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AL-MAHDI INSTITUTE

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Issue 6/Volume 1

From Conservative Hermeneutics
to Post-Hermeneutics
By Michael Mumisa BA (DUN), BA Hons., MA (RAU).

Traditional Islamic theological genres have always claimed universality and objectivity based on an alleged freedom from sociohistorical conditioning in the development of 'ilm al-kalam. Shahid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani were probably the first twentieth century Muslim scholars to openly criticise traditional 'ilm al-kalam.  Shahid Baqir al-Sadr however did not publish any book specifically dealing with the subject of 'ilm al-kalam apart from the introduction he wrote for the book al-Fatawa al-wadihah. This introduction, which he titled Muwjaz fi usul al-din, gives us an insight into his view regarding what he calls 'the short-comings of kalam'.  In very strong language, Shahid Baqir al-Sadr calls for a total 'destruction of  kalam from its root in order to reconstruct another 'ilm al-kalam that takes into consideration theory and praxis' (1982. p.11). What is interesting is his use of terms such as 'tafkik' which in English literally means 'deconstruction' and his constant use of the Marxist term 'praxis' . It is here that we see parallels between the theology that Shahid Baqir is proposing and the twentieth century Teologia de la liberacion (Liberation Theology) of Gustavo Gutierrez. 

In my paper 'Towards an African Qur'anic Hermeneutics' (Journal of Qur'anic Studies published by School of Oriental and African, London) I explained why Islamic theology must 'demythologize' and why a reading from an African perspective was not just possible but necessary. We argued that the received traditional theology constitute the 'other', and that it is a result of interpretations, which obviously affected the self-understanding of their societies and were largely influenced by the socio-cultural, political and historical conditions in which they developed. Conditions which are different from those of contemporary society. Moreover, there is a time space gap not only between contemporary society and the classical interpretations of Islamic theology, but just as much between us and the Qur'an itself. Therefore, our theological and hermeneutical voice must be grounded in and must grow out of this identity of otherness. In this way decontextualisation and recontextualisation of Islamic theology with regard to the texts as with regard to their readers is imperative. The theory of interpretation of the Qur'an from an our own perspective, with its model of dialogue focussed primarily upon the response of the reader to classical Islamic theology, does allow for a responsible pluralism of readings based on the recognition of the plurality in text and reader.

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