Renewal or break
Three main currents domain thinkers attitudes regarding the civilizational crisis that Islamic societies are going through
Traditional, nostalgia passism falsified innovation – contemporary modernism
What does contemporary reading mean:
The term reading in contemporary writings is presented as an alternative to terms of exegesis, interpretation, handling, and so on.
One of the most appropriate of these definitions of what is meant by contemporary readings is: “The use of modern theories in the interpretation of the Holy Quran.”
This is because the readers of these readings want to apply various types of modern western analytical methodologies so that (the field for the birth of a new interpretative thought of the religious phenomenon) could be liberated. Therefore, there are many readings, not one reading.
Companions of contemporary readings start from the postulate of completeness and correctness of the Western intellectual and philosophical system and the necessity of restricting the Islamic pattern to conform with it
The role of the Prophet, may God’s prayers be upon him and his family, is to transform the absolute into relative and the movement within the limits of God, This is the Sunnah, so that what the Prophet, may God’s prayers be upon him, did was the first possibility to implement Islam in the seventh century, and not the only and last. There are no ready-made templates in advance, and no stoppage of the movement of history in Islam. This is the thing, as Shahrour asserts, which the Prophet and the Companions avoided and we fell into. Therefore, we froze history and mummified ourselves.
Advocates of contemporary reading rely on hermeneutics.
The linguistic origin of the term hermeneutics
It denotes the process of unraveling the mystery surrounding something. The verb hermeneuein was derived from the Hermes’s name, a multi-talented god, including the interpretation of revelation
The idiomatic meaning of the termhermeneutics means describing the philosophical and analytical efforts that are concerned with problems of understanding and interpretation. Hermeneutics is the dilemma of interpreting the text in general, whether this text is a religious text, a historical text, or a literary one. It raises, accordingly, many complex and intertwined questions about the nature of the text and its relationship to heritage and traditions on the one hand, and its relationship with its author on the other hand. Most importantly, they focus their attention remarkably on the relationship of the interpreter with the text.
Although the origin of hermeneutics was the Christian religious text, there are constant Islamic attempts to borrow it and apply it again to the Islamic religious text.
They look for the possibility or legitimacy of the different readings of the religion or the Islamic religious text, taking into account the history of understanding and limiting each understanding and its interpretation to its time, the continuous and permanent change of the process of understanding. They take into consideration the fact that every understanding is affected by its circumstances and its interpreter backgrounds. They also take into account the history of the text and its influence by its era culture, the historical awareness of its author, the interest in the interpreter’s role and its pivotal importance in interpreting the text rather than the author and the text and its centrality. They emphasize the permanent and compulsory interpretation of the interpreter’s awareness, background, circumstances, information, inclinations and prejudices in interpreting the text.
The most important foundations of hermeneutic analysis are
The open text (infinite meaning): it means the openness of significance in the text to an infinite number of exegeses and interpretations, and the openness of the reading open wide to what the interpreter thinks is closer to the right and the truth. There is no room for one opinion, nor for a final word about the meaning of the text.
Lack of an innocent reading: that is, the era of an innocent reading of the text has passed and is gone. Whoever thinks that any reading of the text is a correct reading makes a mistake. Every reading is a possible reading, and thus the right is multiplied by the multiplicity of readings.
Among the supporters of this trend are quite a few contemporary Islam thinkers, such as: Mohammed Arkoun, Al-Tayyib Tizini, Hassan Hanafi, Ali Harb, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Abdel-Majid Al-Sharafi, Abdul Karim Soroush, Muhammed Mujtahid Shabestari and others.
Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid thinks (1943)
That the traditional religious discourse claims its sole possession of absolute truth, and it does not accept the principle of difference in any way. The matter which limits the religious text to a narrow framework based on unification between thought and religion, eliminating the distance between the subject and the object. It interprets all phenomena by returning them to a first cause. It depends on the authority of the ancestor or heritage after converting the heritage texts from human texts into sacred texts that enjoy mental certainty and deterministic intellectual decisiveness. Moreover, it wastes the historical dimension and deliberately ignores it.
Abu Zayd distinguishes between two attitudes of interpretation, or between (interpretation by tradition) and ( interpretation by opinion or exegesis)
He believes that the first has attempted to interpret the text by gathering historical and linguistic evidence that helps to understand the text in an objective understanding, that is, as understood by contemporaries of this text descent. As for the interpretation by opinion or exegesis, it was viewed on the basis that it is a (non- objective) interpretation, because the interpreter does not start from historical facts and linguistic data, but rather starts with his current position, trying to find in the Qur’an a support for this position. Abu Zayd placed interpretation ahead of exegesis for he believes that interpretation is an explanation of the meanings of individual words, while exegesis is deducting structures connotation of, including omission, conclusion, advance, delay, metaphor, simile figure… etc. This makes the Qur’an text wide and more spacious, so that it can accommodate what cannot be comprehended in the case of interpretation which narrows its framework.
That Qur’anic studies should open the Qur’anic text to life and contribute to building a life to which light enters, knowledge and understanding light, and the right to differ in understanding, reading and interpretation.
He thinks that it is inconceivable that Muslims deal with the Holy Qur’an, that great book, with narrow logic, which tightens Muslims when interpretation becomes an unrighteous act. However, when interpretation mechanisms are activated, this means opening the door widely to believers to understand the religious text outside the understanding of the traditional official religious institution framework. This opens the relationship between the believer and his Lord without compulsory resorting to official jurists’ interpretations and exegesis. The more the path between the believer and his Lord is open, the more the believer’s faith increases.
However, it is a faith different from the faith of others, a faith that stems from himself, and from his vision and ideas, a free faith. This is an acknowledgment of the believer’s right to have his heart and mind be his guide to true faith. In fact he warned that the interpreter would fall into a biased interpretation or would be subject to personal and ideological tendencies.
The majority of Muslims who believe that the heresy of exegesis by opinion has returned to us again in the clothes of hermeneutics, as a method for interpreting the religious text, stands on the side of those who refuse the insertion of hermeneutics.
Those who oppose this approach argue that these general foundations or features of hermeneutics are not at all correct and do not correspond to the nature of the sacred religious text. They also argue that their application leads to the de-sanctification of the religious text, and attracts the text towards an expansive interpretation in which the text and the reader together are lost. This approach puts the religious text alongside the human creative texts equating between what is divine and what is human, without any distinction
Muhammad Amara comes at the head of those who reject the hermeneutics and its entry into the field of the Qur’anic text. He believes that “Hermeneutics is a heresy of Western secular positivism, which seeks irresponsible action on the sacred religious text. It is an absurd interpretation of religion with the aim of humanizing it.”
According to these thinkers, hermeneutics and all its meanings seemed unfit to be applied to the Qur’anic text, which assumes the necessity of a specific objective understanding of the text. The ultimate goal of the interpreter’s intent is to reach the intention of the author, and this is a criterion for distinguishing his exegesis from others.
Hence, the application of hermeneutics to the Qur’anic text becomes an invitation to doubt, relativism, and the multiplicity of truth with the multiplicity of interpreters. The research ends up with considering hermeneutics as a delinquency from the intentions and objective connotations of the Qur’an through multiple interpretations of its text multiple readers, because it does not include a fixed or eternal meaning.
The monotheistic religions believe in the text pivotism, not in the interpreter pivotism.