Alex Broekhuijse A Spectrum of Opinions: Analyzing Quranic Interpretations from Right to Left

Religion, as a society wide phenomena, inspires a wide array of interpretations. Just like politics, art, and history, religious interpretations range from the devoutly conservative, to the boldly liberal. While some are modern and attempt to push the faith towards the future, others prefer to steep themselves in the ancient traditions that founded the worship. Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad Sahrur, and Abdolkarim Soroush each reflect the range of readings that religions can inspire. Sayyid Qutb, reflecting modern fundamentalism, Muhammad Sahrur, reflecting progressive centrism, and Abdolkarim Soroush, reflecting far liberalism, together produce a complete scope of quranic interoperation, each possessing a deep love for the religion, but with contrastingly different understandings.

Sayyid Qutb reflects Islamic fundamentalism and a persistent dedication to the original muslim condition. Primarily Qutb believes that our moral foundation must be preserved. Instead of viewing moral foundation as something that develops over time, Qutb perceives Islamic morality as something that was cemented in the time of Muhammad, and cannot be changed. Similarly, he holds that the body of law we live alongside now must be the exact same as the one that Muhammad practiced. This continues the theme of persistent traditional belief. Qutb views time as insignificant, knowing that the prophet was the only true interpreter of the faith.To Qutb, the manner in which Muhammad lived must be identical to the one that we live in now. He believes that the laws that we follow must be executed in the exact way that Muhammad executed his laws. Again this eliminates many possibilities for interpretation and cements Islam in only one perspective. Qutb cares only about Islam in the seventh century, the time of Muhammad, no other time has passed. He reflects the fundamentalist reading of the faith that has led many nations to impose strict dress codes, and almost archaic methods of punishment, including the stoning of women in the twenty-first century. Qutb has been quoted as saying “I belong to God. God ordered me, and I will do that.” This quotation adds context to his Muslim worldview, as to Qutb we are all God’s servants, and if we are God’s servants then we must act exactly as his last prophet, Muhammad, chose to act. 

Muhammad Sharur focuses on a progressive perspective on Islam, still honoring the religion’s origins, but believing its impact as time and era specific. Primarily Sharur observes two distinct forms of religious discourse. The first is the Divine Reality, the untouchable, absolute, and all knowing reality of God. Secondly, he observes the human understanding of the divine reality, which is inherently relative. To Sharur, this understanding is flawed because humanity is flawed, and because of this it is in a constant state of development and further interpretation. To Sharur Islam is not a straight line, but instead open to multiple, coexisting, approaches to the faith. Sharur’s approach to the Muslim body of law is an all inclusive one, believing that while the past must be treasured, we must also expand on that previous understanding because the world has changed considerably. The success of different laws changes considerably depending on the population that one resides within. However, while Sharur does believe that we must appreciate the past, he perceives traditionalism to be inhibiting. Especially in the case of dress codes, he believes that traditions draw to narrow of a perception and inhibit development. A proper summary of the beliefs of Sharer would be that he believes we must appreciate both the meccan lifestyle of holistic morality and nonextreme behavior, and at the same time appreciate the legalistic and harsh behavior. Sharer’s appreciation of all forms of interoperation makes him a modern progressive centrist in the Muslim world.

Soroush reflects a very modern and liberal interoperation of the Quran, believing the only essential aspect of the muslim experience is a belief in God. Soroush believes that the only thing that commits one to the muslim faith should be their belief in God. He believes that there are two many factors that people consider “essential to Islam” and that the faith is limited by this exclusivity. He similarly believes that there is no need for loyalty to a specific body of law, instead believing that we must have loyalties to the moral notions behind the laws instead. Insides of man pledging himself and serving laws, Soroush believes that laws must serve morality instead. He similarly has no interest in ancient or traditional Islam, instead believing that the only muslim reality we need to consider is the present one. He argues that our present understanding of Islam is stronger than that of anyone who lived in the time of Muhammad, as society has changed drastically in comparison to the society that Islam was born in. Developments in sociology, anthropology, and technology have changed the world so drastically that, in Soroush’s perspective, the understanding of the first disciples of Muhammad is no long especially relevant. Soroush’s primary desire is to push Islam further into the future and progress it away from the fundamentalist perspective.

Interpretation, of any medium, is always a spectrum. When it comes specifically to Quranic interpretation, it is important to understand and accept the range of perspectives on the holy texts. Whether they choose to relish in the past or strive for greater development, each reading is important.

Sources

Abubakar, Muhammad A. “SAYYID QUṬB’S INTERPRETATION OF THE ISLAMC VIEW OF LITERATURE.” Islamic Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 1984, pp. 57–65., www.jstor.org/stable/20847258.

In Class Notes

FLETCHER, CHARLES D. “The Methodology of Abdolkarim Soroush: A Preliminary Study.” Islamic Studies, vol. 44, no. 4, 2005, pp. 527–552., www.jstor.org/stable/20838991.

‘The form is permanent, but the context moves.’: the Quranic text and its intepretations in Mohamad Shahrour’s al-Kitab wal-Quran