Friday, January 25, 2008

Abbas Hussain

Islam Seminars: First Seminar:
Diversity of Thought in Islamic Shariah, Tariqah & Culture

Introduction to Diversity:
Abbas Husain

1. Welcome!

Today is a day of hope when you can gather on a Sunday to hear three speakers on diversity of thought all is not lost! My duty is to share with you some introductory remarks.

2. Some Definitions.

Some definitions and names of some books for further reading….Surely you know that we can’t clarify everything!!! So first, some definitions: Diversity we see as a human condition, inevitable and unavoidable. We see uniformity as a great evil, not to be confused with unity, which is a great good. The other words Shari’a, tariqa and civilization are aspects of Islam. And we need to open that one up too….

First things first, we need to clear our minds about what Islam is and what are the sources and resources that make up the core teachings of Islam. Most people would say that by Islam they mean the following texts:

The Holy Quran:
The Arabic text, which is the word of Allah.

The Hadees:
The record of the beloved Prophet’s words, acts and silences, preserved in many collections…

The Sharia:
The working out of the meanings of the above two by the Great Scholars of the 7th and 8th century Hijra, which is often called the Fiqh: commentaries on the same.

The Tariqah:
The literature and the poetry produced by the great Sufi masters as their record of the spiritual progress they made and the Path they trod on the way to realize the meanings of the Prophet’s SAW experiences.

If you are with me so far you can easily see that that is a great variety of material … not all of it ‘fittable’ in a monolithic structure called Islam. So when anyone says: Islam says this or that we must learn to ask immediately: “Islam is not a person who says this or that: please name the text: and then we will proceed from there…” And now for some books: These titles have inspired me in my thinking….Surely there are others !

2.1 Books for Reading

Progressive Muslims
On justice, gender and pluralism
Edited by Omid Safi
Published by Oneworld Publications, 2005

Veils and Keys
Possibilities of a contemporary spirituality in the light of traditional Islamic wisdom
By John Herlihy (Yahya Ahmed)
Published by A. S. Noordeen(1998)

Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition
Essays by Western Scholars Edited by Joseph E.B Lumbard Foreword by Seyyed Hossein Nasr Published by Pentagon Press, 2005

The Heart of IslamEnduring Values for Humanity
By Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Published by HarperCollins SanFrancisco, 2002

Remembering God
Reflections on Islam
by Gai Eaton
Published by Suhail Academy (2003)

Hans Kung: Islam: Past, Present & Future
Published by Oneworld publications 2007

2.2 Modernity and Dialogue

There are two more words that I wish to comment on: Modernity and Dialogue


These are to me the four features of the modern world:

Destructive power in the hands of an individual on a large scale


We are participants to a layered complex world

A widely connected world
A violent stir somewhere else
E.g. Internet

No more are there pockets of relative certainty…The speed with which new jobs are being created for new niche markets…the permanent whitewater of Stephen Covey.

Great capacity to harm
One virus can wipe out years of data from an entire range of computers. One person can influence thousands …for good and evil together…..

Briefly then: When man replaces God as the source of meaning in our universe, we are in modernity.


I wish to distinguish between three kinds of talk
Discussion and

Debate: When there are two different positions, and each side talks about the differences
we have a debate.

Discussion: When, knowing that there are differences, we agree to put them aside and talk about the similarities and unities of our positions…we have a discussion

Dialogue: But a dialogue is neither of the above….It is not about what we differ about nor what we agree about. It is about our willingness to see reality with the eyes of the other

I and thou: When I am willing to see what you see the way you see it..until you are validated in your humanity, then I am having a dialogue. As you can see the core value in dialogue is ‘Respect’. Unless there is respect, there is no possibility for a dialogue….So then we ask if Islam can be criticized by modernity, surely Islam too has the right to criticize modernity. If so…on what basis is that critique to be based?

It isn’t clash of civilizations, but lack of civilisation that disallows the possibility of dialogue!

A fully modern appreciation of the role of Islam as a world civilisation has yet to be made.

A convenient map of the paradigm changes in Islam is offered by the catholic theologian
Hans Kung. It bears consideration.

Instead of being overwhelmed I invite you to rejoice that the Quran contains this magnificent verse:

If all the trees were pens and all the oceans ink…still would not the words of god be exhausted, even if we added seven more!
Sura Kahf 18:110

Thank you.

ABBAS HUSAINDirector Teachers’ Development Centre129-G Block 2 PECHS Karachi 75400; E-mail:; Tel: 021-4310217/4392949

No comments: