Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best History is Seerah

Though actual work is always done in the present, our work is always for the future.  As for the past,  we look for the experience, inspiration, example and insight.  Therein lies the importance of the past.

History records and analyzes past event.  People or individuals involved in it are only one of the elements that make the total picture.  If the focus is on the individual, however, it is not called history, but biography. 

As a source, history is only good for insight, knowledge or enlightenment, because it talks more about the event.  People are only actors in that event.  For inspiration, experience and example, including insight and enlightenment, one must go to biography.  If one were to know the events and the destructions caused by Hitler in the WWII, then he should read history.  But if he wants to have deeper understanding of the reasons why Hitler embarked on such a catastrophe, he must read Hitler biographies, especially ones written by those who have accessed to his inner mind and his inner circle.  And one must also read his autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).


Biography is an account of one's life recorded by other.  If it is recorded by the same person, it is called autobiography.  In this case, it is often called a memoirs. 

In the Islamic lingo, biography is called seerah.  Linguistically, seerah means a path a person takes during his lifetime. It also means conduct, comportment, demeanor, behavior, way of life, attitude, position, reaction and way of acting.  For that reason, seerah is more than just a biography.  But since biography also records all those things, the two terms are pretty much used to refer to the same thing.

Of all seerah or biographies, the most important are seerah of the prophets, because these are the people we are required to emulate.  Of the seerah of the prophets, the one that we cannot do without, that is, if we are Muslims, is the seerah of the Prophet Muhammad, because there is a special injunction in the Quran that says to the effect that he is a model every Muslim must emulate.  Equally important are the seerah of his companions, especially his leading companions, such as Abu Bakar, Umar, Uthman, Ali and the like.  It is through the seerah of his companions that we understand his struggle, his teachings, and his achievements better.

All Muslims are taught about fiqh, especially the ones related to rituals (ibadat).  But they are rarely exposed to seerah.  Granted that those rituals are obligatory, knowing them is therefore obligatory.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But if it only stops there, then we miss the finer points about the fiqh itself. 

Fiqh is always associated with laws (hukum) and rituals (ibadat), which are the practical aspects of fiqh, since the laws and the rituals are meant to be practiced.  But linguistically fiqh simply means understanding.  How do we expect to understand the finer points in fiqh if we do not even know how fiqh is developed, what are the variant views on certain issue, how the formulator (mujtahid) of a certain school of thought (mazhab) derives his rulings, etc.  Unaware of those things, we often accuse others of being wrong when in fact they are also correct.

The finer points of those things should and must be left to the experts, the fuqaha.  But as laymen, it would help our understanding if we look at the history or seerah of things (such as fiqh, for instance) rather than only look at the final output.  This is what I intend to do in this blog and share it with others.  If others will find it useful, then I would be happy.  In any case, the effort won't be a waste, because if it doesn't help others, at least it will help my own understanding.

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