3: The main features Jawdat's project

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A. 3: It may be as you say, that my project has been an off-shoot of Malek Bennabi's project, "Crises of Civilization." I am keen, however, on reviving the words of the Qur'an.

Interview with "Current Islamic Issues"
1: The major stages in the intellectual progress
3: The main features Jawdat's project
4: Two sources of knowledge
5: Are you advocating the discarding of jihad
6: The basic tenets of Iqbal's project
7: The challenge of globalization
8: Patriarchal-glorification-and-infallibility
9: Is the Islamic mind in a crisis?
10: The present Arabic cultural scene
11: Muhammad Arkoun's attitude
12: Interpretation of the holy texts
*Download the full Interview


The word 'sunan, plural of sunnah, i.e. laws,' for instance is a well-established word in the Qur'an. The word 'sunnah' has been defined by an ancient Muslim scholar as, 'doing in a second instance the same as was done in a first instance'. This is an attempt to elucidate the word sunnah or sunnan as it appears in such verses of the Qur'an as: "But no change wilt thou find in God's 'sunnah, way of dealing'; no turning off wilt thou find God's 'sunnah, way of dealing;" (35:43). The point of course is that the 'sunan, or laws' are immutable, anytime their conditions are realized. Fire burns, whenever its conditions are realized; and a society will collapse, whenever the conditions for its collapse are realized. A 'sunnah, or law' is invariably operative, and the Qur'an asserts about a certain 'sunnah' that: "it was due from us to aid those who believed;" (30:47) "God never fails in His promise;" (3:9).

This is a topic that needs to be discussed and rediscussed until it comes to the notice of people, in a realistic and operative way; it needs to be seen in the material domain, but also in the psychological, individual, and social domains. At present, things are sometimes confused, but it must be affirmed that there are settled laws and systems in the world that do not fail to be operative. It is no big claim to say that the most profound part of knowledge is the discovery of the 'sunan, laws', for once they are understood, those who know them can use them to control things; and it is for this that man was placed on the earth.

I know that I am putting forth a project, a first step. I hope that scholars and the rising generation take it up and bring it to a more elaborate and comprehensive stage. That things will come to maturity is indeed a certainty, for Allah has ordained that His light will come to be perfected, no matter how those opposed to it endeavor to impede its progress.

Another word drawn from the Qur'an is 'change', in the sense of bringing change about, and in the sense that change is bound to take place. The full weight of the word must be made clear; it is indeed a very significant word, for it indicates that what has changed to the worse, can again be put right. One aspect of this is that to have something right and good to begin with is easier than changing something bad to good. From the Qur'an, one understands that to change that which is in one's mind is the task of man, and not of God: "Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change that which is in their souls;" (13:11). Two changes are mentioned by Allah, and the change in people's mind or soul is to be realized by them before their condition, their favorable or adverse state, is changed by God: the change from God is here the welfare of people, the visible conditions of people. One needs to come to deal with this in real life to learn how the conditions of a people may be changed following the change they effect in their own souls. One does not change one's mind, but that which is in his mind; the expression 'that which is in their souls' shows the accuracy of the Qur'anic terms: one's soul is a receptacle that can hold good concepts and bad concepts.

The word 'nafs, soul' is another pivotal word in the Qur'an: you find, 'the soul prone to evil,' (12:53) 'the self-reproaching soul' (75:2) and 'the soul in complete rest,' (89:27). Psychology is therefore an important science, though Muslims are still much apprehensive about it, as it is associated in their minds with the names of Freud and some other persons who are identified with evil purposes. The truth of course is that it is a science, and a science is not in the possession of the east or the west: We need to know all that there is to know about this science; our knowledge of this science should not make do with some hazy and rudimentary notions. Another word, 'society', does not seem to be as steeped in Qur'anic terminology as the other words: the nearest term in the Qur'an is 'ummah, nation'; another related word is 'jama'ah, group, band'.

In Malek Bennabi's project, one comes across a realistic and law-based approach, more fitted to modernity-oriented minds than my approach. I usually avoid using words like 'civilization' and 'culture', and have a bias for words drawn from the Qur'an or the Prophet, peace be upon him, or those used in Islamic heritage. I am quite concerned with discussing the 'sunan, or laws' of Allah, and His signs in the world around us and in the in the world of the human mind. At the same time, I am equally concerned with reactivating the Qur'an's terminology. Indeed, after having studied Malek Bennabi, I had to work real hard to find suitable words from the Qur'an to discuss such things as civilization and culture.

We have done some work, and have for a lot of effort accomplished little. But for those who come later, they will with less effort do better work, and will come upon the right terminology and deal with the right concepts. Al-Ghazali says: "A person who seeks the concepts or the sense by working on words will get lost and will reap nothing: he will be like one whose destination is towards the west, but he proceeds towards the east; as for him who first works on concepts and then seeks the right terms for those concepts, this one is right-guided." Therefore, the right approach is to seek to understand things first, and then find Qur'anic terminology that expresses those concepts. That is the principle I work upon. I dedicate my effort to finding ways to changing Muslims and changing what is in their minds; (and in this Malek Bennabi is a great help;) and then I try to address the Muslim consciousness with the words of the Qur'an or words drawn from Islamic heritage.