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​Interpreting the Qur'an Existentially
By:Farhan Shah, Norway
Date: Friday, 13 March 2020, 5:19 pm

The crux of the Qur'an is to encourage human freedom and responsibility so that human beings can become co-workers with God in helping bring about a better world. In our time a better world is one in which human beings live in creative harmony within one another regardless of race, creed, or nationality, in which they take care of the more than human world, and in which they experience a creative harmony within their own hearts, expressed among other ways as the freshness of freedom. This does not mean that they do not also consider the larger, eternal context of life, including the idea that human life is a continuing journey after death in which life can be blessed. As both perspectives are held in mind -- the temporal and the eternal -- the human being finds fulfillment. This fulfillment includes the freshness of freedom, the spirit of creativity, the responsibility of critical thinking. At the core of freedom is choice: that is, the act of cutting off certain alternatives for thought, feeling, and action and actualizing others.

Indeed, so I suggest along with other process philosophers, something like 'choice' is present throughout the entirety of the cosmos and within the depths of matter. We live in a creative universe. We learn as much from science, particularly quantum theory with its idea that there is something like freedom or spontaneity within the very depths of matter. Choice is not human alone; it is also part of the fabric of the cosmos. In the natural world this choice is often natural and unconscious: involuntary in a certain way. Hence the idea in Islam that the whole of creation is "muslim" in the sense of being obedient to, and a natural expression of, the will of God. For human beings, the situation is radically different. Humans can choose in conscious ways, which means that they can be, and can only be, voluntary Muslims. It is their gift and responsibility to choose, and when they choose wisely and responsibly, lovingly and creatively, they become God's co-workers. The Qur'an is a guide to this possibility. The purpose of the Qur'an is to help us become more fully and freely human.

The process of becoming more freely human is emphasized by Muhammad Iqbal in his Preface to his book The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Struck by the fact that many Muslims blindly obey the dictates of ostensive leaders in thoughtless and almost robotic ways, he wanted Muslims to become free and creative agents of their own histories. Accordingly, he proposed that “the Qur`an is a book which emphasises deed rather than idea." From his perspective, a Qur'anically inspired philosophy entails "transformative action". That is to say, human agents can truly reconfigure and change their environment by acting differently, i.e. by acting rather than just reacting, by asserting our will rather than willingly allowing ourselves to be swept along by circumstances. Moreover, and rightly so, by always assuming responsibility for themselves, for how they think and act in the world.

These views have implications for interpreting scripture. Such interpretation must emerge from a free choice on the part of a Muslim to hear and respond to the Qur'anic call to freedom. Iqbal`s approach to the Qur`anic scripture is based on an "existential access", i.e. an access recognizing personal freedom and responsibility, relying on personal research and insights (tahqiq) rather than uncritical absorption of authoritative interpretations (taqlid).

This existential approach to the Qur`an was inspired by Iqbal`s father, when he advised Iqbal to read the Qur`an “as if it is being revealed to you. By reading the Qur`an like this, it will soon permeate your very being,” In other words, an existential approach of the Qur`an implies that the believing reader recognizes that she or he is an existing subject, studying the words that God communicates to her or him personally, within her or his own historical context, i.e. the fact of human situatedness. In the words of Iqbal: “No understanding of the Holy Book is possible until it is actually revealed to the believer just as it was revealed to the Prophet”.

Existentially speaking, then, the Qur`an does not become an authority in our lives until we, as a result of our ontological freedom, willingly choose to permit the Qur`an to become our personal authority: to “choose to let the Qur`an permeate your very being." By willingly internalizing the wisdom of God`s revelation, Islam, in Iqbal`s words, “becomes a matter of personal assimilation of life and power”. By claiming agency in our lives and toward God`s revelation, we are capable of discovering “the ultimate source of the law within the depths of our own consciousness", transcending religious rigidities for the sake of becoming more fully human in a humane, compassionate, and creative way, which is itself the divine purpose for life, revealed in the Qur'an.


Messages In This Thread

​Interpreting the Qur'an Existentially
Farhan Shah, Norway -- Friday, 13 March 2020, 5:19 pm
​Interpreting the Qur'an Existentially
Ather Sunar, Jhelum -- Friday, 13 March 2020, 11:26 pm