16 June 2010


It is hardly one of the most contested debates in Muslim theology - the uses and misuses of polygamy. However, many independent minded Muslims have often found themselves at odds with traditional theology, unsurprisingly because it terminated approximately in the 10th century, and much of what we call tradition is a rehash of the opinions of dead scholars. Those familiar with the format of a fatwa are obviously aware of how scholars of the past are constantly dredged up to answer for the present. This blind piety for dead scholars, to whom we surely owe our respect, is nothing short of intellectual laziness. They would themselves have been horrified at the application of their time-bound thought in the modern world which has witnessed the carving up of monocultural forts into multicultural nation states. In This Law of Ours, the exceptional Muslim thinker Muhammad Asad documents the collapse of critical thought engendered in the first few generations after the Prophet Muhammad's, peace be upon him, death.
It does not seem to have occurred to them [religious scholars] that however great those "early generations" of Muslim scholars might have been, later times might bring forth intellects of equal brilliance which would have at their disposal not only all the material and all the scholarly apparatus which had been available to the "early generations" but would have, in addition, a greater amount of historical, psychological and scientific experience on which to draw. [Pg 58]
On the subject of polygamy itself, was it not the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, himself who confronted Ali on his decision to take another wife? This had caused Lady Fatima much distress. Any person who single-mindedly argues that all men have the divine right to take more wives has ignored a very basic premise i.e. empathy. There is nothing black and white about the injunctions in Islam, every rule must be contemplated. For example, the Qur'an's egalitarian refrain to protect the rights of widows, orphans and the poor is ironically demolished when it is precisely those that are singled out by the so-called jury in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for hudud (capital punishment). Tariq Ramadan has rightly called for a moratorium on this issue. This does not pander to the pejorative of evolutionary progress but sheds lights on the authoritarian misuse of Islamic Law, the purpose of which is to spread justice and not oppression. This is not giving up Islam but reclaiming its original creativitiy and humanity from totalitarian theorists like Maududi. Fazlur Rahman indicated that the basic imperative of the Qur'an is that the individual should cultivate his or her own conscience. That's certainly much closer to the theme than Maududi's refusal to concede that there is something more to Islam than his interpretation of it...the interpretation that is based on the non-Islamic concept of revolution rather than the measureless compassion and mercy of the Lord of the Worlds toward mankind.