An outstanding intellectual

Reading Ahad Ahmed on Fazlur Rahman
An outstanding intellectual

Fazlur Rahman (1919—1988) was 'a notable scholar of Islamicphilosophy and an important liberal Muslim thinker of the twentieth century'.He is considered 'to be amongst the most influential Muslim modernists in boththe Western and Muslim worlds'. This is how Ahad Ahmed has introduced thisPakistani-American scholar of twentieth century'.

During his life time, Fazlur Rahman was characterized as 'anoutstanding intellectual' (Charles Adams), and 'one of the clearest and wisestIslamic thinkers of the Islamic world today' (Philip L. Bermann). After hisdeath, he has been described variedly as the 'Pakistan's Influential ReformistThinker' (Riffat Hassan), 'the doyen of Islamic modernism in the latter half oftwentieth century' (Omid Safi), 'one of the 20th century's foremost Muslimintellectuals and scholars whose ideas on modern Islamic thought reached aglobal audience' (Ebrahim Moosa), and 'one of the most daring and originalcontributors to the discussion on the reform of Islamic thought in the twentiethcentury'.

'Fazlur Rahman is best known', as Abdullah Saeed puts it,'for his major contribution to modern discussions of reform in Islamic thought'and for writing on a wide range of subjects, including 'Islamic education,interpretation of the Qur'an, hadith criticism, early development of Islamicintellectual traditions and reform of Islamic law and ethics'.

In this context, Ahad Maqbool Ahmed's work under review is asignificant contribution which introduces and contextualizes, Fazlur Rahman'slife and works, explores his (theological) thought, and 'exemplifies' him as a'modern theologian who reformed traditional (mutaqaddim) and medieval(muta'akhir) and addressed the challenge of Western modernity by formulating anIslamic theology of modernity (jadid 'ilm al-kalam)' (p. xv). Originally basedon author's MPhil dissertation (carried at IIUI, Pakistan), the work examinesin detail the following issues/ topics, by using 'constructive method' toanalyze Rahman's treatment of Kalam: sources/ influence that have shapedRahman's thought; nature of his modernist thought; methodology of histheological thought; and his dealing with the primary sources of Islam andtheological schools (pp. xv-xvi).

The book consists of four (4) chapters, and is preceded by adetailed 'Introduction' (pp. xiii-xxv), and is followed by Bibliography andIndex. All these chapters are explored in detailed manner, and the argumentsput forth are sufficiently referenced.

In chapter-I (pp. 1-70), Rahman's life and works arediscussed, and contextualised, in a detailed manner vis-à-vis different phasesof his life, academically. Ahmed argues that his writings can be categorizedinto four categories: initial Pakistan period, UK and Canada period, FinalPakistan period, and American period (p. 16). Among his major works, Ahmeddescribes his Islamic Methodology in Islam and Major Themes of the Qur'an as'magnum opus'—the former being a 'work on the historical development of Usulul-Fiqh' and later represents both 'a culmination' of as well as 'the finalpresentation of a well-nigh forty year career spent in the study of Quran'(see, pp. 21, 29). Rahman's two other major works are Islam and Islam andModernity (a column on Fazlur Rahman's later work was published in GK on 16thMay, 2019)—the former 'provides a panoramic view of Islam and is presentedusing the methodology in the history of religions' (p. 23) while as the latercommemorates his 'scholarly contribution to the study of Islam and Modernity'with a focus upon the 'Islamic intellectualism created as a result of themedieval learning attained from higher Islamic education' (pp. 28, 29). Thechapter also highlights the sources of Rahman's thought. 'Fazlur Rahmanconsiders', the author says, 'that Islamic doctrine, law and thinking in generalare based upon four sources, or fundamental principles (usul): (1) Qur'an, (2)Sunnah ("Traditions"), (3) Ijma ("consensus"), and (4) Ijtihad ("individualthought") (p. 41).

Chapter II, "Emergence and Early Development of IslamicTheology" (pp. 71-153), begins by the argument that the 'historical studies ofFazlur Rahman on Islamic theology (kalam) have attempted to analyse andevaluate the entire history of kalam' and his 'analytical method is synthetic',for it attempts to provide a 'synthesis between Modern Orientalist methodologyand the history of kalam literature' (p. 71). Later, it deliberates on hiscategorization of kalam into four major stages: Classical, Medieval, ClassicalModernism, and Contemporary Modernism (p. 72). In this chapter some of thearguments put forth by Ahmed are: Rahman considers that early schools ofdialectical theology (kalam) emerged in 2nd century AH; 'the Mu'tazila posedand solved all these problems theologically, not philosophically; their entirethought was theo-centric'; 'the problem of the freedom of the human will versusdivine determinism' was 'the second major theological difference whichthreatened the unity of the community' in the second and third century AH;'Al-Ghazali (d. 505/ 1111) represented the first great reaction against therationalist systems of the philosophers, monumental in the depth of durabilityof its influence'; Ibn Taymiya's theology can be described as a 'form ofIslamic positivism' or 'reformist orientation'; 'Puritanical traditionalism' and'Modernism' are two basic approaches to 'modern knowledge by modern Muslimtheorists'; the classical modernists, like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and MuhammadAbduh, 'developed a reformist ideology of Islam whose centre was the creationof a modern 'ilm al-kalam that would be compatible with the weltanchauung bornof the new 19th century scientism and the Qur'anic teaching at the same time';and Muhammad Iqbal's work, especially his The Reconstruction of ReligiousThought in Islam, 'represents an attempt by a Muslim modernist to address theneed that Khan identified' (see, pp. 80, 81, 93, 124, 131, 134, 138, 143, 144).

Chapter-III elucidates Rahman's "Concept of God" (pp.154-207). It begins by the argument that in his theological thought, it holds'the position of representing the worldview or weltanchauung of Islam', andthat the sources of his 'conceptualization are in Islam's normative sources andnot in the historical sources' (p. 154). It further elaborates that 'Rahman'stheological thought is representative of two criteria: (1) fulfilling thedemands of the Qur'anic message (2) satisfying the needs of the contemporarymodern Islam' (p. 156). It concludes with the argument that 'the correctmethodology that needed to be followed in developing a creative and dynamicsystem of thought necessitated that the Qur'an be studied as a unity, afterwhich the metaphysical foundations for the God-World-Man relationship beexpressed in a systematic theological expression; thereafter Islamic ethics andlaw' (p. 202).

Chapter-IV deliberates on Rahman's "Concept of Prophethood"(pp. 208-262) which, for him, "comprised of human beings that are speciallyelected by God to receive divine revelation' (p. 219). He posits his theorybased on Ibn Sina's doctrine, incorporating further elements from Shah WaliUllah and Iqbal regarding revelation, and argues that 'prophethood is comprisedof two main principles: (1) the moral élan of divine revelation (2) prophecyand divine relation (pp. 218-19). Rahman, in Ahmed's opinion, is of the beliefthat the 'prophetic insight is so strong that it generates new values and iscreative of knowledge. Hence, the prophet's overall behaviour is deemed theSunnah (the trodden path), or the "perfect model"' (p. 226).

Ahmed further highlights that Rahman, especially in his bookProphecy in Islam, affirms that: 'the Qur'an is the only miracle professed bythe Prophet (s) and only by its veracity the Prophet is proven to be aprophet'; 'the doctrine of moral élan of the Qur'an' is the second essentialcomponent in his conception of prophethood (p. 227); 'there are two kinds ofprophetic activities: the intellectual revelation and the imaginativerevelation' (p. 231); he agrees with the 'orthodoxy's doctrine of propheticinfallibility ('isma)' (p. 239); he 'rejects the orthodox doctrine ofintercession [Shifa'at al-Nabi] and considers it to be: (1) entirely againstthe Qur'anic élan and (2) an innovation accrued in the second and third century[AH]'; 'the doctrine of intercession was in contradiction with his purported"doctrine of responsibility"', basing his views on these Qur'anic verses: Q. 6:94, 165; 17: 15; 19: 80; 35: 18; 39: 7; and 53: 38 (p. 242); and 'In the Qur'anthe "doctrine of intercession" has been rejected and affirmed in differentverses' like Q. 19: 87 and 20: 109 (p. 254).

Though the book is rich both in its content and analysis,but unfortunately it ends without any Conclusion. By doing this, the author hasignored, and skipped, a significant part of his work; further, it has deprivedthe readers to know the overall contribution of the book. Moreover, the book isflawed by many typos as well; some examples are: 'Fazlur Rahman responded to itwas more appropriate' (p. 59); 'practical attitude developed within in thecommunity' (p. 75); 'an orientation towards to the contemporary West' (p. 143),etc.

Keeping aside these shortcomings, the book is a significantcontribution in highlighting Fazlur Rahman's works and thought as a Mutakkalim/theologian, for he has been discussed mostly as a philosopher, or modernistthinker, or as a precursor to the Qur'anic hermeneutic and less as atheologian-philosopher. This is where the merit of this book lies. In sumAhmed's The Theological Thought of Fazlur Rahman is a significant addition tothe trends in Islamic thought in general and to literature on the life andthought of Fazlur Rahman in particular. It will be received well by thescholars of Islamic Studies, Theology, and Philosophy.

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDCPulwama, Kashmir.

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