Friday, 26 April 2013

The Problem with Christian and Muslim "Fundamentalists"

Fundamentalists like Muslim Egyptian Sayyid Qutb and American Christians like John Hagee and Dyson Hague are trying to compete with modern rationalism’s search for objective reality by declaring their interpretation of scripture to be their own supposed objective realities of pure revelation.  

While the Quran and the Bible have always been seen as God’s Word and therefore true, by Muslims and Christianity respectively, understanding the interpretation of scripture as a complex weaving of lenses and methodologies has almost always existed to some degree. This traditional reality is often ignored by these fundamentalist. This is not to say that all methods of interpretation should or have been accepted as legitimate, but even within an Orthodox perspective both Islam and Christianity have made room for a variety of interpretations within the central tenets of their faith.

The categorical definition of “fundamentalist” being referred to in Christianity has specific roots in early 20th century Protestant movement which sought to hold onto to the supposed “fundamentals” of the Christian faith against supposed liberal theology and secular reason based criticism support The categorical definition for Fundamentalist in Islam refers to the early 20th century subsets of Islam which sought to emphasize Islamic law as something which should be forced onto a society, and exists outside of an interpretative framework. For these specific sects, it often means that God is revealing the truth of scripture to them in such a specific way that they refuse to allow any other theologians to reason with them, and usually damage the society along with the religion in which they dwell...  


Sayyid Qutb was the central theological and political mind behind the Muslim brotherhood and is arguably one of the most important theological figures in fundamentalist Islam and spent two years in America in order to better educate himself in Western thought. He was keenly aware of the problems that were facing Christianity and its relationship with the modern West. The increasing distrust and secularization of Western countries are used by Qutb as a soundboard to promote Islamic idealism. The way to establish submission to Allah on a large scale is not to do as the Christians did in the medieval ages with the authority of the church and the consecrated priests ruling the political sphere. Rather, freedom would be found in the “enforcement of the divine law (Shariah).” Qutb declares that this law will bring the universal “freedom of man” on all the earth. This is a law that should not simply be declared, but should be enacted by any means necessary as the “appropriate means are needed to meet any and every practical situation.” Furthermore, Qutb sees how the increasing secularization of the Western world has created a fragmented society, with increasing questions of political and moral authority. This fragmentation of the secular and sacred creates a perfect reason for the holistic and integrative worldview of Islam. For Qutb, Islam has always sought to embody the “society in itself” with an ordering of all “life and work” under the banner of Islam. This “process of Islam” lays down all the “universal rules and principles” for a divinely inspired nation.When nations submit to the law of God in this way, “equity and justice” will be established in society and towards the “whole of the human sphere.” The problem of course is that law derived from the Quran and credible Hadith (recorded sayings of Muhammad) is not monolithic, and there have always been varying beliefs on what the correct interpretation is. For Qutb, his interpretation is most obviously the “proper” perspective and those who disagree with his interpretation are often accused of being in counsel with the “shrewd orientalists.” When Qutb sees his perspective as objective truth, rather than a faithful attempt of interpretation, he enters into the realm of monotheistic heresy where the creation attempts to see the world as the creator does. As soon as one declares an interpretative framework to be impervious to fault, that framework enters into a realm where historical context and competing methodological lenses cease to matter. Muslim theologian Sherman Jackson shows the ignorance of Qutb’s lens, first by showing how Qutb ignores the classic tradition of the “madhabs” by focusing almost exclusively on one Quranic verse which insists on war against the “people of the book.” Qutb isolates this verse from historical context to claim it as a universal commandment, even though there are several Quranic passages which contrast it, and should challenge Qutb to at least recognize an element of grey area within his own understanding of objective truth.

This epistemological mistake is not confined to Qutb and his view of Islam however; American fundamentalist Christians often conflict with their own tradition in order to claim their view as objective truth.  As the theory of evolution became more popular in western culture, Christian fundamentalists fought to further solidify the Biblical perspective. In the middle of the 20th century Christian apologist Dyson Hague set up a straw man argument in relation to the theory of evolution. He first described evolution as a process which claims human beings descended from monkeys (they share a common ancestor they do not evolve from one another) and then polemically declares how unlike the monkey, the “man is fitted for apprehending and worshipping God.” The Genesis account of the creation, therefore, can be the only basis for truth, and is the “only hope for salvation.” Interestingly, over a thousand years before the scientific revolution and the fundamentalist movement, the early church father Saint Augustine had already rejected a straightforward approach to the reading of Genesis 1, and instead declared an allegorical approach to be the most theologically understandable. Unfortunately, the American fundamentalist movement does not only wish to preserve their interpretation of the Biblical creation story, they also use their interpretation of scripture to support a nationalistic and vengeful God. Christian televangelist John Hagee believes that Romans 9-11 supports a special place for the Jewish people in God’s heart, along with the Israeli state. For him the Palestinian people should have no claim to their land, and should have no claim of language or nationhood. This militaristic agenda of Hagee against the Palestinian people is reminiscent of Qutb in his own agenda against “the people of the book” when he declares Jihad in accordance with the “true guidance provided by God;” so too does Hagee also believe that “God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew.” While Hagee’s Zionistic tendencies are a sharp contrast to Qutb they both ironically share in their hatred towards liberalized American culture. After Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous flooding of New Orleans, Hagee declared the city had reached “a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are - were - recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.”

            In an effort to declare their interpretation of scripture as the most pure both Hagee and Qutb have chosen to ignore the complexity of their scripture, in the most obvious way that both the Quran and the Bible declare God to be essentially a mercy to the world and giver of unconditional love.         

From early on in Muslim history various Islamic law schools promoted different methodologies for interpreting and forming Quranic law. In the Sunni tradition (the largest Muslim community) there were four major law schools which include the Shafi', Hanbali, Maliki, and Hanafi law school. All four of these schools held four central methodologies for interpretation. While both the Quran and reliable Hadith (it must have a legitimate chain of transmission or isnad) are seen as the foundational sources for how to enact God's will in the lives of Muslims, not every problem in a Muslim community could be solved simply by directly correlating what the Quran or Hadith had to say in relation to the problems which arose. One of the primary methodologies for interpreting scripture in relation to the current context of the day was the methodology of Qiyas.This methodology is most simply known as analogical reasoning. The popularity of this methodology arose out of a continual conflict with the methodological authority of the Fuqaha (Islamic Judges) and a group called the Hadith party. The Fuqaha were experts in Quranic law and use their knowledge to make judgements based on their own personal discretion, or Ra'y. In contrast, the Hadith Party felt that following the example of the Prophet Muhammad was the most important way for people to live, so the Hadith were seen as more important. Qiyas, on the other hand, allowed both the Fuqaha and the larger Muslim community to draw analogies between the two principles sources of Islamic law, and their current contextual issues. One brief example of this can be used in analyzing the prohibition of all intoxicating beverages in Islamic law. The Quran specifically forbids only grape wine, how then does one deal with other alcoholic beverages which are not explicitly named in the Quran? Fermented date juice, for example, is not mentioned in the Quran, but has been a popular drink throughout Arabic history. To reconcile the issue, jurists draw an analogy between the explicit command against grape wine and the fermented date juice based on their common side effects. Since they shared similar side effects they were given equal value within the law code, along with all intoxicants and narcotics. In order to guard against the occasional narrow-minded elitism of the jurists the methodology of Ijma was also used. This methodology involved taking into account the perspective of the larger Muslim community when making decisions of legal interpretation. There has generally been a traditional continuity within Orthodox Islam to understand that one school does not necessarily have to be seen as better than another. Rather they simply “uphold different theories of interpretation of the law.” This is not to be seen as “disunity among Muslims” but rather “indicates the maturity of law” and shows a “richness and variety which accommodate the multiplicity of cultures within its fold.”   

            It would seem that at Christianity’s scriptural core they must also see themselves as operating out of a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.  The Orthodox Christian tradition generally accepts four similar yet somewhat different accounts of the passion of Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have all made it into the New Testament canon of God’s word. While all four Gospels affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, each version of the story has a somewhat different take on how the events all happened, why the happened, and who they happened to. For the modern reader intent on looking for historically verifiable truth in an objective sense this could certainly be seen as a problem. Most importantly, the original writers were proclaiming that Christ’s death and resurrection brings hope and new life for all creation; Jews, Gentiles, and all the whole earth. This goes against the modern notion Jesus Christ’s life must be historically verified on through scientific tools of methodology, rather the central lens of the early church was faith not reasoning derived purely from our own human abilities. Muslim theologian Ingrid Mattson states this well in her description of the Quran as a postmodern reality which “reflects a premodern notion” where both “physical, mental health are interconnected aspects of human well-being.” From this perspective it is easy for a Muslim to consider “the Quran to be the most efficacious healer of any disorder for which a person might seek treatment.” The true reality of the Quran from the perspective of Islam is not truth through modern social scientific paradigms, but speaks to the metaphysical reality that Allah is the Lord and Creator of the world and comes to humankind as a greater healer, guide, and ambassador of Mercy.  In the Christian tradition the Biblical canon is meant to bring forth faith based on the presupposition that Christ, through his death and resurrection, has created and reconciled all things unto himself.


No comments:

Post a Comment