By Shaykh Dr. Ḥasan al-Shāfi‘ī | Translated and introduced by Sohaib Saeed Al-Azhari
After looking at examples distributed in various parts of the world, we can summarize the key points of this movement’s discourse while noting that its members vary in the extent to which they adopt some of these points:
- Historicism concerning religious texts including the Qur’an, subjecting them to historical context which could lead to abrogation and replacement or reduction to purely ethical values. Indeed, casting doubt on the authenticity and perfection of the Qur’anic text.
- Biased analysis that turns a blind eye to: the nature of Arabic texts and Arabic linguistic rules, usages and idioms; the significance of the Qur’an declaring its “Arabic” nature; and the conclusions of contemporary phonological studies, particularly semantics, concerning interpretation.
- Under-qualification, to various extents, for the job of interpretation. Approaching the Qur’anic text with preconceived notions born of a methodology that materialized and thrived in a different culture for reasons that may not exist in the Islamic environment.
- Denigrating the Islamic sciences that were compiled and developed in service of religious texts – to verify, understand, and derive rulings from them – with the claim that these represent regressive traditionalism from which we need a decisive break. This, despite the fact that it is these sciences – along with literary, phonological and rhetorical studies – that can form an authentic “hermeneutics”. In other words, they can be taken as a suitable methodology for interpreting Arabic texts scientifically, objectively, and according to set rules.
I believe that we are now in need of constructing a theory or a complete intellectual structure for interacting with Arabic religious texts – including the Qur’an and Sunnah – and interpreting them in a way that accords with its nature and respects its unique characteristics.
We need not invent something new to match what others have produced: all that is required is to gather the elements of interaction with tradition and its scientific and cultural phenomena from our original sciences and our historical experience. In this way, those sciences will continue their service to this tradition and make it incumbent on whomever wishes to study, evaluate, and interpret the tradition to master the sciences, and, in addition, be trained in their implementation and how to carry out objective research within their scope.
The aptitude of the researcher is a basic prerequisite to any research activity. We saw how some people speak at length about things of which they have no knowledge, armed with nothing but unrestrained guesswork and embellishment, from among the most crucial issues of life and existence. The dangers of this phenomenon may not be obvious today; but as this “intellectual” output continues, the cultural environment will become polluted by its by-products until future generations are left unable to breathe clean air.
I wished to shed some light on the efforts of Uṣūl scholars in particular in confronting this powerful wave, and in developing and enriching the language. Phonological research, which had been unengaged with this dimension, has now begun to include it in the study of language and its sciences and methodologies. The means and tools are abundant, and all that remains is to apply careful consideration and thorough scrutiny.
Therefore, I shall suffice with a brief outline of the elements that can form the basis of the desired Arabic theory of interpretation, in the hope that I shall have another opportunity to elaborate thoroughly on these elements, particularly the efforts of the Uṣūl scholars:
- Sciences of the Arabic language including its traditional branches – naḥw, ṣarf, balāgha, ‘arūḍ, naqd and adab – alongside their counterparts in modern phonology, especially semantics.
- Principles and rules of tafsīr, along with types and examples, methods and techniques; appreciating the contributions of our predecessors to understanding its meanings and objectives; related subjects in the Qur’anic sciences.
- Principles of hadīth, methods of authentication and critiquing both matn and sanad, accompanied by modern methodologies of critiquing and editing texts and historical criticism – both internal and external.
- Uṣūl al-fiqh and the means by which the jurists extract rulings from their sources; the linguistic and jurisprudential axioms underpinning this process; related studies of the nature and objectives of the source-texts, supported by methods of analysis and law-drafting in contemporary legal philosophy.
These are the primary issues that may require further categorization, in addition to knowledge of the text’s field of relevance, such that it is possible to interact with it with certainty and clarify, interpret and explain it. I ask Allah Most High to bring these bright minds back to the vastness of their culture and heritage, and the origins and reality of their existence.
References and Suggested Readings [with additions by the Translator]
The following are in addition to works cited in the text.
- Dictionary of Contemporary Thought, by David Kirby (London, MacMillan)
- The Influence of Modern Western Hermeneutical Approaches to Study of Religion on Contemporary Islamic Thought: A Case Study of Woman in Islam, by Sadia Mahmood (Master’s thesis, International Islamic University, Islamabad, 2004)
- Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, by Jean Grondin (New Haven, Yale University Press)
- “Modernization in Muslim Society” by Clifford Geertz, in Religion and Progress in Modern Asia (New York, Free Press)
- The Mu‘tazilite Theory of Tawḥīd, by Amila binti Awang (Doctoral thesis, International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, 2003)
- [The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation, by M.M. Al-Azami (Leicester, UK Islamic Academy)]
- [The Qur’an and the Orientalists, by Muhammad Mohar Ali (Ipswich, JIMAS)]
- [The Sunnah and its Role in Islamic Legislation, by Mustafa as-Siba’ee (Riyadh, IIPH)]
- Faṣl al-maqāl, by Abū al-Walīd Ibn Rushd
- al-Fikr al-islāmī al-ḥadīth, by Muḥammad Al-Bahī
- al-Madkhal ilā dirāsat ‘ilm al-kalām, by Ḥasan al-Shāfi‘ī (Cairo, Maktabat Wahba)
- Tajrīd al-i‘tiqād, critical edition by Ḥasan al-Shāfi‘ī (Doctoral thesis, University of London, 1977)
- [Kayfa nata‘āmal ma‘a al-qur’ān al-‘aẓīm, by Yusuf Al-Qaraḍāwī (Cairo, Dar al-Shurūq)]
- [Qirā’at al-naṣṣ al-dīnī bayna al-ta’wīl al-gharbī wa al-ta’wīl al-islāmī , by Muḥammad ‘Imāra (Cairo, Maktabat al-Shurūq al-Duwaliyya)]
The above series was an abridged from a paper written by Dr. Ḥasan al-Shāfi‘ī; please visit the translator’s website for the full translation: “The Movement for Feminist Interpretation of the Qur’an and Religion and its Threat to the Arabic Language and Tradition”