Sunday, March 22, 2009

Exercising Judgment!

That an act of physical purification can help the seeker along the path of spiritual purification is a lesson contained in the conversion story of Umar ib al-Khattab. Initially one of the staunchest enemies of Islam among the Meccans, Umar was enraged when he discovered that his sister Fatima had become a Muslim. After a violent argument with her, Umar asked to see the parchment from which she was reading a passage of the Quran. Fatima replied, "My brother, you are impure in your polytheism and only the purified may touch it." After Umar rose and washed himself, his sister gave him the page on which was written Sura Ta Ha (20). Reading the words, Umar declared, "How fine and noble is this speech!" Then Umar went to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and declared his conversion to Islam.

One notable aspect of this story is that Fatima exercised her judgment in what is often reduced by many Muslims to a simple Islamic legal issue, viz., whether it is permissible to touch the mushaf - or a portion of it - without having performed ritual purification. In strict legal terms, it is impossible for a non-Muslim to complete ritual purification, since a condition of this act of worship, like all other acts of worship, is that one forms the explicit intention (niyya) to perform this act in Obedience to God in accordance with the instructions of the Prophet Muhammad. If no other relevant factors are taken into account, the logical conclusion is that no non-Muslim should be permitted to handle the mushaf. However, sound Islamic legal reasoning entails consideration of many factors involved in a case - including assessment of the harms and benefits (al-darr wa'l-nafa), the common good (al-maslaha al-'amma), and the broad goals of the Law (al-maqasid).

Thus, through the centuries, Muslim scholars, like this early Muslim woman Fatima, exercised their judgment in determining when and how it might be permissible to give or sell a mushaf to a non-Muslim. At the same time, it is probably accurate to say that the strictly legal requirement of purity for touching the mushaf is less of an issue to most Muslims than the concern that the mushaf will be treated in a disrespectful fashion. It is this same concern that led many scholars to discourage or forbid young children from handling the mushaf, since their inability to truly understand the sacrality of the text could lead them to handle it inappropriately.

Compiled From:
"The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life" - Ingrid Mattson, p. 155, 156

No comments: