Americans, in general, are a people who depend largely on reason. I know we often see the failures in society to apply reason over emotional reaction or thoughtlessness, but reason is what our forebears have depended on in the absence of Divine Law. Our legal systems and social norms are the result of centuries of reasoning and argumentation, not Revelation. As such, Converts to Islam often struggle to understand Islamic Law when it doesn’t seem to “make sense”.
The four primary sources of Islamic Law are: Allah, His Messenger, the Consensus of Knowledgeable Believers, and Analogy. What Allah has provided for us in His Book is largely clear. However, “knowing” Allah’s intended meaning or how we should apply Allah’s teachings is also dependent:
- What did Rasulullah teach or demonstrate that pertains to verses and words in Allah’s Book?
- What did the Companions understand the meaning to be?
- Have the Imams carried-forth a consensus opinion about the meaning, or is there some disagreement?
- How much personal knowledge do we have?
- How much do our whims and spiritual weaknesses affect our acceptance or interpretation?
- How much does popular opinion passed-around by today’s Muslims affect our own understanding and application?
“Knowing” the Sunnah is more tricky: we believe that the Sunnah has been preserved for us, as it is a required part of understanding and applying Allah’s own Words, and Allah would not leave us without the chance for guidance. However, what has come from Rasulullah has been transmitted through a large number of individuals. This transmission, its authenticity, its meanings, its compiling, and its intended application has been the realm of great effort by the Imams and scholars from the past until today. We do not have Rasulullah with us to verify what he intended: therefore, we are dependent on our struggle to understand, and the struggle our scholars have undergone to preserve, decipher, and convey Rasulullah’s vast knowledge for us. This is WHY we have the 4 Schools and all their Imams and thousands of scholars. This is WHERE Qur’an and Hadith commentaries and all the libraries of text have come from. There is no such thing as “school of thought” vs. Qur’an and Sunnah as the “salafis” wrongly presuppose. The schools of thought (madhahib) are the required and natural result of the Believers’ struggle to preserve and properly convey The Qur’an and the Sunnah.
So, Muslims have textual proofs (Naql) and the intellectual jihad (‘Aqil) to compile, comprehend, weigh, verify, counter-argue, and convey. Transmitting the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Consensus of the early Muslims required both the texts and the mental struggle. However, reasoning is never allowed to OVERRIDE the texts: the intellect is only allowed to memorize, verify, understand, and derive meaning from the texts. There is no history of accepting reason OVER textual proofs. This is why the scholars have always emphasized the internal purification of Muslims, particularly the scholars themselves. No Muslim or scholar is allowed to impose his/her whims over textual proofs. To do so is worship of the self, to follow ones own vanity as a Religion.
The relationship between ‘Aqil and Naql is interesting. Reason is not permitted to override the texts, yet reason is required in the struggle to understand the texts. The first requirement in being responsible is that one has become ‘Aqil (reasonable): children, drunks, the insane, and the intellectually challenged are exceptions to full responsibility in varying degrees. Of course the first responsibility of the non-believer is to engage the intellect to accept Islam and enter the realm of Truth.
The struggle of the Convert is multi-faceted. In an environment that is non-Islamic, existing among “muslims” who are non-practicing and mostly ignorant, we have to progress with our own purpose in Allah’s Deen. Our own success, that of our children, our communities, and humanity-at-large all depend on this. Allah has placed Lights of comprehension and recognition of Truth and Virtue inside every human being. Those Lights will be covered in darkness as long as we take our whims and our reason as Law. The Muslims throughout history have combined the acquisition of knowledge with the struggle to beat and cajole the self into full submission to Divine Law.
The process can be aided and accelerated by:
- Reading and re-reading Allah’s Qur’an, slowly, seeking understanding and attachment to The Speaker of this revelation, and asking Him for guidance.
- Building faith until we reach Certainty (yaqeen) that Islam is, in its entirety, the Path to salvation and success, without doubt, hesitation, neglect, or divergence.
- Learning the history and structure of Scholarship until we are convinced the Imams and Scholars have conveyed the Truth to us in near perfection, and are willing to take them as guides
- Filling in the large blank spaces in our puzzle of understanding by seeking clear and structured knowledge, which our Imams and Scholars have conveyed with great adequacy.
- Learning the teachings of Tasawwuf (training the self) so that our whims do not behave as a source of deviation and misunderstanding.
I hope this is helpful. And of course, real scholars can convey more clearly than I.