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.