Friday, November 12, 2010

"Historian of religion William Graham has argued that 'traditionalism'

ought to be seen as a defining feature of Islamic thought. This traditionalism consists, he says, "not in some imagined atavism, regressivism, fatalism, or rejection of change and challenge," but rather in the conviction that "a personally guaranteed connection with a model past, and especially with model persons, offers the only sound basis...for forming and reforming one's society in any age." [13] The traditionalism Graham considers characteristic of Islam is rooted in styles of authenticating the statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (or statements about his conduct and teachings as reported by his companions) by affixing to each of these statements a chain of transmission that goes back to him or to one of the other early authorities. Western scholars have usually characterized these discrete statements (hadith) as "traditions" of Muhammad. But the traditionalism of which Graham speaks is something broader in scope and significance: it is the recurrent effort by Muslims to articulate authority and evaluate claims to such authority by positing and reaffirming a connectedness to the past. Graham acknowledges that anchoring authority in efforts to establish a link with the past is not unique to Muslims, but he argues that this effort is nowhere more pervasive than in Islam, and that it is institutionalized here to an unparalleled degree. For instance, the emphasis on "a personally guaranteed connection to a model past" has, for centuries, remained the fundamental principle of validating the transmission of religious knowledge; it underlies genealogical claims to social standing; it is at the heart of the Shi'i belief in the authority of the rightly guided and infallible imams; and it is the basis on which institutionalized Sufism, with its lineages of masters and disciples, rest. [14]
-The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change by Muhammad Qasim Zaman, pg. 3-4

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