Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Innovation and Creativity In Islam- Dr.Umar Faruq Abd-Allah - Nawawi Foundation


Islam is a global religion. Its followers constitute one of the world’s largest religious communities. They are of every ethnic group and inhabit every type of geographical region. The religion’s historical success as a universal religion arises in part from the simplicity of its message and its ability to make itself relevant to different times and peoples. Islam constitutes a “mobile idea” because it can be easily understood anywhere and is flexible enough to come together “in intriguing ways to produce unanticipated new configurations.”1 Two of the most important components of Islam that make it a mobile idea are the concepts of bid‘a (innovation) and ijtihad (critical legal thinking in search for answers to new problems). Close attention to bid‘a and ijtihad gives Islam great historical mobility, enabling it to preserve continuity with the past while renewing its vitality as a dynamic faith.In traditional Islamic thought, the concepts of bid‘a and ijtihad both have shades of meaning that are not always well understood by Muslims today. The allegation that something is bid‘a is often made rashly, marginalizing new ideas and making creativity difficult. For some Muslims, the term has become a rhetorical sledgehammer to vindicate their own ideas by obliterating others. Ijtihad suffers from a similar predicament. Some restrict its use so severely that it ceases to be functional; others apply it so freely that it becomes arbitrary and undermines any semblance of authenticity. A feel for the true conceptions of bid‘a and had is necessary for Muslims today. Both concepts are central to how we conceive of ourselves as Muslims, the types of practices we condone, and the future we envision. The health of a Muslim community is tied to the sophistication and functional religious literacy of its members. Sherman Jackson emphasizes the necessity of promoting the intellectual health of the Muslim community by spreading “Islamic literacy” in order to instill critical consciousness in the Muslim rank and file.2 By giving everyday Muslims basic immunity against pseudo-scholarly interpretations of Islam, this core understanding of the faith is necessary to regain a footing in moderation between secular skepticism and violent extremes. As will be shown, Islamic literacy is required by the rules of ijtihad, which were never restricted to scholars alone but required the lay community to pass judgment on each scholar’s aptitude. A sound understanding of bid‘a and ijtihad is a fundamental component of the Islamic literacy our community needs.
THE CONCEPT OF BID‘A The Arabic root from which bid‘a derives is connected in meaning to a distinct yet similar radical, BD’ (the difference being between the final letter hamza (’) in this root and the final ‘ayn (‘) in bid‘a). BD’ means “to start or begin something,” while the primary meaning of bid‘a is “to start or begin something novel.” Among the various words directly derived from the root of bid‘a is the noun Badi‘ (Originator), cited in the Qur’an as an attribution of God: “Originator (Badi‘) of the heavens and the earth” (2:117; 6:101).3 Use of Badi‘ with reference to God denotes the uniqueness of God’s creative act and implies that the universe came into existence without a previously existing prototype.4 As an adjective, badi‘ was applied to outstanding works of human genius, especially those of poets and other masters of the spoken and written word. 5
The pre-Islamic conception of bid‘a, in contrast to later Islamic usage, tended always to be negative and served as a critique of the social implications of non-customary practices. This concept of bid‘a, in contrast to later Islamic usage, tended always to be negative. The allegation that something was a bid‘a meant that it violated the tribal code. A bid‘a was an action or an idea that lacked precedent in established custom. It constituted a sort of tribal heresy, a hateful innovation caused by deviating from the ways of patriarchs of the past.
By contrast, in classical Islamic law and theology, bid‘a could take on various shades of meaning. When used without qualifying adjectives, it tended to be condemnatory, as, for example, in the statement, “bid‘a must be avoided.” Nevertheless, bid‘a was not always something bad. In certain contexts, especially when qualified by adjectives, bid‘a could cover a wide range of meanings from what was praiseworthy to what was completely wrong, as, for example, in the caliph ‘Umar’s statement below, “what an excellent bid‘a is this!”


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