The Contentions are an excellent piece of work. They are concise, powerful and one quickly realizes while reading it the depth and breadth of Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s intellect. The variety of topics and the provokative questions also pose something of a direction for the Western Muslim readers. Though ambitious in its scope there is a passive contentment throughout the work- a discipline in the sharp mental edge. It is hard to imagine a shaky AHM ever getting angry while you read this and calling it Contentions sounds at the same time both combative, hostile and yet also humble- these aren’t wisdoms, but more or less hypotheses to contemplate upon our society and spirituality, a muhasaba of sorts. I also am sure there is something of blessed khawatir in here, that some of these are Divine inspiration, thoughts put in his mind from God, whispered by some angel perhaps.
Through quotes, odd plays on words, foreign terminology and experimenting with portmanteau (made-up) words AHM explores new ideas and alters how we perceive certain issues. At times he offers no more than words that are a tribute to Islam and at other times he offers use aphorisms similar to that of the French Philosophes that can apply to a wide range of situations or contexts. There is a ‘precise openness’ about the Contentions in that there can be one or two or three interpretations, hidden subtly. They will vary by the wideness and narrowness of his thought; some are specific and other more disparate and in-depth in their understanding. He shows us fallacies and naive errors in our thinking, points out problematic Muslim idiosyncrasies, often breaking the cognitive frames and freeing the reader from the trappings of modern discourse. One thing to remember is that Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is critical of not just one group or one body of ideas, he is critical of everybody and is essentially an equal opportunity offender. :)
I will be sharing my commentary on the Contentions. Its not a very long nor detailed commentary but its more to start the conversation and encourage other Muslims to get involved with Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s body of work. Until you organize the Contentions you can’t really see the genius of his thought because the ideas are scattered. But I have taken the time (a very long time) to loosely categorize the Contentions so they are more easily navigable. This isn’t easy because I have to organize each Contention, then organize the categories while ensuring I consider ideas in that Contention that may be beyond the category I placed it in.
I have organized the Contentions in the following categories with further subcategories numbering up to 100:
-Traditional Islamic education
-Tributes to Islam
-Secular ideologies and isms
-Islamic ideologies and isms
-Family and Gender
The Contentions if you ask me is a miracle for Islam because AHM is taking on many different forces in the world, and laying down a foundation for a Muslim discourse and meta-narrative. This is the first textual grappling with Islam in the ever-changing, globalized, chaotic world of today. I firmly believe in the next couple of years, the study of the Contentions will become mandatory for any student of Islamic tradition. I have tried to recall some of AHM’s lectures and essays, if not directly then at least from my notes. The fact AHM is a soft-spoken person does not detract from the directness of his arguments though one may not take it so seriously because of the obscurity of the Contentions so I will try to build off some of his ideas.
I must say as I started this project I felt as if Shaytan was attacking me and trying to discourage me from attempting it, but I have gone forward trusting in Allah.
Special thanks goes out to Sayyid Ali Hussain for his help translating the Arabic terminology.
Disclaimer: I have not spoken to Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad in the course of this project and what you may read only represents my interpretations. This is not definitive nor absolute but merely an attempt at understanding the Contentions.