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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interview : Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (3)

Who decides the rules of Islamic jurisprudence?

The thing about the Islamic situation is we don't have a church. We don't have an ordained priesthood, which makes it a little complicated. But we do have a tradition of scholarship, and rules of scholarship. It's very much like any field of knowledge.
Take any field of knowledge, like physics or biology or chemistry. Anybody can become a chemist or a biologist or a physicist. But there are rules [developed], and a kind of a growing consensus of opinion on how one should think correctly to arrive at what would be deemed a right, a correct decision.
Analogously, there is, in Islam, a tradition of theological interpretation, of [juridical] understanding and knowledge. And as long as you abide by these, the consensus of understanding on how you arrive at a decision, certain differences of opinion are considered equally valid.

What about interpretations regarding women, in particular? We find, in many parts of the world that tend to be populated by Muslims, it seems that women are getting the short end of the stick.

Well ... the prophet, for his times, was a feminist. And there are certainly voices within the Muslim world who believe and argue very strongly for the rights of women. But gender relationships really deal with the cultural norms of a particular group and the times in which they live. If one were to say, for instance, that American women are behind Muslim women -- and I pick the fact that there have been five Muslim women heads of state, and that the United States is behind the Muslim world in this regard -- that would not be considered to be an accurate assessment of how women are regarded in a particular society. One has to look at the sum total ... of the norms and the relationships and the understandings that exist in a given society in a given time. ...
Some of what we see may be considered to be inequities. But we have to remember that when Islam spread from Arabia to what we consider the Muslim world today, it spread through countries and societies which had very ancient traditions. Egypt had an ancient tradition, Iran, another ancient country, Persia before that. The subcontinent of India: another ancient culture. Same thing with current-day Turkey, the Byzantine Empire. ...
Through that, many cultural norms became to be considered by societies as being Islamic, but they're really cultural. So in matriarchal societies, which you will see some matriarchal societies like in West Africa or in Egypt, you'll find women very, very influential. Women hold the purse strings; women determine a lot of what happens, because ancient Egypt had a tradition of having women kings, women queens, queens of Egypt.
Whereas in some societies, which tended to be nomadic, it was very much more male-oriented, and the patriarchal and very strong male orientation became predominant. So as you go across much of the Muslim world, you will see this diversity, which really entered into Muslim life through custom, and not through the Quran and the hadith itself.

Can you define "hadith" for an American audience?
The word "hadith" means any report of something the prophet either said or did. That's hadith with small "h.". Hadith with capital "H" is the collection of all these reports.

Which have been carefully substantiated or authenticated?
There are all kinds of grades of hadith, from the most authentic to those that have been forged, and various degrees in between. Islamic hadith scholarship actually is a very fascinating study, because through the different hadith you get a slice of Islamic history. The politics of what happened at different periods of time are all manifest in the hadith.

And the Sunna, similarly.
The word "Sunna" is used to mean the normative practice of the prophet. In fact, the jurists have defined the general Sunna of the prophet to mean everything the prophet did or said. The hadith is the report of the Sunna. And of the practice of the prophet, there's a certain class of actions that are normative for Muslims to follow, Sunna which has legal value, has a precedent value. And there is Sunna which has no Sharia value. For instance, the prophet prayed a certain way. This has Sharia value, we're supposed to pray that way. The prophet went to hajj on a camel -- doesn't mean that we have to ride a camel from Medina to Mecca for our hajj to be valid. We can take a car. We can take a plane, because that Sunna has no Sharia value.
Source : Frontline : Muslims

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