violence against ordinary people – as one of the most prevalent tactics used by
the fundamentalist groups - is justified within the theoretical framework of
certain contemporary Islamic ideas. These ideas are redefined in
fundamentalist-revivalist thought and have lost their original meaning. The
superannuated and prominent concept of ‘return to the self’ is among the most
significant concepts in this line of thought. The Salafists have introduced
this idea as a means to justify returning to an imagined past. They are
inspired by the history of the idea of recovering the ideal ‘self’ in Islamic
thought; however, they have exploited this idea to their personal advantage.
Javad Miri, is a professor at The Humanities and Cultural studies Research
Center who works on the idea of ‘return to the self’ in Islamic thought. He
stated that this idea has been shaped contemporaneously with, and influenced by
the colonial era and influenced by a sense of identity crisis in Islamic
societies. As Seyyed Fakhorddin Shademan has mentioned, the alienation was the
result of the Muslim subject being subjugated by the western civilization; a
subjugation by the western Other that resulted in Us losing ourselves. In other
words, the Muslim world was subjugated by its Other and we lost our own
subjectivity and became the object for the West, a cultural subject. He added
that under these circumstances the Islamic thought was confronted with such
questions as "who we really are?" And consequent attempts to answer
these question ensued in searching for the ‘the self’ – as Muhammad Iqbal
explained. The reformist movement started with Al-Afghani and the idea of
‘return to the self’ gained momentum in this line of thought. The ‘self’ and
the ‘return to the self’ are ideas discussed not only by Iqbal and Shariati,
but also by thinkers such as Malik-ibn-Nabi and Hussain Alatas.
genuine theoretical backgrounds for the concept of ‘return to the self’, Miri
stated that there is a movement, among others, that tries to westernize all
Islamic societies, that wants Islamic societies abandon their identity and
embrace modernization. There is another line of thought that wants to ignore
modernity and stay isolated, or wants to reverse what we have now to a previous
state. However, what prepared the ground for the ‘return to the self,’ is the
third way that wants to interact with tradition and modernity and recover the
contemporary Muslim ‘self’ in relation to tradition and modernity.
added that return to ‘the self’ with a revivalist approach is a reminder of
human ambition to travel in time. Time is one of the elements that humans have
never been able to rule over and has been among the long-desired human wishes.
Rashid Reza and other Salafist thinkers' interpretation of the concept of
‘return to the self’ is a reductionist one. In this sense, ‘return to the self’
is a return to a past life-style. Instead of having an active encounter with
the western civilization and trying to impose our life-style on it; they ignore
all the progress and want to return to a previous era.
member of The Humanities and Cultural Studies Research Center maintained that
revivalist interpretation of the concept of ‘return to the self’ is an
aberration and added that return to the self has never been a call to go back
to the past, nor an invitation to retreat. ‘Return to the self’, is in fact
recovering and exploring ‘the self’ in relation to tradition and modernity.
What Iqbal meant by ‘return to the self’ was in fact revitalizing religious
thought in modern times and not an invitation for going back to the past. The
Salafist thought abandons ‘the self’ that must be revived for the contemporary
world; therefore, in this line of thought, the ‘return to the self’ project is
nipped in the bud. It is because, ‘the self’ that the Salafists are talking
about is not a contemporary self, but a 1400-year-old self
of rationality in Salafism
Javad Miri added that the main issue that results in the deviation of the
concept of ‘return to the self’ in Salafist thought is the relationship that
this line of thought established between the competency of human mind and using
the Islamic reference texts (naghl). In Islamic religious terminology, there
are two prophets: internal and external. The discussion on the role that
rationality can play in relation to reference texts or naghl has experienced
extreme ebb and flows and have been through different stages. These changes
became so extreme in the Sunni Islam that resulted in the cessation of Ijtihad
(a jurist’s (faghih’s) independent reasoning). In a sense, the Sunni jurists
can only refer to their quadruple Imams and search for the rules based on their
works. However, on a more significant note, it closes the door to mo’aserat.
Mo’aserat means that one considers contemporaneity and identifies contemporary
trends as legitimate.
pointed out that throughout the history, among different Muslim sects,
rationality has paled in comparison to other quadruple sources of Islamic
thought including the book (Quran), tradition, Ijma (consensus among jurists)
and rationality. Although among the Shia, rationality was still acknowledged.
However, it was a rationality justified within naghl. In other words, even in
Shia Islam, rationality is not an independent source and it is used as a tool
for Ijtihad. It should also be noted that neither Sunnis, nor Shia consider
naghl as having divine or revelatory origin.
continued to say that in fact, Quran is one part of naghl and naghl, per se,
has a cultural history. Naghl emerged among the Bedouin Arabs and it was
practiced during the short periods of prophet’s and Imam Ali’s rule in early
years of Islam; however, later during the long Umayyad Caliphate it was
established as the foremost source in Islamic thought. I have said before that naghl in Islamic
thought is more cultural than divine or based on revelation; one can even claim
that it is an Umayyad product and it has an Arabic hue. We have inherited such
for ‘Return to the Self’
writer of the book Cultural Iran: Iran’s Opportunities and Challenges in
Tatarestan (The Arab World) mentioned an intellectual tradition within the
Sunni and Shia Islam that has gained a historical identity. This tradition has
tried to ignore rationality as a source of knowledge. He added that the
tendency to use reason among the Middle Ages scholars was based on the
influence of Shia thought.
pointed out that a contesting tradition was the existing philosophical
tradition throughout the Islamic history; a philosophical line that was
exclusive to cultural Iran and influenced by Shia rationalism. He clarified
that when one talks about being Shia in this context, one is not referring to
Shia Sharia. For instance, Al-Biruni had a teacher called Abdol-Samad Hakim who
was executed as he was found guilty of being a Shia Muslim. Al-Biruni was also
accused of being a Shia. However, I do not think that Al-Biruni followed Shia
jurisprudence. At that time, whenever someone had rationalist tendencies and
made use of rationality in his religious beliefs, he was called Shia. In this
sense, Al-Biruni’s idea in particular and the philosophical tradition in Islamic
history in general, have Shia roots. This prevailed as far as the Safavid
Javad Miri went on to say that in contemporary Islamic thought, the sects that
have more affinities with rationalism and independent reasoning are located further
from revivalism and fundamentalism – whether they are Shia or Sunni. This
intellectual movement gives a more genuine account of the self.
concluded that there have sometimes been convergences between Shia rationality
and Sunni rationality. For instance, the Sunni Scholar, Hamid Abuzeid believes
that we must reconstruct Shia or Mu’tazila rationalism. The same idea can be
traced in Shahid Motahhari’s thought that regrets Mu’tazila’s disappearance. It
seems that there is a growing tendency among the Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims
to use reason in understanding religion; a rationality similar to the one that
Al-Farabi talks about it. This kind of rationality gradually degraded in Sunni
and Islam after Al-Farabi; when it was metamorphosed into Salafist response to
“Selves” that “Really” exist
Pourhasan, a professor of the Department of Philosophy at the Allameh
Tabataba'i University said that there are different views on ‘the self’ in the
Islamic thought. Salafist and fundamentalist interpretations stem from the
Sunni Islam; meanwhile, the traditional rationalism in Shia Islam prevents from
emergence of Salafists tendencies.
pointed out that a correct understanding of the concept of return to the self
requires a look at the different renditions of this concept throughout the
history of the Islamic thought and examining the modern interpretations in the
contemporary era. As an idea, ‘return to the self’, have been used by Muslim
scholars in five different meanings. Historically, it can be traced back to the
ideas of theologians such as Al-Ghazali, who posed this idea against Greek
rationality; which is different from what for instance, Iqbal ascribes as ‘the
self’. In Al-Ghazali’s time, ‘return to the self’ implied a cleansing of the
heresies brought on by the rationalist and philosophical traditions of the
fifth and sixth century and a return to the early Islamic era or the original
stated that the first phase of “return to the self” was concurrent with the
dominance of Ash’ari theology. He pointed out that the second phase began with
Ibn Taymiyyah, which was distinct from the first phase. During the Ibn
Taymiyyah’s time, the main discussion was around anti-rationality and an
opposition to rational arguments. Although, some like Al-Ghazali supported
logic and used it to prove their ideas. Back then, ‘return to the self’ found a
Salafist form and was a summons to anti-intellectualism. The third meaning of
‘return to the self’ is synonymous with what Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab said.
He wanted to remove the manifestations of polytheism from the Islamic beliefs,
a wish more important to him even compared to his Salafist concerns. What
Wahhabism implies by ‘return to the self’ is a return to monotheism; not a
return to the era of Salaf-e Salih (the good past). Abd al-Wahhab followed this
line in his book, The Book of the Oneness of God, however, he started to
believe in a form of determinism and became concerned with the extreme forms of
monotheism and polytheism.
as a philosophy professor believes that the idea of ‘return to the self’ is the
most important groundwork for the development of the fundamentalist thought.
Fundamentalist sects consider art and artistic work polytheistic and as a
result, for instance, ISIS, has shown a destructive approach to historical
monuments and artworks.
Pourhasan ’s opinion, the fourth meaning of ‘return to the self’ is the popular
perception among the Shia thinkers who did not believe in Salaf-e Salih. He
elaborated that such a movement is associated with Al-Afghani in the Islamic
World. In this movement, a short period in the Islamic era known as the Golden
Age of Islamic Thought is proposed as an antithesis to Salafism. This Golden
Age refers to the time span during which scholars like Avicenna and Al-Farabi
disseminated rationalist ideas; the first ‘return to the self’ phase was in
fact a reaction to them.
also mentioned a fifth meaning that can be found in Tabataba’i and Motahhari’s
ideas, which is, in fact, a summons to return to Quran. In this sense of return
to the self, our contemporary lives have distanced itthe self from Quran to
such an extent that the escape route is a return to Quranic teachings. This
approach values rational awakening.
rationality against Akhbarism
the writer of Comparative Hermeneutics: A Study of the Similarities in Islamic
and Western Philosophies of Interpretation, mentioned that there is
considerable difference between the ‘the self’ in Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.
He said that in Shia Islam’s ‘return to the self,’ Akhbarism [which reject the
use of reasoning in deriving verdicts, and believed Quran and hadith (sayings
of Prophet Muhammad and Twelve Shia Imams) as the only source of law] is
considered a aberration which leads to an aborted project of recovering ‘the
self.’ What is called Salafism and Akhbarism in Shia Islam, is in fact
traditionalism; it is not an endeavor to return to a certain era in the past.
‘The return’ proposed by the Shia is supposedly an intellectual one. This means
that Shia Islam acknowledges the modernity, however, it wants to embed Islamic
inheritance (ideas) in this era and tries to modernize the Islamic ideas.
Traditionalists like Hossein Nasr have emphasized on this point. The Shia Islam
contemplates a way out of this present state of decadence, however, it does not
negate the contemporary world; it tries to find a solution for the degeneration
of the era.
four characteristics of the concept of ‘Return to The self’ in Shia thought
finds four excellent characteristics in Shia thought in regards to the concept
of ‘return to the self’:
‘Return to the self’ in Shia thought is related to proposing a discussion of
the Golden Age of Islam or the era that philosophical thought was prospering.
This Golden Age in the Sunni thought refers to the early Islamic era and
Salaf-e Salih (the good past).
The revivalist Shia thought is a revolutionary one and wants to change the
existing conditions. This revolutionary thought does not exist in the Sunni
Islam. As Tabataba’i pointed out, in the early Islamic era and the prophet’s
time, there was no intellectual improvements; in fact, the Islamic thought was
immature and trivial. In other words, Shia thought is a critique of the
Shia Islam’s concept of ‘return to the self’ is rationalist. The Shia scholars’
criterion for recovering ‘the self’ is reasoning and wisdom. Meanwhile, in
Sunni thought the main role belongs to fideism.
The Shia concept of ‘return to the self’ does not prescribe revivalism; it
wants to recover past traditions in accordance to the contemporary world. It
wants to find its ‘self’ now by rereading Tarath and Badaye’a. In contrast,
traditional Salafism demands a rupture from contemporary era and modernity.
the end, Pourhasan pointed out that rationality in Shia thought is not
synonymous with Greek rationality and autonomous reason. It is a rationality
shaped by religion and within Islam. The anti-intellectualism of Akhbarism and
Salafism target Greek rationality. Pourhasan maintained that Shia rationality
is a religious one; it is not autonomous and independent. This type of
rationality that is used by the dynamic Shia jurisprudence has prevented from
the development of Salafist and fundamentalist tendencies in Shia scholars.
Yousef Seifi & Somaye Rezaei
Source: MEHR News Agency