How his historical background is researched in order to

How important is Fazlur Rahman’s
‘double-movement theory’ for a contemporary understanding of the Qur’an?


In recent days, there are many intellectuals who attempted
to shift Muslim and Arabic world to a better situation. And to do so, some have
established new hermeneutics to the text in order to accomplish it on the way
to modernism. There are some pioneers their reputation has spread across the
Islamic world. For instance, Nasr Abu Zaid, Amina Wadud and Fazlur Rahman. Fazlur
Rahman has fulfilled a new method called the double movement which aimed to
figure new interpretations to the Muslim scripture. In the meantime, this
method has no contradictions to Islamic regulations but rather has clash with
some Muslim extremists. As its outcomes to the text are seen in opposition to
the fundamentalisms thinking.

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Fazlur Rahman is considered one of the main
characters of neo-modernism as his interests based on the Holy Qur’an
historically and jurisprudentially. For those who seek revivalism, Rahman’s
double movement is the ultimate goal as its combination is rich of new extracts
that have not been addressed earlier, at least. His intelligentsia is a
reflection of awareness of both Islamic foundations and traditional westernisation.
Despite the fact that, there is gargantuan amount of exegesis that has been
written by great personalities of Islam, such as Ibn Kathire and Alqurtabi, but
for modern Muslims the need to have new a exegesis containing new reformation
for issues that are more specific to the modern era (Moosa, 2000).


To understand how significant is Rahman’s theory,
it is vital that his historical background is researched in order to know if
Rahman is qualified enough to establish a new theory, or whether he fell short
of the mark. Fazlur Rahman (1332
H/1919 M – 1408 M/1988 H), known as an excellent modern intellectual among his
peers who endeavoured to keep the appreciative Islamic legacy and mix it with
the western culture. His intelligentsias have reflection of well-known
regarding several science such as philosophy, theology, mysticism, law till the
development of contemporary Islam (Akmaluddin, 2012). Rahman was born in
Pakistan and in a religious family who follows Hanafi’s school. His Father was strongly
influenced by the Hanafi doctrine however this barrier did not break Rahman
from being critical and opened to new hermeneutics and education (Amal, 1994). He was ten
years old been able to memorize the Quran (ibid). in addition, when he was
fourteen, he started engaging and studying Tafsir, Hadith, philosophy, Arabic
language and Kalam science (ibid). In 1960, after long journey of education,
gaining promotions and being a fundamental member in some institutions in the
west, Rahman had to return for the call from Ayyub Khan (President of Pakistan,
1958 – 1969). The reason of this is to establish and to formulate Islamic
ideology for the state of Pakistan (Akmaluddin, 2012). Meanwhile, a personal motivation where
embodied to accept Ayyub’s offer which is to arise new insights and visions of
the Qur’an closed to a historical knowledge (Rahman, 1979

It is
also important to give a brief introduction regarding how Rahman hypothesis is
connected to what is called Arab Nahda “resistance”. So, Kassab (2010) argues that, there are two revivalisms, the first modern Arab cultural renaissance
was from the Mid-Nineteenth to the Mid-Twentieth century, and the second since
that till nowadays. To elaborate more the preoccupations for the first one,
Arab thinkers have formulated a number of question such as how Islam should be
understood, why we lagged behind while the West are doing noticeable progress,
how would we be modernised without becoming westernised and losing our soul, is
the religion what declines us, and should it be the entrance of our revivalism.
These questions addressed in the conference in Cairo however there were no
satisfied results derived form this consultation. So as a result, the second
Nahda initiated with solid motivations and ambitions to not fail as the
previous one (ibid). In the meantime, one of the pioneers of this movement is
Fazlur Rahman and even the best. The reason is many neo-modernism scholars has
carried out Rahman’s double movement in their researches as its reliability has
no weaknesses.


To begin with, the principle that Rahman emphasises
in his methodology (double movement) is that the significance of the global
framing that inclusive as the basis for the philosophical concept of
methodology (Rahman, 1979). And so, the worldview for Rahman consists of three
dimensions, God, man and nature (Rahman, 1980 major theme). In the Qur’anic revelation, Rahman
argues that the term God occurred over than 2,500 times. However, the Qur’an is
not a thesis about God and his nature, his existence for the Qur’an therefore
is only functional. In other words. he is the creator and sustainable universe
and man, in particular donor to the guidance of the man and he who judges men,
individually and collectively, and meet him justice and mercy. For Rahman’s
thoughts regarding God further interpretations which are shaped his views
concerning man and nature. With regards to nature, Rahman accepts the
philosophical ideas that assured the universe and its nature has been created
without no purpose. And then, the purpose is become clear throughout the human
being in that is good. However. A view like this actually has not been
transmitted through the Quran but it is from the development of current
philosophical theological discourse (Amal, 1994).

God has
also created man and made him as a caliph in the universe to realise God’s
honourable target. In addition to the tasks, man always must obey God as God
has also give him mind with free wellnesses in that made him superiority compared
with the other creations. And within this mind, man could distinguish between
good and bad and even to mediate in the universe (Rahman, 1980). So, for
Rahman the relationship between God, men and nature is integral and no way to
separate one out. Relation that man is a spirit of God, God gives man tasks to
imitate God’s manners, task to manage this universe to the perfection (ibid). Departing
from this, Rahman’s double movement is mainly look for new hermeneutics that
involves social justice, peace, welfare, and civilisation’s behaviour that
relies on the new Qur’anic understating (Akmaluddin, 2012). And then, all
humankind is not limited to certain reference such as class, ethnicity, race,
language. Rather, societies should hold equality, honesty, good and university
and therefore there will not be inferiority to each other (ibid).

The meaning of university of Islam defer between Rahman and
fundamentalists. Muslim traditionists seems to carry the idea that current
Muslims should practise what has been performed and behaved in the Prophet’s
and his companion ear (Rahman, 1994 historical methodology). Moreover, Muslim should stick to the principles
and regulations and there is no compromise side. On the other hand, university
according to Rahman means that the Muslim scripture is valid for every time and
place and it should be adjusted to any new conditions (ibid). Furthermore, no
one had collected or conceptualised the Holy Qur’an since its revealed. “So,
for Rahman, the influence of the methodological historical sprite of the Qur’an
is that matter” (Akmaluddin, 2012).


The necessities for new Qur’anic interpretation is what
concerned Rahman, and for this reason his attempts to establish new methodology
has been achieved by his efforts and intellectuality. Rahman argues that
previous Muslim generation did not have solid arrangements for understanding AL
Qur’an (Rahman,
2000 revival and reform). For Rahman, the start point of reorientation the meaning of
the Qur’an is by looking back to the four fundamental items Al Qur’an, the
prophetical traditions (Sunnah), Ijtihad and Ijma’ (Rahman, 1979). For him,
there is an integral relationship between the Quran in one hand and the Sunnah
and Ijtihad on the other hand. Additionally, the progress of the early Muslim
(the classical period which is before the 4th century) is a
consequence of Ijtihad, which is sometimes could be seen against the Sunnah of
the prophet. And what happened after this period is closing the door of Ijtihad
and shift it to Ijma’ (consensus) (Rahman, 1979).

dynamic of thinking makes Rahman denied the idea that there is no longer door
of Ijtihad. he said, “ijtihad is not exclusive privilege right to certain
groups within the Muslim community “. Moreover, he also declared that
there is no conditions qualified people to do Ijtihad. However, he pushed the
limitation of Ijtihad to not be exclusive as current Muslim communities need to
expand the scope of previous Ijtihad (Rahman, 1982


revising Rahman’s books, he mentioned that his methodology (double movement)
involves two essential methods in order to extract new Qur’anic hermeneutics
(Rahman, 1982). The two methods are historico critical method and hermeneutic
method (ibid). each of which has its own functions and features that make it varies
from each other.

method basically looks at the facts that happened in the prophet era and his Sahabat.
By doing so, Rahman closely search for the values, customs, provisions and
traditions that occurred whether chronologically or not. After this step, an
endeavour has been applied to obtain the reason behind these events or if there
is a verse, an attempt to figure out the cause of its revelation. And then,
discover how the prophet or the companions or the successors has transitioned
with it. This part of method plays as deconstruction method (historical
criticism) (ibid). with regards to the other method (hermeneutics method), its
function to reinterpret and comprehend the Holy scripture by looking for
various aspects addressed in the Qur’an. For instance, law, justice, values and
provisions. Therefore, looking for the current social context and try to create
new thoughts do not have contradictions to Al Qur’an, in the first place. In
addition, this method is like reconstruction of the living situations. Rahman
asserts that, these two approaches are integral part of each other, and could
not built new current ideas unless go back first to the history of both Al
Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet (ibid). For Rahman, there was lack of
studying the history of the previous Muslim scholars which leaded to two
weaknesses. First, dismiss the importance of studying the history which is the
core for revivalism and making progress (Shahrour, 1990
and Rahman, 2000). Secondly, by studying the variability of the history,
people would know first how ancient individuals perform the Qur’anic
regulations in their favour and secondly, obtain the flexibility and
possibilities for new hermeneutics (ibid). And subsequently, will know that the
miracle of the Qur’an by its exchangeability.




Rahman’s double
movement theory is complex and in the meantime solid and reliable as many
modern scholars powerfully based on it by utilising it in their
researches.  Within its
contextualisation, Rahman’s methodology contains two processes, inductive
(historical criticism) and deductive (hermeneutics method) rationality (Rahman,
1994). The first approach functions as going from the particular to the
general. And the second, from the specific to the public (Akmaluddin, 2012). Once again, each of these patterns
has two lines. For instance, the inductive method involves two dimensions. First,
grasp the implied meaning of the verse and examine it where it historically
revealed. understanding from the specific situation for the issue and know how
the Qur’an comeback to it (Rahman, 1994). And then make compare and contrast to
similar occasions at that time. And finally, pay attention to the restrictions
of the religion, habits, customs and living traditions to the Arab when Islam
has arrived. The second movement is to conduct the results out of the previous
one in order to generalise new specific statements that include ethics, morals,
provisions. These should be examined in the light of the Qur’an. In addition,
relative affairs should be abstracted by looking to the verse itself as well as
the entire Qur’an (ibid).


since the first approach are departing from the specific to
the general then the second one is in opposition. The purpose of this step is
entirely in favour of life now, as the Holy text is capable to be reformed into
current situations (Moosa, 2000). The formulation of this step is to look for
long term principles, values and morals. Nevertheless, there is condition in
that carful revisions must be addressed to the current life. In other words, if
the Qur’anic command has been taken in smooth motion then the Qur’an itself
will be alive and in return active. However, if the Muslim scripture was
interpreted by jurists, exegesis and historians then new thoughts or
hermeneutics should be proposed in advantage to nowadays as the correction is
the purpose of this step (Rahman, 1994). Furthermore, if failure has happened
to make agreement between Al Qur’an and now then ineffective considerations of
the Qur’an to the present has befallen (ibid).


Rahman’s views about Al Qur’an is the entire word of Allah
revealed to Muhammad however the meaning of it is interpreted by the prophet (Saeed, 2006). Rahman’s conceptions revolved around six aspects as followed.
First, in the typical sense, some verses are words of Muhammad. With regards to
this point, Al Qur’an has confirmed that all verses are Lord’s divine and not
as portrayed as Muhammad words. Otherwise what is the point of being challenged
to present ten Surats or one Surat or even less that that a verse. More
importantly, within the high ability of language of the Arabs, and within this
challenge which is still under the process till now, no one could mimic the
Qur’an which indicates its miracle. Moreover, long debate about the Qur’an’s
reliability has been covered through some orientalists such as Goldziher, Watt
and Noldeka. Second, Al Qur’an is a divine reply via the experiment and the
experience of the prophet during the Mecca period. Third, then the sprite of
the Qur’an is actually to look after the morals and social justice which was
unexploited in the pre-Islamic era. Fourth, the understanding of the Al Qur’an
does not lie in grasping a single verse on its own but well-built scope of
gathering the verses as a whole should be analysed. Fifth, the purpose of
revealing the Qur’an is to build good social and individual behaviour and it
not a treatise on Lord. Sixth and lastly, no one had grasp the whole Qur’an as
its combinations require enormous amount of knowledge, and then its
potentiality could be passed throughout consecutive generations (ibid).


So, the important question is how Rahman’s double movement
theory works for contemporary understanding of the Muslim scripture. A good
example is the issue polygamy. Rahman in his paper polygamy has mentioned how
this issue is extremely sensitive for both modernists and traditionists. As
reformers strive to improve the status of women in Muslim societies by looking
into different perspectives such as the veil, the enrolment to the living
communities and even polygamous. On the other hand, the conservative people
seek to maintain the permission clause to have more than one wife.


Returning to the subject polygamy, Rahman argues that within
the Quran’s command and recommendations, there is a verse has given men the
permission to get contract to more than one woman. In addition, there is a
verse in contrast with this verse. The two verses are (4-3) and (4-129)

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if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such
women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you
will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right
hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right
course”. (4-3)






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“And you
have it not in your power to do justice between wives, even though you may wish
(it), but be not disinclined (from one) with total disinclination, so that you
leave her as it were in suspense; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard
(against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”. (4-129)


extracting the Qur’anic injunctions from these two verses, Rahman asserts that
there was clash to some extent between medieval Muslims and Muslim modernists.
In other words, Mediterranean Muslims wondered why this contradiction, if the Qur’an
permitted up to four wives, then it supposes add these qualifications. And
then they took permission to be absolute and explained that the riders are
ruling special rule of each husbands, whether he could do so, or was not be
able to achieve justice among his wives’ conditions. On the other hand, Muslim modernists
seek to deconstruct the Qur’anic permission as it gave men the right under
certain environments. Moreover, since the Holy scripture gave this
authorisation when there was war widows and orphans. It seems that Rahman
believe without doubt in this solution or result as it is the appropriate and
the correct.  And consequently, he argues
that the only satisfactory answer to this verse is in two standards legal and
moral level (Rahman, 1980). The first one, because of the spectacular conquests
of Muslims and transporting slaves as well as the overwhelming existence of
orphans which occurred because of Islamic wars in the Islamic caliphate. The
second one which Al Quran aimed to move the Muslim societies to a better
circumstance to be parallel to others (ibid).

has been discussed above, Rahman believed in the temporarily of the issue
polygamy as it was permitted for Muslim due to the overwhelming of orphans and
widows. In here, I would give my opinion which based on historical background
of the prophetical era as well as drawing my understand to the verses above. To
start with, the phenomena polygamy is something was existing in both Christianity
and Judaism religion. William Durant the Jewish philosophical scholar has
stated in his book “the story of civilisation” that Polygamy was prominent case as legalized polygamy and concubinage maidservants was
running a legitimate wife according to Jewish law, but in a lesser degree of
the lady of the house (Durant, 1975).

In addition to Judaism, the bible also indicates towards polygamy, this
can be seen in genesis chapter four from verses nineteen to twenty-five. In
these verses it describes how ”Lamech” took two wives for himself. Again,
this demonstrates how polygamy is referenced in the Bible as well as the
Quran (Genesis 4:19–25). According to
Christianity the ideal of marrying more than one did not stop at the death of
Jesus, it also continued throughout generations upon generations and even when
the church was established. Furthermore, a sect of Christians known as the
”Mormons” whose origins can be dated back to the 1830.  It has been
evidenced that the founder Joseph Smith had seventeen different wives. The
above point displays how the issue of polygamy has been present even before the
establishment of the Islamic empire.


Unlike other religions Islam is different when applying polygamy.
Christianity and Judaism hold no limits to the number of times a man can marry
at the same time. Islam differs and states that a man can only marry up to four
women at once. Furthermore, Islam implements conditions on marrying more than
one wife because in the pre-Muslim era, women were stripped of their rights and
suffered the worst forms of injustice including the pluralism of Polygamy.
Therefore, when Islam was established as a way of life it put forward three
conditions that must be adhered to if a man wished to marry more than one. The
first condition is that men could only marry four wives which is not only in
contrast to pre-Islamic Arabia but also the Jewish and Christian scriptures
which do not place a limit on the number of wives. Secondly, a man can only
marry more than once if he is able to show justice between each of the wives,
also the Quran is the only religious scripture which states that a man should
only marry one if he cannot do justice between multiple wives. From analysis of
the verses above, many critiques claim there is a contradiction between the two
verses, the critics claim that the second verse states that it is impossible
for men to have the ability to be just between his wives, therefore critics of
the Quran claim this is contradictory to the first verse which implies that men
be just. However, the response to these critics is that they take verse out of
context and do not read the rest of the verse which states that do not show too
much attention to one wife that the rest of the wives would feel isolated. In
other words, these verses refer to the love and affection and emotion you show
to the wives. Evaluating this point in line with Rahman’s double movement
theory, tis verse was revealed because of the overwhelming emotion and love the
prophet Muhammad showed to his Wife Aisha. This shows that even the prophet
Muhammad who is regarded as the role model for all of humanity displays this
characteristic then what about the rest of the humans.

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“We have made some of these apostles to excel the others among them are
they to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by (many degrees of)
rank” (2-253)


To further enhance this point, even Allah states in the Quran that some
prophets were higher in rank than others, which signifies how Allah shows
favouritism among his own messengers. Linking this to the point above point we
can see that if God has favourites then of course human beings will have
favourites as well including the prophets. It seems that when Rahman states
that polygamy does not’ apply to the modern day as he believed this verse was
revealed in the context of orphans and widows at the time of the prophet
Muhammad. However, in critique of Rahman the prophet himself did not have nine
wives due to the orphanage and Widow theory that Rahman proposes. In addition
to this, the third Caliph Uthmaan Bin Affan married two of the prophet’s
daughters. To further critique Rahman, his method contains two paths-
Historical and Hermeneutics. The historical path goes from the past to the
present and Hermeneutic starts from the present to the past. The historical
path is focussed on analysing the general history of the verse including when
the verse was revealed and how the prophet and his companions interpreted that
verse. However, when Rahman analysed this verse he did not implement the
historical methodology by closely addressing the status of the prophet’s wives
whether they are widows or orphans. In further analysing the etymology of the
Arabic words in the Quran they hold different definitions in different
contexts. The first verse context refers to a financial aspect and this is
clear because of the prior verse and the post- verse which speaks about finance
and how to be just with finance. This verse holds no contradiction with the
second verse which refers to love and affection related to justice.