Dr. Azizah al-Hibri – “The Islamic Worldview”

In her lecture about the Islamic world view, Dr. al-Hibri began by emphasizing that the way we talk about and understand God is greatly limited by our own human condition. God created the universe that we live in according to a plan, as he tells us in the Qur’an. His creation was neither haphazard or in vain. He propagated laws that govern it, such as those of causality and the concepts of time and space, to help us navigate our existence on this earth. He also gave us the Qur’an and our “fitra,” to understand right from wrong. But this is only the world of appearances, the material world. God transcends these laws and concepts and cannot be comprehended adequately through them. To understand higher reality requires the continuous development of our insights through spirituality and contemplation.

Dr. al-Hibri then turned to a discussion of the Islamic philosophy of change, which she described as one of gradualism that takes into account the human capacity for moral development. She gave as an example the Qur’anic treatment of intentional murder. The Quran provides a hierarchy of responses for addressing this crime. At the lowest end of this hierarchy, the Qur’an recognizes the principle of “an eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth,” (retributive justice). But it places at the highest level of this hierarchy the concept of forgiveness (restorative justice) because of its healing effect on society. Yet not every person is capable of forgiveness. The Quran recommends forgiveness as a remedy, for those who can rise to this level of humanity. At the same time, it places a limit on our acts of retributive justice so that they do not become excessive, exacting more than one eye for an eye or one life for another, thus violating the basic principle of justice. Jurists understood this fact and developed a graduated penal system with intermediate alternatives to promote healing and forgiveness. Encouraging forgiveness is God’s way of guiding our nature beyond its material limitedness.

Dr. al-Hibri noted further that moral weakness or failure often underlies much of the misery on this earth. She turned to the familiar story of the fall of Satan as an example of grave moral failure. Iblis refused to prostrate himself before Adam because he considered Adam’s creation from clay as inferior to his own creation from fire. By inventing his own hierarchy of Being that ranks fire above clay, Iblis engaged in the sin of arrogance, which is at the root of Satanic logic. We give in to Satanic logic whenever we, as God’s creatures, erect in our minds and laws hierarchies according to which we rank ourselves higher than others, and think that we are better than others. False hierarchies sow divisions, discord and even violence within society.

Wealth, race, and religion can become manifestations of arrogance based on Satanic logic. As divisive tools, they can be used to lure even the best of us. Only God is Lord over all of us, otherwise, the Qur’an tells us we are equal. So, if we feel and act upon our arrogance against another human being, we would be claiming to ourselves what is divine, we would be attempting to defy God’s sole divine supremacy over his creatures, for no one shares with God his divine power. Stated differently, Satanic logic leads to shirk, the only sin God tells us He will not forgive. This view is shared by major Muslim scholars, such the medieval Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. According to Dr. al-Hibri, if God has given us an advantage over other people, we cannot use that advantage to oppress them, but we should rather assume responsibility in improving other people’s lives. (For more on this, see her book The Islamic Worldview)

Quranic/prophetic logic, on the other hand, contributes to the world’s harmonious balance. Contrary to popular opinion, Quranic logic and moral values advance egalitarianism. Understanding that everyone was created from the same soul and has the same human rights, and believing that only God is the Supreme Being creates a harmonious society of equals and frees us on Earth to do what we were meant to do and live our lives to the fullest potential.

Dr. al-Hibri noted that this understanding of Qur’anic/Prophetic logic is reflected, among other things, in the staunch Qur’anic position on freedom of religion. “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” Qur’an 2:256. She then provided a couple of prophetic examples to further illustrate her argument. First, Dr. al-Hibri pointed to the constitutional Charter of Madinah, which was drafted by the Prophet Muhammad shortly after migration to Madinah in 622 CE. It provided similar rights and duties to all citizens from different religious communities there, including Muslims and Jews. She also pointed to the Covenant that the Prophet signed with the monks of Mount Sinai. In it, he promised all Christians (East and West) that they, their monks, churches, and icons (among other things) would be safe and protected by Muslims until the end of time. Both documents demonstrate that religious freedom in Islam is a constitutionally basic concept.

Dr. al-Hibri finally directed the class to what is happening in the Muslim world today. Some people fall under the influence of Satanic arrogance and believe that their interpretation of Islam is superior to all others and condemn those who disagree with them. They do this, despite clear evidence from the Prophetic tradition to the contrary, and the existence of many different schools of thought in Islam since its inception. Such a grave error is also evident when a community is infected with Satanic arrogance towards women and believes that women are subservient to men, despite the Qur’anic and Prophetic pronouncements to the contrary, and the readily available examples of Mary, Balquis, Aisha, Fatimah and many others.

Finally, Dr. al-Hibri emphasized the difference between culture and religion. A Muslim is not bound by any specific culture as a matter of faith, but is bound by the totality of the Qur’anic revelation. The Quran contains important principles which were too advanced for cultures at the time of revelation. We need now to go back and eliminate unjust and arrogant cultural biases that were introduced through culturally-influenced interpretations of the Qur’an.

Finally, Dr. al-Hibri stressed the urgent need to reconnect to the true roots of Islam. She ended the lecture by stating that the principles of justice, harmony, and balance permeate our universe and should therefore permeate the Muslim world as well.

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