Friday, October 5

Islamic Perspectives

A few weeks ago I found myself in the middle of a debate about what exactly constituted "the People of the Book" in Islam. The conclusion and respective arguments are out of the scope of this post, but what shocked me was an alarming lack of acknowledgement of a difference in opinion.

At one point, a participant was accused of "twisting and cherry-picking" rulings in order to make life easy for themselves. This was all the more ironic considering how the accusers were mainly Muslim women who chose not to wear the hijab. If I was a meaner person I'd go as far as accusing them of mild hypocrisy[1].

Now, I'm not a woman and so I tend not to put too much thought into the issue of hijab. If pushed, I'd say that although it's prescribed and preferable, it's not obligatory in the same way salaat is (say). In any case I believe that the imposition of it on anyone is not allowed.

But I recognise that this might possibly be against the mainstream Muslim opinion. I also recognise that the two opinions have arguments for them. My friends, however, could not see this and thought that theirs, that the Quran merely suggests modesty rather than head covering per se, was the technically correct and reasonable opinion. In other words, they thought that theirs was the absolute truth, and that the majority had gotten it wrong; quite an arrogant position actually. They just couldn't see the blatant subjective interpretation in their reasoning.

It's a brilliant example of how some (or even most) today cannot see a particular issue from a perspective other than their own. I'm not saying that there has to be an acceptance of ideas contradictory to your own; no, being open-minded isn't about accepting the opinion of another as fact, but just that they could have come to a different conclusion even while using the exact same methodology as you.

When coming to any kind of conclusion there will always be a latent amount of personal interpretation even if you don't realise it. Even if you're not in a formal or qualified position to to the hard work yourself, you're always choosing who to listen to (we now have a mufti/webpage for every purpose), and the conclusion that makes sense to you should always be a result of external and internal debate.

Now, it's arguable to claim exactly how many people rigorously think about what they believe (explicitly or not), and it's this that should be criticised, not the conclusions themselves. Think about an issue long enough and with good intent and I think it becomes valid no matter what it says.

In general, I don't think that Islam is about narrow and strict, black and white viewpoints, or actively accusing others of twisting laws for personal gain. I think it's more about active and critical thinking, perhaps a more philosophical approach than usual.

So no, it's not about who constitutes the People of the Book, or whether a woman has to cover her hair or not. It's about looking into the matter deep enough, and thinking about what is right and on what basis long enough, until you're comfortable with the answers that you're looking for. And as long as your counterpart has done exactly the same thing, who are you to say that they're wrong?

[1] To be clear, the "mild hypocrisy" I was referring to above was related to how criticism was being made of a subjective opinion (regarding The People of the Book) by those who were, implicitly, doing the same thing (regarding the hijab), since by their own definitions and terms, my friends could be seen as cherry picking too. The point is that one person's twisting of the rules can be the reasoned conclusion of another, and it's kinda hypocritical of someone to think that they somehow fall outside of this.

5 comments:

  1. think you might have got sidetracked by the hijab issue, in a tremendously big way! if i were a meaner person i would suggest you had mango flavoured underwear on today, but im not so i wont.

    great things mangos you know, when made kulfi out of i could definately murder a few kilos.

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  2. thought it was a perfectly reasonable/rational argument wrt the hijbob - esp. when the current reasons for it are kinda unsatisfactory...

    allahu alam.

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  3. Anonymous16:11

    Rebranding it a hijbob might be a step towards reconciling the different perspectives

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  4. Muslim woman who chooses not to wear hijab but is accepting of the mainstream opinion00:23

    I think you have confused or at least misunderstood the argument from my perspective. My position was that before making such a huge decision as to who or which race would be considered as being 'people of the book' it would be prudent to talk to or at least consult the opinion of those who are well read on such issues. To put in context you were debating whether a Muslim man could marry a 'person of the book' and therefore whether he could marry a person of Jewish or Christian faith. The argument was that you can't pick what interpretation most suits you and decide to stick with that on such a grave issue.

    I know what you’re thinking now - that I am ‘cherry picking’. Wrong - I fully accept what the informed interpretation of hijab in Islam is (i.e. that a woman must cover herself) and would agree that it is regarded by some as ‘prescribed and preferable’ rather than obligatory. I can see this and contrary to your paragraph #4 I do not think that the ‘Quran merely suggests modesty rather than head covering per se’. (An argument regarding the interpretation of ‘modesty’ is for another car journey home). Further I am sorry if I gave the impression that I felt my interpretation was the ‘absolute truth’ and again I think you may have misinterpreted my opinion; my fault for not spelling it out clearly enough. Let me try again - I wholly acknowledge and accept what the mainstream opinion re hijab is and further accept that some people may adopt a slightly relaxed interpretation of hijba seeing it as preferable rather than obligatory. Either way I accept that hijab in whatever form you wish exists in Islam and should/may be necessary for a woman. My point was that I personally I am not yet in a position in my life where I am comfortable in wearing the hijab - a personal choice and a choice which I am informed as well as entitled to make.

    Now this personal choice re implementing hijab is very different to your interpretation of ‘people of the book’. In your argument you were clearly interpreting for yourself what exactly constituted "the People of the Book" in Islam. The debate was whether or not you personally are in a position to interpret for yourself what/who would constitute the PotB – my argument was that we have scholars and imams for this very reason and to guide the Muslim ummah as indeed they have done so on the issue of hijab. Your decision would be how you would let the differing opinions of each of the scholars/imams (as they do differ with every topic hijab issue included) affect you.

    As i had explained that being in a situation where we are not in a position (not having read or researched such issues in depth) to make such decisions ourselves it is important that when we are deciding whether or not one could marry a person of the book one should give added weight to the interpretation/conclusions drawn by respected (as opposed to the Muftis-‘R-Us types) Scholars and Imams.

    I agree that ‘the conclusion that makes sense to you should always be a result of external and internal debate’ however my point was that you must bare in mind that our ‘internal’ debate will undoubtedly be based on limited knowledge and understanding and therefore at times one may need to simply be accepting of what the mainstream interpretation is rather than try to fight against that. Again I would agree that ‘It's about looking into the matter deep enough, and thinking about what is right and on what basis long enough, until you're comfortable with the answers that you're looking for’ however my counter argument is that more often than not many of us will not think rigorously enough about what we believe and again if we have done it cannot be nearly close enough to what scholars and those qualified enough to interpret Islam for us have done. Therefore despite looking and thinking into a matter deep enough one should always have a leniency towards a more informed and educated opinion over their own.

    So you see it is not arrogance as I was not thinking my opinion was superior to the rest just advising you to be cautious.

    (On a side note and my last point – a woman’s decision not to wear hijab essentially affects only her whereas a man’s decision to marry someone of any monotheistic faith would undoubtedly affect those close to him and his future children/generations).

    Anyway – next time give me a heads up so I don’t spot it by chance at 11pm and have the crazy urge to write response until 20 past midnight.......argh!! Work tommrrrowoowww...!

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  5. Muslim woman who chooses not to wear hijab but is accepting of the mainstream opinion said...

    "more often than not many of us will not think rigorously enough about what we believe and again if we have done it cannot be nearly close enough to what scholars and those qualified enough to interpret Islam for us have done. Therefore despite looking and thinking into a matter deep enough one should always have a leniency towards a more informed and educated opinion over their own."

    but when so many scholars have so many differing opinions, the opinion you choose is surely the one that is most closely linked to your own natural leanings. the "he must be right because he agrees with me" syndrome.

    and as for popular opinion, that depends on the time and geography of the populous, hardly the basis for a 'truth unto itself'. no discerning human being ever set store by the popular opinion, if you do you may as well be reading the sun instead of the qur'an.

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