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The objective methodology of studying the Islamic history

By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

Translated by: Manal Samhat

When studying the Islamic historical reality, the best methodology to adopt is that of objectivity, accuracy, and open-mindedness which would ultimately prevent lots of problems. Actually, our main problem is that we base our studies of the historical or Quranic texts on our emotions rather than our minds. Therefore, we notice that many people make a prejudged decision when it comes to many issues. In other words, if the text conforms to what they believe in, then they would adopt it; however, if it does not comply with what has been passed down to them, they would try to interpret it their way and deviate it from its obvious meaning and context. Therefore, the process of citing the texts has become subjected to their prejudged mentalities, and we began to impose many of these mentalities on the Quran itself that it became an image of what we think of, instead of making our way of thinking an image of the Quran. The same thing occurred concerning the historical issues related to some intellectual, cultural, and doctrinal lines, for some people choose what conforms to their thinking and they reject what they dislike, or they try to reorganize history in accordance to their intellectual taste, instead of making their intellectual ambience subjected to the results of the scientific historical researches.

Our problem is that we are emotional and these emotions control, to a large extent, our research. Actually, we are neither rational nor objective people who study the issues as they came in the Sunnah and the Quran based on the rules that the people agree upon when it comes to understanding the Arabic text. We do not subject our thinking to the results deducted from the Quran and the Sunnah in the sense that if someone approaches us and says that the Quran clearly states a certain issue or the Sunnah is positive about something that does not confirm with what is familiar and inherited we would say that this is outraging, leading the way ahead the campaigns of Takfir and deviation. 

Those who accuse whoever disagrees with them with unbelief, misguidance, deviation, and dissolution are weak in their culture as they are in their argument, for he who is armed with an argument does not insult anyone and he who owns a solid proof does not pronounce irresponsible words.

As we call for studying history objectively, we should call before that for developing an objective mentality away from prejudice. Moreover, this mentality adopts what the indisputable evidence the mind provides, keeping in mind that not all what some might deem as a rational judgment is actually as such and therefore, we ought to adopt and interpret it. Some of these people might deem their personal conceptions as rational judgments. However, if we were objective, we would study the texts that are between our hands and that represent our intellectual heritage; a study that is not based on an inherited thought or one that is acquired from the surroundings and the environment, based on which the text is studied and interpreted.

We believe that the objective studies neither incite sensitivities nor create problems that affect the Muslims' unity, because they would be based on a scientific basis that addresses the human mind instead of stirring his instinct and fanaticism. Actually, the instinctive mentalities are the ones that try to address the mind by the instinct rather than rationality.

History is a fact that we cannot turn a blind eye to, because it constitutes our culture and thought, and even if we try to suppress it, it is going to keep surfacing again and again. Accordingly, we ought to be courageous enough to study history in an objective rational manner.

Around forty years ago, I wrote for Al-Adwaa' (The Lights) Magazine that was issued by the religious scholars in An-Najaf Al-Ashraf, "About the Methodology of the Islamic Studies between Authenticity and Content" I said that we ought to study the historical texts just as we study jurisprudential issues on the basis of both, the authenticity and the content of the text. Actually, this was the method adopted by the ancient scholars; but unfortunately, those who came later on separated them.

When the ancient scholars had to study a text by the Prophet (p) or an Imam (a.s.), they used to base their studies on both the chain of authorities on which the tradition is based and the content of the text. As for the former, they used to see if the narrators of the tradition were reliable or not. If they were known for their integrity, reliability, and honesty, they would accept their narration; however, if they were known to be liars or unreliable, their narration would be rejected, unless other sources were referred to in order to determine whether this tradition is to be accepted or rejected. After studying the reliability of the chain of authorities, they would turn to study the content of the text in its meaning, language, and its compliance with the rationality or the Sharia. If it was in compliance with the rationality, they would adopt it or else it would be interpreted; if it was in compliance with the Glorious Book, they would adopt or else they would discard it, because the Holy Book is the basic reference for documenting the narrations. In a tradition by the Messenger of Allah (p.) and the infallible Imams (a.s.), they said: "Whatever differs with the Book of Allah is forgery."

What we have been recently facing is that there are certain people who are satisfied by the chain of references of a tradition without examining its content. Other people, in the case in the historic studies conducted by the modern scholars - study the content only and do not study the chain of authorities narrating the tradition; in any way, both methods have created many intellectual problems and have led to wrong conclusions.

We believe that the right method is that which depends on studying the text and judging its authenticity in both, the chain of authorities narrating the tradition as well as the content of the text.

Excerpts from "Az-Zahraa Al-Kudwa" (Az-Zahraa: The Role Model)