Islamic Iran Leading Global Movement Against Sectarianism and for Unity (2)

Islamic Iran Leading Global Movement Against Sectarianism and for Unity (2)

There have been a few attempts to produce what are referred to as encyclopedias, but these are essentially collections of essays put together on various aspects of the Seerah, with little or no coherence. Equally lamentable is the fact that most universities in the Muslim world do not have specific programs of Seerah studies. These are subsumed under Islamic studies, where the Seerah is but one of many subjects that are taught. In countries where there are well-established chairs for Seerah studies (Pakistan for instance), little research work has been done. At the Islamic University in Islamabad, there is a library with more than 3,000 books on the Seerah, yet no scholar has thought of doing any original research into the Seerah. The same is true of other universities in the country, where Seerah chairs exist, but no research is undertaken to produce any original ideas or courses of action.

In some Muslim countries“ Iran and Turkey, for instance“ there are serious attempts being made to study other disciplines and produce original material on Islam. At the Imam Reza Institute in Mashhad, an encyclopedia of the Quran is being prepared under the guidance of Ayatullah Waez-zadeh Khorasani. At least ten volumes have been produced in Arabic; ten more are under preparation.  At the Centre for Islamic Studies (Islam Arastirmalari Merkezi, ISAM) in Istanbul, an institution affiliated with the Foundation of Religious Affairs in Turkey, an encyclopedia of Islam is being produced; thirty-three volumes of this 43-volume series have been completed. Unfortunately, these are in Turkish and it will be some years before Arabic and English translations become available. Still, this indicates seriousness on the part of some scholars in the Ummah to undertake fundamental research and produce original works.

There is one other aspect worth mentioning. Egypt is an important centre of learning in the Muslim world. This is not only because of al-Azhar but also because Egypt has produced a number of great scholars. Even today some original work on Islam is done there. Additionally, there are individual scholars in different countries doing research on their own. Some Muslim rulers have also got involved in this area.  For instance, the Royal Palace in Rabat, Morocco, has a huge library but the king is interested only in tasawwuf. A great deal of work is being done in this area; next come Hadith and fiqh: Seerah studies are not part of his plan. 

Given the lack of intellectual curiosity in the Muslim world and, even worse, a detachment from the Seerah except at a purely emotional level, it is not surprising that Muslims are in such dire straits. Without a clear understanding and appreciation of the Seerah, we Muslims will not be able to break out of the present state of jahiliyyah that we have fallen into. But, Seerah studies should not be reduced to producing more books on the same pattern as has existed for centuries. The Saudis are notorious for this.  They have sponsored a number of books on the Seerah, and each year they also give awards for such books.  These books may be helpful at some level or other, but what they lack is any originality.  Almost every book is a straight narration of the Prophets life, with some additional anecdotes or hadiths mentioned to make it slightly different from the ones produced earlier.  It is time to move beyond this approach and to begin to look at the Seerah as a model for change. This will not come about unless Muslims begin to analyze the Seerah.

This requires both original work and an original approach to understanding the Seerah. More importantly, the Seerah must be used to derive lessons for the Muslims present condition. Every Seerah book narrates that for the first thirteen years of his mission the Prophet (saw) was powerless in Mecca, yet he established the Islamic State in Medina soon after arriving there. How did this transformation from a state of virtual powerlessness to complete power and authority take place? What factors were involved in changing the conditions in and around Medina to give, the Prophet (saw) complete control over his immediate environment? In addition, how did he use the power that he acquired? Regrettably, no Seerah book provides any answers to these basic questions.  We need to ask why, and begin to work out the answers.

The international Seerah conferences that are held each year provide opportunities to direct the attention of Muslim scholars to this vital area. If Muslims begin to show some originality and creativity in studying the Seerah, there is no reason why we cannot break out of our present predicament and begin to transform our condition in a short period of time. This task must begin in earnest and soon. The energy and resources expended in such conferences will begin to yield results only when Muslims put their minds to serious work. There is no shortage of scholars; only their minds need to be set in the new direction.

One final point is in order. Seerah studies are not a substitute for studying other aspects of Islam“ the Quran, ahadith, fiqh and so on. What is being proposed is that we Muslims begin to look at the Seerah from a new perspective. The time for such an approach is now, not later.