Muhammad Shahrour, His Innovative Approach

The scene of Arab and Islamic countries appears very different and blurry to any viewer, in terms of these countries’ conditions on social, political, economic and cultural levels. For example, there is a huge gap between Turkey as an Islamic country and Syria, the same between Indonesia and Tunisia.

Why did many Islamic countries in Asia became members in the club of developed countries – the term “Asian tigers” became applicable to their broad renaissance – while others dropped into more problems and into the abyss of poverty, ignorance, and underdevelopment? Here, we will not ask that old question in its renaissance form, as many thinkers have addressed it since the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century: Why did some states move forward while we fall behind? Rather, we will try to investigate in depth a phenomenon that we think is a major reason for obstructing enlightenment and modernization at the level of the Arab mental structure, in its religious aspect.

This comparative study attempts to focus on the third confrontation, which requires courage and awareness of our future choices, especially with regard to understanding religion as it, for one thing, forms part of the lives of many and cannot be excluded and, for another, its relationship to life, politics and the state has to take into account. All of this will be considered through this study by comparing the two views of Abul A’la Maududi, a Pakistani thinker, and Dr. Muhammad Shahrour, a Syrian thinker. Their views of the relationship between religion and the state will be demonstrated as well.

First: Renewal or Enlightenment

Starting from what Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the ideological mind behind the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood defines as renewal, for him it must be from within the religion and only through its tools. Imposing ideas imported from outside the religion would distort it, this would be a waste, not a renewal.

Such a mentality would definitely lead to the inevitable delay. At the time when Heraclitus cried his famous phrase several centuries ago, “No man ever steps in the same river twice,” he indicates that change is one of the inevitable of nature.

Second: Modernizing Legislation in the Perspective of Muhammad Shahrour

The enlightenment that Shahrour tried to make visible in Islamic thought can be divided into two levels: The first is methodological, and the second is intellectual.

What is striking about Shahrour’s approach is its emergence from the failure of previous experiences in dealing with the Islamic heritage, as we come across this suggestive foreword to his book “Drying the Sources of Terrorism”, by citing Einstein in his famous saying: Only fools repeat the same things over and over, expecting to obtain different results.

Accordingly, Shahrour mentions a number of points related to the linguistic issue on which he creates his views, interpreting the Qur’an in a way that is distinct from the prevailing traditional interpretations. To mention the most important of them:

When the speaker addresses the listener, he does not intend to make him understand the meaning of the single words, because the lexical culture is not sufficient to understand any linguistic text. The wise recitation contains the highest level of rhetoric that cannot be exceeded or come up with in performing the same meaning and delivering it to the listener. The wise recitation is free of synonyms in words and structures. Wise recitation is free of fillers, ramblings and extras.

Third: The Intellectual Approach

In this chapter, Shahrour cites the base on which his intellectual project would be completed. Although it is the focus of great controversy in many Islamic philosophical and intellectual debates, especially with the attempts of Muslim philosophers despite their varying positions, the rationality base had foundations laid by many of them, such as the Mu’tazila, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun later.

In fact, Muhammad Shahrour sets conditions that serve as logical premises for modernizing Islamic legislation, combine understanding, criticism, rationality, and the empirical structure of natural sciences, putting an end to the historical, peaceful mind that dominates the thoughts of many Muslims, making them prisoners of the past and, thus, constitutes an obstacle to progress.

Fourth: Religion and Politics (Between Shahrour’s Enlightenment and Mawdudi’s Obscurantism)

When Mawdudi is asked about the three powers of state, which resulted from the people’ struggles to achieve a sound political model, he takes into account the interests of the community. In a (technical) fatal blow, Mawdudi squanders the efforts of Montesquieu, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau with one phrase: “The classification of governments into three authorities was not in the era of the Prophet, for he was a legislator, a judge, and a ruler. Mawdudi in his book “Islam and Modern Civilization”: “The present social life is based on the principles of aberration, darkness, and education systems that exude evil, stir up instincts, violate virtue, kill morals, and call for permissiveness and decadence, and the economic system that controls people is a perverted and corrupt system that does not know good from evil, and does not distinguish the permissible from the forbidden.”

Mawdudi continues his critique of all modern civilization, as it is based on three main pillars:

  • Secularism
  • Nationalism
  • Democracy

Mawdudi’s secularism “isolates religion from the social life of individuals, meaning that religious belief should not be adhered to except in the personal lives of individuals. As for other matters in people’s lives, they must be dealt with on the basis of pure materialism, according to human desires, viewpoints, and inclinations.

As for Shahrour, he refutes this point of view in many cases and through many cognitive tools. He almost adopts the idea of a civil state by saying: “It is the coexistence of individuals in a society where they are subject to the law that controls their lives and protects their rights from violation.”

Fifth: Conclusions about the suicidal effects of heritage as sacred

First: In the midst of the accusations that Islam has unjustly become its hero in recent years, it has become imperative for conscious and enlightened Muslims to defend their Islam as a noble divine message.

Second: A generation that has been subjected to a process of brainwashing from generations, been controlled by political Islam movements with military and financial influence and external support, will be a generation promising more death and destruction. Every Muslim who is keen on Islam must treat the distortions that afflicted that generation to the best of his ability.

Third: If this Islamic heritage is not heeded and examined with reason, Muslims may be most affected in the coming years. And if the Islamists (to distinguish them from the Muslims) remain leaning on an outdated heritage, the result will be the model of ISIS, the Wali al-Faqih, and a grinding struggle that will extend the life of slaughter.

Fourth: An Islamist extremism in understanding the texts in their literal sense, without using a logic in understanding those texts, will lead to extremism within Islam itself, before it creates a confrontation that originally exists with the West, through what has become known as the Islamophobia within Western societies. Thus, it will be the inauguration of a new era of blood with the various peoples of Islam on the one hand, and with the West, which is fighting extremism.

So: O Muslim in the twenty-first century, it seems that the ball is in your court after all this show and you have to choose between two models. One of them will be an elevation of your legitimate ambition for a better, preserving your rights and dignity, in the shadow of a capable, fair and democratic civil state that will bring you into the path of progress without stripping you of your faith and beliefs. Another wants to drag you back, based on outdated perceptions. What do you do to get out of the bottle’s neck?

All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.