© Muhammad Haniff Hassan, February 2003
One of the important pillars that we should uphold in our da’wah efforts is to remain within the guidance of Islam at all times.
What we understand and practice should always suite the spirit and principle of Islam.
To ensure this, our main source of reference for any issues, tasks or problems should be the Quran and the hadith. But it is just as important that one understands the principles of inter-acting and usage of these two references. This is where we should hold on to the following guideline.
“The glorious Qur’an and the purified tradition (Sunnah) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are the references of every Muslim for the realization of the rules of Islam. The Quran can be understood according to the principles of the Arabic language without affectation or controversy, and the Sunnah can be acquired by reference to the trustworthy transmitters of Hadith (collected sayings of the Prophet). [No 2 of the 20 concise principles of Hasan Al-Banna]
Apart from this we should also acknowledge the important role of the experts in interpreting the rules of Islam. Just as each discipline has its own specialists, the same should be expected of the various disciplines relating to Islam.
Islam ensures freedom of speech by enjoining every Muslim to spread the message of Islam. Hence every Muslim has the right and freedom to speak of his or her belief. Nonetheless this does not mean that every individual, whether Muslim or otherwise, has the authority to speak on Islam or derive their own rules of Islam.
This is not to imply that matters on the rules of Islam should be monopolized exclusively by a small group as the Brahmin caste does for Hinduism. The intention is to ensure that only the experts will deal with complicated issues relating to religion. Anyone can be an expert on Islam by following the path of Islam and mastering its various branches of knowledge.
But practicing Islam without the guidance of the more knowledgeable may cause a person to stray from the truth. Hence, we should treasure and respect the ulama both of the past and present.
The views of the past scholars of Islam reflect their righteous, just and dignified behaviours. This is especially true of the ulama among the sahabah who were educated and molded directly by Prophet Muhammad, and the subsequent ulama close to that era. These scholars truly understood the spirit and principles of Islam.
Our respect should also be extended to the ulama of today whose views reflect their understanding of the current context within which we are living in.
We should accept that Islam has to be practiced according to current conditions just as we should acknowledge that there are some ijtihad made in the past that are no longer relevant in certain situations or in today’s contexts. Even the ulama of the past acknowledge that rules of Islam will undergo changes due to changes in circumstances and contexts.
“The opinion of Imam (Ruler) or his deputy is acceptable in matters, which are of proven benefit to the public, provided that his opinion does not conflict with any established principle of Islam. In this regard, the opinion of the Imam is allowed to marginally differ from similar preceding rulings by virtue of changing circumstances, customs, and conventions of the society. [No 5 of the 20 concise principles of Hasan Al-Banna]
When it comes to the role of the ulama and the community in tackling current issues, we hold to the opinion that:
“Every Muslim who reaches the level of understanding the arguments of legal deduction and jurisprudence is encouraged to investigate the works of the four great Imams of Islamic jurisprudence and see which of them attracts him most. With the help of the arguments of that Imam and the proven opinions of trustworthy workers of his own age, he should be able to increase his knowledge of Islamic Law and find the Islamic solutions to the contemporary problems of his society. Those Muslims who are unable to do so are advised to exert the necessary efforts to acquire such a level of understanding. [No 7 of the 20 concise principles of Hasan Al-Banna]
Nevertheless the works of the past ulama provide a corpus of knowledge that is priceless. They should not be neglected based on the arguments that they are no longer relevant or that times have changed or that we need new ijtihad for today’s circumstances. The treasury of knowledge we have today has been painstakingly put together over hundreds of years.
To ensure righteousness in our practices and truthfulness in our understanding, we will have to make references to this early corpus of knowledge while keeping our perspective on today’s circumstances.
This does not mean that we will blindly follow the ulama of the past or even those of today. Blind followers were reminded by Allah taala in the Quran;
“And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge. For surely the hearing, the sight, the heart, all of those shall be questioned of.” (The Holy Quran 17 : 36)
Islam calls on its followers to practice Islam with knowledge and comprehension. While reading the Qur’an we should try to comprehend its meanings. A similar yardstick should be used when faced with the views of ulama who are not infallible. Allah says;
“Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Quran, or is that there are locks upon their hearts?” (The Holy Quran 47 : 24)
While we uncover the wisdom of the past, we should not limit our understanding of Islam in today’s context or be less sensitive to its inherent differences.
In brief, we can abide by the following:
“The opinion of everyone except the infallible Prophet (peace be upon him), is liable to changes and modifications. All that has reached us of the opinions and rulings of the righteous early Muslims is acceptable to us as long as it is in agreement with the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In case of disagreement, the Book of Allah and the practice of His Apostle are more deserving of our adherence. However, we do not criticize or attack any of those individuals who were in disagreement, since we do not know what their intentions were nor the circumstances that necessitated their decision. [No 6 of the 20 concise principles of Hasan Al-Banna]