Human History as Divine Revelation: A Dialogue

Mazrui Ali A.

in Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195174304
Published online November 2007 |
Human History as Divine Revelation: A Dialogue

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Born in Kenya, he studied at Manchester University in England (B.A.) and Columbia University in New York (M.A.), and he earned his doctorate at Oxford University. An expert on Africa and Islam in Africa, he has authored more than twenty books and hundreds of articles. Mazrui is Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities, State University of New York at Binghamton; Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus, Cornell University; and Chancellor, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya. His many publications include The Africans: A Triple Heritage, Governance and Leadership: Debating the African Condition, and Cultural Forces in World Politics.

In this dialogue from 2003, Mazrui champions the interpretation of Islamic scripture on the basis of changing circumstances. His premise is that Gods revelation occurred adseriatim across many prophetic missions. Indeed, though Islam holds Muhammad to have been the last prophet (nabi), Mazrui suggests that historical time may be considered a cosmic messenger (rasul). If so, then history may be considered a continuing revelation of God. In a nuanced discussion, Mazrui points out that God engaged the early Muslims on the grounds of their limited knowledge. They knew of the sun and moon, and God did not expand the references to these heavenly bodies to encompass those in deep space. The same principle may be applied to the exemplary punishments (hudud), to which the Qurn refers. Those punishments were consonant with what the early Muslims could understand regarding the violation of law. Our knowledge of crime today, however, is more profound, as to causes and as to the limits of culpability and guilt. Mazrui reasons that today we know that even chemical imbalances in the body can cause an individual to commit a serious crime. Should the perpetrator of a felony who has this debility be stoned to death? Mazrui thus holds that some verses, such as those pertaining to hudud punishments, were intended to apply specifically to the early period of Islam, when Muslims had only a very elementary knowledge of the world, whereas other verses are eternal and universal.

Chapter.  2915 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture ; Islam

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