Fatwa on Thanksgiving Day? - Part I
No, I am not asking if celebrating the quintessentially American celebration is halal or haram for Muslims. There is no question of the importance, the value, and the beauty of this secular day of remembering a day of showing the year’s gratitude, albeit the contentious history of it. The only question is whether to pardon or not to pardon a turkey.
No, I have been thinking of what fatwas are right till today: Thanksgiving Day. I have been coming up with tens of my “personal fatwas” for own consumption after thinking that many of the fatwas I have come across, produced even by “Islamic clerics and scholars” do not make sense nor appeal to my critical sensibility. I hope to produce more. See here for samples.
Religion is culture, I propose. Production of knowledge is a cultural act. Scriptures are cultural-bound and the stories they tell have plots, settings, characterisations, and themes that are culturally or even tribalistically bound.
Consider stories in the Jewish and Christian Bibles and also in the Quran. They speak to the culture of the people of the Fertile Crescent. Consider the Vedas, Sutras, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharatta, the Bhagavad Gita. They are cultural stories.
Consider the Analects of Kung Fu Tze, the Tao Te’ Ching, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Lotus Sutra. They are stories of specific peoples. The become canonical through the promotion of the ideology of their supremacy and through the elevation of the status of the “holiness” of these books. The become “sacred” through the process of being made “holy and sacred” via “rites, ritual, spiritual-authoritisation, legitimisation, and mystification” of these texts.
They are made “universalising” through conquest, colonisation, and imperialist expansion via the act of “civilizing mission”, “crusade”, “jihad” or any acts that turns religion into a reason to go to war between the “believers and non-believers” with the message of “Accept this or that religion … for your salvation” with or without swords, guns, rocket-launchers, or missiles - so that the “empire of faith” can be established and expanded.
These are done either through coercion or by force. Through covert or overt operations. Through McDonaldisation of religion or through designer belief systems franchised via the use of broadcast and digital media, financed by big businesses backed by the ethos of this and that religious ethics and the spirit of capitalism.
Religions have evolved into this fundamental character and the call for this or that religious laws to be enacted have matured with the advancement of advanced communication technologies. And in the case of Islam, fatwas may help advance that need to control and make minds be coerced, whether these edicts appeal to pure reason or transport the mind to a cognitive world of pure ridiculousness.
What are fatwas?
Fatwas are non-legal binding and one can choose to follow or not, since there is no central authority in Islam. They are merely legal opinions produced by those claiming authority in the religion of Islam. I have these questions though for us to explore and for learned Muslims out there to enlighten me:
1. If the argument is that only experts can issue fatwas, who then are the experts in matters of human spirituality and from which (legitimate) school of thought ought an expert come from?,
2. In addition, upon what ideological basis will the fatwas be produced?,
3. In matters of “ijtihad” or reasoning (accordingly, preferable sources of construction of knowledge after the Quran and hadith) to arrive at the fatwas, what method is used and where would the source of information come from?,
4. In addition, what is the nature of the “sociology of knowledge” would the non-legal-binding-religious opinion. a.k.a. fatwas emanate from and in addition, what constitute the idea of an “Islamic scholar”?,
5. Does this mean one can only draw his/her arguments from “purely Islamic sources”? (What are Islamic sources, in this case)? The problem is defining what a “pure Islam” means or looks like, although every Muslim from whatever denomination or sect - Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, Salafis, etc - will claim that his/her version of Islam is the truth and nothing but the truth,
6. How would one apply the principles of “epistemology” or in philosophical discourse “Theory of Knowledge” to the study of the genealogy or the production of fatwas?,
7. If the fatwas are derived from the hadiths (traditions), how does one authenticate the tens of thousands of hadiths? in the different schools of thought which collections of hadiths will be considered “sahih” or true, valid, reliable, and proposed to be accepted and used as guide?
8. If the fatwas are said to be derived from the Quran, how does one ascertain the definite-mess and the denotative-connotative aspects of the verses that some of them also “cancel” each other out depending on the time they were “revealed”?
9. If they were directly revealed, as believed, how much is human agency involved in the compilation of the scripture itself, through the process of textual construction produced via human biases build into the selection and editing process?
10. In addition, how “cultural” is the character of fatwas and how much of these “freshness of ideas of religious interpretations” can withstand the test of post-modernity and deconstructionism as ways to appreciate the dialectical nature of knowledge?
I invite a good discussion on the above questions so that we may know.
DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia's GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States. Twitter,