Doctrines >Dialogue Starting With a Question   (4)


Dialogue Starting With a Question

Practical outcomes of the approach

This approach provides some good experience, which may guide the steps of Muslim activists in life:

1. knowledge of the rationale of divine law strengthens belief

People have a natural right to pose any kind of questions to Muslim activists. The activists should not complain in any way about the number of questions, their nature, or complexity. They should not duck any question. They should bear in mind that their responsibility in life is to carry the Message and impart it. Thus, they should discharge it to the best of their ability, without letting their own personal choices or inclinations color their conduct or judgment.

In the dark ages, and it still is the case, religious activity has been blighted by some unenthusiastic religious scholars, who think that their fundamental duties are those concerned with personal status affairs, such as matrimony, divorce, prayer, death, and other articles of faith. They answer briefly the questions put to them, as though they are not in the mood to expand on them. This is particularly so when the questions touch on the philosophical aspect of the religious laws and precepts, their rationale, benefits, and secrets. They have no defense against the criticism apart form saying: people have to accept God's injunctions with neither objecting to them, nor understanding the reasons underlying the judgements. They quote the following verses in support of their argument.

It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Apostle to have any option about their decision.

But no, by the Lord, they can have no (real) Faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against Thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction. (4:65).

Yet, what they seem to forget is that the general ambience of the verses is that of urging the believers to submit to God's commands and prohibitions and accept His decisions, even if they go against their own wishes and interests.

The verses do not contain any reference to enquiring about the rationale of the judgement, the viewpoint from which it was reached, or its benefit, let alone censuring the question into those areas. On the contrary, it could be said that, in the varying Qur'anic style, one can detect a license to do just that. That will be in an effort to convince people that Islamic lawgiving is based on solid foundations, which takes into consideration the fundamental interests of man in life. It also seeks to make people reflect on this, so that they can achieve clarity of vision that would enable them to evaluate Islam and other ideologies. This is not going to be achieved unless one gets to grips with the rational of the law and the benefits derived from it.

We have noticed this trend in many Quranic verses that discuss legal judgments, such as:

Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allure you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But God beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of Bliss) and forgiveness, and make His Signs clear to mankind: That they may receive admonition. (2:221).

We can clearly see that the verse ended with stating the legal basis for the judgment, i.e. the dissimilarity between the believers and polytheists in each party's outlook, conduct, and aim, which would influence matrimonial life that should be governed by compassion and under-standing; its common denominator is unity of perception, feeling, and aim. The believers respond to God's call to heaven, which would require a particular type of conduct and thinking; this is at odds with the polytheists' call to hellfire. So, how is faithfulness to matrimonial life going to be achieved with the disparity in the spiritual, ideological and living obligations required by belief? It may appear to us that the verses have not made the basis for prohibiting marriage arbitrary, as some may make out of them. It has been made permanent, even if it meant that it goes against people's wishes. It has tried to guide the steps of people into weighing sentimental inclination against the realistic of both faith and life.

The verse concludes that personal inclinations are not significant compared to the fate man in this world and in the hereafter:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means" (4:34).

It is clear from the verse that God has not stopped at pronouncing the judgment that man is the provider of the family. He went further into giving the reasons for the ruling. Preferring one to the other is because (a) the man is stronger than the woman, both physically and mentally, and (b) the man is responsible for winning the family's bread.

"Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil way". (17:32). In this Quranic verse the justification for prohibiting adultery and fornication is self-evident. "It is shameful (deed) and an evil way". That is, both socially and spiritually.

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do". (24:30). Here, lowering their gaze and guarding their modesty have been anchored on spiritual as well as physical ritual purity, as is evident the phrase, "greater purity for them".

"O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful". (33:59).

In this Quranic verse, reference is made the rationale behind the command for the wives and daughters of the Prophet and the wives of the believers to go about covering themselves up in a particular way. The aim is to avoid putting themselves in harm's way. The ruling is there, and so are the reasons for it. This is done to assure women that the aim is to preserve their integrity and comfort. As has already been mentioned regarding intoxicants and gambling, the Islamic approach to calling people to embrace the faith attaches great importance to the subject of making matters known to people.

We present all these Quranic verses, and others, to those who do not want to make an effort to understand them, on account that God's injunctions should not be subjected to people's comprehension. As the tradition (hadith) from the Progeny of the Prophet (a.s.) goes. "The religion of God is done disservice to, not only by feeble minds, but also by false opinions". This should not put us off seeking to understand the injunctions, on the one hand, and coming closer to gaining insight into the benefits of these injunctions, should it prove difficult to fathom the reasons for them, on the other hand. That effort should serve the pursuit of knowledge in the Law, which would give the believers confidence in it, instead of remaining a source of worry and bewilderment that could threaten the innermost should with that which could cause it to stray form the right path.

We can attribute the reasons for the intellectual inertia that is besetting Muslims, on the level of understanding Islam to this inflexible approach of the official representatives of religion, when they close the wide-open door of religious knowledge to Muslims.

What seems to complicate matters is that some of those ulema assume that belief is some sort of inspirational intellectual power that is capable of granting the believers the ability to do away with all matters of suspicion and skepticism, solve all their problems, and make them face up to all challenges they may encounter. Thus, they do not allow the believers to speak about the doubts and unsettling notions that may linger in their minds. They gag them from discussing thought, creed, and injunctions under the pretext that the believers should not be asking about certain things. They consider interest in these matters as a form of heresy, atheism, or blasphemy. This is bound to scare the believers away from raising the types of questions that keep haunting them, and, consequently, lead them to more perplexity and uncertainty, or maybe harboring more doubt, if not blasphemy and atheism.

We do not find this in the Quranic approach to dialogue with either the unbelievers, or the believers, for that matter, it cannot even be found in Prophet Mohammad's style of reasoning with his followers. It has been related in the Prophetic biography that a man came to see the Prophet (p.) and said to him:

O Messenger of God! I have gone astray. The Prophet could tell what his problem was, retorting: Did he (Satan) haunt you, saying: who created you? And you said: God. he then said: Who created God? The man said: Ye, O Messenger of God!

That man lived with devastating uncertainty with that thought, so much so that he was under the impression that his faith had been shaken.

The prophetic position was in keeping with the main thrust of the Message, which seeks to remove doubts and uncertainties, and handle complex issues. "The Prophet (p.) said to the man towards the end: this is the true belief". Thus, he turned calamity into prosperity, and apprehension into peace of mind and security.

2. The value of thought is in its practical results

steering the approach to education towards the practical side, in the context of what people enquire and gain knowledge about, is an essential matter, due to the fact that pure theoretical issues cannot serve the purpose of life either directly or indirectly. This is true of many other issues that come under the banner of futile curiosity. Efforts put into them are useless and a waste of time. The value of thought is in what practical benefits, and related theoretical aspects, it can yield for man in this life and be hereafter.

The educational approach we can glean from the holy verses, which have done away with the questions that cannot yield any benefit in favour of those that are beneficial, is a clear proof of the extent of the relationship between pursuit of knowledge and life. Knowledge that is far removed from life is akin to death. This approach to education is capable of leading the Islamic society to focus more on the practical side of things, even in ideology, so that it can free it from the shackles of the times of decadence, which made the Muslim mentality and style slaves to the theoretical aspect of things. The situation is so acute that Muslims spend considerable time arguing over semantics, for no good purpose, but only to kill time, so much so that the field of linguistic intricacies and interpretations has become an art in its own right.

Some people may wish to argue that simple and direct expressions of thought would detract from the integrity and stature of science and knowledge. Thus, scientific research in juridical issues has entered the doldrums of ambiguous and far-fetched theories and opinions. They seek to be apologetic about this by saying: Presupposing the impossible is not impossible, and this process is capable of sharpening the wit and opening new horizons for it. However, they seem oblivious to the fact that in so doing they squander the opportunity, for themselves and the majority of people, of exploring the practical aspects, which are the real test for the people. They do not seem to pay due attention to those practical aspects of Islamic jurisprudence, which call for coming closer to reality and the suppositions that are likely to prove worth their while, for this is the way to solving people's problems in life.

As for dissecting the brain and widening its capacity to discern things, this can be left to disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy.

3. It is essential to get grips with practical rulings

we find in this educational approach guidance to people to attain advanced levels of practical legal education in the branches of religion, such as acts of worship and transactions. This is so, as the individual Muslim would be secure in the knowledge that his going about this private life and the conduct of his affairs fall in line with the correct Islamic path. This would ensure that, in this context, Islam's practical role would remain a force in people's individual lives. They would feel its presence in their lives, albeit it has been forced out from social life altogether.

This guidance could take two approaches:

(a) Direct religious instructions imparted in circles, seminars, schools (private and public), and calling on people to attend and gain more knowledge in religious matters.

(b) Encouraging people to ask about legal rulings on each and every sphere of life, to the extent that such rulings become the believer's main concern in the smallest and the biggest of issues.

You may find all this discussed in many Quranic verses, by way of question and answer, as has already been discussed, especially arousing the interest of people in knowing about the injunctions and drawing satisfaction from the knowledge of their benefits.

While we are making reference to this point, we are trying to do away with what has become commonplace with those working for the Islamic cause and others. They seem to have lost interest in imparting religious legal rulings in the conventional way. On the other hand, they appear to attach more importance to teaching general Islamic principles, social and political concepts and others. This has led the majority of Muslim activists to be illiterate or semi-literate in the knowledge of the practical rulings, and far away from the main guidelines.

We recognize the danger of this tendency because it is liable to leave a vacuum in the arena, as a result of the dearth of believers among the adherents to the practical line of Islam on minute issues. This will be at the expense of finding the alternative, i.e. devout Muslims, who can combine the desire and resoluteness to remain faithful to the ideological line that Islam has drawn for life, and the practical application of the principles in private as well as in social life.

The need for pristine open-minded Islamic thought should not be less pressing than active religious work deep in the conscience and in life. That is because the ideology provides they way to live Islam in real life, while religious work secures the free movement of Islam within the procession of life. Each has its own role, scope and benefit. No matter how weak one of them may become, the other should reinvigorate it.

3. The Prophet Asks the Question and Provides the Answer

The other facet of the approach to dialogue we come across in the Holy Qur'an is the novel way in which the person who poses the question does not expect to receive an answer from the other party. Instead, the questioner assumes the role of the provider of the answer. A series of questions and answers would then follow, so that the idea is clearly explained to the public at large. All queries and connotations are dealt with. Below is example of this. The verse revolves around the debate between Prophet Mohammad (p.) and the idolaters of Quraish. The format of the questions is put to the Prophet and the expected answers are provided, thus:

Say: "What thing is most weighty in evidence?" Say: "God is witness between me and you; This Qur'an hath been revealed to me by inspiration, that I may warn you and all whom it reaches. Can ye possibly bear witness that besides God there is another?" Say: "Nay! I cannot bear witness!" Say. "But in truth He is the one God, and I truly am innocent of (your blasphemy of) joining others with Him" (6:19).

God has considered it necessary for His Prophet (p.) to pose the question in an exclamatory manner. He asked the idolaters first, "what thing is most weighty in evidence?" God then commanded him to provide the answer, concluding that it is so evident that it does not need contemplation. That is, the idolaters do not deny the existence of God, the Creator of all things; rather, they set up partners to Him, which, to their mind, might facilitate bringing them closer to Him. Then, the question is directed to the partners and gods. Do they have any existence? Do the idolaters bear witness that those partners are cognitive of the nature of divinity and the oneness of God! In reply, God commands the Prophet to take position on the matter without waiting for them to announce theirs. That is, the Prophet does not bear witness that there are other gods beside God and, instead, he bears witness to the One God and disavows any other gods. This is done so that he could confirm to them the conclusive truth that he wants them to recognize, leaving them to try to come to terms with the shock he has administered to their hearts and minds.

A fair trial

The value of this approach is that it puts the Muslim activist in the position of a judge whose job it is to weigh the evidence and opinions of adversarial groups against those of the Message. He may in the process call to the witness box whoever would serve the course of justice. After that, he summon God, the Greatest and most Reliable Witness, to give evidence. He, who revealed the Qur'an to serve warning, would give His testimony on the truthfulness of the Islamic Message. While rejecting their claims, He invites the adversaries to give in to the thought being presented to them, or at least to ponder or discuss, it. However, no matter, what reaction is in the making, the result of reflecting on, or discussing, it would be in favour of the Message, with all the ideology and law it stands for, by virtue the strength, comprehensiveness, and permeability it possesses.