crossposted on my Eteraz.org diary
A little bit of background on the post. Over the past week or so we have been discussing Irshad Manji (from her role at the Secular Summit to her Project Ijtihad) and a post titled Firestorm by Jinnzaman has created quite an uproar in which both discussions have taken a turn at some point to the discussion of Takfir (declaring someone an apostate – which in some views carries a death sentence). All of these discussion in some way or another relate to Shari’a in which my views and opinions have been changing – so this is my update since “My Shari’a Question” post.
I can’t think of any other word that is called upon so often, that evokes so many varied emotions ranging from pride and obligation to fear and loathing. I can’t think of any other word that is brought up so often by Muslims and non-Muslims alike yet its very meaning, its very essence is elusive, misunderstood by Muslim and non-Muslim.
A word so clearly defined that oppressive regimes are based upon it, yet a word so obscure that democracies can be built upon it. A word which inspired articulate systems of reason yet a word which inspired the destruction of the very same articulate system. A word that would unite yet a word that divides.
A couple of months back I was questioning the realities of a “just” Shari’a based system and while I still do have concerns these days in regards to shari’a, I am starting to realize that under the right circumstances such system could very well come to exist. Now, I am not that well read on the subject but a book here and there, a few essays, some posts and very many comments have opened new trains of thought. I’ll have to say that the biggest contribution to my change in opinion was the book that I am still reading (stopped to read Ramadan Tariq’s latest for a book club that I can’t even attend now L )
Based on Abou El Fadl’s The Great Theft as I understand it: shari’a is the divine law that is within Allah’s mind, the perfect law in the “divine realm” (1) an ideal that we strive to achieve through “fiqh”. Fiqh being the human law and “therefore subject to error, alterable and contingent.”(2) Distinguishing divine from human and the acknowledgement of human error as a basis for this system.
Over the past few days we have seen much discussion in regards to the loss of traditional Islam (while I am speaking of jurisprudence I am going to leave this out for now). Somehow the combination of words “traditional Islam” made me think “conservative” but in reality it is not that. Islam had a rich tradition of jurisprudence which not only included studying the Quran and Sunnah (complicated enough) but through analogies using past precedence and principles which often included public interest, thereby allowing laws to be “responsive to changing times and conditions” (3) Practicing jurisprudence required endless education and research within the field of Islamic jurisprudence having first to receive many ijazas (licenses) from their mentors/teachers before one would be qualified to be known as a jurist. These points most of us I assume would agree on.
I’m sure that most of us would also agree that with the onset of Western colonialism and the decline of the traditional Islamic system came a reform movement which has played its role in securing the halt to this complicated traditional Islamic system and replaced it with a very literalist interpretation of Quran and Sunnah and rubber stamped a big “Shari’a” across it.
Where I think I differ is that I have always assumed that knowledge and reason was something that was demanded of me as a Muslim and therefore I needed to obtain knowledge to make reasonable and rational decisions of what is “Islamic” regardless of ijma (consensus) and whether or not I was a jurist – it was still my responsibility of being informed. The difference between me and the very movement that spurred “individual” thought and the literalist interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah is that I do not deny the necessity of traditional Islamic jurisprudence nor the necessity to return to the traditional methodologies of fiqh if shari’a is going to be practiced. Instead, it is through these very methodologies that we would be able to see a democratic form of fiqh. One in which key word being “qualified” jurists would reason, research, analyze and form legislation and laws and where we would through our informed opinion be able to pass such laws through voting. Not much different than what we have here in the US. A shari’a based on democracy or a democracy based on shari’a is the only shari’a that I would be able to support. In addition, I have only considered shari’a to be something adaptable in majority Muslim countries and something that Muslims could use as moral reference in matters of conscious outside of Muslim countries.
Now, while I have found this to be a light at the end of the tunnel, I still have an issue with shari’a and that being that the tunnel is too long. In the wake of the demise of traditional Islam, we are left with a gaping wound; a void of precedence and practice of this very complicated science of Islamic jurisprudence. We are left with Islamic schools within the Middle East that were once council to state that have now become council of state. In other words, politics have entered Islam; to be more precise politics have developed the curriculum for these schools. When it is stated that Islam and politics are not separable I concur but politics have played a greater role on Islam than Islam has on politics as of late. What the Middle East has been left with is a society void of social growth, stuck in a realm of oppression and injustice and bringing back the traditional Islamic system is going to take hard work and a very long time all the while more and more suffering.
In light of that, I have recently been thinking that Ijtihad has created this state of confusion that we are now living in, and after considering the many comments of Ijtihad being to blame for the very demise of traditional Islamic jurisprudence, I still believe that it still may take another Ijtihad to return it to what it once was. As it stands we are living with literalists controlling what is Islamic and what is not and in order to fight that ideology, we have to use that ideology to prove our very point. We have to use those very tools to inspire the masses to reform.
However, another major obstacle exists and that is that the void of jurisprudence has to be filled as well and that is where the challenge lies; without this we will only be throwing ourselves into the ways of the 1800’s. In reality this is the biggest challenge of shari’a and what would happen in the meantime?
1. Abou El Fadl’s The Great Theft page 150
2. Abou El Fadl’s The Great Theft page 150
3. Abou El Fadl’s The Great Theft page 147