Must New Religious Opinions Be Rejected?
Can a well-argued evidence from the Quran be ignored simply because it wasn’t thought of by an earlier scholar and a weak case presented by an earlier scholar be considered valid simply because a scholar’s name appears alongside it?
While presenting my understanding in a religious gathering recently, I was confronted by a scholar who argued that what I was presenting in the name of Islam was new and therefore unacceptable. His opinion was that in order for a concept to be acceptable in Islam, it should have been presented by earlier scholars as well, otherwise it would not be authentic. This view is held by many traditional Muslims. My response to his objection was based on a few arguments.
The Quran and Sunnah and not opinions of scholars are the basic sources of Islam to learn what the faith stands for. If an individual doesn’t feel inclined to accept a view presented on the basis of the Quran and Sunnah how can the mention of names of Ghazzali, Ibn Taimiyya, or Shah Waliullah help? Can a well-argued evidence from the Quran be ignored simply because it wasn’t thought of by an earlier scholar and a weak case presented by an earlier scholar be considered valid simply because a scholar’s name appears alongside it?
There have been hundreds and thousands of religious scholars in the last fourteen centuries of Islamic history. How could it be claimed that religious opinions of all of them are readily available for consultation?
It is incorrectly assumed in the claim that new opinions aren’t acceptable in Islam that opinions of all earlier Muslim scholars have been fully preserved. There have been hundreds and thousands of religious scholars in the last fourteen centuries of Islamic history. How could it be claimed that religious opinions of all of them are readily available for consultation? When we don’t have access to opinions of all scholars, how can those opinions be a source of finding out whether a new argument is correct or not or whether a similar one was presented by an earlier scholar? Could it not be that the apparently new argument was also presented by an earlier scholar but it was not available now?
If the principle is that an opinion can only be acceptable if it was presented by someone earlier too, where should the application of that principle be assumed to start? If the principle is correct then no new opinion should ever have been accommodated. In that case there should have been only one opinion on all religious matters. Quite obviously, the very first opinions presented on different religious matters must have been followed by other differing opinions too. Why were those differing opinions allowed to be presented at all? If new opinions were allowed in the First Century Hijrah onward, why shouldn’t they be allowed now? If Imam Shafi’ had a right to disagree with Imam Malik, his teacher, and with Imam Abu Hanifah, his teacher’s teacher, why should the same privilege not be allowed to someone belonging to the Fourteenth Century Hijrah?
The fact that what is new in religion is to be rejected is a correct principle but one which is applicable to Sunnah only. A Sunnah practice is distinguished from a religious innovation (bid‘ah) in that the former is a religious practice introduced by the prophet alaihissalam and the latter is one that wasn’t introduced by him and is therefore unacceptable. This principle has nothing to do with opinions – whether old or new — that claim to be based on Quran and Sunnah.
What should one do if one finds no reasonable religious opinion on an issue which is agitating the mind of a seeker after truth? Should he not explore the correct understanding simply because that understating hasn’t been presented by anyone before? If for instance one learns about the fact that all Muslim scholars agree that if a Muslim chooses to become a non-Muslim he should be killed, should he accept it despite knowing clearly that it isn’t acceptable to the Qur’an? If an intelligent Muslim is not satisfied with the fact that in certain cases of distribution in the Qur’anic law of inheritance the apportioned shares don’t add up to be one, should he still silently accept the conclusion that there was, God forbid, mathematical error in the Qur’an? Should one remain silent on the claim that Islam desires that a married adulterer should be stoned to death despite the Qur’an pointing clearly to the contrary simply because the earlier scholars have expressed that claim?
How could it be that all Muslims scholars agree on an incorrect view? The fact is that some scholars may not have spoken up against an established opinion because they couldn’t figure out an alternative opinion.
At times new opinions are formed only when there is a challenge. People stick to the old views simply because they haven’t been challenged adequately. So long as slavery wasn’t challenged properly, for example, Muslim scholars didn’t reflect upon the relevant Quranic verses to realize what the true Islamic understanding on the issue was. The axiom “necessity is the mother of invention” is quite as true about religion as it is about science and technology. And the underlying reality that prompts invention and new religious opinions to emerge as a consequence of necessity is the same: a sense of urgency that forces the individual to apply hard to find a solution. In case of a scientific invention, it is the pressure of urgent need (necessity) that enables the scientist to come up with a solution. In case of a religious issue, it is a pressure on one’s faith and the need to clarify it that prompts a new, clarifying opinion to emerge.
There is a certain sequence of events that enables a new development in a certain discipline to take place. Scholars who came before a prominent landmark achievement shouldn’t be blamed for not presenting the new idea. In fact, they should be credited for their contribution in enabling the process to reach a point where such an achievement became possible. Viewed over a period of time, most inventions are the result of a teamwork. The scholar who ultimately achieves the feat is the lucky person who carries the baton to the finishing point. Likewise, is true for religious opinions. Given the above line of thinking, it would be utterly absurd to start blaming people for presenting new opinions.
“The article was published at dailycapital.pk on 17-APR-15. We are reproducing here by permission”