Muslim scholarship must think in terms of the intellectual frameworks they can build for humanity. The reason why Prophets and saints from the Muslim tradition are still respected today is because their messages contained universal ideas and principles for the benefit of mankind.
Even post-classical scholars and figures like Ibn Sina and Rumi have a universal appeal showing the far-reaching nature of Muslim scholarly tradition. I humbly believe that Muslim scholars must move beyond the confines of classical Islamic sciences to broader subjects and contexts that help all human beings, particularly in a globalised world.
This is not to negate the great seminary tradition that Muslims have but rather to combine it with emerging subjects and issues. For example, Risalat al-Huquq (Treatise of Rights) by Zayn al-Abidin, the great grandson of Prophet Muhammad and the 4th Shi’i Imam, is one of the earliest human rights charters in history and can be used to engage with and develop international human rights.
Letter 53 to Malik al-Ashtar by Ali b. Abi Talib (in Nahj al-Balagha – The Peak of Eloquence), the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, first Shi’i Imam and 4th Rightly-Guided Caliph, can be used to develop an ethical leadership charter for governments and communities. In this way, the masadir (sources) of Islam can be re-engaged with to develop new frameworks for humanity’s challenges. It would also broaden the appeal of what Muslim scholars have to offer humanity in fields such as politics, international law, ethics, literature, science and more – fields in which Muslim contributions are small.
Perhaps this would echo Ali b. Abi Talib’s statement to his companion, Kumayl b. Ziyad, about yearning for truly knowledgeable scholars that are trustees of God and enlighten humanity: “O Kumayl, they are the trustees of God on His creatures, the vicegerents of Allah on His earth, His lamps in His countries, and callers to His religion. Oh, oh, how I yearn to see them! I seek God’s forgiveness for you and me.” (Reference for statement: Al-Harrani, Abu Muhammad al-Hasan b. Ali b. al-Husayn b. Shu’ba., Tuhaf al-Uqoul (The Masterpieces of the Intellects). Translated by Badr Shahin. (Qum: Ansariyan Publications, 2001), p. 194)
Imranali Panjwani obtained his LLB in Law from the University of Sheffield. Thereafter, he underwent hawza (seminary) training in Islamic Studies & Arabic at Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham. Concurrently, he attended the College of Law to study on the Legal Practice Course. He is currently completing his PhD in Theology & Religious Studies at King’s College London examining the role of the self in Islamic-Western human rights discourse from a Shi'i-Muslim and Christian-Western perspective. He is the editor of The Shi'a of Samarra: the Heritage and Politics of a Community in Iraq (I.B Tauris, 2012).