Reading Tafheem

One feels as if God is somewhere around commenting on our current situation



God is Justice; and Justice can never be done on earth, we can approximate it. We can never complacently sit and say Justice has been done. Ours must be an unending struggle to move closer to the ideal of justice. We can never claim to be perfectly just, and it implies, we will always be humble seeking to be just ourselves. We must ever seek to see God’s will being done on earth as it is done in heaven. This is the key to the Islamic Manifesto and undergirds its view of State and jihad, among other things. This is in fact the explicit or implicit meaning of almost all great political thinkers from Plato to Derrida. Derrida is categorical that Justice can’t be done but we must nevertheless fight for this Ideal and approximate it. Significance of Syed Moududi’s commentary on the Quran lies in bringing home this message. Foregrounding the political in his Tafheem is an attempt to be loyal to this quest. He has brilliantly shown this worldly face of other-worldly-oriented or Spirit-centric-Islamic tradition. He has argued why Islam must be a threat to all dictatorial fascistic tyrannical forces and why jihad is so vital to the dynamics of Islam. Jihad is ideally an attempt to secure Justice in any nook and corner of the world against any oppressor. Islam must be “established” in toto but the party that shall impose it shall have to fight through democratic means to win the mandate in the world that swears by democracy.
Syed Moududi’s popularity is significantly due to his striking the chord of the youth. He has been instrumental to introduce the Quran to them through his lucid demystifying commentary. The Quran comes alive in the present setting with its huge ethical demands. Reading Tafheem one feels as if God is somewhere around commenting on our current situation. Tafheem’s originality lies in the fact that for the first time it brought forth the political subtext of the Quran to engage with the modern secular thought currents that have fundamentally a political content and transformation of man and his environment for securing this worldly progress. It highlights the distance between the profane enterprize of secular progress and Islamic vision of integral falah (realization of human potential) of man. It brilliantly highlights problems inherited from Modernity and insightfully proposes solutions from what he thinks to be the Islamic perspective.
It is Syed Moududi who translated the Quran in the language of the laity or moderately educated masses and succeeded in bringing the Quran from the inaccessible shelves in our rooms or secret cloisters of students of Madrasas or mystifying abstractions of more academic circles or amulet selling babas to the streets or coffee shops. His attempt to reach out to masses through Tafheem (his other writings are developed footnotes on its themes and could not be ignored by either scholars or masses interested in assimilating Islam in their lives as they engage with the Quran)  has been  successful and in fact quite impactful. One can’t ignore him though can be critical of him. He has helped to shape subcontinent’s history in many ways that are evident to students of modern Muslim history, especially Islamist movements. One can trace a series of developments from him and his fellow traveler on the path Syed Qutb to Muhammad Mursi. Islamic inspiration for Middle East uprisings can’t be factored out. Revival of Islamic banking and a host of other institutions owe something to Syed Moududi and his magnum opus Tafheem-ul-Quran.  Cool and rational style of it has added to its appeal amongst even detractors of Jam’aat. Tafheem’s legacy (albeit critical engagement with it) can be found in many important names in the Quran studies from Amin Ahsan Islahi to Dr Israr to Javed Ghamdi.
It is sad to note that Tafheem became a substitute for Quran commentaries in general for certain zealous admirers and it has been elevated as the standard Quran commentary as evidenced by the practice of almost exclusive reliance on it in Dars-e-Quran classes  organized by the Jam’at. Syed Moududi unconsciously brings otherwise despised episteme categories to appropriate Islamic position. His appropriation of such terms as system and ideology that he applies to Islam are instances that could be problematized. His bias in favour of juristic-theological and sidelining esoteric-metaphysical content of the Quran has cost modern Islamic revivalism dearly. His exegeses of verses referring to other religions often suffers from lack of proper methodology and hermeneutic. His construction of Islam as the Religion is incompatible with his exotericist reading of it as religion that situates itself in opposition to other religions as they are practiced now. His silence over or distance from  great attempts at Quranic exegeses by Muslim philosophers and Sufis narrows his appeal to a moderately educated class as more informed readers who have read Western thought from original sources and have  a better access to Islamic intellectual heritage find him too much of a literalist and even not quite updated. His literalism informing his scientific appropriations of certain verses, his frequent resorting to the phrase yae mushkilaati Quran mei hae  while explicating verses that are better explained by Sufi/metaphysical approach, his cocksure approach that allows him to often add explicatory words in the brackets in his translation, his simplistic view of Modernity and Islam’s Other and his overstretching the dimension of statesman/legislator as if the primary relation between God and man were hakim wa mahkoom as Ali Mian pointed out, are some of his problematic assumptions that post-Moududi Jam’at scholarship should have been alert to.
Tafheem broke new ground and showed how we can boldly approach the task of ijtihad and reinterpretation, if not reconstruction. Perhaps Syed Moududi feared the wrath of ultraorthodox to move forward with some of his ideas like interpretation of Muslim version of millianism or resistance to human authority in claiming to represent God or more objective reading of early Islamic history. His interpretation of status of women suffers from certain sort of medievalism as does his appropriation of Dar-al-Harb vs. Dar-al-Islam. His political theory is less traditional and more medieval.  As a mutakallim he could have only a limited appeal as his resources in combating modern heresies were quite limited. Nasr better accomplishes that job. Modernists like Fazlur Rahman and postmodernists like Arkoun would find much questionable material in Tafheem’s engagement with history and recourse to purist or “authentic” sources.
Tafheem needs to be read more critically than most Jam’at workers would allow but more respectfully than its most detractors would concede

Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 10 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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