Dogs, faith and reason — Syahril Jalil

JULY 10 — “Surely the worst of living creatures in God's sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason” — Quran, 8:22

As we can see from the above Quranic verse, the worst of living creatures are neither dogs nor pigs but those who shun themselves away from reasoning.

Within the realm of the Quran, a Muslim will discover many verses concerning the necessity of reasoning. But that Quranic realm is as far as he can go. The moment a Muslim steps out of this realm, the situation can be quite different.

Suddenly the Muslim finds himself trapped in a myriad of ruĺes and interpretations dictated by his fellow Muslims — the fellowship of ulamas and jurists who gets the final say in matters of divinity.

The present online debate on the position of dogs in Islam is one fine example of how, outside the Quranic realm, things can turn topsy-turvy for a Muslim — sometimes giving rise to a conflict between the traditionalist Muslims and the rationalist Muslims (erroneously called liberal Muslims).

In the ongoing conflict between the traditionalists and the rationalists, both are at odds in other areas as well, including the rights of women, freedom of religion and temporal laws. In the traditionalists' world, ulama's “fatwa” (juristic opinion) alone is sufficient for the traditionalists to accept a ruling as divine.

Reasons merely lend supplementary support and at times is considered redundant. Once a fatwa is issued, traditionalists acceptance of perceived divine rules is almost instantaneous.

Rationalists, on the other hand, seeks to examine the reasons before accepting a fatwa, hence the hesitation to simply accept scriptural interpretations of traditionalists ulama on absolute basis.

Taking the debate on dogs again as an example, nothing in the Quran describes dogs as impure. In fact the Quran clearly states that it is permissable to eat animals caught by dogs (Quran 5:4). Step outside the Quranic realm and suddenly a Muslim finds himself confronted by a myriad set of juristic opinions concerning dogs, to the extent dogs are considered as impure and are discouraged from being raised as pets.

As it is now, the traditionalists are jealously guarding their belief eco-systems and institutions from any challenges. Any attempt by the rationalists to break free from the status quo will be viewed as an attack against Islam.

This hostile attitude is no different from the attitude of Christian Europe in the seventeenth century when they caged Galileo's reason in prison. It is also quite similar to the attitude adopted by the “Kaum Tua” (Traditionalists) towards “Kaum Muda” (Reformists) in Malaysia during the nineteenth and twentieth century Malaya.

With willingness to accept differences, faith and reason can co-exist in harmony. That seems like a remote possibility for now. In the meantime I ask myself: Is the command of Allah represented by Quranic verses or juristic opinion?

“And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views.” — Quran, 11:118

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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