meaning of the Qur’an for those who has were influenced by western thought. Such modernist, Abu’l Ala Mawdudi (d. 1979), a well-known Pakistani scholar and founder of the neo-revivalist Jamaat Islami, explained in the preface to his famous Tafsir, Tafhim al-Qur’an that his principal aim in writing was the explanation of the Qur’an to the young educated Muslim, not to the academics: The present work is neither directed at scholars and researchers, nor is it aimed at assisting those who, having mastered the Arabic language and the Islamic religious sciences. His main aim was to embark upon a thorough and elaborate study of the Qur’an. Such people already have plenty of material at their disposal. Instead it is intended for the lay reader, the average educated person, who is not well-versed in Arabic and so is unable to make full use of the vast treasures to be found in classical works on the Qur’an. In a similar context, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad have try to attempt to make the Qur’an fit a particular situation exactly, and his genuine desire in the Tarjuman al-Qur’an to let the Qur’an speak to the average Muslim. Azad shows that two main concerns: first, that the Surah al- Fatiha, and hence his commentary upon it, epitomizes the essential teaching of the Qur’an; secondly, that the translation and his explanatory notes make possible the application of the Qur’an to the daily lives of ordinary Muslims. He wrote: I make bold to say that the greatest contemporary hindrance in the way of the religious reform of Muslims has now been removed. Even so, this was the only a beginning, he said. He wrote of the need for many editions to be published, for other supplementary literature, for a subject index, for references and a glossary of terms, for translation into other languages. In short, he called for the establishment of a society to carry out all such work. But he did not feel this was his personal responsibility; his main objectives had been fulfilled. Sayyid Qutub wrote his commentary (Fi Zilal al-Qur’an) also to provide a fresh perspective on the relevance of the Qur’an to the young of modern period Muslim of today. Qutub’s particular style of writing, his uncompromising commitment to his view of Islam, and his portrayal of many of the institutions of modern society as Jahiliyyah (akin to pre-Islamic institutions, that is, non-Islamic), ensure for his commentary an important place among those whose primary aim is to establish Islam as the dominant socio-political force in Muslim societies. Qutub’s work, a good example of a Tafsir of a personal reflective nature, is somewhat divorced from standard exegetical tradition in its more free-flowing ideas around the text; it draws in the modern world and its challenges, and refuses to follow any early approach to Tafsir. It is, as the title suggests, ‘in the shade of the Qur’an’, and attempts to find relevance and meaning at a personal and collective level for Muslims of the modern period. It is perhaps this feature of the Tafsir that has provided the basis for the wide acceptability of Zilal among many Muslim youth, particularly those committed to the ideological orientation of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar movements. Reworked of the Ethico-legal Content of the Qur’an A significant idea highly developed in the modern period has been that a number of Qur’anic ethico-legal instructions were primarily intended for a specific people in specific circumstances; that is, the Muslims of Hijaz of the early first/seventh century. Thus, when these ethico-legal instructions are applied to subsequent generations of Muslims whose social and historical context and experience differ widely from that of the seventh-century Hijaz, some consideration has to be given to the relevance of ethico-legal instructions in the new environment. If this is the case, one can argue that each generation may reach understandings of the Qur’an’s ethico-legal instructions that may differ from the understandings of earlier generations. Consequently, new understandings of the ethico-legal content of the Qur’an are a required product of a new age. Two ideas have been highly developed in support of the need for fresh understandings of the Qur’an in different times and contexts in the modern period. First, for Ghulam Ahmad Parvez, a proponent of the self-sufficiency of the Qur’an, Islam has a fixed core, but in application is adaptable and fluid. This implies that the ‘texts of revelation do not have a single, fixed meaning. Rather, each new generation can expect to find in the Qur’an new treasures as their own capacity to understand its teaching grows.’ Second is the idea that the ethico-legal instructions of the Qur’an can be approached at two levels: a surface one related to putting into practice a specific ethico-legal instruction, and a deeper one related to underlying reasons for such an instruction. The argument is that the underlying reasons should determine whether the surface level practice has to be followed to the letter strictly in all times, places and contexts. If the underlying reasons for an ethico-legal instruction are associated with specific social, historical, economic, political or other circumstances, and if these circumstances no longer exist, then the practice of that ethico-legal instruction may be left ‘suspended’ or ‘idle’. If circumstances change again, the ethico-legal instruction may be reinstated. This gives a prominent place to the underlying reason, an approach familiar to classical Muslim jurists, as the debates on Hikmah amply demonstrate. However, although earlier interpreters of the ethico-legal content of the Qur’an were somewhat interested in the historical context of the revelation through the medium of Asbab Al-Nuzul (occasions of revelation) literature, they did not highlighted this context in the same way that modern-day Contextualists do, who highlight the contextual nature of the Qur’an in their argument for rethinking Qur’anic rulings, where such rulings are seen to be inappropriate in the modern period. Importance Of Reason An offshoot of this critical spirit was the emphasis on reason in the interpretation of the ethico-legal content of the Qur’an. For many scholars, reason should be seen as an important medium through which God’s word is made intelligible to the human mind. For Ghulam Ahmad Parvez(d. 1985), a modernist Muslim thinker, the Qur’an contained all the necessary principles for practicing the Islamic conception of right belief and action. The task of explaining those principles was to be assigned to both reason and divinely sanctioned political authorities. Irrational or mythological views previously ascribed to the text by early Muslims were to be discarded. An aspect of the emphasis on reason adopted in some modern interpretations of the Qur’an, though not necessarily related to its ethico-legal content, is the negation of miraculous or supernatural elements of narratives found therein. Several modernist scholars attempted to ‘strip the text 1of legendary traits and primitive notions’. For instance, Abduh, in his explanation of Q.2:63 in which the Qur’an refers to the ‘suspension’ of Mount Sinai (Wa Rafa˛na Fawqakum Al-Tur), interprets this as referring to an earthquake (Wa Qad Yakun Dhalika Fi Al-Ayah Bi Darb Min Al-Zilzal). Similarly, Sayyid Qutub (d. 1966), in his commentary, Zilal, also seems to draw back from the literal understanding of ‘suspension’. He states that the important point in Q.2:63 is that it alludes to the image of the mountain above the people’s heads. Other ‘mythical’ references, such as to the people of Kahf (cave) and the talking of birds and ants, were given more ‘rational’ interpretations by modernist Muslim scholars, such as Ghulam Ahmad Parvez and Khalifa Abdul Hakim (d. 1959). In emphasizing his rational approach, Ahmad Khan believed that what the Qur’an contained was not contrary to nature. Miracles were not to be seen as miracles, but as phenomena that followed laws of nature but which people of the time were unable to see as acting according to those laws. It is also a remarkable aspect of Azad's understanding of the Qur'an that he has emphasized the Qur'anic appeal to one's own judgement and the use of reason to arrive at the truth of the Qur'anic message. Azad has, more than once, made it clear that the Qur'an emphatically exhorts man to use reason and ponder over the signs of God found within and without himself so that he may be directed to the right path. This if call to reason and reflection, according to him, is one of the basic axioms of the Qur'anic message of Truth. He points out: "The primary and the most important feature of the method of presentation followed by the Qur'an is the appeal to reason that it makes. It lays repeated emphasis on the search for truth, on the need of exercising one's reason and insight, of reflecting over the outward experience of life and drawing valid conclusions. In fact, there is no chapter in the Qur'an wherein it has not made an earnest appeal to man to reflect upon everything.” 'On earth are signs for men of firm belief, and also in your own selves, will ye not then notice them?' (LI:20-21) Muhammad Iqbal of the Indian subcontinent stated that the Qur’an contained what he called ‘legends’; an example of this is his reference to the Qur’anic ‘legend’ of the fall. Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940) of Egypt argued that some ideas in the Qur’an were related to an outdated worldview; for instance, the concept of seven heavens and seven earths (to which the Qur’an refers a number of times) is, according to Tantawi Jawhari, part of an antiquated worldview held by the Sabians, for whom the number seven was important. A number of Muslim feminists have recently argued that it is important for Muslims to reread the Qur’an, such as Fatima Mernissi, Amina Wadud Muhsin, Asma Barlas and Riffat Hasan have criticize the ‘male-oriented’ readings of early and modern interpreters as being biased against women and as perpetuating historical injustices against women. They argue that, if Muslim society is to bring one-half of the Muslims to a respectable level of equality, the Qur’anic rules and values concerning women must be understood and interpreted in the light of the socio historical context of the time of revelation. Their argument continues that if such contexts can change, so can the interpretations and rulings derived from them. The belief is that, although the Qur’an improved the lot of women in first/seventh-century Hijaz, many of its reforms were ignored or side-lined in its interpretation in succeeding generations, with the result that women’s positions in most Muslim societies actually worsened over the course of Islamic history. These Muslim feminists are not interested in casting religion and scripture aside in order to gain the rights they are seeking. Their most important tool is the Qur’an itself and sustained arguments about how it should be read. Fatima Mernissi(b.1940) a Moroccan sociologist, attempts to present the case for re-reading in a number of her works. She developed a critical approach to Islamic tradition over several years and ventured into hitherto ‘taboo’ areas. In a number of her works, she examines the Qur’anic text in the light of hadith, focusing on the biases of some of the Companions who narrated these hadith, particularly those concerning women. She claims that the Companions, at times, attributed their own views to the Prophet himself. These biased hadith achieved dominance in the interpretation of the Qur’an1and provided justification for Muslim theologians to retain the status quo regarding women. Mernissi is at pains to ‘humanize’ the Companions and show them as fallible, well beyond the ideal images developed in Sunni Islam and upheld to the present day. Emphasizing that the Qur’anic message in relation to women was probably lost in the cultural beliefs and practices of the seventh century CE and beyond, Mernissi poses a rhetorical question: Is it possible that Islam’s message had only a limited and superficial effect on deeply superstitious seventh century Arabs who failed to integrate its novel approaches to the world and to women? Amina Wadud(b.1952), an African-American Muslim and associate professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. another Muslim feminist, also argues for a return to the message of the original text. She argues that the Qur’an is flexible enough to accommodate innumerable cultural situations. Wadud’s approach is of a holistic nature, which she states is lacking in traditional and many contemporary methods of interpretation. These have focused on one verse at a time, and little effort has been “made to recognize themes and to discuss the relationship of the Qur’an to itself, thematically.” Asma Barlas(b.1958) a Pakistani scholar, director of the centre for the study of culture, race and ethnicity of the department of Politics at Ithaca College, New York. Barlas’ work discusses the issue of textual polysemy and argues that it is in itself a Qur’anic value. She avoids the potential for moral relativism by arguing that not all readings have equal value. She argues that the Qur’an itself warns against “reading it in a decontextualized, selective, and piecemeal way” and “confirms that some meanings, thus some readings, are better than others.” Apart from Muslim feminists, several thinkers of the modern period have argued for fresh approaches to the interpretation of the Qur’an and argued for a rethinking of the interpretation of the ethico-legal texts. The literature on the interpretation (both theoretical and applied) of ethico-legal texts in the modern period indicates that there is a strong desire on the part of many Muslims, scholars and laity alike, to find the relevance of the Qur’anic text to contemporary issues without compromising the overall message of the Qur’an, its value system or its essential beliefs and practices. In the twentieth century, Muslim scholars made many attempts to demonstrate the relevance of the Qur’an to contemporary life. Reformist thinkers, such as Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), Hasan al-Banna (d. 1949), (d. 1979), Murtaza Mutahhari (d. 1979), Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) and Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1989), Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid (b.1943), Muhammad Arkaun (b.1928), Aisha ‘Abd al- Rahman Bint al-Shati (d.1998), argued that the Qur’anic text is relevant to the modern period and is the basis on which any reform project must be attempted. ----- References And Notes: The Makkah school of exegesis was founded by Ibn Abbas and was the most influential in Qur’anic exegesis. He was the Prophet’s paternal cousin and well known for his extensive knowledge of the Qur’an, Arabic language, Pre-Islamic poetry, Arabic History and culture Arthur J. Arberry, trans., The Koran Interpreted, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964). "That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the god-fearing." 2:3 "...There has come to you from God a light, and a Book Manifest whereby God guides whosever follows His good pleasure in the ways of peace,..."5:17-8 Maulana Aslam Jairajpuri, Hamaray Dini ‘Ulum, Maktaba Jamia Ltd.Delhi, 1989, p.31. Al-Quran, 75:19. Ibid., 16:44. Ghulam Ahmad Hariri, Tarikh-i-Tafsir wa Mufasirin, Taj Company Delhi, N.D. p.4. Jairajpuri, op.cit., p.21. Hariri, op.cit., p.5. Syed Shahid Ali, Urdu Tafasir Biswin Sadi Mein, Kitab-i-Duniya, New Delhi, 2001, p.7. Al-Quran, 14:4. Abdullah Saeed, Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a Contemporary Approach, New York: 2006, pp.9-10 Ibid.,p.10 13 Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, trans. Andras and Ruth Hamori, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981. Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964 Shah Waliullah, The Conclusive Argument from God, trans. Marcia K.Hermansen, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996, p. xxviii. J.M.S. Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1961,p. 2. J.M.S. Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah, Leiden: E.J. Brill,1986, p. 165. Waliullah, al Shah -Fawz al-Kabir fi usul al-tafsir, Bayrut: Dar al-Basha’ir, 1407/1987, p. 112. Ibid., p.108 The work began in 1879 and was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1898. Troll , C.W. Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology, New Delhi: Vikas Publ. House, 1978, pp. 144–170. Muhammad Rashid Rida and Muhammad ˛Abduh, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-hakim al-shahir bi-tafsir al-Manar, 12 vols, Bayrut: Dar al-Ma˛rifah, n.d., vol. I, p. 24. Ibid.,p.19 Ibid., p.19 Abu’l Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, (Urdu), vol. I, Sahitya Academy, Delhi, 1964, pp.366-378 Mir, Mustansir , Coherence in The Qur’an: A Study of Islahi’s Concept of Nazm in Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, American Trust Publication,1983, pp. 1-2. Mawdudi, Towards Understanding the Qur’an, p. 1. Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, op.cit. vol I, pp. 7, 14-16 Ibid., p.48 Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought, p. 48. Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation, p. 21. Rida and Abduh, Manar, vol. I, p. 340. Qutub, Fi-Zilal al-Qur’an, vol. I, p. 76. Qur’an, 9-19 Qur’an,27:17-20 Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation, pp. 22–24; Khalifa Abdul Hakim, Islamic Ideology, the Fundamental Beliefs and Principles of Islam and their Application to Practical Life, Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1993. Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, op.cit Azad, Tarjuman al Qur’an, op.cit., vol.I, p.31 Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Lahore: K. Bazar, 1958, p. 85. Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation, pp. 43–44. Fatima Mernissi, Women and Islam, trans. Mary Jo Lakeland, Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1991 Fatima Mernissi, ‘A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam’, in Charles Kurzman (ed.) Liberal Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, 126. Amina Wadud-Muhsin, Qur’an and Woman, Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, 1992. Pp.x-2 Asma Barlas, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an, p. 16. Part One of the Article: Interpretations (Tafsir) Of The Qur’anic Context: A Discourse – Part One ----- Dr. Uzma Khatoon is a PhD from Department of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University and taught there between 2017-18. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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