|Photo by Terence S. Jones|
Today is the first day of Ramadan for some people, not for others. Others will start fasting tomorrow. That is because there are two official and legitimate announcements of when Ramadan will start.
Back home in Malaysia, we have a centralized Islamic institution who does the announcement for the whole country. So for the entire country, we only refer to that one announcement.
In Canada, however, that centralized institution is not present. So different announcements occur (not that big of a difference; a difference of 1 day). Different areas use different methods of determining when Ramadan will be, and these methods are legitimate. I am not the best person to explain this point of legitimacy, so I will refer you to this article instead: Yasir Qadhi on Understanding the Controversies Regarding Moonsighting.
Unity in Diversity
The point of this reflection is the idea of having more than one method of interpreting the same thing (in this case, the start of Ramadan) and knowing that the different methods are acceptable within the boundaries of Islam.
The idea here is that differences of opinions don’t necessitate disunity. There can be unity in diversity and Islam allows room for that to happen.
Disunity happens when people are not educated about the principles behind differences of opinions. Scholars of Islam differed with each other in many areas, but they are not disunited. They don’t harbour ill-feelings towards one another. They don’t have that attitude, “I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s my way or the highway!”
In Islam, we have sound methodologies of interpreting the same scriptures – the Quran and the Sunna. We call these methodologies “Madhab” or “Mazhab” (depending on which spelling you’re more familiar with, both referring to the same thing).
If we trace back these different Madhahib (plural of Madhab) to the individuals who pioneered them, we will observe that they are not in disunity with one another. In fact, they respect and love one another despite the fact that they disagree on certain matters.
The issue of differences of opinions is a huge topic. I recommend the paper written by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah entitled “Living Islam with Purpose“. In that paper, he addressed this issue and I think his explanation is one of the best ones I’ve come across.
There can be unity in diversity.
Parallel to Secular Knowledge
The idea to write this blog post came about today when I was in my Sociology class.
I realized that the idea of having more than one legitimate ways of looking at things is not just present in Islamic knowledge. It is also present within secular knowledge.
Note: I’m not a fond of the name “secular” because if one observes deeply, all knowledge goes back to the same source – God. So I made the distinction between Islamic and secular not to separate them, but to categorize them for better organization of ideas.
In my Sociology class today, we learned about different sociological perspectives or theories of explaining sociological situations. Almost immediately, I realized that the idea of having theories in Science is similar to the idea of having Madhahib in Islam.
They are different ways of seeing the same thing, and one is not necessarily superior over the other. Two ways of seeing the same thing can both be correct.
That is not to suggest that we can interpret things willy-nilly. Like theories and Madhahib, we have a methological framework within which we formulate our interpretations. These methodological framework have principles on which any interpretations must adhere to. Otherwise, one falls outside of the framework and one’s interpretation is no longer grounded in it.
I think that’s the whole point of having these different methodologies – to keep us grounded.
Imagine if there are no theories with which we can base our interpretation of Science with. It will be chaos wouldn’t it? Every individual Scientist will have his/her own unique interpretation of the data at hand. What good use will that bring?
If that happens, Science will not longer be Science.
Similarly with Islamic knowledge, the different sound methodologies that we have today safeguards us from misinterpreting the scriptures – the Quran and the Sunna. These methodologies weren’t made up out of thin air. They were made based upon sound Islamic principles. If they weren’t, then they are not considered sound methodologies. Similarly in Science, if a theory is not based upon scientific methods, then that theory is not recognized as a legitimate theory.
The different methodologies also, in a way, represent how vast Islam is. Islam is not a path with one lane only big enough to fit a small car. Islam is a wide path with many lanes and as long as we are on one of those lanes, Insha Allah we’ll reach the same Destination eventually.