FROM “BROTHER” TO “OTHER”: Re-contextualization of “Ummah” within the Dynamic Socio-political Structure of Islam

Necmettin Gokkir

Islam is not only a religion, a system of the beliefs but also a way of life, which prescribes and instructs its adherents how to live their individual and social lives. It is at once a religion, a system of law, a social order relevant to ethics, politics, economics and the whole of human life. In other words, it is everything that every Muslim needs to live his or her life in this world. Throughout Islamic history, hence, the Qur’an has been always taken out of its own first society and transferred into new societies. Every society and every individual assesses their own world and creates their own identity. This is inevitable, because every developmental stage presents problems, questions, and dilemmas of its own, which demand timely, suitable, and practical answers. As history would have it, Islam did spread beyond the boundaries of Arabia and today it is a global religion with hugely different faces and practices in the various parts of the world. The question, therefore, is: How can Islamic scripture, the Qur’an, be read and interpreted and its meaning understood, constructed, and applied by Muslims living under hugely different ways of life yet still in accordance with the fundamental teachings of the Qur’an? Islam was a practicable religion for Arabs in the time of the Prophet and even brought uplifting and beneficial change in Arab society. Islam is also an equally practicable religion for a variety of people in various parts of the world today. However, western scholars sometimes read Islam as a static, monolithic and unchangeable religion, neglecting to distinguish between the ideas of Islam and the reality of social changes which provide constant accretions through the different perspectives, customs and cultural practices in different context. Identification of Islam with a static political, social or religious framework misguides the reader of Islam. In the west, the Qur’an has been investigated through historical reconstruction, in contrast to the methodology of Islamic interpretation through social reconstruction in various disciplines, Law and Theology.
This paper will argue that the Muslim interpretation of the Qur’an is progressive and the Qur’an has been persistently affected in different societies. Also a number of Qur’anic concepts have been culturally interwoven with politics and value systems at different stage of history. Regarding the interpretative process, the main hypothesis of this paper is that the reading the Qur’an in the history of Islam has not been independent from context. Corresponding to political, intellectual, and ethical values, the understanding of the Qur’an has been modified and redeveloped to an unprecedented extent in its long literary history. By doing so, we can better understand the integrative function of interpretation in the context and dynamic structure of the Islam. In other words, the real purpose of the paper is to show that the different political circumstances and conditions have affected the reception and the perception of the reader of the Qur’an. The subject of the “Ummah” is taken as a case for the main purpose. For this, the main part of the paper is devoted to the study on the political interpretation the concept of ummah in various context.
The paper will indicate that the term of ummah underwent a meaning change from a relatively simple concept to a politically better-organized one. The term, indeed, underwent important developments immediately after Prophet Muhammad and became as a central normative concept which appealed for unity across the global Muslim community referring to relations of religion, territory, sectarian, ethnicity, and eventually diaspora and being minority. Therefore, this paper very much hopes to stay with this line of inquiry and of this kind of questions: “What does the ummah mean today to those Muslims living under globalizing political values?” “How can they usefully make a link between changing configurations of politics and the Qur’anic pattern of society in our nationalized world?”

ngokkir@hotmail.com

 

 

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