IKIM Views @ The Star
A GROUP of Muslim jurists once got together, and because they could not think of anything better to do, they proceeded to talk of trivial matters.
One of them asked: “During a funeral procession, should one walk on the right side of the coffin or on the left?”. Immediately, the group became confused and was divided by differences of opinion.
Some argued that one should walk on the right side, while others maintained that one should walk on the left.
Each group believed its argument was better than the other’s. Unable to solve their problem, they went to Mulla Nasreddin and asked for his fatwa.
Nasreddin listened to each group carefully and then said: “It does not matter on which side of the coffin you are, just as long as you are not inside!”.
A legendary satirical Sufi figure, Nasreddin in this anecdote gets his message across in a manner of profound simplicity. Simply put, Muslims should be on guard against idle conjecture.
Indeed, wasting time in vain controversies is rebuked by Allah in the Qur’an (Al-Kahf, 18: 22, 26).
It is “in vain” to argue over religious truths with no authority based on true knowledge (Ghafir, 40: 56).
Allah commands in the Qur’an not to imitate quarrelsome people who love mischievous controversies. Barren controversies waged concerning religion reflects a false conception of knowledge.
On the one extreme, there are those secularists who assume that science, which is only relative to the phenomenological, is the only authentic knowledge, including the philosophy derived from it.
On the other extreme, there are those who restrict knowledge (al-‘ilm) only to the domain of jurisprudence (ahkam fiqhiyyah).
Such attitudes cause an inability to define real issues and inability to isolate real problems from false ones.
If real problems are not identified in the first place, certainly there will be no hope of finding the right solutions.
It is a characteristic of the feeble minded and shallow to enjoy endless controversy — polemics of insignificant issues, polemics of unnecessary legalistic details, and scholastic hair-splitting trivialities.
Muslims must be wise enough to distinguish between peripheral and marginal issues and major ones that directly concern humanity and the knowledge concerning the purpose of life and ultimate destiny.
It is a pseudo problem to emphasise differences between the various madhahib (Islamic legal schools). It is also false to emphasise trivialities within those legal schools and to argue obstinately for adherence to them.
Hurling accusations of irreligiousness against the other will not solve anything.
It is also erroneous to attempt an ignorant interpretation of Quranic verses whose meanings are obscure (ayat mutashabihat), for example on the question of fate and predestination (qada’ and qadr).
Rather, Muslims must emphasise the main business of religion, which emphasises authority of knowledge against conjecture; and education with moral purpose and spiritual significance (al-ta’dib).
Throughout history, the foregoing was emphasised by sincere scholars and scholars of keen intelligence and profound insight.
Scholars who had intellectual integrity and honoured the trust of right spiritual leadership, classified the various sciences in relation to their priorities and placed each one according to its correct order of priority.
This ensured integrated knowledge, of which there is always equilibrium between two types of knowledge; knowledge of the world as well as knowledge of reality, truth and values.
Imam al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) once remarked: “Knowledge has a dual nature: concerning bodily matters, and concerning religious affairs” (“Al-‘ilm ‘ilman: ‘ilmul abdan wa ‘ilmul adyan”).
Al-Shafi‘i’s remark conveys the true conception of knowledge as it faithfully reflects human nature itself.
The worldview of Islam defines mankind as one possessed of a sublime ruh or spiritual subtlety created by Allah (Al-Hijr, 15: 29).
Composed of body and soul, at once physical being and spirit; out of these two, there is constituted a third entity called man (Al-Mu’minun, 23: 12-14).
Al-Shafi‘i further remarked: “Knowledge is not what is memorised, but only what benefits (humanity).”
Integrative knowledge is a means of attaining humanity’s good, wherein the physical aspect must be integrated in a profound and inseparable way to the spiritual and intellectual aspects.
As one’s knowledge with all its branches must extend its fruits in the form of one’s useful and helpful actions in the best interests of one’s soul and society, the Prophet Mohamed took refuge in Allah from knowledge which does not benefit (narrated by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and Ibn Majah).
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