Question: It is stated that a true disciple of the Qur’an should benefit from Islamic sources directly and from other sources by filtering them. What are the points of consideration for benefiting from Islamic sources in the most efficient manner?
Answer: Before directing people to the essential sources, evoking a feeling of curiosity and an ardor for learning is necessary. In other words, love for the truth must be evoked in the conscience of society and then a thirst for knowledge and exploration in order to reach that truth must be present to such a degree that people become ardent seekers of knowledge who study phenomena tirelessly. If such ardor can be evoked, then a wish for studying the sources that constitute the identity of Muslims will begin to form in the hearts of the people. When hearts are seized by a passionate desire for learning, people will turn to their own sources and wish to drink abundantly from that fountain of knowledge.
You cannot direct stagnant water anywhere
I would like to give an example from another issue. The volunteers who wish to revive their own thought or realize a revival within their own line of thinking must possess enthusiasm to the degree of madness; this excited state makes them unable to contain themselves to stay where they are. It is very difficult to save people from inertia, languor, and weariness without such an excitement. As for a person full of enthusiasm, although they might go to excesses in some respects, it is easier to moderate them within the disciplines of the religion they respect. For example, you can tell them, “You are so enthusiastic, but going to extremes will bring more destruction than progress, and this contradicts the values you cherish and the essentials of your religion. Instead, let us use your enthusiasm in a constructive way. Perhaps, your enthusiasm will be a seed of active patience for a few centuries and an example of remaining steadfast on this path. Even if it takes centuries, let us exert our brains to come up with beautiful projects.”
This may help channel their enthusiasm to constructive projects. The same fact is true for deepening one’s knowledge and reading more. In other words, it is very difficult to direct people toward reading certain sources without evoking in them a passion for knowledge, truth and exploration. No matter how much you try to encourage people who are devoid of such enthusiasm to read certain sources, they will remain sufficed with a single reference book. A passion for knowledge must be stimulated first, and then it must be channeled to a productive course; it is not possible to channel stagnant water anywhere.
The essentials should be known first
The second point of consideration here is to determine our priorities with respect to our own world of thinking. In other words, what should our priorities be with regards to learning and establishing a base and criteria to follow? What are the essentials that serve as our standard to test the new things we learn and where are they found? The answers to these questions lie in the essential sources of religion which consists of the major evidences of Islamic Law—the Qur’an, Sunnah, ijma (consensus of Muslim jurisprudents), and qiyas (logical deduction by analogy in Islamic jurisprudence)—and the minor evidences of Islamic Law (i.e. taking decent customs and the public interest into consideration, choosing the better option, etc.).
Reading different sources without understanding the primary sources and learning the established principles set forth in them confuses minds most of the time. An example of such confusion happened with the Ottomans, with the process that began with the Tanzimat Period and continued later on. Their failure to show fidelity to a methodology is evidenced by their accepting everything they found to be true without testing whether they were right or wrong. Thus, they ran after different fantasies leading to a period of confusion. For example, it is a reality that much discussion has been made concerning issues of self-improvement nowadays. However, if we do not refer to the invaluable statements of the noble Prophet regarding this important matter and only read self-improvement theories devoid of metaphysics, so many aspects of the issue will remain deficient. If we cannot guide people toward becoming heroes of spirit that glorify God in a universally comprehensive sense within the essentials taught by the Perfect Guide, the Messenger of God, then it resembles—God forbid—seeing the system he brought as a deficient one, as if the Qur’an left many things incomplete, or as if the great scholars of the classic period did not understand Islam at all. All of these are examples of obvious deviation. Then why should Muslims follow other ways? What others wrote or said may have a point within their own discourse, terminology, and system, but Muslims are supposed to evaluate matters from the perspective of their own values and essential sources so that they do not conflict or contradict the essentials of faith while making a statement about pedagogy, psychology or other sciences.
If we begin to travel without determining the qiblah first, then we wander here and there in a perplexed fashion but cannot find the right way or direction. If establishing this qiblah can be assured well, namely, after Muslims first learn their own sources and internalize the essentials in them as their criteria, they can read any book they wish. I do not even object to reading Sartre and Marcus, whose thoughts might misguide particularly young believers. There can be some good things to be taken from their philosophies, but if you are to take what you wish in the correct way, you definitely first need a criterion in hand. Before making embroidery, you first need a canvas to work on. If you do not have an established structure of values, then you may drift away in pursuit of different currents and will not obtain anything in the end. Unfortunately, this has been the miserable condition of some intellectuals from Muslim lands for a few centuries.
The knowledge obtained from other sources by one who understands the essential sources well can elevate one to a different kind of richness. Until the fifth century of the Islamic Calendar, and even until the 11th and 12th centuries in way, Muslims took what they could from other sources, benefited from them, and experienced no serious problems with regards to this issue. They filtered things they took, revised them, and determined very well what to take and what to leave out. If we can realize this same methodology today, then we can attain a serious wealth of knowledge.
On the other hand, in order to benefit from our invaluable essential sources efficiently, we need to have a magnanimity of conscience that allows us to journey through the horizons of the heart and spirit and enables us to identify what we need to know; in addition, we should also possess a perspective that draws the correct meanings while reading the universe like a book in order to benefit from those sources of knowledge and interpret them correctly. I doubt many people with such horizons and understanding can be found in our time. For a long time, we have been deprived of the establishments that raise individuals with a holistic approach and appeal to all of their material and spiritual aspects—their heart, spirit, reason, and thinking altogether. Unfortunately, the madrasas (traditional Islamic schools), that were once the centers of knowledge and wisdom and where so many great personalities were raised, lost their progressive qualities. They just began to repeat what had previously been said. Since they could not keep pace with their time, eventually they were far behind and, as a result, unable to meet the needs of their society. Sufi lodges, which had flourished within the Islamic tradition, similarly lost their progressive quality. Since they did not take the principles of Islamic theology and the methodology of jurisprudence into consideration, they interpreted religion according to certain personal feelings and experiences. As the understanding of religion was built upon certain subjective considerations, it was pushed into the frame of mysticism. When this became the case, the reactionary movements against them totally ended up in naturalism and materialism. Therefore, the schools and Sufi lodges, which were supposed to support another, fell into serious conflict. Imitating the West, some even took it to the extreme of completely separating the fields of science and religion.
In the end, Muslims were the ones to pay the price. As the madrasas and Sufi lodges were closed to the world, the spiritual and scholarly life of Islam became separated from one another. As these two were devoid of the support of “time,” an important interpreter, they condemned themselves to narrowness of ideas. Consequently, the religion was shattered into pieces and it lost its true identity. In this respect, without striking a balance between the madrasa and the Sufi lodge—or between reason and spirit—and then completing this into a tripod of discipline, it is impossible for Muslims to become themselves again or to think like themselves and analyze matters related to their true identity.
I would like to mention one final point here. If we have a serious love for truth and knowledge, and if this becomes reflected in our character, then I think we give the message we wish to convey by our representation of it. The most influential, permanent, and consistent lesson is the one that individuals give through their attitude and behaviors. The most important dynamic for making hearts feel a reality is presenting a practical example of the truths one believes and seeks. The real duty of books and speeches must be shedding light on the points that are not clear through practical examples. However, we suffice with solely transferring information as if it could possibly convey everything. Unfortunately, the Holy Qur’an has been waiting desolately in a special corner of Muslims’ homes, unable to guide them even though it is shown ceremonial respect by being placed in velvet covers. If the meaning and contents of the Qur’an, the Book of Wisdom, begin to be practiced and becomes the spirit of our lives, then the Divine Word will be given its due. Only then will you be able to hear the voices from beyond the physical realm and feel the breathing of the angels in it. If you concentrate on it in an even more resolved fashion, then you can listen to it as if it were coming out of the blessed mouth of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him. A scripture that is not practiced and whose language is not understood will not tell you much, no matter how exalted it is. For this reason, all of our spoken or written statements must be under close inspection and command of the heart.