In search of the best of traditions

Tradition and Traditionalism are not the same thing. The latter appropriates the former to undermine even legitimate critique. Just because something is old or because it has been practiced for generations, it does not mean it is correct.

We have many traditions in our heritage which bear no resemblance to the tradition of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Defending tradition means defending what the Prophet brought, not everything that has been handed down to us regardless of its providence.

How many times must we hear the self-declared Traditionalist blame the Wahhabi for an action which is sanctioned in their own traditional fiqh? Surely if it is deemed wrong for the Wahhabi, it is must also be wrong for the Traditionalist.

I suspect that if the Traditionalist truly reflected on all that they had inherited, they would not be quite so vocal in defending absolutely everything regardless of veracity as they do now in honour of deceased, approved scholars and the venerated sanctity of tradition. When they see that many an unpalatable component of practice that comes to light when Muslims exercise power can be found in classical texts, surely they will stop constantly blaming the Other and begin to look inward with more critical eyes.

When we say we follow tradition, we should continually ask ourselves if we are really being guided and bound by the truth. When we say we follow tradition, it should really mean we are seeking the truth. We are not called upon to defend institutions or ways of thinking. We are not asked to defend every great man who passed before us. We are not asked to close our eyes to the impact of politics and violence on our tradition, to stick our fingers in our ears or look the other way.

Not long ago I considered myself a Traditionalist. I too believed in the absolute sanctity of the entire school of fiqh I tried to adhere to; and, indeed, in the personal realm I continue to follow it as best as I am able. I have no interest in jettisoning everything that has come to us indiscriminately. But not everything is well, and here comes the critical point.

We can continue as usual and pretend that everything is okay. We can keep on blaming the Wahhabi for apparent aberration, concealing the evident truth that a reading of our classical texts makes clear. We can keep on celebrating whenever our learned sages republish the censure of a revered muhadith against those scholars of the past who arrived at a divergent opinion through their own hard work and reasoning, oblivious to the veracity or otherwise of the opinion. We can keep on glorifying tradition, whatever the cost, even at the expense of the message of the Messenger of God, peace be upon him.

Or we can find some common ground, reject idiotic labels of all kinds, and search, search for the truth, hard work though that undoubtedly is. Here we are in search of the tradition of the Prophet, peace be upon him. The best of traditions.

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