In recent times we’ve witnessed a steady increase in the number of modern organisations that encourage and promote self-interpretation of Quran and Hadith. This alarming trend is rooted in the concept of liberalism. People are exhorted to approach the Quran and Hadith with on open mind and free-thinking attitude.
In an effort to propagate this ideology seminars and conferences are held throughout the world in which the main thrust is on a free-handed understanding of Quran and Hadith.
These seminars and work-shops are conducted by very eloquent speakers who appear to have attained the gift of the gab. They are fluent and flowing in expression, their fresh ideas appeal to the unwary audience. Furthermore, these proponents of modernity do not bind their attendees to the strict laws of Hijaab; hence we find men and women sitting in the same room albeit in different isles. Amidst all this we also have the factor of impressive degrees and high-sounding institutes. The shallow intellect of a layman is easily swayed under conditions such as these, especially when much leeway is allowed in Islamic practice.
Concepts such as the abandonment of Islamic headgear, trivialising of the so-called smaller sunnats of Islam, minimising the need for full hijaab, are easily embraced by Muslims in today’s society. Perceptions such as these form the ideal breeding ground for a quasi-reformation of Islamic belief and practice, ideals on which such organisations pride themselves. However, the point sorely missed by such thinkers and their followers is that revolution and reformation of Deen is neither possible nor acceptable when it comes at the expense of dispensation of the Pristine Teachings of Quran and Sunnah.
Islamic knowledge is the product of Divine revelation, and the correlation between knowledge and practice in Islam is entrenched. How then can Islamic teaching be imparted in an environment where the very tenets of Shariah are flouted? The purpose of true Islamic knowledge is to equip the learner with taqwa and adherence to the Sunnah. But this brand of teaching seems to create an acute aversion towards the Sunnah. Surely, something is wrong somewhere. An Islamic program of study is supposed to turn out true Muslims imbued with the spirit of Ieman. Again the paradox is too conspicuous to ignore.
FREEDOM FROM MATHAAHIB
In the process of so-called enlightened interpretation of Quran and Hadith, there are numerous dangers that threaten the very roots of this Ummah. One of them is freedom from being bound to a math-hab. When Muslims break out from the confines of a math-hab, they have paved the way for wholesale neglect of Deeni actions.
Another danger is that a free-style understanding of Quran and Hadith gives the laymen a false sense of competence that makes him or her feel independent of ‘ulema. This is a serious predicament that bodes disaster. The Ulema are the guides of this Ummat. It is the height of foolishness to dissociate from one’s guide. Either by design or accident, the consequence of such modernity in Islam is the alienation of the masses from the Ulema. This motive was first mooted by the British when they ruled vast tracts of Muslim land. Later on the Jews contrived to install a wedge between the Ulema and the Ummat. The enemies of Islam realised a long way back that the most effective method of stifling religious and spiritual progress among Muslims is to cut them off from their main source of knowledge, and that is the ‘ulema. Today, sadly, it appears we Muslims are our own worse enemies. We are doing the job for our antagonists. It is from within our own ranks where opposition to orthodox ‘ulema is being fermented.
But back to self-interpretation of The Quran. It has become almost fashionable among people of all walks of life to deduce and infer meanings from Quran and Hadith. The abundant availability of many Hadith works in English, as well as Quranic translations, appears to have suddenly given people a carte blanche to decipher the intricacies of the Holy Quran. Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) warned: “He who interprets The Quran without knowledge let him prepare his place in Hell-fire.” (Tirmizhi) Another hadith qualifies the term “without knowledge”. Also narrated by Imam Tirmizhi, it states: “He who interprets The Quran with his own opinion and is correct, has indeed erred.” This hadith makes two telling points: one, that personal or self-opinionated interpretation of Quran is regarded as interpretation without knowledge. The subtle but indisputable implication here is that knowledge means knowledge acquired through Divine revelation. For without such knowledge, it is impossible to fully understand and decipher the Purport of Allah conveyed through His Divine Speech. If we believe that The Holy Quran is the Eternal, Immortal, and Impeachable Speech of Allah, then by necessity we have to acknowledge that such Speech can only be defined and interpreted through Revelation. That Revelation is the Hadith of Allah’s Rasool (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), referred to by Scholars as revelation not recited (in contrast to Quran which is recited revelation). The second important point conveyed in the above hadith is that regardless of how accurate one’s conjecture and opinion may be, one has still committed a grave error in rendering an interpretation based on personal opinion. Being wrong in spite of being right is only due to the false methodology employed with regards to interpretation and explanation of Quranic meanings.