Renewal of Religious Thought

Dr. Hasan Hanafi


Since the renewal of religious thought was announced on the official level, specialized, cultural and media conferences have been held. Dialogues have been held with intellectuals and Al-Azhar scholars to fully understand the core of the issue and move from articles and theoretical research to the actual implementation of what would be agreed upon in order to shorten the time of research, while people are awaiting this achievement.

It’s an easy and simple matter, far away from the fame of the scholars, excitement of journalists, the surprise of the public, and the applause for the victor. It needs to be deeply reflected, and put into practice in people’s daily life, especially preachers and all those who deal with religious thought. It is not a matter of cleverness that calls for praise. Rather, it is knowledge that needs to be reminded, and to have the ability to replace old attitudes and language with modern languages and thought.

According to the philosophy of the language, each word has three dimensions. The first is the verbal dimension such as the word “renewal”. This word has been used much in the contexts of religious reform movements, such as Muhammad Iqbal’s “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” and my book “Al-Turath wa Al-Tajdid” (Scholarly Heritage and Renewal). People may easily accept it, or children may like it. Also words like “Satan” and “demon” may provoke terror, while “paradise” may stir up desire. The old religious thought that needs renewal is more than such words that requires change and understanding and not stimulation of the imagination. This is the difference between religion, which frequently uses these words, and the philosophy of religion that does not use them much. Even the word “Allah” itself is sometimes used in an inaccurate context such as saying “Mashallah” (This is Allah’s will) when expressing admiration for a human act or incident. One may much use Allah’s Attributes, such as Al- Muntaqim (The Retaliator), Al-Mutajabbir or Al-Jabbar (The Compeller). In our daily lives, we suffer from revenge and oppression, as is evident in some Egyptian movies titles, such as “The Prince of Revenge,” “The Avenger,” “The

Mighty,” “The Monster,” which all cause fear and panic, contrary to words like “merciful,” “pardoning one,” “forgiving one” which promote tolerance, psychological comfort, and love among people.

The second dimension is: the meaning of the word. An advantage of Arabic language, as explained by the Usulis, is that it has a real meaning and metaphorical one, an apparent meaning and intended one, a decisive indication and an indecisive one, a clear expression and unclear one, and a
general meaning and specific one. Therefore, the meaning of the word may be metaphorical not real. Thus, the pleasure and torment in the grave bear
metaphorical indications for happiness and misery. Al-Sirat (a bridge that one passes to enter Paradise) and the Mizan (Scale) are two images denoting justice. The Paradise and the Hellfire carry metaphorical indications for the reward and punishment based on one’s good and bad deeds. Is it not possible that the Arabic word “’Azab”(torment) is derived from “Uzoobah” (sweetness) [both words in Arabic have similar root] as Sufis say?

The testimony of faith itself “there is no God but Allah” is not just spoken words. Rather, it is the liberation of human conscience from all kinds of polytheism and dual loyalty. Linguistically speaking, if we omitted the negation “no” and the exclusion “but”, the remaining part is “God…Allah,” which is a statement of an established truth, as if one is saying, “Allah…Allah” or “God…God.” Unity of Allah does not merely mean acknowledging that Allah is One. Rather, it means the unification of an Arab consciousness between speaking, action, thought and conscience. The Qur’an referred to this when saying, “O You who believe, why do you say things and then do not do them. It is most hateful to Allah that you say things and then do not do them.” Also the Qur’an condemns people for not realizing the truth saying, “…while they were unaware.” It also condemns the negligence of

thinking, Allah says, “Will you not then reflect?”, “Why will you not understand.” Resurrection is not just the resurrection of bodies, and the return of life to them after death. Rather, it also indicates the rebirth of nations, and the rebirth of civilizations. Resurrection is the renaissance. Also, creation is not only Allah’s creation of the world from nothing, but it refers also to human creativity. Abraham’s ram does not mean to slaughter a sheep and distribute its flesh among the poor. Rather, it indicates that man is an absolute value that is not slaughtered. Zamzam water is not to drink at a hot time. Rather, this indicates the ability of man to extract water -which is liquid- from the rock -which is inanimate. Throwing stones in Pilgrimage is not meant to throw stones at the Satan, for there is no Satan there, and even if there is, it will not die from a stone! Performing Prayer is not intended to perform rituals, but to preserve time and order. Fasting is not just a ritual act meant to make people feel hunger, but to experience the hunger of others and share food with them. It is not intended to show off for feeding the fasting persons through Mawaa’id Al-Rahman (charity Iftar tables). Zakat is not intended to give in a proportion of one’s savings, but to make the poor share the wealth of the rich. Pilgrimage is not intended to show off and get the title of “Hajj” (a pilgrim), and hold celebrations after the return of the pilgrim; it is an annual meeting of Muslims at one time and one place to study their conditions and reform their living affairs. It may be more appropriate to visit Jabal Al-Mukaber at Jerusalem in millions instead of Arafat in order to claim the Holy City of Muslims and the land that witnessed the incident of Israa and Miʿraj.

The third dimension: After verbal and the meaning dimensions, there comes the indication that the word refers to, and its development over time. Today, there is no slavery or slave girls, as this ended with the war of slave emancipation between the North and south of America. There are no slave girls in modern wars. Now, there are prisoners of war who are subject to the Geneva Convention on the rights of prisoners. Women now are not to be asked about the menstruation period as these issues are determined by medicine. There are no spoils of war to be distributed among soldiers. If we win a war against Israel, the spoils are not distributed among soldiers in a way that each soldier will take a number of armored vehicles, tanks, aircraft, cannons, rockets and fighting women. The Hudud (the prescribed legal punishments) do not aim to cut hands off, flog criminals or stone them to death. All this is against human rights. Man owns his body, and no one can cut a part of it or execute him for stealing, adultery or killing. The one whose hand is amputated will not be able to work and thus he turns to be unemployed. Flogging is a major offence to human dignity in public. Stoning is an execution, that is, instead of having one person killed, we have two. Beheadings and hangings do not exist in the ancient books of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). Many countries such as Switzerland have totally banned the death penalty in any form. Applying a word or a meaning to an indication means transition from language to reality, expanding the concept according to the environment and the time. Thus, Unification may refer to the unity of words, actions, thought and conscience, as this prevents hypocrisy, cowardice and fear. Prayer refers to all kinds of organized teamwork, as in organizing soldiers in war. Zakat refers to the sharing the rich’s wealth with the poor “Those who give a due share of their wealth, to beggars and the deprived.” The Companions asked the Prophet (PBUH), “O Messenger of Allah: Is there anything due on wealth other than Zakah? He said, “Yes, there are [rights] due on wealth other than Zakah.” Fasting is not to fill the table at the time of Iftar or suhour with all types of delicious food. Rather, it is to consider the food of the poor, orphans and captives, “They give food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, though they love it themselves.” Is it possible for Muslims to be known for their disrespect for time, while the Germans pay full attention to even minutes and seconds?! Does Arafat mean

to gather on a certain mountain to boast about the gathering of millions of people? Or it should be the liberation of the occupied land of Jerusalem, which was the Qiblah in prayer before it was changed to Mecca. Why do we kiss the Black Stone while Omar said, “By Allah, were it not that I saw the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) kiss you, I would not have kissed you?” Islam is the “Alliance of Al-Fudoul” regarding which the Prophet (PBUH) said, “By Allah, if I were present, I would have signed it”, referring to supporting the oppressed against the oppressor.

The renewal of religious thought begins with language, i.e. the discourse and words, then with meanings and then with the indication to which these words and meanings refer. However, maintaining the old words in the renewal of religious discourse or maintaining the lexical meanings of ancient interpreters, or applying these words to something not present now but just imagined, are useless. What is the point in knowing the unseen while ignoring the tangible things such as the occupied territory in Palestine and the Golan? What is the benefit of linguistic renewal if the whole real world is against renewal, such as the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya among Muslims who are all monotheists? Is renewal just a word to utter, or it should address the real world of Muslims that is full of tyranny, corruption, prisons, and the relation between the rich and the poor, the rulers and the governed people? Why does not religious thought become like the political ideologies that young people love? Why the religious thought does not begin through commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil or as Allah says, “conduct their affairs by mutual consultation,” and “Consult with them about matters?”
Does the renewal of religious thought is something to praise the authority with, so that the authority claim that it has the initiative to begin it and then scholars respond? Or rather, the renewal of religious thought should bear the burden of public interests so that people feel that it is beneficial for them?!

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