Mohammad Hashim Kamali

Mohammad Hashim Kamali

Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding CEO of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

Al-Azhar stands for moderation of thought

Friday, 02 March 2018 00:00 Published in Media Exposure

AL-AZHAR is the oldest and largest institution of higher learning in the Islamic world with over half a million students and 15,000 staff. It is internally diverse with currents of opinion that represent the purist, modernist, and liberalist camps on Islam. Al-Azhar’s towering figures of modernism and reform have opposed liberalist hermeneutics and their positions on many other issues of concern to Islam. The success of modernism within al-Azhar is due partly to its pragmatism and moderation.

Following Egypt’s 2011 revolution that brought former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to power, al-Azhar asserted its influence with renewed vigour. The Shaykh of al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyib, opposed the purists, calling them “modern day Kharijites,” a reference to a violent group that was responsible for much bloodshed in the early years of Islam.

He also severely criticised the attacks in March and April 2011 against shrines, and blamed the purist Salafi elements for them.

Al-Azhar also took a modernist stance in the debates on Islam and state in Egypt. In June 20, 2011 document entitled Wathiqat al-Azhar Hawla Mustaqbal Misr — al-Azhar’s document about the future of Egypt — al-Azhar leadership advocated moderation in Islamic thought (al-fikr al-Islami al-wasati) that drew inspiration from famous Azharite reformers, including Hasan al-‘Attar, Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Mahmud Shaltut, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and others. The document also pays tribute to non-Azharite Egyptian intellectuals, philosophers, lawyers, and artists who contributed to the evolution of Egypt and the Arab world. On the relationship between Islam and state, the document calls for the establishment of a modern state (dawlah ‘asriyyah), democratic transformation (al-tahawwul al-dimuqrati), prevention of extremism (ghuluw), misinterpretation (su’ al-tafsir), and deviationist currents (at-tayyarat al-munharifah) that rely on sectarian and immoderate religious rhetoric.

The document is supportive of a constitutional democratic state that guarantees the separation of powers, and grants the people’s representatives the right to legislate in accordance with the precepts of “true Islam,” a religion that has never throughout its history experienced a theocratic state. The document supports the decisions of an elected legislature but adds “provided that the general principles of Islamic syariah are the main source of legislation.”

Many purist leaders called for changing “general principles” to the “rulings (ahkam) of Islamic syariah,” as they argued that general principles can refer to general values such as equality and justice in a way to avoid instituting Islamic substantive law. The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled that the state should only uphold rules that are considered apodictic with respect to both authenticity and meaning. The document’s signatories also agreed that “Islamic principles” refer to “a number of comprehensive concepts, derived from syariah texts that are apodictic in their authenticity and meaning.”

After the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Salafis controlled over 70 per cent of the People’s Assembly. When an issue arose over the validity of khul’ (divorce), the Assembly consulted al-Azhar on the matter, and al-Azhar took the view the khul’ law was fully in accordance with the syariah. The khul’ law which empowers the wife to initiate a divorce, clearly represents a modernist approach to women’s divorce rights.

Because of these developments, as well as the university’s efforts in countering purist rhetoric, al-Azhar has been seen as the voice of moderation. Even Egyptian Christians, who were concerned about their freedoms in a state dominated by political Islam, have largely considered al-Azhar as the voice of moderate Islam.

After the (now defunct) revolution, Ahmad al-Tayyib wasted no time to draft a new bill to amend a 1961 Law which empowered Egypt’s President to appoint the rector of al-Azhar. The bill was passed into law in 2012 guaranteeing al-Azhar’s independence, as well as reviving the Supreme Council of Ulama’ (SCU) (Hay’t Kibar al-Ulama’ — that was abolished by Nasser in 1961. The 2012 law stipulates that SCU members must be drawn from the four Sunni mazhabs, just as they were also charged with electing the Rector of al-Azhar. This reference to the four mazhabs clearly excluded the liberalist doctrines and positions on mazhabs.

Al-Azhar’s role as a source of guidance on matters of syariah appeared in Article (4) of Egypt’s 2012 Constitution, which stated that “the opinion of al-Azhar’s Supreme Council of Ulama’ must be taken in matters related to Islamic syariah.” Commentators raised questions, however, as to whether this was binding or optional. Al-Azhar’s gain in this respect was consequently short-lived, as the 2014 Constitution removed this article altogether.

Mahmoud Azab, Professor of Islamic Civilisation at Sorbonne University in Paris, explained that since Ahmad al-Tayyib was inaugurated in April 2010, he revamped the curricula taught at al-Azhar higher education institutions that are crucial to the religious society in Egypt.

Al-Tayeb also established Bayt al-‘Aela al- Misriyyah, an institution that brings together sheikhs from Al-Azhar, prominent church clerics and civil servants to reform, discipline and refine religious discourse from extremists and solve the issues related to sectarian strife before they occur.

Amr Ezzat, an Egyptian researcher on freedom of expression commented: “Simply put, al-Azhar is not a fan of extremists; its sheikhs pass through screening to ensure they were not affiliated with the Brotherhood or Salafis. That’s why al-Azhar’s leaders mostly belong to a wasati school of thought different from that of political Islam.

The writer, Mohammad Hashim Kamali is the founding CEO of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 02 March 2018

Source : https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/03/340471/al-azhar-stands-moderation-thought

Female genital mutilation forbidden in Islam

Friday, 14 December 2018 00:00 Published in Media Exposure

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.

FGM was practiced among the pre-Islamic Arabs and has survived among some Arab communities after the advent of Islam. Its practice today is widespread despite the generally negative opinion of Muslim scholars concerning it.

FGM is seen as an injury and violation of the physical integrity of a female child. Islamic law and religion only validates circumcision of the male child. There have also been international efforts to persuade practitioners to abandon it, and in 2012 the United Nations General Assembly, recognising FGM as a human-rights violation, voted unanimously to intensify those efforts.

Female circumcision is prevalent in Malaysia. The issue is, however, intermingled with cultural and ethnic sensitivities. Malaysia has no laws in reference to FGM. The practice in Malaysia usually involves a prick or a slit at the top of the clitoris and is widely contested whether it should be construed as FGM at all. Similar practices exist among Malay Muslims of southern Thailand and Indonesia.

The procedure was previously performed by village midwives but with rapid urbanisation, it has moved to formal healthcare settings, clinics and hospitals.

This also brought with it a dilemma for doctors — whether to perform the procedure and if so, how exactly to do it. Doctors turned to the Health Ministry, which then consulted the National Fatwa Committee in 2009.

Mary Ainslie in her study, The 2009 Malaysian Female Circumcision Fatwa, wrote that rather than continue dialogue with medical practitioners or open up discussions with international Islamic organisations, the committee’s immediate response was “to draw up and issue the fatwa very quickly in early 2009”. The fatwa puzzled many in the ministry as it marked a paradigm shift in the practice with female circumcision moving it from being sunnah (recommended) to being wajib (obligatory).

In other Muslim countries, religious leaders have debated the FGM. Reportedly, in 2006, the Cairo-based Egyptian Dar al-Ifta convened an international conference of scientists and Islamic scholars, and after exploring a diverse range of opinions, it concluded that the mutilation presently practised in some parts of Egypt, Africa and elsewhere represents a “deplorable custom which finds no justification in the authoritative sources of Islam, the Quran and the practice of the Prophet”.

The former grand mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, emphasised that Islam is a religion of knowledge, learning and research. While FGM was previously practised as a social custom (and not a religious requirement), it becomes a religious obligation to say unequivocally that the practice of FGM is today forbidden in Islam.

In countries, such as Burkina Faso and Senegal in West Africa, religious leaders themselves have led the call for abandonment of the practice and with success.

There is no reference to FGM in the Quran whatsoever. No ruling of general consensus (ijma’) nor of an analogy (qiyas) with the male circumcision has been recorded. The one hadith that is often quoted in support of FGM is problematic and seen as forgery.

Thus, it is reported that a Madinah woman, Umm Atiyyah, practiced FGM and other women used to go to her for the purpose. Then it is added that the Prophet told her one day: “Oh, Umm Atiyyah! Take the smallest amount (of the skin) so as not to weaken (the body); for it gladdens the face and adds enjoyment for the husband.”

Al-Baihaqi and Abu Dawud have recorded slightly different versions of the hadith. Abu Dawud has followed it with the comment that the chain of transmission of the hadith is weak and broken in parts (da’if, munqati’).

One of its narrators is Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Kufi. Some hadith scholars have identified him and Muhammad b. Sa’id al-Kadhdhab were one and the same person, who was believed to have fabricated 4,000 hadiths, and was executed for it by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (d. 775CE). Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal has confirmed that he was a zindiq (heretic) which was why he was executed.

Contemporary Egyptian scholar, Mohammad Salim el-Awa, has quoted a large number of prominent Muslim scholars, including Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d.1403 CE), Muhammad b. Ali al-Shawkani (d. 1839 CE), Sayyid Sabiq (d. 2000 CE), Yusuf al-Qaradawi and others to say that the hadith is unreliable and should be discarded.

Mohammad Salim draws the conclusion that FGM is a violation of the physical safety of young girls, and it is a fallacy to label FGM as permissible (mubah).

We now have two conflicting syariah positions, which affect the people’s lives. Both cannot be correct. It is likely that there is some weakness in both versions.

Since there is no scriptural ruling on FGM and it is the subject of juristic conflict, the issue may be determined on rational grounds, by reference perhaps to the benefit (maslahah) and harm (mafsadah) thereof. General tendency among Muslim scholars, and also the international opinion, is inclined to suggest that its harm outweighs its benefit.

A gradual approach and campaign to discourage the practice may be advised, starting perhaps with parents, as the current Mufti of Perlis has also suggested, that parents should stop sending their female children to be circumcised. It is an individual right and should be left to their personal choice. Education and the mass media should also play a role.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.

Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 14 December 2018

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/12/440436/female-genital-mutilation-forbidden-islam

Tayyib and Fitrah: Food and Salvation

Friday, 11 January 2019 00:00 Published in Media Exposure

Tayyib is often used in juxtaposition with halal and often as synonymous with it. But a less well-known aspect of tayyib is its role as a conduit between the physical and the spiritual dimensions of halal, that of the body and the soul.

“Intelligent people know that seeking salvation in the hereafter,” wrote the twelfth-century polymath, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, “depends on learning and practice.”

For only a healthy body can provide consistency for salvation of the soul. Al-Ghazali added that serenity of the body is not possible without food and nourishment.

In the light of this wisdom, some pious ancestors held that eating is part of the teachings related to salvation in religion.

Quranic dispensations on tayyibat also imply that lawful things and foods that are appealing to the senses should be enjoyed and celebrated.

Philologists helpfully and interestingly point out that the elements of pleasure and delight are included within the idea of purity and lawfulness.

Thus the crucial responsibility of caring for the body involves both an element of observing ethics and an element of pleasuring the body.

Since body and soul are not essentially separated, for this reason caring for the body is like caring for the soul.

In other words, the integrity of the soul becomes manifest and takes form in the integrity of the body.

Hence, there is an elaborate practice of caring for the body, starting with the nourishment of the body in Muslim practice.

The reasoning goes like this: if the body is the vehicle for the soul, then it attains the same inviolability as the soul.

However, Muslim teachings differ as to whether the body attains sanctity on its own, irrespective of the soul or whether the body is instrumental to the needs of the soul.

Since the purpose of human existence in Muslim thought is related to an after worldly salvation, the body and its needs have also become an important aspect of the same, according to some Muslim thinkers at least.

In order to attain salvation, the body has to be disciplined through learning and practice.

Since the body is the locus of such discipline, the etiquette of consuming food also acquires a certain importance in the overall scheme of salvation.

The spiritual dimension of food is further expressed by Islam’s outlook on food, which views food as a manifestation of divine mercy and beneficence.

Whether it is to safeguard food sources or for aesthetic purposes, perhaps for both sets of reasons, Muslim teachings also strongly advocate the protection and preservation of the natural environment.

The protection of trees, agricultural land, the sources of food and water and their purity, are all vital components of a balanced Muslim environmental ethics through which the human body and self can obtain felicity and fulfilment.

This ties up, in turn, with Islamic teachings on the preservation of naturalness (fitrah).

To preserve uncontaminated nature coupled with the celebration of a healthy and sound human nature is viewed as one of the Islamic ideals.

The human fitrah has many dimensions, one of which is the inborn, intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, and therefore is of central importance to Muslim physical and ethical integrity.

“So direct your face steadfastly to faith,” enjoins the Quran, “as God-given nature (fitrah), according to which God created humanity: there is no altering the creation of God” (al-Rum, 30:30).

God in the Quran is also described as the original creator (fatir), who created the heavens and the earth without any model.

Fitrah is essentially supra-religious and permanently inclined to the fatir, the creator of fitrah, as in the Quran (al-An’am, 6:79).

Preservation of fitrah thus becomes an indispensable part of Islamic spirituality and ethics.

Further endorsement of this is seen in Islam’s identification of itself as din al-fitrah, a religion inherently inclined to fitrah, that is, to protect the natural fitrah in all things.

Fitrah in bodily terms is best preserved through consumption of tayyibat.

To understand fitrah for the most part also implies understanding the limits of human intervention in God-ordained nature and the inherent qualities of food and beverage.

Human intervention through scientific methods, such as in the case of genetically modified food, is thus acceptable within the inherent limitations of fitrah.

Some of these limitations are also imbedded in the syariah conceptions of halal and haram and of the fitrah-based naturalness.

As for the rest, intervention in the natural endowment of victuals must pass the tests of rationality, human need and benefit, and avoidance of harm to the natural environment.

For without these limits,the fitrah is also known to be susceptible to distortion and corruption through bodily indulgence in transgression and disobedience.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.

Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 11 January 2019

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/01/449277/tayyib-fitrah-food-and-salvation

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