Breaking the wall of religious dogma

At Open Democracy Sara Azmeh Rasmussen argues that commentary on the protests triggered by the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims, has focused on the political and economic dimensions of the protests while side-stepping religious questions and specifically the issue of the infallibility of the prophet.

The tradition and collective experience of Islam has been shaped by a multitude of influences – and I believe that is grounds for cautious optimism. The explosive rage on behalf of the prophet is inextricably connected to dogma and doctrine developed in a phase of Islam long after the death of the prophet himself. The orthodox dogma of the Quran an eternally existing, rather than created, message, and the doctrine of the infallibility of the messenger of God, is a theological-philosophical pairing constructed in a time when civil war raged under the caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. In the year 827 the dogma was consolidated by the caliph al-Ma´mun, after one of two rival factions, the Umayyads (today’s Sunnis), had marginalised Ali’s followers (the Shias). In other words, centralizing political power in the newly established Islamic empire went hand in hand with the cementing of the holy texts and elimination of all theological challenges. A significant school at the time, Mu´tazila, distanced itself from these irrational doctrines, and for that reason had to go into hiding.

But what has history from eight and ninth century Arabia to do with the attacks on embassies and widespread violence in response to a film critical of Islam produced in 21st century USA? Everything! To attack the ”sacredness” of the prophet was, logically, interpreted as an attack on the fundaments of the classical faith. In this rigid theological context, a caricature that humanises and reduces the prophet is an outright attack on the very underpinnings of the faith.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this in recent years. It has become apparent to me that this dogma must be challenged, not only to resolve the current conflict between speech versus faith, but to free the Islamic tradition from the cage that has led to intellectual and philosophical stagnation for centuries. This is the most significant barrier to a reform theology, and to the introduction of liberal ideas into Muslim culture and society.

A simple feat of logic should be what is needed to break this wall of dogma, on which such a large volume of classical theological literature is based. But as we know, logic isn’t the optimal way to counter what resides in the spiritual and religious sphere. Nevertheless, it is my moral duty to present this challenge to my own. I keep within the Islamic tradition, and will not support my argument with a single non-Muslim source. I adamantly believe we Muslims have the knowledge and tools we need for analysis within our own tradition. All we need is to read with new eyes.

The following story is found in classical Islamic history books and is known to most Muslims: shortly before the battle at Badr in the western park of the Arabian peninsula (624), and after the prophet Muhammad had placed his troops in formation, a disciple, Hubab, asks if this choice of military position is revealed by God, or is a tactical choice by the prophet himself. The prophet replies it was his own choice, to which Hubab replies: “Prophet, this isn’t the right position.” In the story, the prophet follows the advice of Hubab and orders the troops to march to the nearest source of water and block the enemy from accessing it. Only due to this new tactic do the Muslims win the battle, considered the turning point in the Muslim fight against the heathen tribes.

The prophet made a serious miscalculation in a critical war situation, in a crucial phase of Islamic history. The guidance that corrected it came from an individual in the Muslim community, not directly from God.

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2 thoughts on “Breaking the wall of religious dogma

  1. anon

    “In this rigid theological context, a caricature that humanises and reduces the prophet is an outright attack on the very underpinnings of the faith.”—ridiculous!!!

    This isn’t about “humanizing the Prophet”—its about defamation/false accusations……it is also about growing anti-americanism—as protests in many muslim-minority countries have been joined by people of other religions as well…..

  2. Paul Woodward

    The writer could perhaps have phrased that sentence better and thus have avoided the risk that some readers would think she was claiming that the defamations themselves have the purpose of humanizing the prophet. Her argument is that the idea of infallibility arose for historical reasons and that the defamations are only taken as an all-out assault on Islam by those who hold most strongly to that idea. Also, if you read the whole article you will see that she is not arguing against the political interpretations of the protests — simply saying that the religious dimension also needs to be taken into consideration.

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