Islamic Scholars and the Crisis of Creativity

Islamic Scholars and the Crisis of Creativity sana khan

ISLAMIC SCHOLARSHIP IS in crisis. About this, there can be no doubt. Nor should Muslims kid themselves as to how great a calamity this is for them, personally and collectively.

This crisis, as I see it, comes from two sources that make it especially troublesome and difficult to resolve. On one hand, the Muslim intellect has fallen fallow, specifically when it comes to understanding, thinking about, using, and solving the problems of the traditional Islamic sciences.

On the other, the Islamic upbringing, intellectually and spiritually, of most of us, including those who go into Islamic studies, is seriously inadequate. This of necessity has a massive effect on Muslim thought and action, for not only are would-be scholars diverted or, at least, deprived of important childhood training of their outlooks; but also, the people they will inevitably shepherd are now, almost congenitally, unequipped to comprehend their admonitions, exhortations, and instructions. In language, in concept, in point of view, in historical awareness, the Muslim crowd—overflowing though we are—has almost no “common” sense, in the literal meaning of that phrase. This has direct bearing on our perpetual state of disarray and the uncanny absence of our communal wisdom.

These two dearths stunt our maturation into a sound Islamic attitude. Perpetually juvenile, we continuously make the mistakes of childishness. We split ranks and destroy our own unity. This is exactly counter to the prime character of Islam, which is, by definition, revelation at a point of cumulative maturity. One compound characteristic of this divinely evolved way is its inclusiveness yet balance: “It is the upright religion, the sacred way of Ibrahim, [the purely] upright [in heart],” or, alternatively, “a moral mean [Surat Al-An‘am, 6:161].

Our failure to grow up has led to a crisis of creativity in religious thought and application, and it is Ummah-wide. Knowledge means understanding something and acting on it. So its absence always leads to immoderation. This is the root cause for our malfunction of imagination.

The times didn’t grow less demanding. If anything, they became more so. But our minds—unaware as they were of Islam, in the true sense of ignorance—tried to meet these demands without that essential intuition that eman gives the believer to correctly (uprightly, if you prefer, like Ibrahim) activate its divine rulings and moral principles. When the vacant Muslim mind restricted itself to the outside meanings of texts, it failed to unravel their true implications, and it became trapped between two impinging extremes, legislation that couldn’t suffice and life that wouldn’t relent.

Islamic fiqh is a heritage replete with significance and life, but afflicted by the truncated vision of blind followers and the rigidity of inflexible scholars, it lost its beauty, which is suppleness, and became, not irrelevant, but inapplicable. What a bitter irony, for the greater the goal, the more deserving it is of superior mind and means. Yet our fiqh—which speaks to the loftiest of human aspirations, to preserve the chastity of the human heart—suffered defilement at the hands of its own lovers.

Imagine the difference in your personal life, in our world, if fiqh research had kept pace with Islam’s spirit of struggling to preserve the moral ascendance of man in living and inner life! We would have achieved our purpose as khulafa’ fi’l ’ard, upright stewards of chaste hearts and a pure earth. Moral fights, wrongful flights, and ill threats there would be always. But how many of the crises we presently face, and what regrettable conditions we now suffer, would have been resolved or averted?

And fiqh is but one of the treasures we hold in a rich vault of divinely leant troves. But I focus on it because fiqh’s very nature is this marvelous amalgam of human creativity and divine guidance. Its end-product is not rules, really, but light.

Yet how many of us think of original inspiration when it comes to fiqh, and how many plagiarized regulations? The Muslim intellect manifests when it mingles with the meanings implied in fiqh—and only if it is sincere and truly desires to adhere to them.

The basis of dawah is also restricted to Textual sources. Who would argue this? But we expect dawah to be imaginative in technique within Islam’s major guidelines. Ijtihad abounds therein because we are rightly intent on fruitful ends and see the relationship between this fruition and properly cultivated means.

It is true that our dawah suffers from our fiqh ignorance. Yet, in our dawah, we understand the principle of “alwasa’il laha hukm al-maqasid,” means have the same rulings as their ends. Isn’t it strange, though, that this is, in fact, not a dawah principle, at all, but a fiqh principle, which we have, again, rightly, applied by extension?

Scholars of Usool consider this to be among the greatest and most beneficial axioms in all of fiqh. In fact, so many rulings depend on it that some equate it with a fourth of all religion.

By Allah, we ourselves employ this common sense principle many times a day, seeking to live contented in the world…and with hearts that still pulse silently with the kalimah of Islam. The creativity to resolve our core knowledge crisis—it means it beats closer to us than our jugulars within.

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