What is a Secular Muslim? By Paul Williams on May 13, 2023 • ( 1 ) Like this:Like Loading... Related ‹ al-Shafi’i’s RISALA with Shaykh Hamza KaramaliWhy is there no “historical criticism” of the Qur’an as there is of the Bible? ›Categories: Islam
Having watched your video entitled “What is a Secular Muslim” I felt compelled to share the following commentary with you.
I am a Muslim who neither identifies as secular nor fundamentalist and I fear that both sides of this debate are abhorrently misguided. I also believe that before debating whether Sharia is divine or irrelevant, we should ask what is being referred to when Muslims speak of “Sharia”?
The Quran does contain numerous “ahkaam” or rulings, the Sunnah of the prophet PBUH too contains many others however the vast part of what we today refer to as Sharia is the the scholarly work by great emams who founded the generally accepted schools of “fiqh or Islamic Jurisprudence. Most muslims today adhere to these schools however had Muslims continued on the path of “Ijtihad” our generation would probably have inherited other schools of ‘fiqh’ which would in could have have been very different and certainly more relevant compared to a body of work accomplished some 1000 years ago.
The point is, Islamic law is not divine but rather is a human scholarly endeavor and between the different schools there is very little which can be called the one right Muslim path or a singular ruling on a particular question, instead the emams differ on most things and it is not uncommon for something to be halal in one math-hab and outright haram in another which if anything goes to show how Muslims, as a society, have been adept at managing multiple religious views. We did not accept one school and label the others as apostates.
As to hadith, this is also a contentious issue. Which sayings of the prophet can we label as being historically correct? Are they simply correct if they feature in al Bukhari and Muslim? And if a saying can really be historically authenticated, is everything the prophet ever said to be considered by Muslims as divinely inspired and therefore eternal? Or does his divine guidance or “3essma” only apply to sayings he uttered in the capacity of a Rasul delivering the Resala? Are there sayings that are contextual for example words uttered by him in his capacity as a worldly ruler? And yes… Mohamed pbuh was not a theocrat ruling Madina by divine decree. He was in fact an elected ruler whose legitimacy came from a “bay3a” of the 2 communities of the muhajerin and ansaar.
This leaves us with the holy Quran, the actual Resala, the only word of God and the one true miracle of Mohamed’s mission. The words of God are indeed one and cannot be changed, edited and don’t evolve. However, while they represent the eternal truth, we understand these words and interpret the commandments therein through the linguistic, cultural and intellectual filters at our disposal which makes the process of extracting Sharia from the Quran’s verses par excellence, a human endeavor, the outcome of which can and should be scrutinized and as we try to answer the question of what Allah wants us to do.
Did Allah will for us to amputate the thief’s hand or did he mean something else by the verb “qata3a” which is used in other places in Quran to refer to different concepts. Did Allah will that the extended family of a man receive part of his inheritance if he has no son? Does the verse “wa laysa laho waladon” refer to someone who has no offspring or one who has no sons? If we know anything about the Quran’s language as far as inheritance is concerned, it’s that that it consistently uses the words “thakar” for male and “untha” for female while “walad” simple means offspring and is gender neutral. Still scholars chose a different path and it’s one that no one dares question because we are not allowed to question God’s words when in fact it is our interpretation of his words which should be held to question. Allah encourages us to study and contemplate “tadabbur” his words so that we may understand what he really wants from his “3abeed”, us humans.
Paul, I have a lot of respect for you, your journey and work you do however as a fellow Muslim, I would urge you to seek the often vague line which should separate the original “Resala” which was handed down to Mohamed PBUH and the layers upon layers of tradition, history, intellectual creativity, scholarship and service to Islam (which we collectively call “deen”); because as remarkable as these pillars can be, only the actual “Resala” can ever be called divine and can blindly be taken as being the truth.