Wednesday , June 20, 2018

Lidasan: Islamic hermeutics and the challenge of dialogue

MY ARTICLE entitled “Present Content of Religious Authority in Islam,” published June 21, 2017 at SunStar Davao and re-published June 28, 2017 at SunStar Cebu with the title, “In Islam’s Name” caught the interest of a certain Bert Pursoo, to which he made some sensible arguments on the points I raised in that opinion piece.

As the original title suggests, the article talked about the present situation of religious authority in Islam and how it affects the mechanisms of Muslim communities, Islamic groups, and even the global socio-political landscape to which these individuals, groups and communities play a part of. I sought to explain that an understanding of the religious authority setup and recognizing that it creates notable differences in education and instruction depending on group affiliation and geography is highly significant given the current situations of religious violent extremism among other global concerns that have great local impact. I concluded that in knowing and understanding the differences in teachings, in which some lean towards condoning if not encouraging violence, moderate Muslims need to strengthen and support our religious studies, and the trainings and education of our religious scholars.

Pursoo on his comment argued: “ would appear that for Muslims ‘a just moral-social order’ can only be attained when living in a society ordered by Shari’ah Law, or a given interpretation thereof by Muslim scholars, Ayatollahs or Grand Ayatollahs. It is difficult, however, to reconcile the meaning of Islam with the word peace when the Quran has so many statements promoting war and terrorism.”

Much like on the arguments of many Christian religious leaders that the Christian bible must not all times be interpreted literally, the Qur’an also has texts that can easily be misinterpreted if taken in its literal sense. German Lutheran theologian, Rudolf Bultmann, in his work on hermeneutics and theology attempts to “demythologize” our interpretation of religious texts and events—that is to show how a plausible reading of scripture can be given that strips away from it what a modern sensibility would find incredible. On the other hand, American analytical philosopher Alvin Plantinga proposed an opposite view on which he favors an interpretation based on principles of faith, and argues that this need not involve one in any fallacious question begging.

Both Bultmann and Plantinga, however, offer suggestions about the proper manner in which to interpret things, such as history and other cultures, in accordance with religious beliefs, which we might call "religious hermeneutics." Other views on religious hermeneutics like that of van Fraassen and Nasr in addition to Bultmann and Plantinga boils down to the point that Scriptures, just like other religious materials, is subject to non-literal interpretation.

It is in these religious hermeneutics that the Qur’an and the Christian Bible must be taken into light. The Qur’an’s statements that may give way to promote war and terrorism must be interpreted in a way that the Christian Bible’s “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” has been interpreted. These arguments beg to encourage open-mindedness in reading the Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament is filled with texts that do not make sense to the modern perspective of the world that Christian religious leaders cautions people to read them with God’s greatness and mercifulness in mind. Similar to that, the Qur’an has some texts that require caution and deeper understanding when reading and a strong faith to the greatness and mercifulness of Allah (SWT).

The variety in which sacred texts are interpreted is where differences in teachings and education root from. The literal interpretation of the Qur’an’s words that promote war and terrorism is one of the top reasons why religious violent extremism thrives; which is actually no different to the motivation of the Crusades that began in 1095.

By recognizing the phenomenon of varied interpretations and some group’s misconstruction of the texts in the Holy Qur’an, we can begin to understand the nature and mechanisms of Islamic religious violent extremism and it is in this understanding that we can begin to form the foundation of an effective rhetoric to inspire and promote dialogue within Islam and with other faiths.

There is also a need to better understand how religious authority setup in Islam both upholds and opposes dialogue in the context of the varied school of thought and their components, and how we, as Islam moderates, can use it as a springboard to promote peace.