Scientific way of looking at Islam and the Muslims Part I

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I HAVE a Google Alert on my computer that sends me an email almost daily with news about ISIS, Islamic extremism, and jihad. You will be amazed how the internet gives us information's about these words. Most of the information you can get are seldom accurate and full of hatred about Islam and the Muslims. This gave me another interest of discussing Islam and Muslims for the readers of my column.

Let us discuss first the word Islam as a religion and the people who are called Muslims. Muslim religious scholars say that "the word "Islam" has often been translated as "submission" to God, or "entering into the peace" of God, for these are indeed the two senses provided by the declension of the root "s-l-m" (Ramadan: Oxford University, 2004)

By this simple definition, we need to have further studies and highlight the fractures, nuances, and divisions within Muslim communities and Islam that is no longer conceived as "solidarity" and homogenous. Because in that definition, as Tariq Ramadan (a Muslim scholar and imam based in Oxford University, London) argues, "relies on simple translation", it opens the understanding of the fundamental conceptions of Creator, human being, and universe that defines Islam as a religion.

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Furthermore, looking at the definition above is it assumed that the meaning is obvious, understood, and immediately accessible to any person. But in reality one cannot truly apprehend the meaning of "submission" or of "peace" in the "Islamic universe of reference if one does not study, even if only a little, what is meant at the heart of the Muslim tradition by the realities of "God," the "human being," and "Revelation."

Let us go now with the word Muslim. Both "Muslim" and "Islam" come from the same root: "S", "L", "M" (silm) -meaning; "to submit in peace"; "surrender in obedience"; and this immediately implies a relationship between two entities, one being superior to the other or in charge of matters. Again, these key words mentioned cannot be easily understood or defined by using a simple book like "Islam for Dummies" or Google them in the internet.

The Holy Quran mentioned in Suratul Hujjurat Verse 13 the nature of humankind and our diversities. These diversities and multiculturalism within Islam is not limited with gender, ethno linguistic groupings, and nationalities. The very heart of this diversity is often situated within the lenses or paradigms of how Islam is interpreted all these years.

Muslims all over the world had various analyses of the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW). It is but normal that these differences may occur. Differences exist, admittedly due to circumstantial divergences, across the Sunni as well as the Shii traditions, and they are more or less representative and entrenched depending on the continent, region, or country studied.

For a better understanding let us use an academic typology of looking at how Muslims interpret Islam. This typology is taken from Oxford University that is "based on principles that are precise without being detailed and that do not aim to bring out the specificities of particular groups in particular locations".

According to these studies, there are six major tendencies for whom Islam is the reference point for their thinking, their discourse, and their engagement. These are as follows: Scholastic Traditionalism; Salafi Literalism; Salafi Reformism; Political Literalist Salafism; "Liberal" or "Rationalist" Reformism; and, Sufism. Due to limited time and space, I will discuss these tendencies one by one in my next article.

In Davao City, we are fortunate enough that our local government is sensitive to the issues and concerns of the Muslim residents. However, strong social media biases towards Islam may lead to more misunderstanding among Muslims and Christians.

Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University aims to provide a clearer view and understanding of these views about Islam and Muslims' interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith.. The different schools of thoughts of Islam points of reference are the same and that the essential principles that form the basis of the Muslim religion are, with rare exceptions, unanimously recognized.

Islam is one and presents a body of opinions (interpretations of the texts of the Qur'an and Haddith) whose essential core are identifiable and accepted by the various trends or schools of thought, in spite of their great diversity.

As mentioned earlier, Islam recognizes diversity, but to explain this diversity it is not enough simply to use the plural, as has been done in some recent studies: faced with the apparent impossibility of putting forward a legal, political, or ideological analysis, the matter is simplified by speaking of diverse "Islams." Thus, we call for a scientific way of looking at Islam and the Muslims, not only in Mindanao but in the rest of the world.

Ramadan further states that, "the use of the plural, which is intended principally for clarification, is more problematic than truly practical: by signaling diversity, it blurs the reading of explicit points of convergence and, more important, says nothing about the exact and often precise areas of divergence of opinion".

We do not discuss the divisions or diversities with the sole purpose of pointing them out nor we justifies nor explains their causes and expressions and indeed misleads the observer (Muslim and non Muslim) about the very nature of the various approaches and positions. We aim to simply shed the light through scientific way of looking at things. We believe we can combat terrorism and extremism when we understand where they are coming from.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 27, 2014.

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