The significance and correct methods of studying Islam are very prevalent topics discussed by many academics, especially amongst Western scholars. Within this essay, I am going to discuss these topics from the lenses of three different authors: David Waines, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Carl W. Ernst. Each of these scholars listed above has overlapping viewpoints about these subject matters. First, from Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s perspective, he believes that the significance of studying Islam can be a bit complex due to the religion’s multifaceted nature.
Due to the preeminence of Islamic religion, Islamic studies are significant due to them bringing awareness to and highlighting the billions of viewpoints of Muslims.
The Islamic religion possesses a plethora of religious followers ranging from different nationalities. In addition to this importance of demographic and geographical diversity, the study of Islam is significant because it reveals the immense role and contribution of Islam in the development of Western civilization (including Western Europe and North America,) which combats the commonly negative portrayal of the Islamic religion in the West.
Lastly, Nasr discusses that the study of Islam is significant due to its heavy involvement the Abrahamic world from which Judaism and Christianity blossomed. Islam does not solely constitute a sliver of the Abrahamic family, but it also accounts for a huge branch of the monotheistic tree. Therefore, without the study of Islam, there would have been a huge hole within the understanding of its neighboring religions. Within his book Introduction to Islam, Waines contributes to the idea that studying Islam is significant.
According to Waines’ perspective, he believes that “religion is not a thing, but a happening, and it is people who make things happen.”
This statement alone brings forward an important reason as to why Islamic religion should be dug further into. The religion of Islam is currently the second-largest religious community succeeding Christianity. Similar to Nasr, Waines understands the need of furthering education within the Islamic religion to better understand a large mass of people within the world. It would help other religious followers to better understand the morals, values, laws, and lifestyles of those that identify with being considered a Muslim. Waines believes that the desire of studying Islamic religion and culture has exponentially increased over the recent years due there being a mystery clouding around the foundation of how it started. The highly complex nature of Islamic culture establishes a difficulty in defining the Muslim World in a singular perspective.
According to Carl Ernst, an important aspect that has arisen from the ongoing study of religion as a historical and cultural reality is the realization that all religions are destined to change; meaning that no religion is timeless. “As Islam, having an awareness of these developments and tuning in to the changes is….increasingly important. (Marranci)” The study of Islam is so important due to the level of knowledge about the religion and culture being so low among the general public. Some of the scholars that feel super proficient with the Islamic culture and religion still need to dig more into Islamic studies to learn the religion in its entirety. Being presented the opportunity to further expand on Islamic knowledge is one that should not be taken for granted due to its inaccessible nature. Much of the information pertaining to Islamic religion and culture is not accessible to the general public due to the fact of the information being difficult to locate or because the publications are produced in limited quantities and aimed primarily for the specialists of Islam.
One should also be aware and that biases and stereotypes of Islam have been very prevalent in history and still currently exist. Studying Islam will allow people to receive authentic, first-hand information about Islamic culture to override the stereotype that has been cast upon the entire religion. It’s important for Muslims themselves to study the historical record of what has happened in their own search for meaning, what God has commanded of them, and what God has given them to believe. It’s important for just everyone, not just Muslims to study Islamic tradition because it helps people reflect upon their own beliefs and their own practices in light of another. In essence, one does not know their religion until one knows two or more religions. And this acts as a mirror function that enables people to reflect on their practices and beliefs from a different perspective. It allows people to communicate together who are in different planes.
Lastly, I am going to discuss the correct methods of studying Islam. There are many ways that Islam can be studied; however, it is fundamental that the religion of Islam is studied from its own sources and with its own concepts. By taking this phenomenological approach, authentic information and religious knowledge would be obtained due to the direct extraction from the roots of the religion: The Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah. Also, one should study Islam with an open mind that there has been a long history of biases and stereotypes that have been cast upon the religion in its entirety. Third, one should study Islam by reflecting that its unity and diversity, are simultaneously occurring within the religion and culture. Because one of “the greatest challenges to a coherent conceptualization of Islam has been posed by the sheer diversity of those societies, persons, ideas, and practices that identify themselves with the “Islam.” The analytical dilemma has regularly been presented in terms of how, when conceptualizing Islam, to reconcile the relationship between unity and diversity.
How does the shari’ah in its classical interpretation, regulate the religious and social life of a Muslim? How would you describe the ideal believer and the ideal society in terms of the connection between the ibadat and mu’amalat categories of Islamic law? Required references: Waines, Ernst, Ruthven, Denny Within the context of Islamic tradition, the pinnacle of the Islamic culture is none other than the shari’ah. The shari’ah is commonly described as the complex of Islamic law as an ideal, which addressed politics, economics, and family in addition to religious practice and ethical behavior. It can also be defined as “the will of God manifested in his guidance of Muhammad and preserved by the community within the Qur’an. (Waines)” The will of Allah was not only accessible by the means of revelation but through the commands and sayings of Muhammad. Shari’ah emphasizes the responsibility of humans before Allah. It’s intentions are to regulate every component of ethics, conduct, and to provide guidance for religious followers that are on the path of eternal salvation. The law of shari’ah is the focal point of the individualistic and wholistic Muslim identity.
The shari’ah in its classical interpretation regulates the religious and social life of a Muslim. Interpretations of the law of shari’ah are subject to change depending upon the setting and timing. However, the shari’ah is said to be “a timeless manifestation of the will of God.” The Qur’an, being the direct source of the Word of God, is said to be the primary source of law in the Islamic culture. The Qur’an itself mostly consists of the religious and social requirements of its religious followers. For instance, there were many restrictions to what a Muslim could or could not do such as committing a crime, eating specific foods, robbery, sexual activity, slander, etc. However, these requirements remained highly ambiguous which caused many legislators and lawyers to have plenty of debates.
The shari’ah was divided into religious and social duties.The religious dimensions of the shari’ah law is called the ‘ibadat. ‘Ibadat mainly centered around the Five Pillars of Islam, which consists of the profession of faith, ritual prayer (salat), giving alms, fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm), and performing pilgrimage to Mecca. Salat is an intensely regulated formal observance that involves cycles of bodily movements and mannerisms climaxing in complete prostration in a fixed position in the direction toward the Ka’ba. It is required for Muslims to perform salat at least five times a day: morning, noon, mid-day, sunset, and evening. Zakat within the Muslim world connects humankind with God through the giving of an individual’s riches, or wealth to a less fortunate person.
Zakat s a mandatory performance of the Islamic culture and is a sector of one’s “service to God,” not to be confused with charity. Belongings that one can give away as a performance of almsgiving would be materials such as riches, merchandise, minerals, cattle, crops, etc. Sawm is one of the most famous Pillars of Islam due to its month-long duration. From sunrise to sunset, those who partake in sawm are prohibited to eat, drink, smoke, have sex, etc. However, there are many exceptions to fasting during Ramadan. For instance, if one is a little child, sick, or mentally unstable, you are considered exempt from being obligated to fast during Ramadan. Lastly, hajj is the final pillar of Islam, however, is also the most dramatic practice within the Islamic culture. Pilgrimage to Mecca, unlike fasting during Ramadan, occurs annually. This ritual practice is only required for a Muslim to do at least once a lifetime. However, the caveat to this is that you have to be a legal adult, financially and physically stable. (Ruthven and Denny)
While the social dimensions of the shari’ah law is called mu’amalat. Mu’amalat mainly centered around the governing laws of human interaction and relations. For instance, the laws involve matters such as stature, marriage, divorce, inheritance, food restrictions, political endeavors, etc. In addition, the shari’ah simply categorizes all human behavior into five sectors: required (wajib or fard), prohibited (Mazur, haram), recommended (mandu, masnun, mustahabb, sunna), discouraged (makruh), and permitted but morally indifferent (jazz, mubah). It has been very difficult for people to make a distinction between ‘ibadat and mu’amalat and the differentiation between the two could even be considered obsolete to the local Muslim perspective (Raudvere). Throughout history, the distinction between both ritual practices has been the focal point of many theological debates. Since the shari’ah is the ethical code of conduct for Muslim behavior at the social level, it impacted the Islamic way of living in many aspects that have undergone evolution and is subject to from place to place.