Sunday, 16 September 2012

How Islamic thought is context based.

Following recent attacks by Muslims on Islamic Shrines in North Africa (I know, how bonkers does that sound!), a local mosque held an event where speakers attenpted to explain how Islamic teachings and traditions needed to be understood in the context of their time and place.

It is perhaps helpful to give a little background, as explained by the speakers.

These shrines are being destroyed by Salafis (otherwise known as Wahhabis) who are from a branch of Islam originating in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. Salafism became a dominant force in that area due to the collaboration of its founder, Abdul Wahab, with an ambitious local desert warrior (and chief of an agricultural settlement) called Muhammad ibn Saud. Together, they formed the first Saudi state and are the reason that the country is now called "Saudi" arabia.

Salafi beliefs focus very much on the practices of Muslims at and just after the time of Muhammed (PBUH) and ignore much, if not all, of the Islamic thought, literature and concepts that Muslim scholars have discussed and written about in the subsequent 1400 years.

Now, there is no dispute that there are traditions from the time of Muhammed(PBUH) saying that graves should not be built upon - and it is this that the Salafis are trying to enforce by destroying shrines and mausoleums whereever they go.

However, mainstream Islamic thought has long since realised that leaving the graves of famous Islamic scholars and leaders unmarked or very simply marked results in the location of a great many of them becoming lost over time, representing a loss to the Islamic faith and denying Muslims places where they could spiritually connect with their heritage - and it is this view that has allowed the building of these shrines in many Muslim countries over centuries.

Indeed, until the emergence of the Salafis some 200 years ago, there were many such shrines in Saudi Arabia itself, although the Salafis have now largely destroyed them.

Another example of how differnt times have caused Islamic scholars to reach different conclusions is in the practices at the time of a persons burial.

The traditions from the time of the Prophet(PBUH) are that people should be quiet when taking a body to the graveyard and should think about how fleeting life is.

But later scholars found that, instead of contemplating the fact that we all have to die, the people were simply chatting to each other, which was felt to be very inappropriate and spiritually harmful. So, to prevent this, scholars instruced that attendees at funerals should perform some simple "Zikr" (repitition of short spiritual phrases) to keep their minds focussed on where they were.

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