What is the essence of Islam, and does it need reforming?
Renowned Jordanian Islamic scholar Fehmi Jadaane vehemently objects to the transformation of Islam into an ideology. The religion ends up mired in a political swamp, he says, its message nothing more than an instrument of governance. Interview by Alia Al-Rabeo
In recent years some authors and intellectuals have shown increased interest in the so-called “reformation” of Islam. Do you address this issue in your book “The Liberation of Islam”? Does the modern Arab world need this kind of reformation? And would it help in countering religious fundamentalism?
Fehmi Jadaane: Let me make it quite clear that I am not interested in a reformation of the faith in its essence, nor with questioning what the revelatory scripture contains, implies or aims at. Because that would imply that there is a defect in the structure of the text that needs to be repaired. Which is not at all my conviction. What I’m really getting at is this: the text of revelation, inscribed for all time on God’s “well-guarded tablet”, is confronted today with numerous contradictions in the reality that manifests itself to believers – that is to say to individual human beings. These contradictions stem from the fact that man is imperfect through and through, in all facets of his existence. For there is nothing more contradictory than a human being.
This has implications for how the text is understood, how it manifests itself and materialises in experienced and imagined reality. The obstacles and contradictions to which Islam has been and still is exposed are countless. If we want liberation, we must face up to this fact.
There is no doubt that the upheavals triggered by religious fundamentalism are currently the most prominent phenomenon in this scenario. But there are also other deep-seated contradictions that are wreaking massive damage on the global image of Islam. I dealt with some of them in my book “The Liberation of Islam”. We must resolutely censure, reject and remedy these contradictions – just as we must the notion of an Islam reduced to its ideological-political aspects.
You call for a dialogue between all groups across the social spectrum so that the Arab region can enter into modernity. Do you really believe it is possible for such dialogue to take place, given the massive polarisation and divisive tendencies that run through Arab society – sectarian, political and ideological?
Fehmi Jadaane: I would like to take this opportunity to throw in a quote: ‘where justice is manifest, divine law comes into its own’. The just state is thus quite capable of providing for the needs of the general public. Of course, fanatics won’t let themselves be dissuaded from their dogmatism and entrenched views just like that. Because they are ruled and controlled by “passions”, not by reason and pragmatism.
I therefore share your fears regarding the question of whether current generations in the Arab countries – at least the older ones among them, who have experienced politics as senseless conflict their entire lives – are ready for such new approaches to thinking and action.
I am pretty sure that this will only be possible for future generations – provided that an early start is made to inculcate in them paedagogical values based on what Jurgen Habermas called “communicative action”. In other words, the values of free debate, dialogue, exchange, openness and mutual respect.
Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times