The Islamic Reformer had come to the Tailor’s shop to get a suit altered. The Tailor measured him and began to make the adjustments. As the Tailor worked, the reformer explained that he rarely wore business suits and had bought this one specifically for a major interfaith conference on “Ijtihad [independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources] and Islam in the 21st century” to be held in Canterbury. As an important member of a “progressive” Muslim organization, he was invited to give a speech on the necessity for renewing and reforming Islam to meet the challenges of new contexts – particularly those challenges relating to being a Muslim in the West. He was to argue how such a revival and renewal is, in fact, prescribed within the religion by the Prophet himself, of course with the qualification that this ongoing process has been going on throughout the history of Islam, and, until recently, always had its basis in a core of learned scholars and their educated understanding of the Qur’an and associated books.
The Reformer said: “There is indeed, within the classical Islamic tradition, a central reference to the need for a renewal, revival, and consequently reform of our reading and understanding.” He then cited the following hadith:
Mu’âdh ibn Jabal was sent as a judge to Yemen by the Prophet. The Prophet asked him: “According to what will you judge?”Mu’âdh replied, ”According to the Book of God.” “And if you find nothing?” the Prophet asked. “According to the sunnah [way/tradition] of God’s Prophet.” The Prophet: “And if you find nothing?” Mu’âdh: “Then, I shall exert myself to my utmost to formulate my own judgement.” To this the Prophet made the following supplication: “Praise be to God who guided His Messenger’s messenger to what pleases His Messenger.”
He went on to interpret: “You see, Yemen was a different geographical, cultural and legal setting, requiring the scholar to produce a reflection, an extrapolation effort, reasoned and reasonable ijtihad, to remain faithful to Islamic prescriptions. The hadith reveals two major teachings: the first is, of course, that not all answers can be found in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah. The Qur’an indeed contains verses stating that ‘We have sent down to you a Book explaining all things,’ and ‘We have omitted nothing from the Book,’ but that refers to principles, to essential and immutable rules, the practical implementation of which has to be thought out!”
The tailor replied thus:
There is truth within the signs you array before me, but your judgement does not shine. Your garment requires alteration, so permit me to oblige.
Revival is the meaning of the Deen [religion/belief/judgement]. Revival of the Body occurs at the End. You have said there should be a revival in the way the Muslims judge: but I say to you that it is through judgement that all have access to Revival.
You know what I am talking about: the true Revival will occur when all will be awoken from their graves.
And so what of the world before this event? What of the Body of the Ummah as it stands today? As we have said elsewhere, the Body is a Map, and we live in the Age of Exploration: so careful cartography is commanded!
The Messenger sends his Agency of Judgement to the Southern Land. The South is the Name of Love. To send Judgement to the South is the key to Illumination. But as you have perhaps heard, in the story of Dhul-Qarnain for instance, there are dangers fraught by that journey, as all journeys of exploration have dangers inherent to their navigation. And so the Messenger tests Mu’âdh and Mu’âdh then speaks with Wisdom.
The journey begins with the Revelation of Prophecy, the Holy Qur’an, that we hold in our hands, that we may read as we read other books. But nothing will be gained if we read as we read other books. This is because the Prophecy is forged within the limits of language itself, taken from the Eastern Name, and the seekers’ role is to marry this Gift to the Western Bride, that Prophecy might be unlocked for them. The Marriage unfolds completely for the Prophets. For us, the Bride descends upon us first: and then to seek the Marriage’s unfolding, that is the process of the path. This process is the integration of the linguistic possibilities of Prophetic speech into our own speech (into our thoughts, deeds, actions: into our judgements, including our modes of ijtihad).
Thus you must be careful when speaking of ijtihad. You call for a renewal of reasoned judgement through ijtihad, but judgement is Reason itself and is active within every Muslim – rather, within every human being. Ijtihad is indeed personal Wisdom, and takes the form of judgements gained within Reason. But ijtihad will not come from an historical revolution or reevaluation: it is personal Wisdom that can only be gained through the unfolding Marriage of East to West in a journey from North to South.
The Marriage of East to West does not take the form of an historical, cultural reevaluation. Never! Because all is contained in the Book: nothing is wanting, and no interpretation for new contexts is required: this is innovation, and innovation is in Jahannam [hellfire, derived from the Hebrew, Gai Ben-Hinnom, Gehenna in the Christian Gospels: also, incidentally, the name of a valley of ancient Jerusalem where the refuse of the walled city was burnt]. As you go to your conference at Canterbury, I council you to take care of your speech in that southern city: if you speak of a continual reevaluation of Islamic ethics, then you are on a dangerous path, for reevaluation is incompatible with Prophecy and makes an unhelpful midwife to the Marriage’s birth of Wisdom.
You rightly quote from the Revelation itself:
We have sent down to you a Book explaining all things.
We have omitted nothing from the Book.
Nothing is omitted from the book: but nothing will be found is we read it as we read other books. Reading is judgement and judgement is reading. But Ijtihad is judgement and so we will never find it outside the book through an historical reevaluation.
How can something be found in the book, if nothing is found therein? Mu’âdh replies: the reward of reading has as a precondition the sunnah of Prophecy. In moving South, the Agency of Judgement must configure itself so as to inscribe according to the path of the Prophetic Journey. The Truth of personal Ijtihad is rooted in taqlid [imitation]. We must all attempt to imitate the Seal, to align ourselves to mirror his station, to become his repetition, to become his simulacra: this is the gift of the Deen of Islam. The gift of the Deen is that we may experience the Marriage of Prophecy directly and immediately, through imitation. To be as those sahaba: to be as Mu’âdh, a messenger of the Messenger. This realignment, this sunnah of the journey upon the Map of the Body: it is the precondition to illuminated readings, for illuminated Judgement.
But the hadith continues: there is a final stage in this journey. There is the moment of breaking through, the descent of personal Wisdom, the eureka moment of the proof, the formation of selfhood, the moment of becoming a real human being, the moment when ijtihad is possible, where the messenger of the Messenger, the Agency of Judgement, becomes individuated, becomes an individual prover existing in Time as the subject of their own True Judgement.
This breakthrough moment is the fruition of the grapes upon the Vine. The Wine of Revival is not based upon a single variety of grape: it is a Cosmic Harvest of multiple varieties. When the Gifted Body is revived to the New Body, all proofs of Truth, each individual journey we make, will all be re-inscribed, revived, because we will dwell in the garden as friends, lovers and relatives. We will have moved to the Southern name of Love in proofs of our individual judgements. And then all messengers of the Messenger will enter the Kingdom of Bliss and abide with the Beloved as birds return for Spring.
Then, in Divine repetition, the Prophecy of the East will take the Western Bride and, within the minds of the Friends, will form an individual proof, inscribed as journey from the Northern Source of Judgement to our personal understanding of Love in the South. And we will be Wise. And we will be whole.
Through journeying South according to the path of Prophecy, the messenger of the Messenger will have Prophecy opened up before him. And then, through the process of breaking through, the Wisdom of the Holy Book will descend upon him and his being will take the form of illuminated judgement. Ijtihad will become his possibility. And then the messenger of the Messenger will be revived, renewed and remade in the abode of bliss, beside the Beloved Maker for eternity.
The hadith concerns you directly, because you are making the same journey as Mu’âdh. You would enter into a state of human Love, and fret about making others into human beings: this concern is good, your saving grace. But if you would speak of Islam, speak only when Prophecy is married to your language. Let this occur through the pursuit of the sunnah to the moment of your illumination. Speak only when Wisdom descends upon you. Make the journey of the messengers of the Messenger. In Canterbury, you are to speak of revival: not a historical revival for a group of people, but a revival of Time for all humankind.
With this the Tailor concluded his speech.
“Okay, that’s about as much as I can do with it,” the Tailor declared. “I’ve let the waist out a bit, and fixed the cuffs of the jacket and hemline of the trousers. Try it on to check.”
“Yes, I see what you mean,” exclaimed the reformer, pleased with the alterations. “I feel so much more comfortable with the suit now. Well, next time I’ll come to you directly for a bespoke fitting. How much?”
“7 golden dinar, please.”
Another satisfied customer, smiled the Tailor to himself as the Reformer left the shop. Indeed, all pleasure and beauty derive from fair tailoring.