Knowledge Society, Preventing Ruin, Fitnah
Issue 1006 » JuLY 6, 2018 - Shawwal 22, 1439
Al-Zumar (The Throngs) Sura 39: Verse 9 (partial)
The Quran seeks to establish a society of 'those who know', a knowledge society, a society where reason and reflection, thought and learning, are not only valued but grounded in everyday reality. The situation in the Muslim world today, where science and learning are conspicuous by their almost total absence, where irrationality and fanaticism are the norms, indicates just how far many Muslims have deviated from the teachings of the Quran.
The world of faith that the Quran implies is one of reasoned argument among multiple points of view between Muslims as well as people of other faiths and no faith. Knowledge derives from seeking to transcend the limitations of our narrow perspectives. But knowledge like everything else has to be sought and exists within moral and ethical parameters. The search for knowledge can neither liberate nor exonerate us from careful consideration of consequences and risks, of the means and purpose by and for which it is sought.
The pursuit of knowledge is a basic requirement. However, that does not necessarily mean all enquiries, all techniques, all objectives for seeking knowledge are good or blameless in and of themselves. It is not merely that the search for knowledge needs to be conducted with humility, but we also have to recognise that ignorance is a constant companion of knowledge: our ignorance of the questions we do not ask. We need to appreciate the fact that as human knowledge has accumulated, so has our ignorance. The quest for knowledge is a challenge to seek to comprehend that which serves the purpose of achieving greater justice and equity for all, while accepting that however much we know, we remain limited, finite and fallible beings who do not know all. In a Quranic perspective, knowledge does not confer mastery and it always carries responsibilities and obligations to distinguish between what we can do and whether it ought to be done.
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp.253, 254
Justice is often obstructed by intercession on behalf of those who do wrong. When the wrongdoer is a person of high position in society, there will always be those who can speak strongly on the offender's behalf. Under a dictatorship, it is often easy to thwart justice when the guilty belongs to the dictator's family or circle or party. Even in free societies, attempts are made to help those who wield influence to escape punishment for their offences. The Prophet (peace be upon him) made it clear that Islamic society allows nothing of this. For example, during the Prophet's lifetime, a woman from the Makhzum clan of the Quraysh was found guilty of theft. Aishah reports that:
Many people of the Quraysh tribe were troubled by the fact that such a noble woman was to be punished. They wanted someone to speak to the Prophet requesting a pardon for her. It was suggested that the best person to do so was the one who was dearest to him, Usamah ibn Zayd. Usamah obliged and spoke to the Prophet. The Prophet was upset. He said to Usamah: "Are you interceding to suspend a mandatory punishment decreed by God?" He then spoke to the people: "People, know that communities before you came to ruin only because when a nobleman among them was guilty of theft, they left him alone, but when a person of no influence stole, they applied the mandatory punishment. I swear by God Almighty, if Fatimah, my daughter, is guilty of theft, I will have her hand cut." (Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
This hadith is very emphatic in requiring the Muslim community to ensure equality of all people before the law. None can be exempt from it on grounds of nobility, honour, social status or governmental position. Should a community allow such discrimination, it would come to ruin.
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct" - Adil Salahi
There is a serious conceptual and moral difficulty with the idea of fitnah.
The principle that no one can be called to answer for the sins of another
is a core Shariah value. In Quranic discourses, one person or set of
people cannot be made to suffer because of the indiscretions, sins, or
faults of others - each individual is responsible and accountable
only for his or her own behavior. In fact, when addressing issues of
modesty, the Quran is quite careful to place the blame on those it labels
the hypocrites, who harass or molest the innocent.
For example, assuming that the reason we are confronted with a fitnah situation is because of men with an overactive libido or who are impious or ill-mannered. Demanding that women should suffer exclusion or limitations would violate the principle that the innocent should not pay for the indiscretions of the culpable. Awrah and fitnah are separate categories - a person covers the awrah not because of fitnah, but because the covering of awrah is a separate imperative based on a set of specific instructions. Whether revealing the awrah leads or does not lead to fitnah is irrelevant. Whether a person covers his or her awrah or not, he or she should not be made to suffer for the indiscretions or impiety of others. Put bluntly, whether a person is sexually aroused or not is entirely irrelevant as to what the object of arousal must or must not do. The laws and imperatives of modesty ought to be set by God and not by immoral individuals who are violating the law of God.
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl