Bismillah. AsSalamu'alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuhu.
Afwan, I am generally concerned on this blog about inward matters and reflections, so please forgive me as I unleash my more jalali side here, but something needs to be said when, as one prominent scholar put it, so much benefit is being withheld from people because of detractors.
The much anticipated HarperCollins The Study Quran (#StudyQuran) came out about two weeks ago and has really captured in many ways, the state of our ummah today. I must say, as a teacher, one thing I note with great sadness is that our world as a whole is in a real state of intellectual decline. I'm not referring to formal academic training or output. I'm speaking of the basic ability to read, think, consider the logic of statements/claims. Our ummah, once a leader in learning and preservation of knowledge, is today, unfortunately, no exception. We've forgotten to read and think for ourselves -- we'd rather read tweets about books by people who themselves aren't reading them.
An immensely detailed work that took five trained academics (with the help of countless graduate students, an indexer, professional cartographer, and numerous scholars who contributed essays) a decade to complete, was released. Over 2000 pages and nearly a million words of just commentary alone. To be sure, this was a labour of love -- such endeavours don't do much by way of career advancement in the academy -- for that one is better off spewing off short books of their own opinion with lots of footnotes paying homage to other academics.
In less than a week's time, an individual who does not personally know the editors and who does not even own The Study Quran, decided to take it upon himself to tweet to the world, "be aware that the editors do not hold Islam as the only valid religion to be followed today." This of course, was then retweeted by his friends and students, and so the social media fire began. In Punjabi, we have a saying that captures what has transpired on social media over the past week or so -- "Bandar dai hutt matches ahgee" -- "the monkey got a hold of some matches" -- not in reference to any one person, but the entire phenomenon of people thinking aloud on social media. This was followed up, by numerous tweets, comments/replies, Facebook posts and the like, stating that the editors are perennialists and that this is a view that is "outright kufr".
- Let's stop right at the start of this social media mess. When this was tweeted, many people it seems, failed to ask a few simple questions of said tweeter.
- Do you know the editors? (Answer: Nope.)
- Did you contact them to find out their religious views? (Answer: Nope.)
- Exactly what kind of training do you have that entitles you to "warn" the world about what you have assumed to be the religious views of four people who you don't know? (Answer: None, except that he studied with the Editor-in-chief, and then decided that anyone that works on a project with him must espouse all of his religious and philosophical views/perspectives/beliefs).
- All of this alone, should have ended the discussion at its inception because it started with a faulty, baseless claim. In fact, being someone that might just know something about the editors, I can tell you that they are not all perennialists nor do they all have identical views on everything.
- When one of the editors objected to being called a kafir, said tweeter denied it. Really? Well, when your tweets say that 1) the editors are perennialists; and 2) perennialism is kufr; well then, the basic syllogism would conclude that the editors are kafirs. I will assume as someone with academic training from the very academic institutions which he derides, listed on his social media as the places he earned degrees, that this much "A is B, B is C, therefore A is C" logic he must understand. And then recently, said tweeter posted saying that no matter how heated discussions get, they shouldn't become personal (even a hadith to support this assertion). I agree -- we have an entire genre of writings called the etiquettes of disagreement (and sufism itself is adab and akhlaq). I don't know about you, but if you accused me of kufr, I'd consider that pretty personal. Maybe said tweeter is just that much more "chill" than me.
- Clearly, craftily camouflaged? If it's craftily inserted/camouflaged…it's done in a fashion that is clear? So is it overt or covert? I'm having a hard time understanding. Here's what is really muddling my understanding:
- Others who retweeted/shared, said that The Study Quran "clearly and actively promotes perennialism". If it's clear and active this sounds to me like it's literally on every other page and stands out like a sore thumb. Yet, other tweets by these folks claim X or Y verse shows perennialism, though still "not clearly" or that it is "camouflaged" or "craftily inserted".
- Hmmm…so it's everywhere, intentionally inserted in a "disingenuine" manner that is hidden but clearly all over the place. Does this make sense? Seems about as clear as mud to me.
- It's as though this group was waiting for The Study Quran to be released so that they could start to spew venom about it. Nobody can honestly say they read even a considerable portion of the work in so short a time. Here, the tweeter clearly doesn't have a high opinion of the intellectual capacity of his followers because he actually readily admits that he does not own a copy of the very text for which he is offering this "critical review" via social media (and no, because something was marketed via social media doe not legitimize criticizing it on social media because the work was not published on this medium -- rather, write a real review once you've read the work and then publicize your review on social media).
- There's a hikm of ibn Ata'illah that one of my teachers often quoted to us, "he whose beginning is light, his end is light". I would venture to say also, that "he who begins with suspicion, ends with suspicion". The Quran warns us against suspicion and the Sufis (who these people proport to be/follow), pride themselves in having husn al-dhann (a good opinion) not su al-dhann (a bad opinion).
- Again, the assumption that all the editors are perennialists because the editor-in-chief is? And that perennialism pervades their work? Not all of Dr. Nasr's books do -- and definitely not all of the works of the other editors! But how does one believe this assessment anyhow? Was the reading those works anything like the reading of The Study Quran -- i.e. opinions formed on the basis of perceived knowledge of the authors?
- Coming to any work searching for a particular philosophy/perspective, one can surely find some way of locating it. As an English teacher I always drive that point home to students, we can easily read into any text and that is something to be weary of... That said, are people actually reading the translation and commentary of those twelve verses? You'd have to be searching harder than a Qadiyani looking for their creed in the Quran. The alleged perennialism just isn't there. What is there is a respect for the People of the Book, which is part and parcel of our faith. The Quran is also very particular in its language. For instance, "a guidance" is not the same as "the guidance". Respect for other faiths isn't acceptance nor is it perennialism. I've looked up all of the references. Sometimes their issue is with the actual verse because if you look at the commentary, often it's just reiterating what is in the verse itself.
- We always tell non-Muslims not to take verses out of context. Well let's not do that either. The Study Quran is meant to be studied as a whole…they have copious cross-references -- read all of the related discussions. That said, if you find in all the related discussions the fiqh position given is wrong etc., make a note of it and send the editors a note or politely tweet/post what you have learned as the correct, ahlan wa sahlan, but there is no need to dismiss the entire work. Nobody should be taking fiqh from tafsir anyways, its not a fiqh matn it's tafsir :)
- Which brings me to another contention I have with all these warnings of perennialism being in The Study Quran. The average Muslim has not heard of this philosophy (particularly prior to last week) and it is so foreign to the Muslim psyche, and so well-hidden (read: absent) in The Study Quran, that nobody coming to it with a clear heart and mind would be led astray in their aqidah based on the commentary found in it.
- I first encountered perennialist thought at the tender age of 19 with no warnings and little knowledge of the religion other than what I knew by growing up Muslim. I knew immediately that this was not a mainstream perspective or one I wished to adhere to. Have more faith in yourself, folks -- why are you suddenly afraid to touch your copies of the Study Quran?! It's not a textbook on perennialism :)
- Look at all the endorsements. Did they managed to pull a fast one on that many highly learned people? After its release many shuyukh who are not amongst the endorsers have also called this work "a victory for Muslims", and a "historical event". They've encouraged everyone to get one and are teaching from it themselves.
- The editors have made a statement clearly indicated that they had no agenda in putting it together and that this is in fact what their methodology was: https://www.facebook.com/caner.dagli.92/posts/10100608388276822
- Also, this: https://www.facebook.com/joseph.lumbard/posts/1047442181952798
So my parting advice, readers, is this: