A Muslim Matters article authored by Imam Mikaeel Ahmed Smith on October 31, 2016 has been stirring controversy in the American Muslim community.
Imam Mikaeel believes that many Muslim bloggers and writers today are contributing to Islamic discourse without any real foundation in religious knowledge—a practice harmful to both current and future generations of Muslims. He claims that although more and more Muslims are writing about and discussing issues like “gender interaction, hijab, homosexuality and even premarital sex,” they are drawing conclusions on these topics using what he calls “public reason,” or general knowledge, instead of Islamic texts. By relying almost exclusively on “public reason,” Imam Mikaeel believes Muslims are contravening basic Islamic orthodoxy.
Critics of the article claim that Muslims must learn to approach their religious texts hermeneutically, and essentially reinterpret “older” understandings of topics, like homoeroticism and the hijab in light of the modern zeitgeist. Counterarguments to these claims point out that such declarations merely substantiate Imam Mikaeel’s arguments, in that they rest on “public reason” rather than any contextualized understanding of the Quran and Hadith.
Over the last twenty years the American Muslim community has been incapable of creating an Islamic educational system that promotes and produces individuals with a fundamental religious education. Much of this generation’s religious education was gained in poorly organized weekend or Sunday schools in their adolescent years, which is well below the scope of true Islamic intellectualism. Completion of Sunday school leaves a student with a false sense of a monumental educational accomplishment. The theological masterpieces of intellectual giants like Al-Ghazali, al-Razi and Taftazani are never mentioned or referenced. In fact, one would be surprised to even hear their names. This Sunday school education is followed by an occasional knowledge retreat or conference as young adults, which often is more edutainment than education and does little to rebuild the original Islamic culture of constant religious study throughout one’s life. This has led to a generation of young Muslims who are highly educated in almost every other field but possess a fifth grade level of Islamic education.
In Islam (and by Islam I am referring to firstly the Qur’an, secondly the Sunnah and lastly 1400 hundred years of scholarly work.) there are things called musalimaat or givens. These are aspects of Islam which were normally not debated and considered general knowledge. That is of course when religious education was a continuous part of life. Though there are sources for these givens, the traditionally high level of religious knowledge held by the general public made these aspects of religion “common sense”. This “common sense” nature of these givens led to a more simplistic transfer of these things without constant verification by the average muslim. Things such as fornication being wrong, hijab being an obligation from the Qur’an, homosexuality being forbidden, alcohol being a vice and the communal responsibility to maintain ideals are a few examples of musalimaat. The word “given” is perhaps the most appropriate word for these musalimaat, because it infers to an external source or authority. Meaning these musalimaat were literally given to you from the previous members of the community.
Why do we see Islam going through such a drastic change right before our eyes? Every other day, poorly educated Muslims are changing and challenging the givens of Islam thinking that they can define or redefine Islam. A benign cancer of anti-heteronomy has taken over the minds of those who submit. Articles are written which challenge or outright reject very clear Qur’anic verses or prophetic statements based simply on the authors opinion or public reason. These articles are often over saturated by an appeal to the ethos of the reader and actual authoritative proof is marginal.
Some believe Imam Mikaeel’s article may have been partly inspired by a recent incident in which a Muslim student complained that the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at her college was hosting an event on Queer Muslims. The student, who stepped down as president of the MSA, argued that, by normalizing homoeroticism, the event presented a secularized image of her religion. Other students in the organization believed the event was in line with their religious beliefs, which sparked a discussion among American Muslims regarding the source of knowledge for these opinions.
Read the full article here.