"Radical simply means grasping things at the root," according to Angela Davis, an American political activist. Going to the core of the matter is the responsibility of those referred to in the Quran as "people of core" (ulul albab). In our discussion of how the Muslim has been likened to a tree, we have been talking about the roots that enable that tree to bear fruit in all seasons.
We mentioned two of those roots last week, revelation and prophecy, but there are more of these "enablers". Among them is cultural continuity. In its formal sense it manifests as the consensus of scholars (ijma). But in its secondary sense, cultural continuity reflects the Sacred Law's recognition of custom. "Custom is an arbiter," says the jurist's maxim. It not only allows for the ideals of theology to find a place in our day-to-day lives, but also for the teachings of Islam to recognise validity in all cultures and to participate and illumine a diversity of regional and ethnic human experience. The Muslim is further rooted in intellectual creativity. Analogical reasoning (qiyas) allows for established principles to accommodate new challenges; and pure juristic reasoning (ijtihad) is the means by which the aims and purposes of the Islamic worldview can negotiate new contexts.
This week we will be celebrating the Eid of Adha and the Standing on the Plain of Arafat by the pilgrims the day before. It was on that day, in that spot, just 1,420 years ago that the Prophet Mohammed delivered his famous farewell sermon at the Mount of Mercy. Thousands of men, women and children had joined him for his farewell pilgrimage. They surrounded him as far as he could see, hoping to catch a final glimpse, seeking his teachings on the rites of pilgrimage, but most of all, anticipating his final directives. It is telling to look at what he emphasised in that farewell sermon. Whatever he chose to highlight would be key teachings that would form the roots of generations to come.
There are 10 themes in the farewell sermon; five of those are concerned with social justice. Another is concerned with civil security requiring adherence to the public order. The Prophet begins by asserting the sanctity and inviolability of life and property; he forever links their sanctity with that of the day of Arafat and the sacred precincts of Mecca themselves. The validity of intertribal blood feuds will not be recognised and are to cease immediately. Usury is an illegal violation of social justice, and Muslims are responsible for establishing a fair economic system - one where people who have paid their savings to college loans, and now with a loved one in need of an unaffordable operation are not penalised for their strained circumstances.
He devotes a great deal of space to women's rights. Fear God regarding women: "I exhort you to take their well-being to heart." God has entrusted you with responsibility for their best interests. Realise that just as you have rights on them, they have rights on you. Finally he leaves us with the rights of servants; those who depend on you for the nature of their circumstances and their livelihood. Feed them from what you eat and clothe them to the same standards as you would expect for yourselves. If they make a mistake that you do not want to pardon, then let them go rather than inflict harm.
If we forget where we come from, we will certainly be unhappy with where we end up. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.