By Syed Faizan Bukhari
A lot of us are aghast at the reactions of the majority of Maulanas and Muftis who have displayed a colossal disregard towards the palpable threat of the Corona virus epidemic. Their ludicrous sermons filled with passionate exhortations to the believers to attend congregational prayers goes on to show how far the clergy in Islam has strayed from its own creed. Faith has suddenly become the arch nemesis of rationale. While “knowledge” and “science” are not reduced to a mere curiosity and analytical speculation in the Islamic worldview that seeks a more contemplative and gnostic understanding of the created order, the two need not be at odds with each other. Doing so, I am afraid, undermines the essence of Tawheed – of oneness and Unity – the fundamental belief of Islam. Ironically enough, the self-proclaimed guardians of the message of Unity have created water-tight compartments of the sacred and the profane. Therefore, I say this with great confidence that the Muftis and Maulanas are simply incapable to constitute a competent hermeneutical authority for Muslims.
How did we reach here, you ask?
A simple one line answer will suffice. Our schools of traditional learning have no academic and philosophical rigor. They have become cesspools of narrow and pedantic debates regarding the trivialities of Fiqh. A cursory look at the curriculum and pedagogy of any Madarsa will leave you with no doubt about the barren dessert that it has become. Their concerns and their “training” is so far removed from the times that we live in that they don’t and must not have any religious or moral authority to interpret the faith in a relevant fashion for Muslims. Had they been perceptive and reflective about the spaces and times that we inhabit, the Muftis who are eager to dole out unsolicited Fatwaas regarding the acceptable length of a Tennis players skirt, would have said a word or two regarding climate-change, deforestation, wage-gap, environmental degradation, inclusive growth, mental health, marine pollution and social transformation. No Sir. But first we must establish the correct position of tying our hands when standing in supplication before God. Because that’s what matters to God – the position of our hands. The rest can wait.
Where do we go from here?
Let’s start by not listening to them. Let us start by holding them accountable for what they say and what they don’t say. Let us start by calling them out on their incompetence and ineptitude. Let us not fall for religious chicanery. We are all capable of Ijtihaad at the level of the individual. Let us exert our intellect.
While the absence of a crystalline hierarchical hermeneutical authority ensures a certain fluidity in the understanding and practice of faith, there also exists a need to collectively interpret faith in a relevant fashion while keeping its essence alive. There is a long road ahead. Islam, especially Sunni Islam needs a through structural reform. Making traditional Islamic education open, dynamic, rigorous is an arduous task. The relevance of the encompassing Deen of Islam relies upon the competence and wisdom of its jurists – the Fuqahaa. The consensus of the learned within the community, Ijma; analogical reasoning, Qiyas; and the welfare of the community, Istislah are various practices that assure that Faith informs all facets of the Muslim life while establishing balance and justice, Meezaan. Therefore, creating progressive institutions of academic rigor that produces wise polymaths who can reflect and contemplate upon the human condition ensures the welfare of the Muslim individual as well as the Islamic society. It is time that you and I strive towards liberating the faith from the clutches of mediocrity, obstinacy, apathy and lethargy of the Molvis.
(Syed Faizan Bukhari is a writer based in New Delhi. His interests include South Asian politics and contemporary Islam)