For most who have no idea what I a talking about, here is the background; this is a hadith from Sahih Muslim, “It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah who said: On the day he returned from the Battle of Ahzab, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) made for us an announcement that nobody would say his Zuhr prayer but in the quarters of Banu Quraiza (Some) people, being afraid that the time for prayer would expire, said their prayers before reaching the street of Banu Quraiza. The others said: We will not say our prayer except where the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has ordered us to say it even if the time expires. When he learned of the difference in the view of the two groups of the people, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be tipon him) did not blame anyone from the two groups.”
Although Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) did not blame any group nor favoured any. He accepted both the positions. This is the hadith which gives legal status to rationalism in Islam, however some rationalists went too far in their theories and philosophies. And this forms the backbone of contention between me and several so called progressive Muslims, because I am a traditional Literalist. Because if you are a literalist it is not possible that your interpretation could be wrong. Not that I say that all Rationalists are wrong in everything, but I do believe that it is easy to rationalise laws to twist them making things halal that are haram. I will prove how some rationalists have exploited rationalism to harm Islam and commit Biddah. I will produce three examples from my experience where you can see from three different angles of the literalist and rationalist arguments.
- Growing of Beard: In this Hadith, Prophet (peace be upon him) says, “Do the opposite of what the Mushriks do. Keep the beards and cut the moustache short.” Now as a literalist my interpretation is that we must do the opposite of Mushriks, and the specific example being of the beard. Hence to me both are equally important. Unless you live in a place where opposite may be true (ie Mushriks in that area keep beard and trim moustache). But, to a rationalist, the key thing is to do opposite of Mushriks do and not keeping the beard, hence some of them say that keeping beard is not compulsory. Now I do not agree with it entirely, there is a lot of scope in the hadith to justify rationalist stand.
- Home Loans: This has been a bone of contention between me and several rationalists. Since Quran says, “O you who believe! Eat not Riba (usury) doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful.” many rationalist say that the type of interest that was charged during the Jahilliya was extortionate and hence that kind of Riba was prohibited, but the Home Loans are given out today at 2%-5% which is not even close to Double or Multiplied as the Quran prohibits. This is where rationalists start deviating from principles because there is a hadith which says, “If a large amount of anything causes intoxication, a small amount of it is prohibited.” This hadith is used to interpret what ever is prohibited in large quantities is also prohibited in small quantities. Hence for me all types of Riba are banned, because Prophet prohibited things in smaller quantities where large quantities were banned. But rationalists say that this is not a principle of Riba but consumption of intoxicants. Similarly many rationalists have legalised eating of Non Halal meat in foreign countries, shaking hands with opposite sex, etc.
- Rationalists like Mutazilites: I won’t go into huge details, but around 100 years after prophet a school of Rationalists came up who denied Al Qadr (Destiny) saying that if Man has Free Will than there can’t be a destiny that drives him, and if it is the destiny that drives him than he does not have free will. This argument comes from the limited knowledge of Islam, I have covered this in the article Divine Destiny here . Once you read this article you will realise that Man’s Free Will has nothing to do with Divine Destiny. Plus even if Al Qadr did not explain Man’s Free Will, it still does not mean that you can deny Al Qadr. It is undeniably in Quran and Hadith and if you can’t understand it, it does not mean that you can deny it.
So my conclusion is that it is better to be a literalist and interpret everything to the closer meaning of the literal words than any other meaning which could also be interpreted.