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Ijtihad...neccesary for Islamic revival?

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nico View Drop Down
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    Posted: 02 September 2005 at 7:50pm

I am reading a book on Islam in Egypt in the modern era, and there seems to be a great conflict within Islam btwn two ideas which are diametrically opposed to each other. The first concept is Ijtihad which to take the text of the Quran and to apply it to rational interpretation, applying it to modern scientific advancement, and to make the Quran relevant in the modern evolve the religion. The other concept which I am reading about is Taqlid, which is to basically follow the Quran blindly as it the Quran is prefect and cannot and will not change a literalist approach. Here is what I see is a debate within Islam, according to Abu Zaid which was a prominent intellectual in Egypt, he wrote about the importance of Ijtihad:


Quote The conclusion we should draw, if we want to be good Muslims at the present to give women an equal portion [of inheritance with] men. We should not follow the literal meaning in the Quran, but the spirit of God's word...The same may be said about polygamy. If we now say that a man may only marry one wife then that remains in the spirit of the Quran (Murphy 202).


He goes on to note:


Quote that religion "is fundamental to any project of revival, but only if religion is corrrectly understood and scientifically intrepreted in such a way as to free it from supersition and preserve its inherent rationalism...contemporary religious discourse is responsible to a large extent for the state of backwardness from which the Islamic word has suffered an end was put to ijtihad and adherence to tradition became widespread (Murphy 203).


I agree with Abu Zaid that Islam was the world's leading power when the Quran was adapted to science, was used to advocate technology and the highest Islamic quality was Ilm or the pursuit of intelligence. Islam today is only now opening up to Ijtihad again as a way to reform a religion that since the 1400's has not reformed to meet the challenges of the modern world, a world dominanted by western ideas and ways of life. The Islamic movement in the Middle East from what I have been able to read about the subject is opposed to Ijtihad as they see it as a threat to the divinity of the Quran that Ijtihad makes the Quran into another book, not the perfect book it supposedly is so they adhere to the Taqlid ideals of conservativism. But as the book I am reading suggests that the decline of Islam into a major intellectual source started before the Imperialist era:


Quote With the collapse of early Islam's spirit of robust Ijtihad, the long reign of taqlid set in. Advances in academic pursuits dwindled as Ijtihad became confined to an elite of legal experts unsympathetic to innovation. 'Muslims though ossified' observed one writer. 'Muslim culture lost its dynamism and degenerated, while the Muslim community was transformed from an open to a closed society. (Murphy 195)


Historical/Political Analysis:


As being a westerner I am trying to understand Islam, from my perspective the Islamic world is doing the same mistakes that made is weak relative to the West. Islamic culture stop reforming and changing just when Europe was starting to rejuvenate at the time of the renaissance and then the Enlightenment period. At this period in history btwn 1400-1800 the reversal of power occured from China/Islam to Europe as Europe through intense competition btwn themselves forced upon then innovation, change, and accumulation of capital for the nascent mercantilist/capitalist system. Whilst China and Islam competiting against no one, stagnated and did not see the need to change, as stated in the book one of the reasons Ijtihad was over was because the Ulema thought they had dealt adequately with all issues that Islam could deal with, so Taqlid set in. From 1798 with Napoleon's victory over the Mameluks, and 1842 Opium war in which Britain defeated the Chinese the fate of world history was set...Europe had set up its stage for hegemony that continues to this day. But I do not blame Europe, I blame Islam and China for not changing and not seeing the need to open up like Europe had. Many Islamists today (not all) see the necessity of sealing the Ummah from the West as a way to save it, but as history has suggested instead of sealing off the society they should embrace the West and use Ijtihad to solve the gaps btwn the two. China has adopted Western ways and is now the second most powerful nation on Earth soon to be the first. What is Islam's fate? Well I would say that the fate of Islam as it stands today is not very good. The reason why is because of Wahhabism mostly, and the increased Taqleed associated with it. Wahhabism is spreading throughout the Islamic world through the fourtunes of the Saudi royals at the expense of more traditional Sufi doctrine, and vehemently against the Shi’a. The problem with modern Islam as I see it is not that Muslims have given up on the book as many Islamists would say, I say that they have been brainwashed into thinking that taqlid is Islam. This is what I see as the biggest problem with modern Islam, that principles that applied 500 years cannot logically apply now without massive Ijtihad by the Ulema to determine if a change of interpretation is needed. Catholics had to change interpretation so to stave off total irrelevancy in the face of humanism, socialism, and liberalism all of which had basic elements of Christanity in them but at the same time rejecting it (save liberalism). The latest of these theological debates occurred in at Vatican II where many edicts of the Church were changed and arguably saved the Church from complete irrelevancy. Islam as Taqlid threatens to become less and less relevant of the lives of normal Muslims, and it will begin to alienate them and it already has started. What Islam needs is to recapture the spirit of Baghdad, or Cordova and take the intellectual powers that God has bestowed on man to make the Qu’ran relevant to 2005 not 1405. If Islam does that, I as a Westerner will see a rejuvenation of a once great civilization, if Islam fails to do this…then nothing will change and the West will continue to treat Muslim’s as children in need of guidance.


Edited by nico
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