Defending Muhammad in Modernity (by SherAli Tareen)
American Journal of Islam and Society
Dame Press. 638 pages. Defending Muhammad in Modernity establishes a profound, powerful, and well-informed narrative surrounding one of the key discourses pertaining to Sunni Islam: the ongoing debate between the Deobandi and Barelvi traditions in South Asia. These traditions have been around since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and remain highly relevant today. This text explores and explains the everchanging dynamics of these normative orientations in the Indian subcontinent.
... narrative is set in a transitional time-when Muslim/Mughal rule is in decline and British colonialism is beginning to take root-so it focuses on the discourses taking place during that time. In his narrative, Tareen particularly underscores issues of law, political theology, normativity, and ritual practices. One of the key ideas surrounding ritual practice is the celebration of the Prophet's birthday, which remains an evocative issue today. (I would say, it often serves as a distraction from real issues/discourses between the two traditions.) Tareen's discussion essentially addresses two iterations of the Deobandi-Barelvi debate. The first debate took place during the early nineteenth century between Fazl-Haqq Khayarabadi (1796-1861) and Shah Muhammad Isma'il (1779Isma'il ( -1831)). This debate mainly revolved around three main themes including Prophetic intercession (shafa'at), the capacity of God to lie (imkan-i-kizb), and the creation of another Prophet after the last Prophet Muhammad (imkan-i-inzir). Even though there is reference to Prophet Muhammad's intercession in the Quran and other Islamic sources, the scope of this intercession is a matter of serious debate. According to Isma'il, the Prophet had limited ability to intercede on behalf of sinners: because if he had a higher ability to intercede, it would undermine the sovereignty of God and would also eventually lead to heresies among people. Khayarabadi viewed this as an insult to the Prophet. On the issue of the possibility of another prophet, according to Isma'il, since God has unlimited capacity, He could perfectly create an exception. In Taqwiyat-al-Iman, Isma'il makes the deeply controversial statement that God is so powerful that just by uttering 'Be', He could create millions of new prophets, angels, saints, Muhammads, etc. This, of course, engendered a response from Khayarabadi. In his book, Taqrir-i-itirrazatbar Taqwiyat al-Islam, he argued that according to Isma'il's argument, God could lie and betray His promise of Prophet Muhammad's finality. Since lying is a flaw, it cannot be attributed to God. In his work, Yak Roza, Isma'il then explicitly argued that God has the capacity to lie and contravene His promise-because God can assuredly do anything human beings can. A statement that God could not lie for Isma'il was basically equivalent to saying that human beings could exceed the divine capacity, which could not be the case. He further draws a distinction between potentiality (imkan) and actuality (wuqu'), meaning that although God has the capacity to do such things, He would never do it. By his view, then, such possibilities do not lie beyond God, but they are indirectly impossible because He would not actualize them. The second iteration of this Deobandi/Barelvi debate took place between two renowned scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi (1856Barelvi ( -1921)). This argument focused on the Prophet's knowledge of the unseen, or the hidden realm, as well as ritual practices. Most of the discussions in this case concerned the limits of the Prophet's sunna and what constitutes exceeding/transgressing those limits. These extensions on the sunna resulted in innovations (bid'a), which were seen as a kind