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Jun 2015

 Islamists have unleashed a reign of terror in different parts of the world. No continent has been spared. What is surprising is the reaction of leaders in the non-Islamic world to the atrocities being committed by terrorists in the name of Islam. Every attack is accompanied or followed up by a message to the effect that the killing of the victims was justified by the tenets of the Holy texts of Islam. The leaders of the countries affected by such characterize these events as the acts of radical elements, fringe elements and aberrations from the religion of Islam which stands for peace and peaceful co-existence. Here, in this logic, there is a complete disconnect between the experience of the western leaders of the past and the present. Have the Western leaders completely forgotten that in the past (1096-1291) for about 200 years Christians had launched crusades against Islam for the recovery of Jerusalem, their Holy Land? Have the western leaders completely ignored what their own well known scholars have written about Islam? 

This is what Professor Bernard Lewis has said:  Muslims in their actions, are guided by the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. The world is divided into Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of War). This distinction was first recorded in a pact entered between the Muslim state and the Christian kingdom of Nubia (South of Eygpt) in the year 652 AD. From early on, humanity stood divided between mumins (believers) and kafirs (un-believers). The Muslim law laid down as one of the principal obligations of the head of the Muslim state and community, the conduct of Jihad (Holy War). It was a Muslim duty, collective in attack, individual in defence to fight in the war against the unbelievers. In principal, this is to continue until all mankind either embraced Islam or submitted to the authority of the Muslim State. What is happening today in different parts of the world is nothing but Jihad.  The members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Al-Queda, Jamiat Islami, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIS et-al openly claim that their fight is for the restoration of an Islamic State headed by a Khalifa.

Way back in mid-eighties, Professor Lewis had observed: For some years now there has been a strong reaction in Muslim countries against secularizing tendencies, expressed in a number of Islamic radical movements. These movements share the objective of undoing the secularizing reform of the last century, abolishing the imported codes of law and the social customs that came with them, and returning to the holy law of Islam and the Islamic political order. The Islamists have launched two pronged attack. One, within the Islamic countries themselves. Two, destroying the Western culture and way of life by Muslim immigrants settled in the western countries. Before the situation gets worse, Muslim scholars and leaders have started making suggestions about the desirability of opening the gate of ijtihad which had been closed a thousand years ago. It is now all the more necessary because western nations would not at all tolerate any further assault on their way of life. In view of the significance of the concept of Ijtihad, the following pages provide a bird's eye view of the same as also of its opposite Taqlid.

The Civilization of Islam:

According to Muslim divines and scholars, Islam is the primordial religion of man, the din-al fitirah. It has perforce and eternal validity. As a way of life it appeals to all aspects of man's existence and performances.  There is a  blending and a balance between the material, the rational and the spiritual aspects of man's quest.  It is because of this equilibrium that Islam is often described as the middle way writes Ziauddin Sardar (The Future of Muslim Civilization, New York). The civilization of Islam has a frame of reference based on Revelation, brought by the last Prophet of God, Muhammad. This is the religion of the earlier Prophets- Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.  And the revealed Word of God, is the Quran. And the Sunnah, the way of the Prophet, is Islam in action. Together, the Quran and the Sunnah are the Absolute Reference Frame (ARF) of Muslim civilization. 

Guidance of the Quran covers the spiritual, the moral, the intellectual, the aesthetic and the physical dimensions of human beings. In the operationalization of Quranic principles, the Sunnah plays a vital role. The Sunnah of the Prophet is a model of Islam in operation. In its coverage, the Sunnah is comprehensive; no detail of importance to the worldly or spiritual life has been left out. What the Prophet said is referred to as the hadith.  The central thesis of Islam is the concept of Tawaheed (unity of God): God is only One, has no partner or son, and neither gives birth nor is he born.

Concept of Khilafat:

Al-Rabb (the Lord) is the Creator, the Sustainer and the Evolver of the universe. Al-Rabb is the basic attribute of Allah. Khilafat signities man's vicegerency of Allah's attributes. The concept of khilafat is a natural corollary of Allah's soverignity of the earth, and the heavens and all that is in between. Man possess wealth as a trust signifies for his own benefit and for the benefit of those around him. Equality is one of the basic social concepts of Islam. These are the values of Islam and they can bloom in full only in Dar al-Islam.

Permanence and Change in Islam:

In its early phases, Islamic civilization came into contact with Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian and Chinese civilizations. It was able to derive benefits from these contacts and prosper. In contrast, the striking feature of contemporary Muslim society is that it has failed to keep up with the contemporary world. By this we do not mean that Muslims are backward. But the Muslims are rather behind in their understanding of Islam with reference to the contemporary world. What do we mean by adjusting to change? After all, Islam is eternal. Islam has to be re-understood in the light of new conditions of life; failure to adjust to this change results in progressive decline.  Yet, Islam not only recognizes change as real but also urges Muslims to adjust to it. There is unanimity among Muslim scholars that the Medina State founded by the Prophet is the ideal society as far as Muslims are concerned. Deviation from perfection, from the model, can only be a decline. The present state of Muslim civilization is a result of this deviation. Going forward to Medina State would require Muslim society to raise its level of Islamic consciousness to a level that was achieved by the Companions of the Prophet.

Dominant Paradigms and Dominant Trends:

According to Muslim analysts, the common Muslim is suffering. The question to consider is: What is the dominant paradigm that has brought Muslim civilization to this situation as it exists at present?

Taqlid: the Dominant Paradigm:

Professor Ziauddin Sardar is of the view that the Quran repeatedly asks the Muslim community to use reason, to reflect, to speculate. The flourishing of science in the early period of Islam was the result of the fact that early Muslims took this injunction seriously. However, with the rise of the conflict between Asharites and Mutazalites; and the consequent success of Asharites a new paradigm enveloped the Muslim scholars. In Ziauddin Sardars's words: This paradigm was taqlid: a tyrannical attitude of passive acceptance. Taqlid means blind and unquestioning following and obedience.  Despite the fact that most of the early Muslim philosophers rejected taqlid, it became the dominant paradigm of kalam, Muslim speculative theology. Al-forabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd strove to synthesize revelation and reason and were convinced that both expressed the same truth. Ibn Hazm, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Taymiyya also rejected taqlid. Al-Ghazali, went almost to the limit when he argued: He who has not doubted has never obtained any certitude.  However, the victory of  Asharite philosophy over that of Mu'tazilite allowed taqlid to be widely accepted.


The antithesis of taqlid is ijtihad, to exert the utmost effort, to struggle, to do one's best to know something. The way of ijtihad is an old way that goes back to the Absolute Reference Frame. Ijiihad was practiced up to fifty years after the end of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad, that is up to the year 700. AH/1300 CE.  Unfortunately, the concept was largely enveloped by Muslim law and jurisprudence. According to Kamal Faruki, ijtihad in such fields as family and criminal law ceased around 1100 AH/1700 CE; while its practice continued in constitutional law for another three hundred years.

It is not clear why the gates of ijtihad were closed by the Muslim theologians. The most probable reason was the common abuse of ijtihad by many people who were not qualified, and so the pious scholars, fearing a massive misuse of ijtihad and aiming at stopping the unqualified, declared that the exercise of independent reasoning was prohibited. However, there is nothing in the Absolute Reference Frame to support the doctrine of taqlid. However, when taqlid was accepted as the dominant paradigm, the dynamic phase of the Muslim civilization came to an end. 

The creed of taqlid consists of not enquiring how and without making comparison. It is diametrically opposed to the spirit of enquiry urged by the Quran and the Sunnah.  It is a Weltanschauung marked by fatalism and predestinarianism.

In this context, The Oxford History of Islam (1999) expresses similar views: The notion of law in Islam is expressed by two related terms; Shariah (the method set out by God)  and fiqh, the understanding or application of this method in specific cases. The fifth phase in the formative history of fiqh began around 950.  This period is characterized by the institutionalization of the dominant schools, with emphasis not on new developments but on following precedent (taqlid). The jurists occupied themselves with elaboration and commentaries on the works of their predecessors. By far the longest phase, this period lasted for about nine centuries and witnessed the downfall of the Abbasid and Ottoman Empires, the expansion in the military and political powers of the West, and the industrial revolution and colonial domination of Muslim lands by European powers. 

The sixth and final phase in the development of fiqh began at the turn of the twentieth century. It is marked by less emphasis on precedent and greater emphasis on original thinking and the quest to make the Shariah once again relevant to the social reality and experience of contemporary Muslims. The revivification of fiqh and its necessary adjustment to respond to the prevailing needs of society is generally seen as an important component of the Islamic resurgence of the recent decades. A large number of Sunni Jurists have acknowledge the so-called closure of the gate of ijtihad and the onset of imitation around the mid-tenth century.

Views of Professor Alfred Guillaume:

A well known scholar of Islam has this to say on the subject of religious reform in Islam. He had expressed these views in his book Islam published in 1954. The attack on the authenticity of tradition on which the Muslim's life is based, began more than a thousand years ago, has once more come to the fore. Of course much has already gone by the board: the wearing of European dress, itself a violation of the Sharia, and the dropping of the old laws of almsgiving, pilgrimage, and so on by all but a minority, are among the most obvious changes which modern life has brought about. Nevertheless the old spirit is not dead: a student of mine was once rebuked by an imam for wearing a gold signet ring, because there was a tradition attributed to the Prophet which forbade it. It had been given to him by his father and he refused to abandon it. This is but a straw in the wind. Today great changes are taking place in the Muslim world, not only in the way in which modern Muslim writers regard the traditions of the past, but also in the practical sphere of law, and it is to these two matters that we will now turn.

At the present day it is to Pakistan that we must look for the clearest and most uncompromising attitude towards the traditions of the past and the influence of modern historical criticism. The first man to advocate a modern approach to education in India was Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98). His avowed object was to found a college where all that was best in Western thought could be taught in Muslim atmosphere, and through his efforts what is now the University of Aligarh was founded.  He held that it was impossible that there could be any contradiction between Islam and science, and he insisted that Islam was in conformity with nature. This, in effect, led him to deny the miraculous element in Islam, and he had to bear the full weight of the hostility of the 'ulama. The influence of the school he founded was immense; and effect was to force earnest Muslims to consider seriously the social evils of polygamy, divorce, and slavery, and to adopt a critical attitude towards their traditional way of life and the authorities on which it was based

He was followed by Sayyid Amir Ali, a Shiite, whose book, The Spirit of Islam, is one of the most widely read works in many Muslim countries. It demands that the Quran shall be read without the interpretations put upon it by the ulama, who represent the unauthorized teachings of their ancient predecessors. Thus he condemns polygamy on the authority of the Quran, which, though it limited the number of wives to be kept at one time to four, ordered that if a man could not treat them all equitably and justly he must not marry more than one. He wrote: As absolute justice in matter of feeling is impossible the Koranic prescription amounted in reality to prohibition. He asserted that the blight which had fallen on the Muslim nations was due to the stranglehold of the past which prohibited the exercise of independent judgement, and ended with the expression of the hope that before long a general synod of Muslim  doctors will authoritatively declare that polygamy, like slavery, is abhorrent to the laws of Islam. 

His attitude towards the system of purdah, the seclusion of women, was that it was temporary measure instituted by Muhammad. It was never intended to be a permanent institution, and it finds no place in the Quran. 

This reformer went much further than any of his followers has been prepared to go: he regarded Muhammad as the author of the Quran. I do not know of any modern writer who has taken the same view, though many Muslims hold the belief, and openly say so in conversation.  There is no historical reason why they should not, because the doctrine that the Quran is uncreate, i.e. literally the word of God was not finally established until the third century of the hijra. Furthermore, I doubt whether very many Muslims would endorse his statement that except for the conception of the sonship of Jesus there is no fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam. This much is true at least: the Quran is nearer to Christianity than the system of Islam as it has developed through the centuries, says Professor Guillaume in his book Islam.


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