Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ramadan as Time for Intellectual Jihad



( also published on the ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS WEBSITE  in a slightly different version)


As it is widely known Ramadan is usually understood as time for increasing intensity in ritualistic practice. Most unfortunately, last few Ramadans in particular are also being increasingly connected with acts of senseless violence and terrorism  perpetuated worldwide by groups like ISIS ( or individuals inspired by their beliefs)  whose perverted interpretation of Islam/Islamic history  views suicide bombing as especially meritorious acts of martyrdom and piety during this Holy Month. It is my contention, however, that Ramadan should foremost be a time for increased intellectual practice or intellectual jihad.

The Islamic intellectual tradition, including its fountainheads the Qur’an and Sunna, stress this intellectual jihad in myriad of ways. For example, one of the most repeatedly occurring themes in the Qur’an is that of intellectual reflection and contemplation (tadabbur /tafakkur). Sayings ( regardless of their actual ‘authenticity as per classical Islamic sciences)   such as ‘The ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr ‘ and ‘ An hour of (intellectual) reflection/contemplation  is better than a one thousand years of worship’ testify to the strong intellectual core of the Islamic tradition that is in full harmony with the Qur’anic worldview. A good number of Muslim philosophers, rationalist theologians and jurists,  past and present, have also stressed the intellectually robust nature of the Islamic teachings ( and have often attracted criticism by strong  anti-intellectual currents in Islam that have always been there).  

Furthermore, the injunctions found in the Qur’an and Sunna pertaining to the performance of rituals are clearly linked to an underlying rationale ( ‘ila). So we are told (2:183) that  the reason for fasting is to increase our level of God consciousness (taqwa),  that the daily prayer (salat) is a means to keep us away from indecency/evil (29:45),  that the animal sacrifice at time of hajj (qurban) is purely symbolic in nature (22: 37). We are also told that the legal alms and charities (zakat) are levied in order to prevent the concentration of wealth among the rich (57: 7).

It is an inconvenient and theologically disturbing truth (that I as a believing, practicing Muslim am still grappling with) that many terrorists and the ISIS affiliated scholars they follow are ‘very big’ on  the ritualistic aspects of Islam such as fasting and praying ( and even ‘bigger’ on formalistic  ones such as beards and turbans)  yet they engage in senseless violence and terrorism.  Could this disconnect between ritualistic cum formalistic piety and their purposes at least in part explain this theological conundrum? While I do not have an equivocal answer to this question, the question is, in my view, worth asking and seriously reflecting on.

It is my considered view that a good number of contemporary Muslims have lost track of the intellectual jihad aspect of the Islamic tradition and have prioritised ritualistic and formalistic ‘piety’ over  that of intellectual and ethical one.  Ramadan is the perfect time to reclaim this invaluable aspect of our tradition.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

GCSCR Book Promotion Talk




Respected Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good evening to all!

First of all, I would like to thank the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research for organising this wonderful event as a celebration of scholarship and erudition. I would also like to express my gratitude to Associate Professor Halim Rane for his kind words, the effort and time he put to be with us tonight and his penetrating insights. I would also like to thank him for his continued support, especially in relation to my research interests in general, and with respect to my interest in progressive Islam in particular.

I would like to use this time to actually not just talk about my book but to make a few general points with respect to two issues:
1. Importance of scholarship and its role in making the public more informed on issues of public concern
2. Address some common misconceptions about progressive Islam.

Let me start by saying that in the time of what some have referred to as the post-truth society, at the time of proliferation of alternative facts, at the time of the dominance of short news-media cycles and social media platforms there is, in my view, nothing more important than that the events like one today, that celebrate careful and critical thought scholarship and erudition, are held and promoted. It is my hope that this will be continued in the future.

 As someone who prides himself to be a scholar-activist I particularly see value in the production of high quality scholarship as an important  intellectual weapon, and I have chosen the word weapon intentionally,  to countering  poorly informed and shallow thinking based on unjustified, factually  incorrect  and, in the final analysis, irresponsible claims  that circulate in some primarily  non-academic circles.  As someone who has been publishing on various aspects of contemporary Islam for a decade and is also engaged in a variety of non-academic discourses on it, I am only too aware of the harmful effects these kinds of discourses can and do have on societies. 

Non-conservative forms of Islam have often been marginalised both in scholarship (apart from as instruments for various political agendas) and, at times, ridiculed by both certain sections of Muslim and non-Muslim communities for being ‘not Muslim enough’ or for being ‘diluted’ if not far-fetched or ‘outlandish’ versions of ‘true’ Islam. One the one hand, that ‘true’ Islam is portrayed by some non-Muslims as inevitably misogynist, barbaric and anti-intellectual, rejecting modern values and international norms. On the other hand, conservative, not to mention puritan Muslim groups, without actually engaging properly with the theories underpinning, in this case progressive Islam, erroneously  reject it as something ‘western’ or ‘secular’. 

Needless to say that these kind of critiques are not only based on intellectual laziness, apologetics  and lack of erudition but that  they  utterly fail in doing justice to the theory of progressive Islam as presented in not only in  the book of mine we showcase today but also  my first book published six years ago  that grew out of my Ph.D. thesis which  is a careful and systematic engagement of progressive Islam’s conceptualisation of  and approach to the Islamic intellectual tradition and its hermeneutical theory in particular.

Let us go back to the claim that progressive Islam is ‘secular’. Putting aside issues pertaining to the theorising the concept of secularism as, for example,  discussed at length by scholars such as Charles Taylor,  those who subscribe to this view would be surprised to find out  that in my book on the imperatives of progressive Islam I have used the words ‘secularity’ , ‘secular’, ‘secularise’ and ‘secularism’ once only respectively .
In my first book I explicitly stated that:

it is clear that progressive Muslims do not subscribe to commonly employed dichotomies such as, tradition vs. modernity, secularism vs. religion, or simplistic generalization such as modernity =Western or Judeo- Christian intellectual /civilizational tradition”.( P.124)…

Elsewhere in the same book I also argued as follows:

“it is important to note that progressive Muslims are critical
of the metanarratives underpinning classical modernity and the Age of
Enlightenment characterized by the notions of a universal legislative, secular,
and objective reason and objective truth. Instead, they advocate what
Sheyla Benhabib would describe as a weak form postmodernism where
truth is sought in a dialectical relationship between revelation, reason, and
the sociohistorical context in which both are embedded.

According to this view, [r]ationality and belief, human rights and divine obligation, individual and social justice, collective reason and religious morality, human mind and divine revelation are living peacefully together.”,p.135.

The same arguments apply in relation to the concept or idea of progressive Islam being ‘western’ (needless to say that the conceptual foundations of a western civilisation have been seriously questioned by scholars like K. A. Appiah).

In my first book I have provided a detailed discussion on how progressive Muslim thought approaches the concept of modernity and its relationship with the “West’ where I argued as follows:

Progressive Muslims, thus, subscribe to the view that the
Socio-political and cultural processes that have brought about epistemological
and ontological changes in the Western worldview and resulted
in the advent of modernity as we know it today are considered a result of
a dynamic process of civilizational interaction and mutual construction
through transcultural, trans-political, and trans-social spaces. Additionally,
progressive Muslims believe that this late modern episteme could be also
applied within the framework of the sociocultural context of the Muslim
majority societies resulting in the genesis of another distinct type of
modernity. ( p.136).


So if progressive Islam is not ‘western’ or ‘secular ‘what is it? In a nutshell Progressive Islam is but a contemporary articulation of Islamic humanistic and cosmopolitan values, beliefs and practices. It is an approach to the Islamic tradition based on:


1. creative, critical and innovative thought based on epistemological openness and methodological fluidity,
2. Islamic liberation theology, 
3. social and gender justice , 
4. a human rights based approach to Islamic tradition, 
 5. rationalist and contextualist approaches to Islamic theology and ethics, and 
6. affirmation of religious pluralism

In actual fact these six points are the main subject matter of the book that we are highlighting tonight.

Finally, some people might ask as to why I employ the term progressive in progressive Islam/progressive Muslim thought. While I have provided a systematic and detailed discussion of what this means from a  philosophical, epistemological and methodological perspective in my academic writings on the subject matter let me as my final point, outline briefly four reasons as to why this is the case :



Reason one : Quran and Sunna were progressive in approaching ethical and legal issues of that time by having a more ethical vision beyond what was considered as status quo and customary ( ma'ruf/ 'urf) ! Progressive Islam wants to stay true to this vision.
Reason two: ethical values like justice and fairness do not remain frozen in time. They, as collective human experience testifies, in principle are subject to change as God's creative powers have a direct bearing on our own collective reason and our collective ethico-moral compass. Our aim is to ever more faithfully approximate the Divine as source of absolute Beauty, Justice and Mercy and that is only possible if our ethical systems do not remain frozen ( as in case of traditionalist/pre-modern based approaches)  and are theorized in such a manner to allow space for progress /improvement in the never ending quest for ethical perfection. Theory of progressive Islam does exactly that.

Reason three: to highlight the strong affinities in the kind of theologies, interpretational approaches and socio-political and ethical values that exist among progressive religious/spiritual movements worldwide whose pillars are affirmation of religious pluralism and strong commitment to social and gender justice. For example, the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

Reason four: For the same reason why we have Sufi Islam, Sunni Islam, Shi'i Islam. It's about affirming the fact that progressive Islam has its own methodology of interpretation, its own theological orientation  and its own approach to conceptualising the Islamic intellectual tradition (that are discussed in my works systematically and in some detail).
Progressive Islam has not had much, if any, concrete support either from the “West” or from Muslim majority countries so far. Therefore, I am particularly thankful to those associated with Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research who have organised this even tonight in helping raise awareness about progressive Islam/progressive Muslim thought.  It is my dream that Griffith University will, in due course, become the global intellectual and academic hub for continued growth and theorising of progressive Islam as I am convinced that progressive Islam has so much to offer to both Muslims and non-Muslim alike.

THANK YOU.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Is Progressive Islam/Progressive Muslim Thought “Secular” or ‘Western”

Dr. Adis Duderija


In my previous post I discussed a number of the reasons why I use the adjective ‘progressive” when theorising progressive Islam/progressive Muslim Thought”, a question that is frequently put to me in my discussions with various people on the subject matter.

In this post I want to address another issue that arises in relation to progressive Islam, namely the claim some have made that progressive Islam is ‘secular’ and/or ‘western’.

Putting aside issues pertaining to the theorising of the concept of secularism as, for example,  discussed at length by scholars such as Charles Taylor and that of ‘western’ civilisation as for example discussed by K.A. Appiah , those who subscribe to this view would be surprised to find out  that in my book on the imperatives of progressive Islam I have used the words ‘secularity’ , ‘secular’, ‘secularise’ and ‘secularism’ once only respectively.

In my first book on progressive Muslim thought published back in 2011 I explicitly stated that:

it is clear that progressive Muslims do not subscribe to commonly employed dichotomies such as, tradition vs. modernity, secularism vs. religion, or simplistic generalization such as modernity =Western or Judeo- Christian intellectual /civilizational tradition.( P.124).

Elsewhere in the same book I also argued as follows:

“it is important to note that progressive Muslims are critical
of the metanarratives underpinning classical modernity and the Age of
Enlightenment characterized by the notions of a universal legislative, secular,
and objective reason and objective truth. Instead, they advocate what
Sheyla Benhabib would describe as a weak form postmodernism where
truth is sought in a dialectical relationship between revelation, reason, and
the sociohistorical context in which both are embedded.
“According to this view, [r]ationality and belief, human rights and divine obligation, individual and social justice, collective reason and religious morality, human mind and divine revelation are living peacefully together.”,p.135.

The same arguments apply in relation to the concept or idea of progressive Islam being ‘western’.
In my first book I have provided a detailed discussion on how progressive Muslim thought approaches the concept of modernity and its relationship with the “West’ whereby I argued as follows:

“Progressive Muslims, thus, subscribe to the view that the
Socio-political and cultural processes that have brought about epistemological
and ontological changes in the Western worldview and resulted
in the advent of modernity as we know it today are considered a result of
a dynamic process of civilizational interaction and mutual construction
through transcultural, trans-political, and trans-social spaces. Additionally,
progressive Muslims believe that this late modern episteme could be also
applied within the framework of the sociocultural context of the Muslim
majority societies resulting in the genesis of another distinct type of
modernity”. ( p.136).

In actual fact I am currently working on a paper titled “Progressive Islam as a non-western form of critical cosmopolitanism”.

So if progressive Islam is not ‘western’ or ‘secular ‘what is it? In a nutshell Progressive Islam is but a contemporary articulation of Islamic humanistic and cosmopolitan values, beliefs and practices. It is an approach to the Islamic tradition based on:

1. creative, critical and innovative thought based on epistemological openness and methodological fluidity,
2. Islamic liberation theology, 
3. social and gender justice , 
4. a human rights based approach to Islamic tradition, 
 5. rationalist and contextualist approaches to Islamic theology and ethics, and 
6. affirmation of religious pluralism

In actual fact these six points are the main subject matter of my recently published second book on the imperatives of progressive Islam.
The claims that progressive Islam is ‘secular’ and /or ‘western’ is , in some cases ,nothing but an attempt of certain sections of the Muslim community and individuals such as Daniel Haqiqatojou, Yaser Qadhi, Joe Bradford and others to try and discredit this school of thought. They do so despite having  never read my works on theorising of progressive Islam/Muslim thought even though most of them are available freely and they are aware of them. However, they prefer  and are willing to  engage in all kinds of apologetics and distortions to appease their  supporters. They do so, however, at the cost of scholarship and erudition.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Some Reasons why “progressive” in theory of progressive Islam/progressive Muslim Thought





Dr. Adis Duderija
Over the decade or so of publishing on theory of progressive Islam a number of people have asked me why do I use the word “progressive.” While I have provided a systematic and detailed discussion (in academic terms) of what this means from a  philosophical, epistemological and methodological perspective in my academic writings on the subject matter, I understand that given that progressive Islam /progressive Muslim thought is very much present  at grassroots level that there is a need to  provide a non-academic explanation.  In what follows I provide four reasons why I use the word “progressive” in progressive Islam/progressive Muslim thought:
Reason one : Quran and Sunna were progressive in approaching ethical and legal issues of that time by having a more ethical vision beyond what was considered as status quo and customary ( ma'ruf/ 'urf) ! Progressive Islam wants to stay true to this vision.
Reason two: ethical values like justice and fairness do not remain frozen in time. They, as collective human experience testifies, in principle are subject to change as God's creative powers have a direct bearing on our own collective reason and our collective ethico-moral compass. Our aim is to ever more faithfully approximate the Divine as source of absolute Beauty, Justice and Mercy and that is only possible if our ethical systems do not remain frozen ( as in case of traditionalist/pre-modern based approaches)  and are theorized in such a manner to allow space for progress /improvement in the never ending quest for ethical perfection. Theory of progressive Islam does exactly that.

Reason three: to highlight the strong affinities in the kind of theologies, interpretational approaches and socio-political and ethical values that exist among progressive religious/spiritual movements worldwide whose pillars are affirmation of religious pluralism and strong commitment to social and gender justice. For example, the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

Reason 4: For the same reason why we have Sufi Islam, Sunni Islam, Shi'i Islam. It's about affirming the fact that progressive Islam has its own methodology of interpretation and its own theological orientation  and its own approach to conceptualising the Islamic intellectual tradition (that are discussed in my works systematically and in some detail).

There are additional reasons too but I hope that the above provides an adequate explanation as to why ‘progressive’ in progressive Islam/ progressive Muslim Thought.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Advice to some of my pseudo-scholarly interlocutors on FB


Dr. Adis Duderija, Lecturer in Study of Islam and Society, Griffith university 

I have been involved in a number of debates on FB surrounding  my own scholarship, especially in relation to theorizing of progressive Islam since I started  using face-book for ‘academic’ purposes  in 2012/2013 ( 3 years after completing my Ph.D in contemporary Islamic hermeneutics with focus on progressive Islam and neo-traditional Salafism  ).
Some of these experiences have been really helpful in clarifying my own thinking further and I have learnt things I did not know. However, some of the debates have been the opposite. Usually , these involve  young Muslim men with little or no scholarly credentials who ‘critique’ my work in a highly distortive. self-serving ,piecemeal,  and unsystematic and essentially uninformed  manner to basically score an ideological point ( usually against progressive Islam) . This prompted me to write this short blog piece  for such individuals to check whether or not their knowledge on the topics I have been publishing on  for 10 years is sufficient for me to actually take them seriously.

I would also like to mention that some 15 years ago when I embarked on my journey  to academia/scholarship ( I read many academic works at least 5 years prior to that  since the late 1990s)  I was very fortunate to receive some wonderful advice from professor Ebrahim Moosa who highlighted the importance of identifying and  reading the works of the leading scholars in respective disciplines as the first and essential step in the academic /scholarly journey. I have held onto this advice ever since.
In what follows  let me be absolutely clear that this is not about stifling genuine criticism or self-promotion  but ensuring that  the standards of intellectual honesty, factual accuracy ,erudition and scholarship are not swamped by intellectual laziness, lack of erudition ,lack of  respect for scholarship and similar.

My publications straddle several disciplines including the modern study of Islamic law/legal theory/early Islamic history/Islamic theology/Islamic ethics, sunna/hadith and Islamic feminism/gender issue in Islam. I have been publishing on all of them for a decade and have a very distinguished publication record on these topics ( for those who know) .  The scholars ( and their most relevant and important works )  I identify below  have been read properly and referenced in my  publications.
So my friendly piece of advice to my (pseudo-scholar) interlocutors on FB is before you ‘criticise’ myself ( especially if you did not bother actually reading my work) I want you to do a checklist whether or not you are AT LEAST as a bare minimum   familiar with these scholars and their major works  that I have read and cited in my scholarship ( for full list please click here including many  traditionalist scholars). This  does not necessarily mean that I agree with their findings. 

Modern Field of Study
Name of Scholar
Sunna /hadith
H.Motzki, GHA Juynbol, J.Schacht, I.Goldziher, A.Goerke, F.Rahman, Ghamidi, M.Shahrur,Z.I.Ansari, Y. Dutton, Lowry, Joseph, El-Omari, Racha; Brown, Jonathan; Melchert, C; Abd- Allah, U. F.; Abbott, N.;Sezgin;
Islamic legal theory /Islamic law /ethics
Abou El Fadl, Wael Hallaq, M.Kh. Masud, Imran Nyazee, Hashim Kamali, M.Kadivar,A.Souaiaia, Vishanoff, David, A.El-Shamsy, Jackson, Sherman, Zysow, Aron, Wheeler Brannon, Reinhart, A. Kevin, Johansen, Baber; Melchert, C; Anver Emon; Johnston, David L; Ibn Ashur, Tahir;J.Auda;
Early Islamic theology
Madelung, J. van Ess,W.M. Watt, Mourad, Suleiman, Schmidtke, Sabine and Hasan Ansari
Qur’anic hermeneutics/tafsir
Abdullah Saeed, A.Rippin, F.Esack, A.Wadud, S. Taji-Farouki, Abu Zayd N.H., Mumisa, Michael; Neuwirth, A; Achrati, Ahmed
Islamic intellectual tradition in  general ( turath) both classical and modern period
Hassan Hanafi, M. A. Al-Jabiri, Ebrahim Moosa, Farid Esack, M. Arkoun, Soroush, Abdolkarim,Ali Mabrook,Ali A.Engeneer, Afsaruddin, Asma;I. Abu Rabi’i
Islam and gender (from historical/religious/hermeneutics/legal perspective)
Mir-Hosseini, Ziba; Shaikh, Sa’diyya; Chaudhry, Ayesha,Fatima Seedat,Asma Barlas, Amina Wadud; Abdul Kodir, Faqihuddin,F.Mernissi, Marin, Manuela, Bauer, Karen;K.Ali, N.Keddie; Azam, Hina,
Human rights /democracy in  Islam
A.Sachedina, A.Moussali, M.Khan, N.Hashemi, Afsaruddin, Asma.

This is just the most basic guide and list of scholars whose major works you needed to have read  if you want me to take you seriously. Alternatively, I will respond only to  genuine  queries that  demonstrate that you have read and specifically cited and engaged with my work  as I did in this case .Everything else is a waste of time. 

Salam.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Problematizing Few Claims in Dr. Brown’s Paper on Sodomy


Dr. Adis Duderija

I would like to briefly critique some assumptions behind some claims made in the article by Dr. Brown on sodomy from the perspective of problematizing the assumed concept of Sunna in the paper, a topic I have been publishing on for a decade.
The concept of Sunna as I demonstrated in my publications   remained epistemologically , and methodologically in dependent of the concept of a sound hadith as per classical ’ulum ul hadith for a period of two centuries or so. In my paper which traces the meaning and evolution in the meaning of the concept of Sunna during the formative period of Islam I conclude as follows:

“At the beginning of this article, two questions that guided its analyses were asked: namely whether the traditional definition of Sunnah that took root and established itself during the post-formative or classical period of Islamic thought reflect the way this term was understood during the preclassical period. The answer, based on our above analyses is a clear ‘no’. We have seen that over a period of some 250 years Sunnah was semantico-contextually and epistemologico-methodologically fluid. Secondly, this article has attempted to explain which mechanisms were responsible for its conflation with an authentic Ḥadīth as defined by the classical ʿulūm al-ḥadīth sciences and when they became apparent. From the above chronological analyses of the concept of Sunnah we can conclude the following. At the time of the Prophet and the first three to four generations of Muslims, the Qurʾān and Sunnah, in terms of their nature and scope, were conceptually seen as one organic whole. In addition to the ʿibadah dimension of Sunnah both of these sources of Islamic thought were primarily seen in ethico-religious and objective or values-based concepts and were reason inclusive. All these aspects of Sunnah could be formulated, preserved and transmitted orally. The concept of Sunnah was conceptually differentiated from that of Ḥadīth may it be in a form of sunnah al-maʿrufah or that of sunnah madiyyah. With the process of what we have described as traditionalisation, this concept of the nature and the scope of the concept of Sunnah (and that of the Qurʾān) underwent important conceptual changes. Severance of the symbiotic link between the Qurʾān and Sunnah occurred, and, over time, its hermeneutical dependence on Ḥadīth-based literature was largely engendered, thus changing conceptually its nature and scope as it was understood during the first three generations of Muslims.239 Secondly, the nature and the scope of the concept of Sunnah was conceptually distorted and conflated with the concept of ‘a post-Shāfiʿī authentic Ḥadīth’ which is how the contemporary Islamic majority mainstream thought continues to conceptualise it to this day.”

Early pre-Shafi’i  Hanafis and Malikis (to the extent we can tell) especially resisted the hadith-based concept of sunna but later on succumbed to it to a lesser or greater extent ( as discussed by various contributors to my edited book on sunna)  for the following reasons that I explain in the introduction section of  my edited volume on Sunna and its Status in Islamic law :

“● the continued growth and proliferation of had ī th ;
● the increasing importance given to ad ī th at the cost of what I have termed the non- ad ī th-dependent concept of sunna that was prevalent in the first two centuries of Islam as explained above;
● the articulation of non-verbally based aspects  of sunna into an individual, sound ( a ih ) ad ī th ;
·         the increased application of ad ī th to Qur ʾā n and sunna sciences such as jurisprudence ( fiqh) , Qur ʾā nic exegesis ( tafs ī r), and legal hermeneutics (u ū l al-fiqh) ;

·         ● the development of hierarchical, legal, hermeneutical models that were entirely text-based (i.e., based on Qur ʾā n and ad ī th ) and the marginalization of non-text-based epistemological and methodological tools of sunna (and Qur ʾā n) such as raʾy (reason-based opinion ), ijtih ā d, isti s ā n ; and

·          
● the idea that sunna (and the Qur ʾā n) are conceptually coterminous with certain ethical values or principles, such as justice or righteous conduct, including the expression sunna ʿ ā dila that was employed by Muslims in the second century AH. “


In a separate article which traces the historical emergence of the concept of a sound hadith I conclude as follows:
“This article attempts to present a brief chronological analysis of the development of the Sunni Ḥadith literature and the concept of an authentic Ḥadith. The article has focused in particular on the question as to what extent the classical definition of the concept of Sunnah can be seen to embody the concept of Sunnah as it was understood during the formative period of Islamic thought. Relevant, recent Western scholarship found in literature was used in order to shed light on this issue. In this context, the extent, importance and nature of Ḥadith literature as well as the developmental stages of an authentic Ḥadith, during the first four generations of Muslims, have been investigated. The findings presented herein suggest that the writing of Prophetic reports probably took place even during the Prophet’s time, although the conditions for its widespread writing, transmission and proliferation were not favourable, not only in relation to circumstances surrounding the Prophet’s life but also on the basis of cultural preferences for oral transmission of knowledge. This led Juynboll to assert that the volume of Ḥadith literature remained very small during the first century. Moreover, its importance during this period of time as source of law against the regional concepts of Sunnah was negligible. A marked growth in the corpus of Ḥadith literature, although still not in its ‘authentic form’, took place from the middle of the second century. It was during this period of transition that an epistemologico-methodological shift in the concept of Sunnah was becoming ever more prominent. Consequently, this resulted in its more frequent semantic association with Ḥadith. However, as Souaiaia demonstrated in relation to Islamic inheritance laws during the formative period of Islamic thought, spanning the first two and one half centuries or so, traditions from the Prophet in form of Ḥadith as defined by classical ʿulum-ul-ḥadith sciences could not alone produce an adequate framing of inheritance laws. As such, even towards the end of the second century, Sunnah and Ḥadith were seen as conceptually different terms. Due to his effort to bring more uniformity into the largely divergent legal theories in various regions of the Muslim empire, Shafiʾi was the first second-century-born jurist to narrow down the concept of Sunnah to that of an ‘authentic Ḥadith’ usually going back to the Prophet. This conceptual alteration in Sunnah provided by Shafiʾi was brought to its logical extreme, accepted and further consolidated by Ahmed ibn Ḥanbal. It is his literal, decontextualised, reason-condemning bilā kaifa (‘without asking how’) approach to ‘authentic Ḥadith’ as sole repository, conveyer and ultimate interpretational tool of Sunnah that is implied by the muḥaddithūn’s classical definition of the concept of Sunnah which did not correspond to the way the concept of Sunnah was understood by the first four generations of Muslims but is still prevalent in the majority mainstream Muslim community.”

The hadith independent concept of sunna is one of the reasons why Hanafis, as noted by Dr.Brown on p.5.  resisted identifying  “liwāṭ as one of the Hudud crimes and set a punishment” due to the disagreement of early Muslim scholars which indicates clearly that had the  specific punishments identified in the hadith with all their variations been part of sunna , early Muslim scholars would NOT have been ignorant of it and /or disagreed so sharply. It is important to note that here we are talking about  a practice,  in actu ( ‘amal)-based element of sunna ( or if you wish the terminology of muhadithun, sunna fi’liyya )which does not need  textual documentation to be known. If indeed these hadith were part of sunna based practices, the early Muslim scholars would have identified them as such. Otherwise, we would need to be prepared to accept that early generations of Muslims did not know what Sunna was which is antithetical  to  Sunni  traditionalist worldview. It is much more likely , as I alluded to in my quote above ( and explain in my article  in some detail) that early Hanafis thought that  the concept of sunna was something independent of sound hadith  (terminology they used was   sunna madiya or sunna al-ma’rufa al-ma’fuza) and were able to reject these hadith regardless of their authenticity. It is worth noting that the early Malikis too had an independent concept of Sunna as it is  demonstrated both in  my article and edited volume  on sunna.

Another statement which is very revealing of Dr. Brown’s lack of adequate unawareness of the dynamics of  the concept of Sunna , it nature and scope in formative Islam and how it  was contested and evolved  over time is that he cites a  work of a muhaddith Al-Darimi as  proof that Sunna overrides the Qur’an and not other way around ( yes, I know other scholars take that view but they all operate within the hadith-based  classical concept  sunna paradigm) . Even if we accepted this  proposition  (which is rejected by  some Muslim scholars on perfectly legitimate grounds as explained in my edited volume on Sunna )  this  statement  assumes that the concept of sunna  that  Al-Darimi  had in mind ( which is that of  what I termed a hadith-dependent concept of sunna  discussed above)  is self-evident and that  it also assumes the classical post-Shafi’i concept of  sunna as alluded to above is somehow   the only  concept of sunna that ever existed  which, of course  is not the case.

As I outlined elsewhere there are other scholars who have theorised the concept of sunna differently from its classical definition including scholars like Ghamidi and his teachers ( who in my view are staying true to early Hanafi position on the question of the concept of Sunna) , Al-Alwani, F.Rahman , M. Shahrur  and myself.
 I have  also argued that we need a paradigm shift in the manner in which sound hadith are used in Islamic theology and jurisprudence away from focus on classical ulum ul hadith methodologies and more on usul ul fiqh, including progressive approaches to usul.

Finally I have made an attempt to identify a new methodology of the nature of the concept of sunna in articles that can be accessed here and here .