You are not qualified to talk about Islam!

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Islam Views: 4156

"You are not qualified to talk about Islam". How many times have I heard and read that same line, again and again? And more often than not, the same sentence is uttered or written by precisely the sort of self-trained autodidact whose own knowledge of Islam came from whatever he or she read on the internet or some cassette he bought at the local market.

It has become rather commonplace for conservative Muslims - as well as conservative Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews - to claim monopoly over the discourse of religion and to try their best to close off the space of public discourse on all matters religious for the sake of protecting the integrity and sanctity of that discourse. Or so we are told. But one can also argue that such attempts at restricting the participation and contribution of others in a discursive arena that is hotly contested is little more than a conventional and predictable attempt at censorship and the narrowing of the Muslim mind.

A recent case in point is the attempt to once again label the Muslim feminist movement Sisters in Islam of Malaysia as a group of 'western-educated' 'liberal' feminists who have no right to speak on matters Islamic. And once again we are in a paroxysm of anxiety as to how to deal with such accusations.

Let us therefore calmly and rationally look into the matter and dissect it piece by piece:

First of all, the claim that someone is 'not qualified' to speak about Islam simply because he or she did not go to a religious school is a rather bogus and shallow argument that should be exposed for what it is. The comparison that is often made is thus: Only a doctor can speak about medicine as he is trained to speak on medical matters, and only a pilot can speak about flying as he or she is trained in such matters as well; hence it follows that only the learned scholars (ulama) can speak about Islam as they have been trained to do so.

Now allow me to interject at this point: If I were to go to my doctor and complain to her of a headache, and she attempts to cure my headache by cracking my skull open with a hammer, I do reserve the right to object and to tell her that she is not a very good doctor. Likewise if I chose to take a flight to Jogjakarta and end up in Cuba , I do reserve the right to admonish the pilot. I don't have to be trained in medicine or avionics to register such a complaint, for the simple reason that I am not objecting to the discipline of medicine per se, but rather the normative conduct of my doctor.

Likewise when Muslim feminists object to the abuse of women's rights at the hands of misogynistic men who hide behind the cloak of religiosity, they are not condemning Islam or religion as a whole, but rather the normative culture of Muslims, and the abuse of law in the name of Islam. At no point is Islam being criticized or rejected, but rather the abuse of the law and the transgression of the egalitarian spirit of Islam.

This is the point that is often lost in the over-heated debates that take place between Muslim progressives and the more conservative Ulama in our midst. Whenever there is an attempt to question, debate, reform or develop the normative religio-cultural praxis of Muslims anywhere in the world, we often see the same reaction from conservative Ulama who will never accept that those who didn't go to the same schools as they did have the right to speak on matters of religious praxis.

But if we accept this argument of the Ulama then we are in danger of overlooking the reality of history and how the greatest advances in Muslim normativity and thought came from those who were precisely outside the traditional circle of orthodox thought. Today many Islamists claim to have received their inspiration from the likes of Abul Ala'a Maudoodi, Hassan al-Banna, Syed Qutb, et al. But have we forgotten that men like Maudoodi and Qutb were themselves lay Islamists whose own education sometimes was not rooted in classical Islamic teaching? Maudoodi was, after all, a journalist by training.

Dealing and responding to such attempts at discursive closure would therefore require us to look beyond the discursive pyrotechnics of legalism and theology, and to see that beneath all these warnings and demands for closure is nothing more than a strategy of censorship at work. For those who are trying to engage critically and intelligently with the discourse of religion, abiding by the rules of traditional conventional scholarship will simply not get us anywhere.

If, for instance, a Muslim feminist were to abide by the rules set by some conservative male Ulama, they would be forced to conform to all the standards set by men: They would have to start from the beginning, go to the same schools as the ulama did, read the same books, dress and behave the same way, etc. But in the end, they would still be faced with yet another barrier to their participation into the discursive domain: "No, you are not qualified to speak on Islam. Why? Because you are a woman of course!"

In the struggle to understand and render relevant the concerns of religion in the modern age we live in, blind adherence to traditional conventions will get us nowhere; and can only in fact retard our development even further. What holds true for contemporary Muslim praxis is equally true for contemporary Christian, Hindu and Buddhist praxis as well. Conservative Muslims on the other hand have to realize that we now live in an age where modern developments in communication, education and the dissemination of knowledge means that Muslim women are more intellectually emancipated and equipped than ever before. Rather than silencing the voices of Muslim women who are trying to understand and make relevant Islam for the age we live in, the conservatives among us should learn to listen to the critical and often constructive comments of others instead. If Islam is indeed a universal religion, then it has to be open for discussion for all. If Islam is indeed for everyone, then everyone has the right to have a say in it.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; and one of the founders of The Other Malaysia.

Source: ALIRAN

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured
  Topics: Islam
Views: 4156

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Older Comments:
You are right and gave simple illustrative examples. Everyone will have a somewhat different perspective or angle because we are all different people sharing the same religion. Each of us should try to understand it to the best of our capabilities and intelligence. Many things are very clear and can not be violated (for example "don't steal" etc) but some things will fall in gray zones. Then for both the individual and the society "actions will be judged according to intentions" as the prophet Muhammed PBUH taught us. If we differ in opinions of gray zones, we should still not abandon the clear-cut commandments and recommendations, for example talking with respect to each other, not using foul language or profanity, avoiding anger. If we put ourselves in the other person's shoes we may even begin to see a second point of view. And again in the end the Day of Judgement will sort out all these minor and major differences. But the aim of muslims should be to talk in a beautiful manner. Learn eloquence, humility, grace, respect and love. All the good qualities can be learned and become instruments we use to spread peace and understanding, thereby hoping to gain the love of Allah.

good article the quran must be read&understood with clarity to discuss religious matters among muslims&nonmuslims in a wise way inshALLAH the world is ready to listen&change for better

Wonderful Article! But Maududi has advocated to challenge ulema if they are wrong. It was Maududi who has challenged the self-proclaimed-authority. If you don't go to certain Medrassa, then you are gone. If any scholars who is more lambasted on the same basis is none other than Maududi. The author is wrong in listing Maududi's name. By the way Maududi is not a trained journalist. It is wrong. He also got training in Madrassa but never showed is degree. He was not satisfied with the narrow interpretation of Medrassa. The author should correct this information.

Dr. Noor's article is a very good one. She makes a very good case of why we should not blindly adhere to traditional conventions. Her concern about injustices done against women must also be acknowledged as an evil that must be fought resolutely. What I found troubling about her article is her view that Islam must be made relevant to the age we live in.

This type of thinking is problematic and can open a can of worms that can quickly eat away at the fundamental teaching of any religion. We saw it happen in the Judaeo-Christian tradition over and over again as they attempted to align their religion with the modern world by changing or selectively reinterpreting their scriptures.

Anyone who tells another "you are not qualified to talk about Islam" is of course wrong. Everybody should be able to talk and discuss Islam. But if we use modernity as the starting criteria for judging the eternal teaching of Islam, then we are championing modernity not Islam. If that is really what Dr. Noor is advocating, then I would join those who would tell her she is not qualified to talk about Islam. Why?

First, because by judging Islam by modernity instead of the other way round, she is showing lack of fundamental knowledge of Islamic teaching. If on the other hand, she is doing so intentionally with a specific purpose in mind, she is still not qualified because her motive is not pure. As Allah tells us in the Quran "This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah." So, those who do not fear Allah (and any one who judges islam by modern values is not) is not qualified to discuss Islam. I am arguing simplistically here since Dr. Noor did not provide specifics that would allow a more comprehensive response. But overall, the call for the empowerment of women that does so based on Islamic teaching is not only necessary but a religious duty.

You were talking in general about the rights of women but I failed to understand what the plight of women in the Islamic world is. Is she not able to take certain jobs? Is she not able to buy a house, have credit, drive, refuse marriage, refuse certain dress colors? Is she not able to take a second husband, or a third and a fourth in the same time? Is this the problem? Is she not able to get sex when she wants it? Or just she has to get things that are not even accessible to men sometimes for the sake of getting things? What does the woman want? What is the problem with women? Do you really know what the want? Or if you are a man; do you really know what the .........they want?

This is an excellent piece of writing, sucked with logic and conscience. The pretending heroes are all villains in reality are known only when we take out the head from the position of suppression and look up with our eyes opened comparing things with what we hear from them. This is the only means of the common people based on which we may judge or comment without certificate of qualification, the people that may be compared with the wild roses grown and blooming in the care of God out there! Surely we do not fit in the pot of tradition, as plant, in the mould of tradition as building block. But no pot has grown so huge the plants that thrill in the wild and glorify the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

During the days of the Messiah, none of the Jews received such appreciation for faith as did some of the Roman centurions and captains. Soon afterwards, it was also declared by the Roman centurion that Jesus was a righteous man, even after condemning him to death! Were they to believe the religious nuts, they would resort to argue that the righteous are not condemned to death. More logic abides outside the prison of Religious Houses.


Just to add, i think there is great difference between TALKING ON AN ISSUE and COMPLAINING ABOUT THE ISSUE vis as it affects you, DR.