The Concept of Sunna in Progressive Muslim Thought
Keywords:sunna; , hadith; , progressive Islam; , progressive Muslim thought;, Islamic legal theory; , Qur’anic hermeneutics, Islamic theology;
In this paper I describe the nature and scope of the concept ‘sunna’ in progressive Muslim thought. I argue that, unlike the hadith-based concept of sunna found in classical Islam, the concept of sunna in progressive Islam has strong affinities with how that concept was understood during the formative period of Islamic thought. In this respect, I show that the concept of sunna in progressive Islam operates within a broad contextualist and rationalist approach to Islamic theology and ethics, that it is a general ethico-behavioural embodied concept. It is not viewed as a source of Islamic belief, nor is it considered a form of unrecited revelation - although, for hermeneutical purposes, it exists in an organic and symbiotic relationship with the Qur’an. In the last section, I discuss several concrete implications this approach to the concept of sunna has in progressive Islam, doing away with many norms, values, and practices that have been associated with the concept in classical Islamic law/ethics, such as those pertaining to family and criminal law. With respect to this, I highlight how a progressive Muslim approach to normative sunna enables the Islamic interpretive tradition to shed ethically and epistemologically outdated norms, values, and practices that have often been defended on the basis of a concept of sunna that operates within the hermeneutical confines of classical Islamic theology and Islamic legal theory.
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