Gradually there is an awakening within. New thoughts emerge, no longer the taboo they once were. Realisations dawn, and then become a new norm: it is as if over the past 15 years, as I’ve toyed with various sectarian narratives of Islam, I have allowed naql to completely trump ‘aql.
As the awakening takes hold, I am coming to believe that the “Traditionalist Movement” which claims to counter the “Salafi Movement” is really the same thing, just with slightly different terms of reference, such as the insistence on adhering to a madhab versus appealing directly to hadith. In reality, both stifle the intellect and demand that we conform to their respective interpretations of tradition, which are often intolerant of alternative thought.
I have appreciated encountering considered contemplation recently which counters this milieu: non-sectarian, Qur’an-based reason, which appeals to the essence of Islam. I’m not talking about reformation, but renewal. A return — much like repentance — to the source of our faith. This isn’t about jettisoning scholarship — I don’t deny the importance of chains of narration, following a madhab or respecting the works of old — but I do believe we need to challenge ourselves to keep our faith alive, not just to promulgate a stale immobile reading of our religion.
Every day we encounter the clamour for reform: the demand that we throw away parts of our faith and castrate it. This is not the path I am walking down. Renewal is about rejuvenation: about recognising the impact of politics, power and violence on our collective history and how it has shaped our vision of faith to this day. It is about reappreciating the core of our beliefs, scraping back the layers of dust and grime which have obscured its reality for many of us.
Just as individuals have to constantly renew their faith through repentance, so we as a community need to do the same. We cannot keep adding corruption on top of corruption. We cannot keep witnessing injustices and abuses in our communities and writing it off as a characteristic of tradition. We know what is right and what is wrong, but our slavish appeal to tradition prevents us from redressing our errors. We would not say to ourselves that because we had been sinning all our life that we should not repent, but we collectively say this as a community: because something is old, it stands unquestioned.
In the passing seasons we have the perfect parable for renewal: in the cyclical life of the garden or forest. The dead earth of winter giving way to fresh growth in spring. The flowers, blossoms and fruits of summer, followed by the die back and disarray of autumn. Each year, without fail, comes the renewal of spring, after everything seemed desolate and bare.
Over the past year I let my inner idols run wild until all of a sudden — by God’s grace — I fell on my face in repentance, prepared at last to deliver a hammer’s blow. God’s mercy is unceasing, His signs amazing and true. Somehow as a community we must learn to do the same: to break the idols of power, custom, honour, wealth, self-image. To become God-focused and true. To be servants of the Most Merciful as a people and as individuals. To be prepared for a renewal which truly reforms our souls. This is the reformation we desperately need.