Saturday, September 15

Islamic Conscience

With respect to a world containing religion, there are two ways to come up with laws and rulings. The religious view would be to use scripture and that in a wholly literal manner. A secularist would prefer to use "his head". I won't go into too much detail but suffice to say that there are pros and cons and similarities within both approaches.

Which leads me to wonder whether there's a middle ground somewhere?

The literalist's stance would be that there is no room to form an opinion other than from scripture. And they would be right in a sense; with respect to Islam what has been written is the word of God, it cannot be changed and has to be used when we're trying to figure out what's right or wrong.

However, is it truly possible to be totally literal in reading a text? I'm not so sure that it is; I reckon that there are latent "opinions" within a reader that they are unable to shed completely when interpreting writings - kinda like a Heisenberg Principle but for reading books. I reckon that Islam is aware of this fact, has controls and processes built in to manage it, and in fact is in the spirit of the religion itself.

This is proven by the vast number of opinions we actually have today; you can pretty much find an interpretation to suit any conclusion you want. At this stage, we have to decide as individuals as to which opinion we want to listen to, and that's is where our own personal Islamic Consciences come into play. This in turn is part of the hidayat we ask of God each time we pray; the guidance we need to pick from the many options laid out in front of us.

It's important to note that the level of difference and ambiguity of a ruling isn't constant but depends on what specific question we're asking about; some parts of the Quran and Hadith are clear and have a more of a consensus than others -I'm not suggesting for a moment that Muslims should have a free for all and start drinking alcohol or beginning casual relationships based on their whims.

But I do think that a single ruling is more than a specific Hadith or Quranic verse; that the best way to come to a decision is to look at Islam as a whole, its spirit and ideals and see what that would have to say about the issue, as opposed to taking a specific sound bite and (sometimes quite tenuously) applying a ruling from it.

I'm quite lucky in that I've been practising Islam for quite a while. I've been through the whole madarassa thing (and despite my initial reluctance to attend it, it was one of the best things I was involved in as a school kid). I've also been through the UK's education system including college, university and then work and been exposed to things which don't have a typical basis in Islam (that's not to say they're unislamic though, more secular).

It's these two disparate yet complimentary experiences that I draw from to decide whether something is islamically right or wrong, or valid or otherwise. In other words, it's these things that have formed my Islamic Conscience, the back of the mind feeling that I use to decide what Islam would say on a matter.

And even though some might think some of my opinions are anything but Islamic (I'd be the first to admit that my behaviour sometimes isn't), I do make sure that I think and contemplate enough about an issue before coming to a decent conclusion regarding it. That is the role of Islam in my life, and that's what I think (and remember, IANAS) constitutes a real, if not exclusive, practice of the religion.