Applying the Canon in Islam
American Journal of Islam and Society
According to Smith, the Ndembu diviner applies a "canon" of twenty-four fixedobjects to a client's situation, first selecting a few of the objects by shaking the basket,interpreting the selected objects according to a range of meanings fixed by public convention, and matching the meanings to the client's particular condition.Brannon Wheeler, in his Introduction to Applying the Canon in IslamWhen the idolaters inimical to the message of Muhammad, upon him bepeace, attempted to criticize the
... an for its use of the lowly and the trivial inits rhetorical repertoire, the following verse was revealed in reply.Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something evenless than that. Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is thetruth from their Sustainer whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say,What could God mean by this parable? (2:26)This exchange then became the basis for djscussion and debate among theclassical Arabic rhetoricians on the subject of what might and what might not besuitable for use in similes, metaphors, and other comparative ljterary devices.That this debate shouJd be recalled at the outset of a review of a work dealingwith Hanafi fiqh scholarship might seem slrangely out of place. Yet, once onehas acqurunted oneself with the underlying premise of this work, one cannothelp but recall the classical debate and the verses of Qur'anic scripture so oftencited in regard to it. What lies at the heart of the matter is that comparisonsdrawn between disparate and remote subjects are sometimes delightful andsometimes awful. This, after all, is the stuff of literature. There are some comparisons,however, that are simply offensive.In fact, there are some things people just don't like to see compared at all.Period. Things held near and dear often fall under this category, things like one'sreligion, ethnicity, culture, and so on. This is human nature. And that is dangerousground.Of course, I've oversimplified the matter. ln fact, I'm going in a direction thatwas certrunly not intended by the author for his readership. Wheeler's Applyingthe Canon in Islam is not a work of literature. Likewise, hjs use of models andexamples from other disciplines, like anthropology and the history of religion,is a methodological rather than a literary choice. But the fact remains that thechoice Professor Wheeler has made in this matter is one that will not likely bemet with objectivity by Muslims. If I may venture a comparison of my own, thisis rather akin to inviting a Muslim to partake of a meal, a sumptuous and hearty ...