Interpreting Language in Islamic Legal Theory

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Event Name: Interpreting Language in Islamic Legal Theory
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 4/6/2019
Transcript Version: 1

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ominant don't have and

that's why when you learn those tools

you've become a formidable enemy if

you're from these other cultures Malcolm

is a good example of that who learned

the tools of the culture who could go to

the Oxford Union on December 3rd 1963

and hold his ground toe-to-toe with

masters of that tradition because he

knew their language he knew their

cultural references he quotes Hamlet in

that speech because he actually read

Shakespeare if you read his biography he

he was interested in literature he knew

English very well he mastered the

language he knew rhetoric very well he

mastered rhetoric and he was a master of

logic if you listen to his arguments

he's always making solid logical

arguments and this is what this is what

the dominant culture is very afraid of

when people actually

learn these tools that they use to

empower themselves and and so the Muslim

civilization was a civilization

predicated on learning these tools and

if you want a really beautiful study of

this fact then I would recommend reading

John Wall bridges book about the kata

fate of Reason in which he shows that

the Muslims were obsessed with the arts

of language with grammar with rhetoric

and logic and this is what was at the

center of their teaching because they

knew if you try to access revelation

without these tools it'll be a disaster

and that's what we're seeing all over

the Muslim world now we're seeing people

trying to access the Quran without

understanding the tools that will enable

you to access the Quran now people will

say well the Sahaba didn't know those

tools absolutely they did they were

masters of rhetoric they were masters of

the Arabic language they knew grammar

intuitively they knew if they heard

something that was wrong said no model

delano saw some people shooting arrows

and he said so we will so we will run

your comb you know straighten up your

shooting and one of them said an animal

Pythian were beginners and that's that's

that should be a Joomla is MIA it should

have a muqtada and a hubba the move

today should be national move Teddy own

is the hopper so it's mark or because

they're both myrfor so he didn't he they

said nano move Teddy in as if it was

among super active US National move

Teddy in learn anima darica you could

say that they're there at mon-sol

practices but they said Nana move Teddy

in he said wallah he in the lagna cone a

shed do earlier I mean how to configure

Michael this mistake in your in your

grammar is harder on me than missing the


because Arabic was already diminishing

because of the ajan that we're becoming


the Milani just like if you go to some

Gulf states you have these little Arab

kids that speak English with the order

do accent because they they grow up with

and then they use like if you go if you

go to certain Gulf States

there's Arabic terms that come out of or

do now or if you go to Egypt they have

all these terms that came out of Turkish

bottle do include Bri because the Turks

were living there and so this is what

changes the language in the same way

that you've got all of this type of

language degradation that's happening

because of all of these slangs

interestingly enough some of the ulama

actually prohibited inventing words

there were animal that considered the

invention of words and slang to be

prohibited because they said through

that communication breaks down and the

purpose of languages to communicate so

people should not have private languages

and it's very interesting so share

Abdullah bin Vega grew up in a place

that has had this tradition and what is

unique about these people is that they

were Bedouin and we as far as I can tell

we are the only civilization that ever

created highly literate Bedouin people

they're better when people live all over

Aboriginal peoples they live all over

the world

but this is the only civilization that

ever created highly literate Bedouin

people it's this is one of the miracles

of Islam and when I was in Mauritania

and seeing them studying logic

Aristotelian logic Bedouin living in

tents studying Aristotelian logic I once

saw when what up that Hajj was trying to

explain what Jawahar thought was to a

Bedouin boy he was studying Arpita and

one of the concepts 'as in in inanimate

Kanab there's the atomic theory which is

similar to the string theory that that

the entire world is made up of

indivisible atoms

not what we call the modern atom that

can be split and massive chaos comes out

of that splitting no the atom that is

indivisible the Monad so this is the the

the particle that cannot be split it's

like a geometric it's like a geometric

point you know if you look at Euclid's

definitions the point is is really a

mystical concept because it has no depth

breadth or width the point so this is

like the Johanna father in the Arabic


so what up that has took some sand and

he said if the veil was lifted from you

and he threw the sand up he said you

would see the whole world like this so

he was explained in the Sahara

explaining to a young boy what we now

know is the field this is extraordinary

so this is this the culture that he grew

up out of but now he is obviously what

we would call in in our culture a genius

so he was gifted with a phenomenal

intellect but there's other components

there spiritual components that are part

of this Imam al-ghazali said that that

our theology is not based simply on

discursive thought but it's also based

on spiritual states and and so there's

an element that which we call the fattah

ya fattah if defin enough attend Kariba

allah is le citta he is the one that

opens the intellect people that are they

they can actually we know now that

intellects grow with learning the more

synaptic connections you have in your

brain the more effective the brain

becomes we know that learning will

actually make you smarter we know that

the saint-omer sets a limit arrabiata in

the heart Aziz will often learn Arabic

because it increases your intellect so

you you you you you can actually become

more intelligent

the more you learn and so this is the

environment that he grew up in and with

his brilliance at an early age he was

mastering the the sciences of Islam and

we called him Sciences or loom our

sciences the modern word science has

been has been relegated to mean the

material sciences like biology or

chemistry but in our tradition a science

is something that can be learned

unlike intuition

what what what the Greeks called news

what we call alkyl there's a deuce

between alkaline and alkyl understands

it grasps but science can actually be

imparted you can't impart grasping you

either understand something or you don't

if if I say you know this cup is heavier

than this cup you have to understand

that if you don't understand that I

can't really prove it to you I could put

it on a scale but you're still not going

to understand the concept so so you you

have to just grasp certain concepts and

upon those concepts you can base other

knowledge so what we don't know is is

based on what we already know so

learning is like building blocks you

build upon what you already know to

arrive at things that you don't know so

if you know grammar you can learn logic

but you cannot learn logic without

grammar if you know logic and grammar

then it's very easy to learn rhetoric if

you don't know those two then rhetoric

becomes very difficult because they're

all related

so sciences are imparted this is nothing

so you have outcome and nothing Apple is

understanding knock'em is what's

imparted and these are the sciences

traditionally the first thing that

Muslims learned was memorization of

Quran the reason for this is a child

does not have

capacity to understand their

understanding is very limited but they

have an extraordinary ability to retain

knowledge most children I mean obviously

memory is is there's a genetic component

is also in Chinese medicine it's related

to kidney strength stronger your kidneys

are the better your memory is there are

things that diminish memories sinfulness

diminishes memory is well known in our

tradition obedience strengthens memory

they say 21 raisins every morning

strengthens memory that's Imam zone

Mooji says that and then obviously there

are other things that are used but the

having a retentive memory is a blessing

having a photographic memory I've only

met a few people that I that I think

have I met one moody tiny and man in

Medina whose father he was from the

tissue Kanak clan his father said he

never read anything that he didn't

understand and he never read anything

that he forgot everything he read he

retained I met a man in Mauritania that

memorized the entire post the dictionary

but there was a body I also met a man

that knew all nine books of the hadith

by rote with this nad and in fact I gave

him my copy of vacati which was

handwritten it was the most precious

thing in my possession I think and and

he opened it out and he found a mistake

in one of the rewire so I said you can

have it

yeah so that's true story and it was

actually a really precious book it was

had gold it was written in gold and has

done done from the zeliha De La Hoya and

Morocco in any case I mean I've met

those people so when we read about Imam

Abu Hadi I know that it's true because

I've met those people shared although

one of the things that he does that's

interesting to me is he does not show

off his knowledge like he doesn't you

know he wants it he'll only take what he

wants to convey the meaning he wants

conveyed and I've seen many examples of

that in translating for him I'll give

you one example

he mentioned once a hadith which is in

stocky Muslim and he just mentioned one

part of it and I was curious about the

hadith and I asked him about it later

and he said so long hadith and then I

said I said you know which which book is

intention he says a long time we thought


he says long-headed and then I said

where does that come in it and then he

recited the whole hadith to me which was

probably about a page and a half but he

will often quote hadith by meaning he

won't even quote the nufs even though I

know he knows the nuts

he'll just quote the meaning from the

hadith so he has mashallah

phenomenal memory blessed with a really

extraordinary understanding and those

two are rare in individuals Imams you'll

be said God usually gives a retentive

memory but the the understanding is

diminished or he gives a lot of

understanding but the the memory is

diminished and he said and he said and

the wisdom between that is is they the

nude orichalcum at the rarity of

wholeness or completion because it's

just a rare thing in the world to see

that in the world but in most you'll be

said but when they come together like

they did in me that's what he said he

said when they come together like they

did in me then you'll see wonders but

Imams you'll see himself you know they

say that there's a Persian proverb that


the the peacock only looks at its ugly

feet it never sees the beautiful plumage

and any mom seal 'they could not do

mathematics for the life of him

he's a brilliant man but he just could

not understand math problems and and he

was actually opposed to logic because he

because the iruma considered it a

condition for the most ahead so he a

bridge even Tamia's refutation of the

logicians but there's an interesting

story because his logic teach teachers

stole a book that he'd done in also

thick and he never forgave him he was he

was only 16 when he was studying logic

with him

and he stole his book and he said i know

that he's going to go back to Turkey and

claim it as his own anyway that'll

that'll get you against logic if your

logic teachers stole your work

so when sheikh abdulla was in his early

20s he was sent to tunis with a group of

judges one of them and very interesting

chef Don I both share a teacher because

one of my teachers in fifth was his

teacher in Oakland Bay you been setting

a brilliant Mauritania scholar really

one of the most amazing people I ever

met and he was his teacher and Lolly

will def have a mastani Ninh Medina who

wrote a book on on Medina

that's quite well known it's in all the

bookstores in Medina Holly I was reading

his book one day and I saw a footnote

and I went down he said and he wrote and

and I didn't know that he knew sheikh

abdullah but he wrote in the book I

first heard this from an alum ah the

great scholar abdullah bin billah and he

said he was my companion during my

student days in in the madara which is

what they call the madrasah and he said

one of the things that about him that

struck all of us was if he ever heard a

line of poetry he would say who wrote

that and then he would go find the posse

and memorize the whole casita and he

said he had amazing him map and so he

learned all of the pre-islamic poetry by

rote and his his mastery of the Arabic

language is phenomenal which is but he

has a distinction that I think is is

really important to his development and

understanding of the modern world that I

haven't seen in other scholars and that

is he mastered a European language when

he was if he came back from Tunis and he

graduated number one even though he was

the youngest of the group and they were

all accomplished jurists he graduated

number one in 1961 he was actually

interviewed by The Voice of America in

Tunisia which I'd love to find that

interview because they put him as the

spokesman for the Mauritanian group as

they'd gained their independence he was

involved in the independence movement

one of the first positions that he he

went to a city a town where a lot of the

because this was a time when Mauritania

still had Ric which is this servitude

they still had the rep and there were

runaway slaves he went and taught them

and he has always been opposed to

slavery he was against the slavery in

Mauritania and he went and taught them

these runaway slaves he went and taught

them Arabic and reading and writing and

Poron and Basic v and this was the first

thing that he did and then he became a

minister he was Minister of Justice he

held several ministerial posts he was

the permanent secretary of the he also

convinced the President to implement the

Sharia and he wrote all of the marriage

laws for Mauritania and and the the he

was involved in all the Ted we know

these that are still intact in

Mauritania so these are the laws that

are on the day after the President

signed the the decree to implement

Sharia there was a coup in Mauritania

and and he ended up in jail

so people think you know they see shanab

loading bay and now they don't know the

struggles that he's been through his

commitment to this Deen and but he's a

very pragmatic person he's he's very he

knows the world and he knows how it

works he knows history and he

understands the time we're living in in

a way that I haven't seen in other

scholars he he ended up going leaving

Mauritania he went to Saudi Arabia

became a professor a king out lizzi's

and he's always he's always been

committed to the teaching that he

learned in West Africa from his father

and and then studied also in Tunis where

he got his doctorate but he learned

French in a very short period of time

because all of the ministers new French

except for him and they used to speak

French and then they'd say oh pardon you

know share of the Alumni out of infancy

and then they'd start speaking French

Arabic so he would get a radio and

listen to French news every night and he

learned after learning the alphabet he

listened to the words write them down

and then find them in the dictionary so

he actually taught himself French just

from the listening to the radio and then

one day he came in they were speaking

French and and they said I was here and

he said no no it's not it's not a

problem go ahead and and so anyway what

he's been doing one of the things that

we tend they don't write books using

when they're young it's quite rare

because they really believe that it

takes a long time for no budge to become

mature they tend to write later in their

lives his incredible output has been in

the last 15 years

he's almost 80 and what he's done really

is he has done touch deed of all sort of

thick broth of this banana said that the

scholars of Islam are like regimented

soldiers and he said the generals are

the Oh luli scholars these are the ones

that that really understand now probably

one of his most important books is

called a

Delilah's or Delilah's or dual Allah its

authority it can you can use all three

more Italians use it with delay that

Eastern Arabs tend to say Delilah

so omalley are what you recite from

memory you know you may leave so this is

called Amalia delay that it's what the

the the connotations of the words are

telling us what they're telling us and

so it's a study really a also terrific

but one of the things that he's

attempting to do is one restore the

centrality of Arabic back to the Sharia

and the importance of it because many

many people that go to Shetty at

colleges now do not learn Arabic in any

deep way they learn enough to be able to

read and they still even educated Arabs

make a lot of mistakes when they read

especially if you read the older books

because of soft more than now sort of

his very takes a long time to master but

he wrote this book and then he also

wrote several other books one of them at

high water and bird which is a dialogue

from a distance he wrote another book

which is called

Elliott which is probably somewhat

unfortunate because there's another

minority tip that is associated with

other scholars that has nothing to do

with his minority v and so people lump

them together share abdullah is not a

modernist and he said that before he

said analyst to hadith Ian I'm not a

hadith II I'm not a modernist he is

totally committed to the tradition but

believes that the tradition needs to be

reactivated that it's lay it has lain

dormant for a very long time and

scholars are reluctant to activate these

osuni tools that were so important in

the past and he feels that it's

absolutely necessary because of the

challenges that we're facing as a

community that we've never had

challenges like this we have economic

challenges he said that the traditional

books of commercial law do not deal with

many many of the commercial transactions

he actually gave a talk to a group of

economists in France and the head of the

IMF was in the audience and she was

completely flabbergasted and said that

she had never seen such accurate usage

of economic terms by somebody who was

not inside their community but he he

knows Islamic commercial law and he

wrote an entire book on the the the

authority aspects of commercial law and

he dealt with derivatives the problem of

derivatives he gives an analyses of why

the Western system is so flawed and how

it could be improved on by principles

that have been known for centuries in

Islamic commercial law and he goes on on

he gives all the reasons why usury was

was prohibited and it's a very detailed

study of economics and this is an area

that the Illuma have grossly neglected

I mean Malaysia has done some you know

they've attempted to do it but the part

of the problem is is you don't have

scholars that have knowledge of the

tradition and then knowledge of the

modern complexities and this is where

the crisis lies

you either have traditionalists who

don't know anything about the modern

world or you have modernists who

understand the modern world to whatever

degree but they don't know the tradition

and there's an assumption there there's

a lot of Mythology I'll give you one

great myth that is constantly thrown out

there the idea that the Muslims shut the

door of ish D had that is a complete

myth that comes out of Orientalism and

has nothing to do with our tradition

every single book of o Sole there's a

chapter on HT had all of the unum are in

agreement that is jihad is necessary

until the end of time none of the ummah

have ever said that HT had stops because

there's always new problems

so you have to make you sad where they

where they felt that the HD had one door

was closed which is what is which is

called an HD has an mukluks absolute HD

had in other words they felt that one of

the last people to claim it was in mom

seal T it was rejected which is to say

that they don't have to follow the rule

of one of the Imams that they're outside

of that even Tamia who was a humble

scholar but despite that he broke rank

with the the scholars of his time

arguing that that following the met have

stuck lead of the med hebbs was a

problem and that you needed to work not

just within the methods but allow the

possibility of going outside of the

methods and share Abdullah in certain

areas he will do that although he's

deeply committed to the o soul of Imam

addict Laurel Delano and he knows the O

soul of the other three Imams this book

is a comparative study I mean that's not

the the central point of the book but he

goes into the comparative study of the

of the I mean let me give you just one

example the the anima determined that

language has different types so you have

what are called ha ha yep no hawea these

are how kya

their the the the realities of logo of

arabic or any language but they say

there's a haqiqa Whataya so this is the

the reality of the what we would call in

in Western logic the Dennett ation of a

word what the word denotes in other

words what the original meaning of the

word and the purpose of the word so for

instance marriage is the joining of a

male and a female in Arabic now you you

can change that meaning like they're

doing today but the original meaning is

clearly in fact

Yamato's which is the Greek word for

marriage is where we get gametes

from so age in Arabic is is the the

marrying of opposites so in the Arabic

language you so we Jew means xoj is an

opposite right Allah created everything

in opposites right so the whole concept

of marriage and linguistically the wubba

of the of the word is the joining of a

male and a female now then you have

what's called a happy thought ophea

which is a customary usage is to

conventional it could be slang or it

could be the change in the word overtime

there are many people that argue all

English is influx very little of English

has changed in the last 500 years and

that's that's a fact you can read

Shakespeare with a little bit of


I mean Shakespeare who was writing at

the at the end of the sixteenth

beginning of the 17th century

Shakespeare you can read Hamlet if you

have a basic education from you know any

Western school here you know there's

going to be words that you don't know

things that he uses but it's still

English it's the English that we speak

and and so it hasn't changed that much

but there's this argument no there's all

these radical shifts in language it's

not true language has a stability

because language is tradition so you can

change the meaning of marriage to mean

the the marriage of two males

conventionally and you can call that

marriage and you can have a ceremony and

say that that's all but that's not the

wubba of the Doga it's not what the the

word was placed for went went when

people first used the word it's not what

they meant so for the last you know

millennia since human beings have been

getting married nobody ever had the

concept of two women getting married or

two men getting married you just didn't

exist so now there's people that want to

argue no weak marriages whatever we want

it to mean because they don't believe in

essences they don't believe that there's

natural meanings to these terms

and then you have what's called a haqiqa

Sharia which is the what the Chettiar

says the word is used for so for

instance Kadeem to the jahaly arabs

really meant extravagant was a

spendthrift who was extravagant it came

to mean something different in economic

mind a lot it's calm so a lot changed

that meaning for the Arabs and related

it to piety so that's an example and

then you have happy permit jazia which

is figurative meaning what it's used a

figure to like SE dabangg zeta is a

notion we don't mean he's a body of

water right we mean he has an

extraordinary amount of knowledge as if

it was like the ocean so it's metaphors

are similes without the the use of as or

like in in a fool the anima differed

about if a word had a literal meaning

but then it had a conventional meaning

what which one do you use first

so the chavies said that you should use

the a pica Whataya what was the literal

meaning of the word well sort of kinda

Matt how PIPA that's a kinda the the

basis of speech is literal you should

always take something literal if I say

I've got a headache you know you should

take that literally that I feel pain in

my head before you think that I'm just

saying you know all this trouble at the

office is giving me a headache so I

don't really mean I have a pain in my

head I'm just saying it's like a

headache right so you take things

literally before you take them

figuratively in Sharia that's according

to manic and Abu Hanifa said no they

should be taken by customary usage

before you take the literal usage so

what people use and then some made tough

steel Imam al-ghazali from the chef that

he said you should go by the throat

before you go by and Imam and Jelena

said that also you should go by

customary usage before you go by literal

usage so these are differences in

assault and it's going to have a

difference in so if I swore for instance

well la he let out a couple baton right

and then I rode a so I swore an oath and

I'm not gonna ride a camel but then I

rode a donkey now donkey in in the Quran

there's there's a hemudu barrier in the

Quran that is is is actually means

donkey so barrier in the Quran there's a

there's one area where some of them

officer don't interpret it to mean

donkey but that doesn't include when I

swore not to ride about year

I wasn't thinking donkey I was thinking

a male camel so there's an example of

where that difference of opinion would

have some import in how the Ummah assess

it so what this is this is in essence

what what Sheikh Abdullah is trying to

do is really revive also landfill as a

means for dealing with our problems I'll

give you an example of what he did there

was a woman who became Muslim in in in

the United States and she was married

and the man was not Muslim and so all

these Muslims told her the marriage is

no longer valid you have to divorce your

husband now I saw this happen in there

was a young woman who became Muslim with

me in in Santa Clara and then she just

disappeared and I asked what happened

and they said oh they told her she had

to divorce her husband so she left Islam

now this woman they were telling her oh

you the marriage is invalid now because

he's not a Muslim and a Muslim woman

can't be married to a non-muslim man

well shann abdullah gave a fatwa based

on a sound transmission from a situation

that happened in Iraq where Christian

woman became Muslim and the husband was

not a Muslim but he did not have a

problem with her being a Muslim and so

say Nadia actually judged that she could

stay with him

so chef Abdullah said in this time when

people's iman is not strong to where

they would actually leave their family

for their religion that very often

they'll end up choosing their family

over their religion that's an example

where you should take something that

even though the four med hubs don't have

that especially in the lands of

non-muslims because there is an opinion

that if she's in the lands of the

non-muslims she can stay with her

non-muslim husband if he doesn't oppose

her Islam and so that was his opinion so

she called me and I gave her that

opinion which I learned from Chicago I

wouldn't have known that if I did I

would have told her the same thing that

most Muslims know and she might have

left his son but she didn't she said oh

I'm really glad to hear that because

they were telling me I had to leave my

husband her husband became was some six

months later so there's an example where

we could have lost two people to Islam

without having the wisdom or the hikmah

and the vastness of our Sharia because

the Sharia is vast and it's a Rama

before anything else and so this is

these are the the you know these are the

types of situations that he's grappling

with azimu stead and and and really

trying to revive the importance of using

these tools that were given to us but

the tools need to be mastered they take

a long time to master and they need

serious students and that's part of the

problem because the the scholars of his

caliber are disappearing from our

community anyway that's that's a little

introduction a minute does anybody have

any questions they want to ask or go

ahead that was quick usually it's like

few minutes they say you're supposed to

wait for modern day well he's like I

said he's pragmatic in that the economy

is what it is so the the the attempts

you know this idea that Muslims Muslims

can simply get out of the economy

there's a global system that's very

powerful it's a very destructive system

it's caught it's wreaking a lot of havoc


his approach is to is is really first of

all we have to understand what it is and

then we have to understand what the

Sharia enables us to do given the

situation and so you know he addresses

different problems like the problem

obviously fractional reserve banking is

a problem even in corporations the idea

of a corporation being a fictional

person is anathema to traditional fit

you can't have limited liability in

traditional fit you have to have

responsibility yeah the corporation

cannot you can't have an entity that's

disembodied that's responsible you have

to have human beings that are

responsible and so granting in in the

United States I don't know what the

situation I mean I know they have the

same type system here but in in the

United States corporations were granted

protection under the Fourteenth


which which when you have a corporation

that has five hundred lawyers it's it's

unequal protection under the law because

they can do a lot more if you try to go

if you try to sue a corporation good

luck mm-hmm what's that on what I said

then more on that it's it's a dot on men

had stood in Jeddah it's in Arabic all

his books unfortunate in Arabic was with

the exception of and and I've tried to

get people to translate them I've even

paid people on but his Arabic is just

really difficult so people have a really

hard time even like educated people that

have good background because there's a

lot of technical terms

his Arabic he uses a pre-modern Arabic

in his writing so he's not he doesn't

write in modern Arabic which is heavily

influenced by English and he actually

really hates it I once gave him adopted

Hajj an article from shelf cut I was up

and he read it and he asked me what

language is this I'm telling you the


yeah I said it's Arabic he's that it's

not the Arabic I know and he has a

commentary on the LT of automatic you

know he's