Lecture 2 in the Jumuah series: UNPACKING THE QURAN-CENTRIC SCHOOL OF THOUGHT by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on Friday 14 July 2017 (19 Shawaal 1438) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town
Last week we started a series of very important discussions along this theme which has created a buzz of debate from certain sectors of our society. This is certainly good, to gauge the questions which are on the minds of the people.
To summarise the introductory lecture, we discussed the role of the Prophetic Sunnah in Shariah (Jurisprudence) or in overall understanding of Islam. We started to analyse the group who believe that the Holy Quran is sufficient and that the words and actions of Rasulullah (SAWAS) has no role in this regard. These people regard themselves as Quran-centric.
We made a few critical points in the first lecture of this series.
1. We said there is absolutely no doubt that the Holy Quran is THE MOST authentic and reliable authority in understanding Shariah, because it is conclusively the word of Almighty Allah (SWT). Clearly, this is not the matter for debate.
2. We have the Prophetic Sunnah, for which we are not conclusive on whether the recorded sunnah are the actual words and actions of Rasulullah (SAWAS) or not. There are numerous factors in the early history of Islam which prevents us from categorically concluding whether the RECORDED Sunnah is actually what Rasulullah (SAWAS) said or practiced. The Quran-centric approach uses this as the basis to completely write-off the crucial role of the Prophetic Sunnah.
DIFFERENCES IN INTERPRETATION EXIST ON BASIC MATTERS OF RELIGION
The Holy Quran is undoubtedly and conclusively the word of Almighty Allah (SWT), but there is differences in understanding and interpretation. Let us look at one verse of the Holy Quran which discusses Wudhu. Interestingly, the Holy Quran does not give DETAILS about other acts of worship. Example, the Holy Quran does not explain how to perform Salaah or rules of how to fast.
However, with Wudhu, the Holy Quran is explicit in explaining how to perform Wudhu. Amazing it is, that all Muslims believe in and follow the same Quran, and understand the method of Wudhu from the same Quran, but don’t reach the same conclusion on how to perform Wudhu!
So, the Holy Quran is for sure the word of Almighty Allah (SWT), but again, the understanding and interpretation varies.
So the problem we have with certain Hadith narrations giving us different understandings similarly applies in the differences in understanding that we experience with the Holy Quran.
Recorded Sunnah has 2 challenges, namely the authenticity of the recording (which is not a challenge experienced with the Holy Quran), and secondly the understanding (which is the same challenge experienced with the Holy Quran).
QURAN ESTABLISHES THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF SUNNAH
We then went further to understand the role of Sunnah from the Holy Quran itself, since we all unanimously agree on the authenticity its words.
We said that the one job of Rasulullah (SAWAS) is to convey the Divine message. However, his role is not confined to that of a Messenger!
Verse 44 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran) explains this quite explicitly, that the role of Rasulullah (SAWAS) is to EXPLAIN the message, and not only deliver it!
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect.”
This therefore means that the Holy Quran is itself saying that the role of Rasulullah (SAWAS) is to explain what is revealed to him.
So then, how can we say that we are not ready to accept his explanation, but only want to take the Quran itself? This contradicts the Holy Quran!!
Yes we can say that the explanation has inconsistencies and creates confusion. We will unpack this matter in subsequent discussions on the authenticity and variations of the recorded Sunnah. However, the principle point is that the Holy Quran has established the responsibility of Rasulullah (SAWAS) to explain distinctively in the above verse.
There is another verse which I would like to cite, namely verse 4 of Surah Ibrahim (chapter 14 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ ۖ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
“We sent not a Messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now Allah leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, full of Wisdom.”
This verse establishes the intrinsic link between the responsibilities of Rasulullah (SAWAS) and all other prophets to explain the Divine message beyond simply delivering like a postman! A postman does not need to “teach the message in the language of his people” as he has nothing to do with the message in the envelope. His job is simply delivery! Therefore, confining the role of Prophets to that of Messengers is contrary to the Quranic approach of Prophethood.
PROPHETHOOD HAS A VERY SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY IN ISLAM
Another very important point to add is that our problem with the Quran-centric trend of thinking is that they do not understand the esteemed status of our beloved Prophet (SAWAS) and Prophethood overall. They have a very narrow-minded approach to thinking of Rasulullah (SAWAS) as nothing more than a postman. This is exactly where the problem lies!
Prophethood and the status of the Seal of the Prophethood is a multi-faceted status, enjoying multiple responsibilities. The first responsibility is indeed delivering the Divine message. But remember, his responsibility is not confined to this.
Again, the Holy Quran establishes the judicial responsibility of Prophethood. Furthermore, the responsibility of our beloved Prophet (SAWAS) as a political and military leader is undeniable. This reality of history is acknowledged very much in the Holy Quran.
Again, this is a very short-sighted argument of Quran being Divine and therefore authentic, and our beloved Prophet (SAWAS) being non-Divine, and simply a human being and therefore prone to error. This group do not understand the status and responsibility of Prophethood, and especially the magnanimous status and responsibility of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) as the seal of Prophethood.
QURAN EXPLAINS THE EXTRA-SPECIAL CAPABILITY OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWAS)
Divine revelation (Wahih) is not simply about receiving mail. You need to be on a certain esteemed capacity to receive this.
Verse 21 of Surah Hashr (chapter 59 of the Holy Quran) reveals the status of revelation and the strong capacity of our Rasulullah (SAWAS) to accept it, by drawing the comparison of the weight of the Divine revelation to that of mountains:
لَوْ أَنْزَلْنَا هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَىٰ جَبَلٍ لَرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُتَصَدِّعًا مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ
“Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, you would certainly have seen it falling down, splitting asunder because of the fear of Allah”.
Clearly, the soul and status of Rasulullah (SAWAS) is not normal! The problem lies in understanding who Rasulullah (SAWAS) actually is, and consolidating his position of conveying the message.
Indeed, there are more than 10 places in the Holy Quran where Almighty Allah (SWT) says that the role of Prophets (SAWAS) is to convey the message. In fact, in more than 6 verses of the Holy Quran we find that Prophets (SAWAS) themselves say that they are CONVEYING the Divine message of Almighty Allah (SWT) but in addition to conveying the message, they are also serving as ADVISORS.
One example of this verse is the words of Prophet Salih which are recorded in Surah Al-A’raf Verse 79:
يَا قَوْمِ لَقَدْ أَبْلَغْتُكُمْ رِسَالَةَ رَبِّي وَنَصَحْتُ لَكُمْ
“O’ my people! verily I have delivered to you the Message of my Lord, and advised you sincerely.”
What advise is this that the Prophets are giving to the people in addition to the actual message they deliver??
In Surah Zumar (chapter 39 of the Holy Quran) Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 41:
إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ لِلنَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ فَمَنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَلِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۖ وَمَا أَنْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ بِوَكِيلٍ
“Surely We have revealed to you the Book with the truth for the sake of men; so whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul and whoever errs, he errs only to its detriment; and you are not a custodian over them.”
This verse is often misunderstood into confining the role of Rasulullah (SAWAS) to that of conveying the Divine message and nothing else. This verse is saying that Rasulullah (SAWAS) should not compel people into accepting Islam. Therefore, it is actually not relevant in our argument, as it does not say that he has no role over the people.
There is another verse, namely verse 66 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran) which clarifies the position even further:
وَكَذَّبَ بِهِ قَوْمُكَ وَهُوَ الْحَقُّ ۚ قُلْ لَسْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ بِوَكِيلٍ
“And your people call it a lie and it is the very truth. Say: I am not placed in charge of you.”
This verse makes it abundantly clear, that religion cannot be forced. Islam is a matter of the heart. While he has no authority to force people to believe, but he certainly has a long list of positions of authority over them!!
RASULULLAH (SAWAS) IS MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE MESSAGE
When we are saying that Rasulullah (SAWAS) has the right of explaining the Divine message, it does not mean that he is able to introduce a new law out of his own. Not at all! This is again a misunderstanding.
We have a concept called Wilayah Tashri’i, which refers to the legislative authority. In the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) this authority belongs only to Allah (SWT)!
When our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) says and does something, it is nothing but the command of Almighty Allah (SWT). The law that he establishes is not originated by himself, but rather it is Divinely ordained.
Verses 3 and 4 of Surah Najm (chapter 53 of the Holy Quran) explain that everything the Rasulullah (SAWAS) utters is Divinely ordained and not his personal opinion:
وَمَا يَنْطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ
“Nor does he speak out of desire.
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ
It is naught but revelation that is revealed”.
This means that we are not giving Divine rights of Almighty Allah (SWT) to non-divine Rasulullah (SAWAS), but rather that his decisions, legislation or utterances are on authority of what Almighty Allah (SWT) has commanded.
Therefore, accepting the interpretation and explanation of Rasulullah (SAWAS) is not worshiping him.
Thus far we have only covered one crucial aspect of the Prophetic responsibility, namely that the Holy Quran establishes his authority in explaining and interpreting the Divine message. Therefore, we are in no position to refute this authority as this will be going against Quran itself and hence not Quran-centric!
In the subsequent Jumuah khutbah we will look at other aspects of the Prophetic responsibility citing the Holy Quran as the reference point.
GRAND AYATULLAH SISTANI IS THE SAVIOUR OF IRAQ!
It is now official, that Mosul has been liberated from the demonic ISIS terrorist rule. Alhamdu Lillah, this is a significant achievement for the people of Iraq, but the very important lesson for us to reflect on in this victory is the most important role of spiritual and religious leadership in Iraq.
The role of Grand Ayatullah Sistani who heads the School of Ahlul Bait (a.s) in Iraq and a huge following across the world was again prominent in that he kept himself above the sectarian differences for the past 2 decades where Iraq has been torn apart with sectarian strife.
The Fatwa of Jihad which he gave in 2014 requires deep reflection and analysis, where he instructed that everyone should take up arms against ISIS and protect the country of Iraq.
The very first purpose of the enemies of Islam was to divide Iraq along sectarian lines, by introducing this evil group ISIS. And then of course use this group to divide Syria and spread this deviant ideology further so that the whole Muslim nation is fragmented.
This old, wise man of Najaf (Ayatullah Sistani) acted decisively with his Fatwa, not to protect Shia, but to protect the people of Mosul! In fact Mosul has a small Shia population by comparison!
The messages he sent to the masses of people who went to fight was that they are fulfilling their religious and national responsibility, and not a sectarian responsibility. This is not about protecting one sect against another sect.
Again, Mosul is not a Shia city! But his command was to go and fight for the liberation of Mosul, because it translates into the liberation of Iraq as a whole, beyond Sunni and Shia!
His command on how Sunni and Shia should be treated, and going beyond religious boundaries he gives clear guidance on how Christians should be treated too, together with other faith groups including Yazeedis, that they should be treated with the utmost of compassion, care and kindness.
This vision on this horizon, rising above the sectarian challenge, brought about this victory and failed the plans of enemies, and completely destroyed their whimsical dreams to infiltrate and divide.
Upon the celebration of this victory in Mosul this past week, we see that the Grand Mufti of Iraq wrote his message of congratulations not to the president of Iraq, but instead he addressed it to Grand Ayatullah Sistani!
We hope and prayer that our spiritual and religious leadership everywhere, including our own community, rise above sectarian divides and should be able to see what really the future of Islam demands from us.
Beyond sectarian divides, it is about rising above a narrow, factional approach, which is common among Sunni and Shia. The responsibility is for leadership to look beyond with purpose, rather than being trapped with trivial polemics.