‘Say (O Muhammad): This is my path (sabīl) – I call to God on the basis of clear perception (baṣīra), I and those who follow me (anā wa man ittabaʿanī).’ (Q. 12:108)
The Qur’an teaches us in the verse above that there is a path followed by God’s Messenger Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and those who follow closely in his way. It teaches us that those who wish to follow him closely must act and speak based on clear perception and insight, evidence and understanding. Those who follow him (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) cannot just imitate others and accept everything they are taught, but must weigh the evidence and study it carefully, and be prepared to analyse and question. The words baṣar/baṣīra refer to vision and insight, to seeing things clearly outwardly and inwardly, to knowing all there is about something. From these words come the words tabaṣṣur and istibṣār which are the acts of carefully looking into something and studying it and being sure about it. In this space I wish to re-examine many matters that many, if not most, Muslims take for granted, because they may not have appeared worthy of close study and analysis. We must also recognise, however, that being on ‘sure footing’ and having clear perception do not mean knowing the answers to everything. On the contrary, very often it is to acknowledge that we may never know the answer to everything for certain. But at least that means that we do not have a false sense of certainty or knowledge about something, and acknowledge the complexities and uncertainties. Too often Muslims want to brush away uncertainties and disagreements – too often fatwas speak of a ‘correct answer’ as if there was no doubt about it, or classify a hadith as ‘authentic’ without acknowledging the possibility that it may not be. Over the course of the years that I have been studying this beautiful and noble tradition, I have seen problems especially with how Muslims read and use the main hadith books without understanding the methodologies of their authors, and that is something that will often be at the basis of the discussions on this site. In this day and age, more than ever, we need to be on sure footing in everything we say and do.
I hope and pray that some of the investigations here are of benefit to others.