God is not an ideologue

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People tend to be very quick to impose their interests and aspirations on others, and people do this no less with God. The feminist will argue for a feminist God, the secularist for a secular God, the theocrat for a political God, the ritualist for a quietest God, and so on. Yet God is not subject to the diverse and banal interests of His creation, fleeting views and ideologies that come and go as fads. Allah is not only Lord of the east and west (73:9) but is the Owner of time and what happens both within it, and beyond it. Rather than assuming He is caught up with our moment, culture, or context, we ought to recognise that He has an elevated perspective over all of time: past, present and future. In this sense I don’t believe it is sensible to accept binary ways of viewing the shari’ah which are predicated on age-related social paradigms such as religious vs secular, religion vs science, and so on. This also suggests that when we ascertain what God wants of us in our moment, we must recognise that His will is not bound by the nature of Muslim or non-Muslim populism, the battle between ideologies (secular or religious), and the politicisation of Islam (both in wider society and amongst Muslims themselves).

We ought to deal with the shari’ah on its own terms rather than view the correctness of a shar’ī position as one that positions itself against the ‘other’ – whether it be political, religious, or cultural. We should also see through those who seek to manipulate the shari’ah for their own ends. Waqi’ b. al-Jarrah said: “Whoever seeks hadith as they come, is a person of the sunnah (prophetic understanding), but whoever seeks it merely to strengthen his argument/opinions is a person of bid’ah (innovated heresy).”

There are several problems with getting ideological (besides the immorality of falsely ascribing ideologies to God). To keep this post relatively short, here’s a couple:

1. It makes people reactionary and drives them to take a reactionary approach to things around them, rather than viewing every issue as it comes and on God’s terms; factoring in context and background inasmuch as it offers action-guiding principles that are feasible. It is to be driven by emotive appeals and reacting to the ‘other’ rather than a reasoned focus on God, and in this context we are warned, “It is Satan who urges you to fear his followers; do not fear them, but fear Me, if you are true believers.” (3:175) Take human evolution as an example: we should not accept it because we superficially want to be seen as ‘scientific’, nor should we reject it because we see it as some colonial hegemony on Islamic theology with anti-evolution simply being the religious status quo. Whatever we decide, we should do so on God’s terms. Another example is that of the khimar (female headcovering): we mustn’t affirm it’s obligation out of ‘resistance’ to western cultural hegemony, nor disaffirm the obligation out of superficial notions of freedom or choice (whilst both principles are valid in some aspects of Islamic law, they’re both irrelevant here).

2. Ideologies lead to sectarianism, and rather than being based on reasoned thinking, it becomes about allegiance to the group, being drawn into reactionary polemics and positions, and simply parroting pre-determined views that sects have formulated through a very narrow analysis or a preoccupation with a single issue. God warns against being from “those who divide their religion into sects, with each party rejoicing in their own” (30:32) and tells the Prophet, “As for those who have divided their religion and broken up into factions, have nothing to do with them. Their case rests with God…” (6:159)

I hold that we should continuously locate normative positions deeply embedded in a holistic reading of revelation that informs us of God’s attitude towards the things we seek guidance on, by taking each and every issue as it comes, drawing back to first-principles, and studying both what God has said on the affair, and why. The statement of the Hanbali philosopher Ibn al-Qayyim greatly resonates here, and articulates the attitude I adopt:

It is our custom in all issues pertaining to the faith, overarching or miniscule, to believe what it necessitates, and not position one view against the other, nor to incline with one sect against the other out of partisanship. In fact, we agree with any sect in what they exhibit of the truth and disagree with that which opposes the truth – and we hold no exception for any sect or statement. It is our hope with God to live in this way and die upon it.

Tariq al-Hijratain

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On a related note, what do we do about ideologies? I hold that becoming bogged down with refutations can be problematic from a number of different perspectives:

  • Humans are fickle, they fight and argue mostly over inconsequential matters, usually things that will simply be relegated to the annals of history and forgotten as generations pass. It is time consuming and often, by the time you start to substantially address the ideology, the fad has come and gone, and wasn’t that important in the first place.
  • You end up drawing attention to ideologies that otherwise would have been ignored by most.
  • Most refutations require getting academic or deeply philosophical, which brings little benefit as it goes over the heads of most.
  • People who are committed to ideologies very rarely change their positions because of some online posts – there are emotive reasons behind the commitment that cannot be addressed so easily in the virtual world.
  • Most importantly, refuting one thing doesn’t offer a holistic narrative on how people might actually proceed and view the world through a shar’ī lens. I wholeheartedly believe that rather than engaging in a drawn-out critique of ideologies, teaching the majority of Muslims the fundamentals of their faith in a holistic and relevant way, imbuing shar’ī principles that help to shape a cogent outlook and offer a conceptual shar’ī framework, raising religious literacy through revelation and cultivating their godly intuitions, is far more productive, as it inoculates believers against perverse ideas whilst offering them action-guiding principles with which they can actually proceed. I feel that it is far more beneficial for the believing folk where we build something rather than simply tear down everything else.

Ideologies come and go, and the world perpetually changes, constantly reshaped and recreated by the generation of the age. The only constant is God, and that is the only truth: “This is because God is the Truth; He brings the dead back to life; He has power over everything.” (22:6) And if we were to be concerned with the only truth rather than passing fads, we would view everything through the lens of godliness and be left with little to divert our attention.

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