An Islamic Magisterium?


#1

Does Islam believe in private interpretation of the Quran or is there some sort of teaching authority that gives the correct interpretation? It seems that people can come to many different conclusions from the Quran. How does one know which is right? Is there a sacred tradition?


#2

[quote=Genesis315]Does Islam believe in private interpretation of the Quran or is there some sort of teaching authority that gives the correct interpretation? It seems that people can come to many different conclusions from the Quran. How does one know which is right? Is there a sacred tradition?
[/quote]

There used to be a Caliph (successor to Mohammed) with a similar function to the Pope, but apparently that wasn’t an essential position because there were only about three or four Caliphs before the position became essentially defunct. Now it’s pretty much private interpretation for everyone. What I don’t get in that case is why there are so many Muslims who haven’t even read the whole thing in their own language. They are required normally to read the whole thing in Arabic, however, even if they don’t understand what it is they’re reading.


#3

[quote=exoflare]There used to be a Caliph (successor to Mohammed) with a similar function to the Pope, but apparently that wasn’t an essential position because there were only about three or four Caliphs before the position became essentially defunct. Now it’s pretty much private interpretation for everyone. What I don’t get in that case is why there are so many Muslims who haven’t even read the whole thing in their own language. They are required normally to read the whole thing in Arabic, however, even if they don’t understand what it is they’re reading.
[/quote]

From what I read, the Muslims have what they call “scholars” who are knowledgeable in the language, Koran and Hadiths. So the ordinary Muslims rely on their interpretation of the scriptures. Aside from that, they are also have a concept of Amir or Khalifa - Islamic leader. He is like a Pope who oversees the function of the Islamic World.

I guess the extremists or terrorist Muslims have thier own interpretation. That’s why we are in this mess.I will not be surprised if majority of the Muslims are against them.

manx


seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened


#4

[quote=Genesis315]Does Islam believe in private interpretation of the Quran or is there some sort of teaching authority that gives the correct interpretation? It seems that people can come to many different conclusions from the Quran. How does one know which is right? Is there a sacred tradition?
[/quote]

For Sunni Muslims, authority comes from the entire Islamic community, working through consensus. There have been fierce debates, but certain traditions are accepted as legitimate and others are not. I know this blows the mind of certain Catholics who are convinced that there’s no alternative between an Authoritative Central Figure and totally private interpretation. But reality does not conform to your neat dichotomies. Consensus seems to work quite well for Muslims. In practice this means that Islamic scholars study the Qur’an according to one of the received traditions, and ordinary people accept what they teach. In fact, I believe the traditional view is that the “gates of interpretation” were closed quite early, so that for the most part students of the Qur’an are supposed to follow the decisions of the early schools.

The Shi’a have something much closer to the Catholic conception of authority.

Edwin


#5

[quote=Contarini]For Sunni Muslims, authority comes from the entire Islamic community, working through consensus. There have been fierce debates, but certain traditions are accepted as legitimate and others are not. I know this blows the mind of certain Catholics who are convinced that there’s no alternative between an Authoritative Central Figure and totally private interpretation.
[/quote]

I believe that’s an oversimplification of the Catholic position. Most protestants are not scholars. They submit the authority of scholars of the church they choose to attend.

But reality does not conform to your neat dichotomies. Consensus seems to work quite well for Muslims. In practice this means that Islamic scholars study the Qur’an according to one of the received traditions, and ordinary people accept what they teach.

I’m sure there is a true consensus on many of the main dogmas of Islam but as they say the devil is in the details.

In fact, I believe the traditional view is that the “gates of interpretation” were closed quite early, so that for the most part students of the Qur’an are supposed to follow the decisions of the early schools.

The Shi’a have something much closer to the Catholic conception of authority.

Edwin

The following quote is from a web link posted on a different thread:

“The Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs.”

Apparently Islam is open to continuing interpretation.


#6

The struggle in modern Islam is the fight for the revival of ijtihad:

Many Muslims believe that they must choose between Islam and modernity or between Islam and democracy, but these are false choices. To reinterpret Islam for the twenty-first century, the practice of ijtihad (interpretation and reasoning based on the sacred texts) must be revived.

One of the gravest mistakes Muslims have committed, according to Qazwini, is closing the doors of ijtihad. They have limited legal interpretation to only four prominent scholars: Malik Ibn Anas, Abu Hanifa al-No’man, Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad Ibn Hambal—the heads of the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi’i, and Hambali schools of thought. The motivation for this was political. During the Abbasid Dynasty (750–1258 CE), the Abbasids decided to outlaw all other sects in order to strictly control religion and worship, as well as political matters.

Closing the doors of ijtihad has had extremely detrimental ramifications for the Muslim world. According to Qazwini, this decision has resulted in chronic intellectual stagnation, as thousands of potential mujtahids and scholars have been prohibited from offering workable solutions to newly emerging problems. Muslim thinkers have become captive to rules that were made long ago, leaving little scope for liberal or innovative thought.


#7

[quote=Maranatha]I believe that’s an oversimplification of the Catholic position.
[/quote]

I didn’t say it was the Catholic position. I said it was the position of certain Catholics.

[quote=Maranatha] Most protestants are not scholars. They submit the authority of scholars of the church they choose to attend.
[/quote]

Mainline Protestants yes, and to some degree many evangelicals as well. But there are some genuinely populist forms of Protestantism. Of course they still have their particular traditions that they tend to follow as a matter of course, but there really is a lot of questioning and “thinking for oneself” that goes on in Baptist, Pentecostal etc. churches.

This is not necessarily a good thing. But there are two different arguments Catholics can make, and I’ve heard both repeatedly. One is that Protestants are always prone to run off and start a new church based on their wacky private interpretation of the Bible; the other is that Protestants really follow their own church’s teachings blindly. To some extent both of these accusations are true of different groups of Protestants–but they obviously can’t be true of the same person or group.

Edwin


#8

[quote=Ahimsa]The struggle in modern Islam is the fight for the revival of ijtihad:

[/quote]

There are a lot of struggles in modern Islam. I’m sure that’s one struggle that’s going on (though I thought the “closing” took place somewhat after the Abbasid period). However, I could also see ways in which opening the doors of ijtihad could give further legitimation to folks like Bin Laden, who seem to reject a lot of Islamic tradition in favor of their own reading of the Qur’an. (I could be wrong about that part.) I think it’s dangerous and usually foolish for outsiders to pontificate on what is the correct direction for members of a religion to which we do not belong.

Something like the “closing of ijtihad” happens in all religions–and “reopenings” happen as well (the Reformation was a good example in Western Christianity). As a non-Muslim, I’m not going to pick a side on that one. I have enough trouble trying to figure out where I stand with regard to the Reformation . . . .

Edwin


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