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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mutual Exclusivism: Reader Comment

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From time to time, readers of myAsylum leave comments that deserve posting. One of those came along yesterday, in response to this post. It comes from a reader who chose to identify him/herself as 4what.

Answering the question is the Quran alone enough, 4what writes (emphasis and minor edits by myAsylum):

1) It's such a broad question.

"One group says that the Quran alone is enough. The majority of Muslims, forming another group, believe that the Quran alone is not enough."

I think the question is, enough for WHAT?

For spiritual guidance? Yes, it should be enough, just like the Bible is to Christians.

But the qur'an does not stop at spiritual guidance, it also talks about social & political rules, even warfare with the infidels. when it comes to these areas, it would be naive to believe that the qur'an is 'enough' to allow you to make a whole set of actual, detailed, social & economic policies for all times & places. you'll still need many human thinking at a particular time & society, not least for the purpose of implementation.

Yes, agreed. Interpretation is important. 4what hits on the key element, however: "at a particular time & society", which is in line with what Walski himself believes, that the Quran was written in such a way to allow contemporary interpretation. But is this what's happening today?

4what continues with the second point...
(more from 4what, in the full post)

2) It's a fallacy to ask "which [OF THE TWO] mutual exclusivist group do you belong to?"

It's like asking, which color you love - black or white? But in reality, there are so many options/approaches/combinations in between.

Why can't people believe in the Qur'an & Hadith, PERIOD? Or Qur'an + Hadith + Reason? Or Qur'an + Reason?

Walski asked the question the way he did for a reason - to elicit dialog. And for that, he got good feedback from this one reader. But allow Walski to answer the 3 questions 4what asks at the end of the second point.

Having gone through a number of collections of the Hadith (the closest equivalent Muslims have to The New Testament - Walski will explain why later), Walski has come across a number of inconsistencies. For example, Muhammad saying one thing in one hadith, then contradicting himself in another - for instance, saying in one that he is the most honorable of apostles, and in the other telling his followers to not make any distinction among the apostles... Worse, some of them contradict what's written in the Quran.

It would be a reasonable assumption that during his life, Muhammad would have preached and lived life based on the Quran. Therefore those hadith that are consistent with the Quran are likely to be actual sayings of the prophet.

So, back to the questions. For Walski, Reason + Quran is probably to best approach, compared to the other two.

Continuing with 4what's comment...

3) On balance, there is a danger for taking the 'majority approach' as you've described because you'll end up having generations after generations of scholars/clerics interpreting what the CLASSICAL JURISTS meant, making the 4 imams as the default starting point, instead of starting the QUR'AN itself.

Which, incidentally, is what has been happening for a long, long time now...

It's like people debating on socrates by using the malay translation as the standard reference, instead of the english text (from which the malay version was translated from), or the greek text (from which the english version was translated from), or the ancient greek text (from which the greek version was translated from).

Go to the ultimate, primary source, i say. Cut off all the middlemen.

Agreed - no argument from Walski whatsoever.

4) But if everybody is going back to the ultimate, primary source - the Qur'an - then it'll come back to the 1st question: enough for WHAT?

If you want to use the Qur'an as a tool for social control or as a political ideology that all muslims could rally behind, then obviously to have the qur'an ALONE is simply not acceptable.

So, i guess in the final analysis, it's still THIS question:

Enough for WHAT?

For Walski, enough for spiritual guidance and setting the basis for how to conduct our lives - revolving around justice, equitability and where the pursuit of knowledge becomes a central thrust. The Quran was an adequate guide towards this end, evidenced by the fact that earlier Islamic civilizations were looked upon with respect.

It can happen again, but only when we go back to the source, freshly reinterpret it for current times - and not rely on interpretations that are literally frozen in time...

Oh, before he forgets - why does Walski thinks the hadith collections are the closest equivalent Muslims have to the Christian New Testaments?

  • Both were written/compiled over a century after the demise of the Apostle in question
  • Both are 3rd party accounts - in the case of the Hadiths, the narrations are one or two generations old (possibly the same with the Gospels)
  • The authenticity of both collections are not universally accepted by all sects/schools of thought of each respective faith (there are Gospels which have been rejected)

There are probably more similarities, but Walski will stop at three... plus he's in a bit of a rush to get some place... Maybe he'll revisit this at some other juncture.