The more I learn and experience and the more I witness with my own eyes, the more I realise that Islam is not nearly as monolithic as many would like to believe it is. Far too often I come across many sahih ahadith (authentic narrations) that are seldom quoted when I see the raging debates about whose manhaj (path) is more correct.
These are ahadith that refer to social interactions, differing forms of worship that many are keen to dismiss as an innovation, and many other contentious issues. And it leaves me wondering how many times do we engage in ferocious debates aware of only the mainstream view of the subject without being aware of the body of knowledge that supports many alternate views?
I’m not suggesting that we should suddenly become liberals in our tolerance of the views of others, but consider that there are over 600,000 ahadith that have been narrated. Of that amount, how many have you actually seen quoted to substantiate differing opinions of how to worship Allah? Given the number of times that I have consistently seen the scholars get it wrong regarding principles versus rituals, I’m loathe to assume that every differing view, except where it blatantly contradicts direct injunctions from the Qur’an or Sunnah, is actually a heretical view.
The tendency for the scholars to selectively refer to principles at times and dismiss principles in favour of rituals at other times is also concerning. The issues pertaining to the sighting of the moon versus calculation of salaah times, and the use of those pagan symbols without any significant opposition by all the leading scholars is just two simple examples that I as a layman has been able to identify. Why then is it so difficult to believe that Islam is not merely what is presented by the scholars, or their blind followers that have been so effective in driving divisions in the Ummah, and even in communities?
Recently the Islamic school that my daughter attends issued a newsletter indicating that the parents will be given the opportunity to visit the teacher to review their child’s progress. However, the meeting will commence at 09h30 and continue for the rest of the school day. This is directly aimed at encouraging mothers only to attend such discussions since most men are at work during this time, and only women from traditional Muslim homes are available. This despite the fact that all schools in the area hold parent meetings in the evenings to accommodate those parents that are in full time employment. What’s more irksome about this is that there are clear ahadith that confirm that the provision of education is the right of the father over his children. So why is the Islamic school system so mother-centric?
This is just another example that further cements my concerns that we’re getting it wrong. We’re indulging in excessive ways and interpretations because of this perpetual focus on individual piety and we’ve completely lost the plot regarding social cohesion in Islam. We establish barriers and divisions under the guise of modesty and negate the fact that free movement and interaction with mahrams present is not outlawed. Yet we insist on husbands and wives sitting separate from each other at social gatherings because we want to pre-empt the individual actions of a few deviants. Whenever this happens, I always recall the hadith where Rasulullah (SAW) was present with Aisha (RA) at a public gathering where entertainers were performing. Rasulullah (SAW) sat there with his wife while she watched, and he turned away from the entertainment because he disliked it. (May Allah forgive me if I am quoting this incorrectly, but I will search for the original hadith as soon as I am able to, insha-Allah).
My point is, the constant focus on individual piety, and same sex groupies is eroding the community. Women and men both play an integral part of the Muslim community, jointly, not separately. But just because we’re afraid of encouraging illicit relationships, we establish boundaries that are unnatural and disruptive to the harmony of the community, whilst the very same fitnah that we aim to prevent continues unabated.
The very same groups where hijab is strictly enforced, separation of sexes is strictly enforced, and most women are in full niqab are the same groups where I have either witnessed first hand or heard reports from credible sources, the degradation and outright disgusting behaviour of many. This is not to suggest that they are worse than others that don’t observe such boundaries or attempts at modesty. Instead, this proves that our excessive efforts at establishing unnatural boundaries not supported by the Sunnah is in fact pointless, and quite possibly attracts ridicule towards the Sunnah rather than embedding its wisdom in the hearts of those that observe it in practice.
We always seem to focus on excess in a negative light on those actions that are blatant innovations, but we fail to realise the excess in our actions that are intended to achieve piety. Excess of any form is forbidden for Muslims because Allah does not love excess. Yet we label those that encourage moderation, and elevate those that encourage excess in forms that are apparently above reproach.