Online, ideological battles rage, whilst in the real world matters informed by faith in highly abstract ways. My argument for some time has been that the reason much of this happens is because we fail to adopt God’s account of reality and the first principles from which we ought to proceed.
(Personally, this has been my obsession from the very beginning of my journey, and remains something I am primarily invested in.)
I humbly posit that if people understood the below, firstly we’d be in a different league, and secondly, we’d pretty much be all on the same page. I advise spending some time to understand the outline provided here: go away and think about it deeply. It highlights what I mean by first principles and meta-narratives (the grand story), what one might need to do and where to begin, whilst sketchily proposing where things generally go wrong.
1. God gives us an account of reality. The most fundamental aspects of it that we need to know are explicitly laid out; the rest is inferred and for us to diligently explore and investigate. We need this account of reality to contextualise and make sense of everything else that follows. To substantively employ this account requires some shar’ī learning.
2. God gives us a system (something like an algorithm) for sustainable and positive living, known as the sharī’ah, which is rooted in that account of reality. The sharī’ah is not simply law in the form of commands and prohibitions, but all that God wants us to engender – comprising of commands, prohibitions, advice, warnings, lessons, and directions.
The account of positive living addresses:
- The intellect: acquiring knowledge and functionalising it, reasoning coherently, and employing rationality
- The mind and heart: strengthening mental wellbeing and building emotional resilience
- The body: maintaining good health and physical strength
- Interactions (with others): including trade, social relationships (marriage/friendships/ parenting etc), communal interests, and how to resolve disagreements/grievances; and interactions with the environment include how to engender sustainable use of resources.
3. On aḥkām (laws): We ought to know that commands and prohibitions do not only concern outward/perceivable actions that we do with our limbs, they also pertain to inward actions of the heart, such as feelings and emotions towards God and others. We ought to understand that what we’re told to do or avoid provides a standard of behaviour for positive living. We then develop this behaviour to become even more resilient and instituted in the most productive way to do life.
4. The Islamic disciplines/sciences (‘ulum) exist as methods to intellectually justify one’s understanding of God’s account. They are not the ends in themselves nor provide the account itself. The level of study/learning one requires is premised on the level of justification one intends to provide – this is the realm of scholarship. Laymen are required to turn to the learned to be informed of God’s account of reality, and here identifying the appropriately qualified persons is extremely important for acquiring a workable and productive account. Thus, there is a type of study for being informed, and another for justification; the former is for informed non-specialists, and the latter for trainee scholars. The curriculum for each is very different, although everyone ought to begin with the former, since God brought all of us out of our “mothers’ wombs knowing nothing.” (16:78)
5. In the public/political realm, everything we do as believers and as a reflection of His will ought to reflect God’s account of reality and be rooted in it. This has been the way of the righteous from before, and what was meant by “follow the guidance they received.” (6:90) So when Muslims depart from that account, they end up having to adopt other accounts of reality, such as liberalism, conservatism, feminism, post-colonialism, and so on. (I might add that this is also how religious sects form.) These accounts offer some truths, but also many inaccuracies, and due to being built on flawed accounts of reality they are unable to realise the potential of the few truths they do contain.
6. There are also those who assert their commitment to God’s account of reality, but fail to fully grasp it or woefully misunderstand it (in the general sense), either due to shar’ī illiteracy, intellectual inconsistency, or because they make presumptions informed by particular interests (such as anti-colonialism, anti-racism, misogyny, personality worship, etc). Often, this leads to some form of laxity or extremism since they are then only partly informed and thus considerably guided by other accounts of reality.