Journalistic summaries prepared by Sara Swetzoff and Ibrahim Kamal
Saturday, August 31
Striving in the Way of God (Oxford University Press)
Dr. Asma Afsaruddin, current Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University in Bloomington, presented her recent publication on the historical interpretations of the Qur’anic concept of jihad. In his introduction to the lecture, IIIT Director Dr. Abu Bakr al-Shingeti emphasized the importance of this challenging and timely topic that is relevant to scholars and media as well as public opinion.
Striving in the Way of God was certainly a jihad for its author – Afsaruddin spent eight years and two sabbaticals to complete the research to her standards. The book sets out to challenge three principle misconceptions about jihad that play out in both media and academia: the assertion that jihad is relentless warfare waged by Muslims against all others until universal conversion or the end of the world; the assertion that a call to jihad may be issued at any time in response to non-Muslims refusal to ‘submit;’ and the insidious assertion that scholars and commentators are simply lying when they talk about the eternal, internal meanings of Islam and jihad. In order to dispel these myths, Afsaruddin uses a detailed historical survey to uncover the shifting definitions of jihad within the Muslim community itself.
Afsaruddin first discussed the concept of patience, or sabr, as a constant and defining partner-concept to jihad. The connection between jihad and sabr undermines the incomplete picture of jihad perpetuated by realpolitik contexts because the concept of patience evokes broad and positive connotations. Sabr does not exclude the use of violence – for patience is an essential attribute of a combatant – and in this sense it parallels the diverse applications of jihad. Afsaruddin elaborated by delving into the early references to jihad in the Meccan-era Quranic chapters, such as in Q. 22:78 and Q. 25:52. The famous historian and religious scholar At-Tabari commented that jihad in these verses required the believer to not obey the unbelievers and instead strive against them “with this Qur’an,” meaning through their intellectual and scholarly arguments and consistency. Ibn Abbas agreed that the intellect was intended mode of struggle, referring in his commentary to “jihad al-lisaan” or “striving with the tongue.”
After the migration, or hejira, to Medina, the Qur’anic chapters begin to reference jihad of physical struggle, granting the Prophet (peace be upon him) the necessary divine permission to fight in self-defense. After the Prophet’s lifetime these verses immediately generated controversy within the community. During the Ummayad period, some argued that these verses referring to fighting only granted permission to the early generation. By the late 7th century, the realpolitik concerns of the era were profoundly shaped by the context of politics and conquest. Pseudo-theological arguments defended the use of violence. Exegetes and jurists began to make more and more exceptions to the verses prohibiting violence and the initiation of conflict. Afsaruddin described this tension as “political realism versus scriptural fidelity.”
Afsaruddin’s lecture was followed by three scholars including Northern Virginian Community College professor Dr. Daoud Nassimi, and Howard University Professor Sulayman Nyang, and Dr. Anwar Haddam. The scholars highlighted the complexities of the language and interpretation of the sacred text and its early commentators, the influence of the contemporary context of the jihad debate, and the phenomena of tempo-centricity in which a term is made to accommodate current times without sufficiently recognizing its history and original usage. Both the author and commenting scholars emphasized the great importance of educating fellow academics about the Islamic narrative, in order to prevent these misconceptions from plaguing the authoritative realm of academia. Audience questions and comments evoked the negative influence of jihad misconceptions on everyday Muslim American lives and the urgency of finding venues to educate the general public.
(Reportage prepared by Sara Swetzoff and Naglaa Mahmoud)
Parent-Child Relations: A Guide to Raising Children
Dr. Hisham’s new book on Islamic parenting asserts that the recipe for a healthy family and community is one and the same as the recipe for a peaceful Islamic society. In his introduction, Dr. Hisham pointed out that individual objectives are well documented in the Qur’an but commentators have dedicated less attention to defining family objectives. With the inspiration of verses such as 75 of the chapter al-Furqan, Dr. Hisham laid out the wish list of a happy family that aims to raise leaders of the pious. He emphasized the need to address physical and mental health as interdependent, integral factors. He also underlined the importance of a parent not just as an example of achievement and success, but also of honesty and humility: this, he argued, would be the best way attract your children’s respect. Dr. Hisham’s presentation was followed by additional comments by Dr. Muhammad Rida Beshir, who reflected further on the role model of the parent, and Dr. Imad-ad-Din Ahmad, who reflected on his chaplaincy work with convicts and asserted that lack of parental involvement and childhood brokenness appeared to him as the primary cause of unhealthy pursuit of damaging relationships or drugs.
(Reportage prepared by Sara Swetzoff)
Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis
Author: Taha J. Al-Alwani, Speaker: Jamal Badawi
Dr. Jamal Badawi presented an overview of Taha Al-Alwani’s Apostasy in Islam, a groundbreaking treatise on the controversial issue of apostasy. Dr. Badawi’s lecture focused on the historical politicization of the hadd penalty for apostasy, its tension with the Islamic doctrine that there should be no compulsion in faith, and Al-alwani’s prescriptive conclusion that there is a need to revisit interpretations of the tradition with more rigorous methodologies. Dr. Badawi reminded the audience that there is no verse in the Qur’an that imposes a punishment for apostasy, while there is much evidence to contradict the notion of apostasy as a punishable crime. He further argued that the example of the prophet, who never ordered punishment for apostasy, is the strongest proof against it. The origins of applying capital punishment for apostasy are based in cultural realities of times when apostasy was tantamount to rebellion against the state, and was punishable as a political crime. The discussion came to a conclusion with the reiteration that freedom of conscience, justice, and compassion are among the higher intents of the Shari’a, and that the application of punishments for apostasy is an issue that must be re-evaluated according to methodologies that take into account these higher intents, as well as a contextualization of how the tradition has been interpreted historically. Taha J. Al-Alwani’s book is a work that seeks to open the discourse to this kind of reinterpretation.
(Reportage prepared by Ibrahim Kamal)
Sunday, September 1
Islam and the Arab Awakening (Oxford University Press)
Author: Tariq Ramadan, Speaker: Ambassador Ebraheem Rasool
Dr. Ramadan began his lecture by emphasizing the incomplete and misleading press coverage that shaped early perceptions of the Arab revolutions, especially among Europeans and Americans. He described his initial opinions as cautious, as he sought to look beyond the superficial political motivations described by the press and uncover the paramount economic and geostrategic factors. Polarizing identity politics continue to distract from the important issues. People ask “is it possible to achieve a democracy with Islamists?” when they should be asking “is it possible to achieve democracy with the Army in power?” We now know that the Army was feeding photos of the June 30th protests to international media, and the claim of thirty million protesters has never been verified. The ousting of Morsi by the Army was labeled as a ‘transition’ not out of honest reporting but because calling it a coup would require the United States to cut aid. It is not the people who use the Army, concluded Ramadan, but the Army that uses the people, along with the regional and international players who support the Army.
About the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan asserted that we need an intellectual revolution, not a political revolution. He suggested that entering elections in some ways compromised the purpose of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that, ‘it might be that when you win the election, you actually lose.’ Ramadan speculated that the MB was encouraged to go for the election because to winning would be a sort of trap, similar to the American support for Hamas which provided a convenient pretext for the collective punishment of Palestinians.
Despite his criticism of the Brotherhood, Ramadan reiterated that he rejects the ‘with us or against us’ mentality and corresponding mindsets of victimhood. He said you can be against Morsi but that should not mean you support the coup. Ramadan condemned the statements of his own teacher from Al-Azhar University, Shaykh Ali Gomaa, in support of the army’s violence towards protestors. Ramadan emphasized the importance of a principled position based on thorough inquiry, a position which avoids condemning that which we do not know as fact.
In his commentary following the lecture, Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool emphasized the optimistic side of Ramadan’s ideas. He asserted that people already have what they need to build a new society and do not need to betray themselves or their religion. On the contrary, we need self-confidence. We need to find the common threads – we can enter in alliances with those who share most of our views, they do not have to share all of them. The Muslim consciousness has opened so now we must build a common front that strikes a balance between the two extremes of fatalism and an “overdeveloped sense of adventurism.”
Following further comments by Abdalla Sid Ahmed, Said Bukhari, and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ramadan concluded by describing his disagreement with the consistent framing of the question as an issue of religion and state. He said that our relationship as a religious community has nothing to do with the authority of the state, that it transcends the state, and that even the Companions were differing when something was revealed about authority. He asserted that religion should be separate, but not divorced from the state, which does not mean separating politics from ethics. Some things we consider Western innovations in fact came from our own Muslim tradition. Ramadan concluded by stating that the issue is not that of Muslim versus non-Muslim – the most important method towards change is establishing a rigorous ethical position and then relating to others through that position.
The Astronomical Calculations and Ramadan
Zulfiqar Ali Shah
Al-Shura: The Qur’anic Principle of Consultation
Author: Ahmad Al-Raysuni, Speaker: Imad-Ad-Dean Ahmad