Academic journal article Islamic Studies

Articles of Faith and Organized Religion in Islam: Historicity and Faith and Its Implications

Academic journal article Islamic Studies

Articles of Faith and Organized Religion in Islam: Historicity and Faith and Its Implications

Article excerpt


In order to act resolutely and effectively in history Muslims need to develop critical historical consciousness that would furnish them with the intellectual tools to understand history in light of their faith and help them act out their faith in light of history. This is one message of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that is often over looked. In order to understand why critical historical consciousness has failed to develop among Muslims we need to cast on the history of Muslims and particularly of Muslim education a critical eye. This may shed some light on why Muslims who once shaped history are now cowed and rendered helpless by historical necessities.


The questions one considers important and necessary to ask and seek answers for are not plucked from the thin air, so to speak, but are issues in one's surrounding milieu that impress the consciousness with the urgency to inquire into. To address the pressing issues is to ask questions that one thinks will bring forth answers that get to the heart of the matter. Any one issue, therefore, can give rise to a variety of questions, each asked from the perspective that the one asking the question regards the issue as important and not yet fully explored. Needless to say no one question or a set of questions can ever fully entangle the issue addressed. It is the accumulations of such questions and the answers they elicit that can hopefully, one day, resolve the issue.

That there is much wrong with the Muslim ummah today is one issue on which just about every thinking and concerned Muslim would agree. However, no two Muslims are likely to agree on what exactly is the nature of the problem. Lack of agreement is not so much a reflection of Muslims' inability to understand what ails them, but rather a reflection of the complexity of the problem. It is in the nature of intellectual enterprise that tools and categories of thought by which to investigate the problem get hammered out over the course of all the innumerable attempts to understand it. In fact, even the attempts, however off the mark they may be, contribute to our understanding of the issue at hand. Meanwhile, generally speaking, Muslims seem to suffer from what can be best described as a deep-seated sense of misgiving for not having made the right sort of mark on the stage of human history. As to what constitutes the right sort of mark, however, there is no consensus. The sense of misgiving too easily turns into despair and hence has to be resolutely resisted. To give in to despair is to give in to the mentality that seeks immediate and simple answers to complex issues, encouraging thoughtless actions instead of thoughtful deliberations.

The questions aimed at fathoming this sense of loss that Muslims have been asking are various. The vast majority of the questions asked focus on the more recent history of the Muslims. The assumption guiding these questions is that something went drastically wrong in the last several hundred years with the ummah which made the Muslims lose their bearing and flounder. That may very well be the case. Nevertheless, it is also fruitful to look at a larger span of Muslim history in order to discern a pattern that took a long time in making, one which may also have contributed to the situation Muslims find themselves in today. This article is just such an enterprise. As a point of departure this enterprise makes a distinction between Islam's articles of faith and their expression in the form of organized religion. In fact, the underlying assumption of the entire discussion is that the necessity of making the distinction is what defines the perspective that allows a great swath of the history of Muslims to be examined critically. The failure to make such a distinction not only shrouds much of Muslim history into darkness but has also other pernicious implications, some of which will be examined in the course of the discussion that follows. …

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