3 min read

Studying the variant approaches people take in their religion, on the ground and in my experience, there seems to be three overarching approaches that inform how their religion will be practiced and how it will look both in their daily lives and in society (including public discourse). Simplistically put:

  1. Revelation-based reasoning
  2. Ritualism (often, but not always, in the form of reductive literalism)
  3. Cultural reasoning

All three are very broad churches, and of course the boundaries between them aren’t precisely definable.

A brief breakdown:

(1) attempts to locate and apply meaning and purpose to acts of subservience, assuming that God has told us things for a reason/purpose, which should then inform how we do it so as to bring out optimum outcomes, and in a way that is coherent with the rest of the shariah.

(2) settles for ‘doing for the sake of doing’ and rarely assumes things to have meaning and purpose, and so how religious acts should be enacted is mainly dependent on (Arabic) linguistic constructions because the greater picture it feeds into is deemed unknown, irrelevant, or to not exist.

(3) makes assumptions about the shariah, interacts very little with revelation, and views faith through a secular prism as a cultural phenomenon. As such, faith is evaluated against the benchmark of modernity, its shifting moral trends and popular opinion.

The distinct methods that come out of this are: (1) revelatory authority (2) persona authority (3) modernity’s authority.

(1) constantly roots everything in God’s explicit discourse, navigating through various statements and dictates in order to find nuanced conclusions and locate the attitude of God towards that matter – it does not negate the way scholars of the past have deliberated, but also doesn’t arbitrarily afford them the last word, and instead understands them as humanly seeking to do the same – thus they serve as a valuable heuristic resource.

(2) sees sole authority in the interpretations of particular men and the validity of religious conclusions are rooted in the given authority of those men. (The men will differ depending on the sect/denomination). This is because there is no other ‘valid’ pathway to determine what God wants. Divine discourse is treated as dictates that have little worldly meaning/purpose since it is held that only the ancients understood their true meaning, and thus, we must be subservient to their (often contextual) conclusions, irrespective of whether their reasoning works or their conclusions make sense today. Consequently, this approach enacts subservience to God as manifested in the medieval period and does not account for later-arising variables that’d shape the particularities of such subservience today. Since ritualists do not apply reason, antithesis to things is often presented in the form of a moral panic and with fallacious analogies.

(3) sees little authority in anything, often faith is a subjective phenomenon based on a ‘blind leap’, a theism which is informed by humanistic philosophy, and assumptions as to what God wants are based on the social norms of the moment.

Interestingly, often it is only the third group viewed as the secular type, yet many of those who appropriate the markers of religious conservatism (group 2) also fall into this since Islam becomes a political identity marker where they are driven to conform to the social norms/groupthink of their particular sect.

(The purpose of this post is to provide a general overview to initiate some introspection)