A Window on Islam
The Humanization of Religion

Comments by:

Donald Cupitt

(Catholics  for  a  Changing  Church)








Dr Abdul Karim Soroush is a Muslim, an Iranian academic lawyer. Through Peter Lumsden and the Internet, a rare lecture of his, on Religious Knowledge, has come to RENEW. The gist of it follows.

IN SCIENTIFIC study of nature, we know now that observation does not stand alone – it is theory-laden, mixed with presuppositions. Even instruments, like microscopes and nuclear magnetic resonance devices, which seem to give objective measurements, are only complex theoretical assumptions, objectified, so that we can ask nature questions.
In the same way, texts – including religious texts – do not stand alone. They do not carry their meaning on their shoulders. They have to be interpreted, in their context, with allowance made for their presuppositions (philosophical, historical, linguistic, sociological, etc.) which are time-bound and have to be revised. Religious knowledge is subject to continuous change, since ‘revelation’ is heard only through interpreters with their presuppositions – some judged in the course of time to be more right, others more wrong.
Religion may in itself be divine and true, but interpretation of it is human through and through. The evolution of human understanding forces religion to be comprehended differently (as well as with some constancy) over time. The text of the Quran contains an essential main message, and many incidental references to the cultural environment of the time – allusions to economics, social custom, law, war – which have no permanent validity. Without reinterpretation, stagnation ensues.
To speak in this way is to risk accusations of betraying the sacred text and undermining the certitude of faith. Soroush was asked a threatening question: “Perhaps you opt for a scientisation of Islam, rather than for the Islamisation of knowledge?” He replied, “Neither. I opt for the humanization of religion”. Revelation may be divine, but all the interpretation of it is human. We can look at revelation only through the eyes of interpreters. “To capture the true intention of the ‘Revealer’ is an ideal to which all of us approach collectively, but at the end we may discover that the true intention of the ‘Revealer’ was nothing but the collective endeavor of mankind itself. Here, the action and its telios coincide. This is not to desacralise the sacred or to secularize the religion, it is the simple and at the same time the subtle instance of naturalization of the supernatural, or if you like it better, the manifestation of the supernatural as and in the natural.”
Faith is taking the word of God seriously, interpreting it sincerely, and being guided by it in life. As Rumi says, our lot is to hope.

Commenting on this lecture, Don Cupitt says: educated Muslims debate about Islam and scientific knowledge. Conservatives argue for the Islamisation of knowledge – for ‘western’ science and technology to be revised and harmonized with Islamic Principles. Liberals argue for the Scientisation of Islam – for teaching to be revised in the light of modern critical thinking. Soroush here seeks a third way – the humanization of religion. Disarming criticism, he concedes that God and Revelation may in themselves be eternal, absolute, unchanging. But they are silent until religion exists among human beings, and when that happens religion is relativised, questioned, and reformulated, There is no text with only one interpretation, no musical score played in exactly the same way by all musicians. “It is brave of Soroush to put forward such ideas in an Islamic setting. Can Islam become a developing and ‘humanised’ religion of hope and aspiration, rather than a religion of dogmatic certainties? The answer to that question will matter a lot to us all. And the same question can be asked of Christianity, as well.”


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