Too Much Information

So, I was cruising through the worlds of the digital ummah and became drawn into this whole takfir (declaring someone an apostate) debate. It didn’t take too long before I came across this forum posting about Sheikh Nuh Keller’s intervention in a debate between Deobandis and Barelwis(Here’s a site with his info ). You can also check out the forum where I found this here.

On the Shadhili website, someone asked the questions:

“Is someone who has an idea that is kufr or “unbelief” thereby an “unbeliever”?”

You can find Sheikh Keller’s answer here.

I don’t have a problem with the answer per say. I just think that us poor Muslims are overloaded with information. I am not going to question the intellectual abilities of the commentators on the forum, but this subject matter should really be left to scholars of Kalam. I am all for the freedom of information. I struggle with the elitism in Western academia. I also have strong critiques of the way knowledge became specialized in some Muslim societies and often monopolized by certain lineages. In this way, knowledge became used for power. But at the same time, I would have to agree with Ibn Rushd, some matters should be left up to the learned. I wonder how many engineers and rocket scientists would appreciate my input on their projects. Would a geneticist appreciate my input about gene sequencing, based upon what I could remember from my sophmore bio-chemistry? While I can appreciate science and love reading about discoveries, theories, and scientific methods, I just don’t have enough training to begin testing new compounds on my neighbors, let alone their cats.

So, back to my point. The internet has opened up so much discourse. And as I read the text on a late Saturday night (a total testament to my lack of a social life), I found my head feeling like it was about to explode. There was a serious debate that seemed to be underlying the question about takfir. But that debate also seemed narrow in scope, because there was a large emphasis on the debate between the Deobandis and their adversaries, the Barelwis (For those of you who don’t know who the Deobandis and Barelwis are, it doesn’t really matter. Following all the groups gets confusing anyways). The focus on their debate was unfortunate because of the wider implications about the debates on deviancy, innovation, and difference that Many Muslim communities face. For example, how do Sunnis deal with reformist minded Muslims (i.e.Progressive Muslims), individuals who have their own unique interpretations, or sects of Islam that are often accused of being non-Muslims (Nation of Islam, Ahmadiyyas, etc.)?

Perhaps that is the reason why I was interested in the takfir question. What do traditional sunni Muslims do when confronted with versions of Islam that are different from theirs? I realize that my head didn’t hurt because the material was difficult. But, my head hurt with the thought that for some Muslims, an obscure ‘aqidah issues could get a whole community ousted from the ummah. And it kind of bothered me that one of the most erudite American Muslim convert scholars, who wrote a response that was nuanced but thoroughly grounded in traditional scholasticism, was rejected so quickly by a lay person. My head also hurt for the poor converts or young Muslims who are re-engaging their faith. I just hope they don’t run into all this madness. It is really disheartening sometimes.

What makes it sad is that I’m a scholar and I love studying religious change and debates. So I should be interested in how this plays out in the modern world. Right? But, I can barely tell some people what I specialize in without someone giving me a lecture about the misguidance of Sufis. Sometimes it seems as if someone half read a quote from Ibn Taymiyya that was posted in some internet forum without understanding the context. Some have argued that ignorance is bliss. But Western Muslims are often more intellectual and aware of their faith than their counterparts in predominantly Muslim areas. We like to read these polemical works between scholars and make generalizations about them. We have so much access to information that it is ridiculous. Ignorance is bliss? Maybe, and let’s leave the quibbling over these issues with the ‘Ulema. Few of us are trained in Usul al-Fiqh, Kalam, Tafsir, or even Hadith sciences. But yet, it is common to find debates going on in some musallah about this hadith is weak and this and that brother is an innovator (bidaa). I’m sort of tired of the bad translations of some text that was printed in Pakistan finding its way into the hands of some crazed Muslim who goes around declaring this group and that group wrongdoers, misguided, or not really Muslim. Knowledge and information is good. But with all the stuff floating around, we have a bunch of insane people feeling really authoritative as they try to impose their views on the rest of the universe. Sigh…

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