Religiosity should be subject to criticism: scholar

"The roots of wrong religious practice must be examined," said the cleric Sheikh Mohammed bin Saleh al Duaim speaks at the royal majlis.

ABU DHABI // Incorrect practices in religion should be examined from their roots rather than merely criticised, a prominent Islamic scholar said at a Ramadan lecture yesterday.

Speaking at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in a lecture titled Deviant Religious Practices: Causes, Implications and Solutions, the Saudi Arabian cleric Sheikh Mohammed bin Saleh al Duhaim said a lack of correct understanding of religious texts leads to wrong practices.

He said there was an urgent need for "surgical intervention" to deal with religious malpractices. He distinguished between religion, and religious practices, saying the practices or "religiosity" should always be subject to criticism as they are affected by social and psychological factors. "When this religiosity crisis turns from being an idea or an individual practice to a social phenomenon, then a new reality reinforces itself and would only lead to backwardness," he said.

He called on Islamic intellectuals to work together to thoroughly examine the religious discourse and take into account the modern context. Muslims should seek their interests in today's world instead of worrying about things they should reject, he said.

"We have to have the ability and courage to review the intellectual history which led to this discourse," he said. "It is not enough to only react to trends like an emergency department. There should be a centre that would lead the way by generating ideas and concepts rather than reacting to new issues." He said the centre should work with universities, researchers and others to fight deviations from religion before they even appear.

"Anything that stands against the interests of mankind is not from religion," he said, citing the famous Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya, who lived in the 13th century. "It is not enough to do the right thing, we have to do the right thing the right way," he said.

On how Islam should adapt to the modern day, he gave the example of Zakat al Fitr, alms given by Muslims at the end of Ramadan. The Prophet gave the tax in the form of barley to the poor, but in a modern day context it is no longer used for human consumption, so in this case his actions should not be emulated exactly, but in spirit.

"So in order to emulate the Prophet, we should emulate the purpose of the action not the action itself," Sheikh al Duhaim said. "This adherent [with wrong practices] reads his own ideas of religion not the religion's ideas," he said. "He would justify his behaviour or action rather than authenticate them." "Dying for God, to him, would be better than living for God. In his eyes, the relationship between worshippers and God is one of punishment and reward, rather than love and mercy," he said.

Sheikh al Duhaim is a prolific contributor to regional and international conferences and has seven books to his name. Issues pertaining to Muslim women are central to his writings. He graduated from the Sharia Institute at Al Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud Islamic University. He is the founder of the Cultural Revival Centre in Jeddah, whose stated mission is to spearhead a comprehensive cultural development.

The lectures by prominent Islamic scholars on contemporary issues are a Ramadan tradition at the majlis.