This essay by the Quranist Unified Network will attempt to explain and answer the phenomenon of Quranist Fundamentalism (QF). QF is a mode of thinking held by a significant proportion of the quranist community. Before we attempt a response to QF thinking, we must identify it and its proponents.
Who is a ‘quranist’? Technically, a quranist is one who studies, interprets and applies The Quran. He does so without the interference of the Islamic Tradition (Sunnism, Shia’ism, Sufism, Salafism). Quranists have a wide variety of interpretations and because they have no authority to fall back on, this diversity cannot be suppressed.
And what is a ‘fundamentalist’? A fundamentalist, in this context, is one who reads a text without acknowledgement that he and the text are not the same. He is an interpreter of the text and thus does not have any kind of authority over the discourse associated with it. However, he ignore this.
So who is a ‘Quranist Fundamentalist’ (QF)? First and foremost, a QF is one who denies the reality of interpretation of The Quran. What they read is what the text intended to say. This means that whoever disagrees with their understanding, he will be seen to be in error as though he is going against the text itself.
Our answer: As can be witnessed from Quranist discourse, views are always in flux. People shift their views all the time from a more conservative viewpoint to a more progressive one and even vice versa. This is not a bad thing because The Quran mentions the use of reason (al-‘aql) in the present continuous form, hence it should always be engaged. Quran 8/22 speaks of those who not do this in negative terms. A futher hint would be, the only past tense use of the form (used in Quran 2/75) is for hearts that have hardened! This tells us about what happens when we do not continuously think.
Secondly, QFs tend to label Traditional Muslims as ‘mushrikeen’ (idolators) This is due to the fact that Traditional Muslims accept other sources of information as revelation (such as Hadith and Sunnah). Hence, QFs deem that they have associated the Quran (from Allah) with other sources (from humans) and have committed the cardinal sin of shirk (idolatry)
Our answer: This is far too simplistic an analysis of shirk in The Quran. While shirk does include taking other sources besides Allah as divine (6/114, 12/40, 18/26), this is very much a process which one must engage.The Quran calls itself ‘the criterion’ (2/185) and a ‘watcher over the book’ (5/48) because it is the norm for people taking other sources, inadvertently or otherwise. Quranists also use other sources (like dictionaries) although we label them ‘aids’ to understanding
It is better for us to see other forms of Islam as fellow seekers of truth. The difference is that they have more conjectural information while quranists have more assurance in our source of information. This in no way guarantees a correct understanding so we could easily be idolators outselves.
Thirdly: QFs tend to label Traditional Muslims as sectarians as though themselves are not. This may be due to the fact that they call themselves Sunnis or Shia.
Our answer: A sect is not formed by a mere existence of a group. It is formed by the attitudes held by that group. While it is true that a significant proportion of Tradtional Muslims do have a sectarian outlook – meaning they hold the keys who salvation while others do not – the same can be said, ironically enough, of QFs themselves! Our first and second points above bear testimony to this. By making their interpretations as though it is the reading itself, the QF have created a sect. A few times, QFs have separated from each other based on the number of prayers in the day!
Fourthly, QFs tend to take a literalistic understanding of The Quran and have a resistance to metaphors. This is why we can hardly see in their discourse any discussions about the narratives, analogies and metaphysics of The Quran.
Our answer: As the contents of The Quran is mostly about the narratives, analogies and metaphors, we would find that the QF discourse is extremely limited. A literalistic understanding of The Quran would mostly work for its legal contents but in order to fully utilise its teachings, one must put on a metaphorical lens. Quran 2/26 very much hints to this.
Fifthly and finally, QFs tend to try to use and monopolise the label ‘muslimeen’ equating it to those who follow the ‘quran alone/only’. Anyone who uses any other label (like quranists) is seen to be ‘sectarians’ to them. This is based on Quran 22/78 in which Allah it is said ‘he has named you al-muslimeen’
Our answer: This is again due to a literalist reading of The Quran coupled with a fragmented reading strategy from the QFs. The full passage from 22/77 reads:
O you who believe! bow and prostrate and adore worship Lord; and do good; that you may prosper
And strive in Allah with a deserved striving. He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the agenda of your father Ibrahim. He has named you al-muslimeen, from before and in this; that the nessenger may be a witness for you, and you be witnesses for mankind! So establish the connection and bring growth, and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector – the Best to protect and the Best to help (Quran 22/77-78)
Points to ponder:
1. This passage describes a process which begins with bowing, prostrating, serving Allah, doing good and striving with a deserved striving. That shows that it is a process rather than a label one wears. This coheres with 2/131-132 in which following the path of ibrahim is equated to having Allah ‘choose’ our deen and dying as muslimeen.
2. The phrase ‘from before’ which comes straight after the naming shows that ‘al-muslimeen’ was something than existed before The Quran. Hence, this concept existed in other languages and is therefore impossible to be understood literally. Rather it is a concept that is awared to us when we follow a certain path.
3. The phrase ‘tha you be witnesses for mankind’ shows that the ‘naming’ is not literal. This is rather a role one plays when one adopts the principles and follows the blueprint adopted from 22/77. The same is true for the ‘messenger witnesses for you’. This principle echoes 2/143 in which these people are said to be a ‘middle ummah’
4. The concept of naming from Quran can be done either by people or by Allah. If by people like in 3/36 (where maryam was named by her mother) then it could be argued that the naming literal.
However, if Allah is related to the naming like 2/31-34, then it cannot be literal because the naming is directly related to the angels prostrating to him. Rather, the names here are the essential properties of all things. When adam knew them, he was able to master these hence the prostration of the angels.
The same is true with 3/45. In this verse, Allah ‘named’ Isa as ‘al-maseeh ‘Isa ibn maryam’. ‘al-maseeh’ is a title and not a name in the literal sense. Furthermore, only ten verses down the passage in 3/55, Allah himself calls ‘Isa by his own name (O Isa!). It is unlikely Allah would disregard the name that He himself gave.
5. Finally, it must also be noted the ‘naming’ here is with regards in ‘religion’ (ad-deen). Hence, Allah is naming us on the level of religion as muslimeen. No Sunni will say ‘my religion is Sunnism’. Rather, it is their manhaj (methodology as per 5/48). It is the same with Quranists. Quranisn is not our religion but our manhaj towards religion.
From the above, it can be seen the Quranist Fundamentalism is not an ideology and outlook which matches Quran itself. Rather it is a detraction and a disservice to the cause of Quran itself.