Thursday, July 20, 2017

The 'Ethics of Disagreement' Disagreement

ʿAwwama's "Traditionalist" Ethics of Disagreement                 ʿAlwani's "Reformist" Ethics of Disagreement (Eng)


During my visit to Medina a few years back, I had the opportunity to meet with a prolific writer and editor of works in the Hanafi tradition, Said Bikdash. His gracious hospitality and generosity with his time was equally matched by the vigor with which he defended what he saw as traditional conservative Sunni Islam from what he considered the deviated methods of modernists and reformists. He was a staunch supporter of the concept of taqlīd (defined in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary as 'uncritical and unqualified acceptance of a traditional orthodoxy or of an authoritarian code of a particular religious teacher') and held no sympathy for reformist calls to the practice of its opposite, ijtihād.

He was critical of medieval and modern ʿulamaʾ who had criticized taqlīd, considering them to be a major reason for the decline in authority of the traditionalist scholars. I mentioned medieval scholars such as ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām (1182-1262) and Shams al-Dīn al-Dhahabī (1274-1348) and he cited them as examples of praiseworthy scholars who practiced taqlīd of the Shafiʿī school of jurisprudence. I mentioned that both of them had strong words of praise for the jurisprudential writings of Ibn Ḥazm (994-1064), a medieval scholar whom Bikdash had criticized over his pro-ijtihād, anti-taqlīd position. His response was that this may be an example of a specific praise within a general critique, a concept I had often heard mentioned by the conservative Salafi scholars, rivals to the traditionalists like Bikdash, when referring to medieval Sunni ʿulamaʾ like Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (1372-1449) and al-Nawawī (1233-1277) who endorsed theological positions from the Ashʿarī school rejected in Salafi/Atharī theology.

He directed me to read the book Adab al-Ikhtilāf (Ethics of Disagreement) in order to better understand the manner in which the ʿulamaʾ respectfully handled what they considered acceptable differences of opinion in theology, worship practices, and law. A friend who had accompanied me in my visit said he had read the book and met its author, the late Taha Jabir al-ʿAlwani (1935-2016). Said Bikdash abruptly corrected my friend, and clarified that he was referring to another book of the same title by his shaykh (as well as in-law), Muhammad ʿAwwama of Syria. The book by al-ʿAlwani was considered by Bikdash to contain too many "problems" with respect its pro-ijtihād reformism.

This meeting, in a nutshell, represents the traditionalist/reformist divide within the Sunni ʿulamaʾ class. Al-ʿAlwani's credentials as an Azhari scholar steeped in the Islamic legal tradition would not be questioned by more conservative, traditional ʿulamaʾ and was never denied by Said Bikdash, I must add. And yet, a book on the etiquettes of disagreement has difficulty being accepted when it is written by someone holding the very positions with which one disagrees!

A sampling of the works of Sāʾid Bikdāsh graciously gifted to me after our meeting:

The newly revised and expanded edition of Alwani's Ethics of Disagreement (Arabic):

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