October 14, 2018
By Saeed Qureshi
Let us first of all admit that Islam is a religion just like
Christianity and Judaism; that it is a monotheistic religion like Judaism. That
it shares its divine ancestry with Judaism and Christianity, even if the latter
two religions don’t accept it, because they claim to be the forerunners of
Islam. It is in the same way that Judaism doesn’t accept Christianity which
came much after Judaism.
Let us also acknowledge that Islam has a rich heritage and culture
like other faiths. The Islamic religio-social traditions and customs teach how
to dress up especially for the women, what to eat (meals from legitimate income
and in case of meat the animals to be slaughtered in a religiously defined
way). The Islamic ethos also spells out the ways to celebrate the religious
days and how to host feasts. It also includes the circumcision and the marriage
ceremonies. Islam does not encourage the kind of music and modes of entertainment
that arouse sexual, carnal and lecherous sentiments.
Islam like other religions has symbols also. These are, the
mosque, rosary, holy water (Zam Zam), beard, moon, black stone placed in one of
the walls of the House of the Lord (Khana Ka'ba), the green color, the curved
sword, minarets and turban. Like many other religions, the Muslims too have a
holy book Qur’an. It is our common knowledge that this religion sprouted in the
Arab land whereas the Christianity and the Jewish were born in the North of the
Islam has a package of five basic beliefs. These are: belief in
one God or Allah, belief in Angels, belief in Holy Scriptures (Torah, and
Bible), belief in the apostles or messengers of God, belief in the Judgment
Day, belief in God’s omniscience, prior knowledge and determination of all
Islam has also five pillars of Observance or obligations. These
are Shahada (declaration of faith) that “there is no God but Allah and that
Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”. The second is Salat or prayer with face
towards Haram Sharif or Khana Ka'ba five times a day. The third is the Zakat or
alms which ordains giving a percentage of one’s income to the poor and
underprivileged. The fourth is Fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan. The
fifth is Hajj or pilgrimage once in life time if possible financially or
There are two sources of Islamic Sharia or law in Islam. While the
Quran is the primary basis for the Sharia, it is in the second source the Sunna
or the life of the prophet as recorded in the Hadith that has been a major
source of information for the details of the law only hinted or omitted in
Koran. The Sunnah or Hadith of Prophet Muhammad comprises his actions, silent
approvals, decisions, utterances, sayings and edicts. The decisions and sayings
of the four successors of the prophet called caliphs are also used as
precedents for making decisions on matters concerning Muslims or non- Muslims.
Sharia covers the entire body of Islamic law as it developed since
the time of the prophet (six hundred legal references in Koran and Prophet
Muhammad’s statements contained in the Hadith). Sharia clarifies if there is a
confusion on a certain matter. It interprets rules and regulations, decisions
and edicts of the prophet and Quran.
The constituents of Islamic Sharia are not confined to Quran and
Hadith alone. The other sources are some of the Pagan customs from the Bedouins
like Muta and dowry and also the traditional commercial and agrarian practices.
A select number of Roman and Byzantine laws have also been incorporated in the
Islamic Sharia. For instance, the plaintiff must produce evidence and witnesses
otherwise defendant can swear and clear himself. Jewish, Persian and Greek
traditions and laws also form part of Islamic Sharia.
The Quran narrates parables and stories of the ancient prophets,
nations, societies and civilizations and warns as to why they prospered and why
some of them received divine wrath and vanished. It gives vivid and detailed
information about the life after death, the Day of Judgment and the final
destinations of the Heaven and the Hell.
Islam judges or evaluates the temporal and the ecclesiastical
matters and the deeds of a Muslim faithful through five parameters or commands.
These are: absolute duty, (Fard), commendable (Mustanjab), permissible (Mubah)
reprehensible but without punishment (Makruh) and forbidden (Haram). These five
criteria also fall under Sharia. As already explained, the Sharia that governs
the conduct of a person or group is derived from the text of Qur’an and also
from the practical life of the prophet.
The Islamic state was headed by Prophet Muhammad in the city of
Medina in 622 - 632 A D. This was the actual period when the fundamental
contours of a Muslim state were laid down. Since prophet (SAW) himself was the
ultimate authority on all temporal and divine affairs, his words, decisions and
verdicts were unquestionably accepted as the commandments of God conveyed to
him through divine revelation (Wahi).
But when the Muslims in subsequent times, through their conquests
and preaching missions came into contacts with other civilizations and
religions, they faced enormous doctrinal and administrative challenges that had
to be resolved rationally if these did not have the precedents within the Quran
or the life of the founder of Islam. It is in the wake of such intellectual and
doctrinal dilemmas that several schools of jurisprudence for elucidation of
Sharia to the outside world and even to the inquisitive Muslim came into being.
The four such orthodox schools of Islamic law that dealt with the
application and expansion of Sharia in the subsequent times are:
Abu Hanifa: analogies, parallels or Qiyas
gleaned from Quran if there is no order or injunctions in Quran or Sunna.
Imam Malik: His collections of laws relied on
local traditions of Prophet Muhammad and his companions in order to fit
into the customary law.
Al Shafi: Stipulates compromise between
tradition and independent thought, restricts use of common sense as done in
Imam Abu Hanifa’s Qiyas practice. He founded the science of Muslim
Ibn Hanbal: He was ultra conservative. His
legal philosophy is called ‘Nass’. Nass is the binding ordinance
explicit in the Quran and Hadith. It means sanctified opinion
derived from only Quran and Hadith and no other source. While he rejected human
reasoning adopted by other three Islamic scholars, he preferred even Shaky
Hadith to determine a law or decision.
These schools operate within the framework of Ijtihad that means
reinterpretation of Sharia or Islamic laws. The decisions arrived at are
ordained to be with Ijma or consensus and not to be a single
opinion (Raye) of an individual.
Besides these schools, the Muslim thinkers also tried to answer
many philosophical contradictions through intellectual scrutiny and rational
explanations. Such questions were about the predestination, the free will,
mysticism, religious truths and intellectual truths, role of reason in relation
to the theological truths and so on.
Apart from these intellectual and religious debates ranging since
the passing away of the prophet till now, the simple principle on which the
entire Islamic religious philosophy and precepts boil down is that man should
live like a servant of God and accept him as the only creator who not only
governs the universe and all the existence but also watches the Muslims in the
light of their good and bad deeds or intentions.
Based upon the nature of a deed in this world, God, on the
judgment day, will give reward and punishment accordingly. The obedience to God
has not only to be professed verbally but practically demonstrated through five
times daily and one-time weekly prayers. A faithful’s virtuous life and
personal good conduct is also a testimony to his submission to God as his subject.
Thus, Islam wants man to be an embodiment of all positive and good
virtues such as humility, charity, peace, chastity, kindness, tolerance, love
for fellow believers, respect for elders, and women and so on. The crux of all
these noble traits is defined in one phrase that, “a good Muslim is that
whose tongue and actions are not harmful to others”. Islam means submission
and Muslim means who practices Islam and is unconditionally obedient to God.
Prophet’s Muhammad’s period of leadership is deemed by the Muslims
as the ideal model both from mundane and spiritual standpoints. To a lesser
degree, the caliphs’ life of piety, self-denial and untainted dispensation of
justice is also taken and followed as beacons for Muslims. The Shia sect in
Islam believes only in the spiritual leadership of the fourth caliph Hazrat
Ali, who was the cousin brother and son in law of the prophet also.
The ideological cleavage between the Shias and the Sunnis is the
incurable wound inflicted on the body of Islam. Although, they share major
common elements of faith, yet the Muslim nation is irredeemably and rather
irreconcilably divided into two distinct factions forever. Their mutual
antagonism is as deep-rooted and chronically as bitter as the religious
animosity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. This festering fissure
resulted from the claim of the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali as the rightful
successor of the prophet for the caliphate.
As for fundamental beliefs, Islam brooks no compromise, nor
tolerance nor any deviation. As for the rituals, these are subject to certain
conditions that apply keeping in view the physical, social and financial status
of a faithful. For instance, pilgrimage is essential for those who can afford
it monetarily and physically. The religious tax (Zakat) is also contingent upon
the economic position of a member of Islamic fraternity. The fasting is also
not strictly applicable to those with infirm health, pregnant women or during
traveling or for similar reasons.
Islamic culture goads moderation, sanctity, piety and sobriety. It
shuns or discourages the indecent extravaganza, the morbid exhibitionism, or
lewd show off. For instance, Islam allows feasts on weddings and merry making
on joyful occasions but exhorts serenity and no lavish spending. In matter of
dresses or costumes, it is not necessary to dress up like Arabs by wearing a
big long rob. Yet one is ordained to cover the nakedness of certain parts of
The purpose is to maintain sanctity of one’s body which is more
rigid in case of women for being an object of amorous eyes from the impious or
sexually pervert people. Understandably, such conditions can be met by wearing
even western, Chinese or African dresses if these fulfill the basic criterion
of covering the body and maintaining modesty.
Mindful that the religious teachings and dogmas would not remain
rigid for all times and in different societies, the prophet kept the door for
amendments and changes open in Sharia but without deviation from the main
corpus of Islamic teachings. This is called Ijtihad (literally means exertion).
As such, all the interpretations or alterations in the Sharia worked out by the
succeeding Muslim philosophers and religious scholars were done in the light of
When we compare the western democracy with the Islamic political
system and the choosing of the leaders in the primitive Islamic societies with
that of the modern times, we tend to forget that it was only after the
Renaissance and Reformation that the Europe started embarking upon the democratic
path. Otherwise, the Christendom was afflicted with bloodletting conflicts
between old Roman Church and the proponents of reforms throughout the Middle
Ages. So, to paint only Islam as undemocratic is not a pragmatic or truthful
approach to the Islamic system of government.
Democratic system functions in a closely-knit world with fast
communications as we have in the modern times. Otherwise the Greek democracy
that was prevalent even before Christ was confined to the cities. Beyond the
city states, it could not be expanded because an integrated system of voting or
conducting elections in the length and breadth of the vast empire was not
possible. Moreover, those were not the ages of enlightenment and therefore the
true democratic culture even if conceived could not be practically followed
during the present times.
The Sharia that was prevalent during the time of Prophet Muhammad
and four caliphs (632-661) can still be applicable if it is suitably modified
to bring it in conformity with the phenomenally different world of today. The
consensus can be brought about, if the narrow concepts and beliefs affected by
sects and denominations, contrary to the age of prophet, are set aside. Or at
best these sects can still function but the main consensus code should remain
Which means that the symbols are just a window dressing and have
no pronounced bearing on the life of a Muslim faithful? The rituals are
relative and are strictly obligatory for those who have the capacity to observe
them. The beliefs are confined to the individual and are personal. What matters
most is the resolution or dealing with the crimes, anti-social practices and
destructive actions of the citizens.
Islam presents a general framework for dispensation of justice.
The cardinal principle that Islam lays down is the strict fair play,
administering absolute justice in complete disregard of someone being poor or
rich, influential or obscure, a common man or a man of authority. It should be
acknowledged that the modern judicial system fulfills all these conditions if
applied by such a government that would respect and sincerely promote law and
It means that the punishment to the convict is imperative but the
choice of the punishment and the mode of dispensation can be improved or
reformed for such punishments as beheading with a sword. For instance, the
theologians and Islamic jurists must acknowledge and therefore incorporate it
in a new Islamic code that covering of veil was not possible for women now as
was done in tribal or feudal societies in the past and even now.
It is also essential to change through an agreed Ijtihad process.
For instance, a rape female victim instead of being further victimized and
brutalized by the religious laws must be helped against the male rapists. As
such, unattainable or impracticable conditions as to the production of four
witnesses must be discarded because in the present times, the occurrence of
rape and the identity of the rapist can be verified by scientific means such as
testing of DNA.
The Islamic caveat concerning the interest or mark-up has to be
modified because the complexion of the societies and the nature of interest
have undergone a radical change. The Arabian society in the 6th or 7th centuries was primarily agrarian.
The usury or the interest was charged in advance on cash given to a needful.
Now the concept of interest is not like those primitive societies.
The interest-bearing economy is now profit-making economy because
the money remains in circulation. That is how the wealth increases and the
economy grow. The old interest concept which now is rather reinvestment for
profit has to be modified.
Similarly, another issue relating to patrimony or inheritance and
alimony (allowance paid by the husband to divorced wife) has to be redefined in
the modern societies when the civil laws enshrined in the modern jurisprudence,
treat these issues better than the antiquated customs that were derived from
the tribal system. If a reinterpretation is not thought about, still the
parallel legal or economic system cannot be ignored or ruled out. The world
today is interdependent. The Muslims cannot live in isolation.
So, it depends upon the governments to apply and enforce laws,
otherwise even the best of rules and caveats fail and remain ineffective. The
example is the multitudinous Islamic caliphates that used Islam to justify
their illegitimate hold on power. They fought each other for power and
decimated their rivals to the last man as exemplified by the power struggle
between Umayyad and Abbasid and later between other Islamic dynasties.
The religion of Islam is patently secular in nature, not in the
religious sense but in terms of its openness, liberalism and accommodation for
all opposing creeds and cultures. The incontrovertible shining example of that
is the Muslim rule in Spain (756-1492), when the Christians and the Jews lived
with the ruling Muslims, enjoying equal rights and in peace and dignity.
In the contemporary times, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunis, Morocco,
Jordan, Egypt and certain Central Asian states offer examples of enlightened,
accommodating, progressive Islamic polities where minorities live in peace,
harmony and equality along with the Muslim majority. In these countries, the
Islamic laws have been enforced in such a way that these not only fulfill the
pristine spirit of Islamic Sharia, but also meet the requirements of a modern
Although polygamy is practically nonexistent for the majority of
the Muslims, yet it is one of the stigmas that Islam suffers from. The polygamy
is prevalent mostly in the Arab lands. In other countries, it is sparingly
practiced in the tribal, feudal and religious classes. But for outsiders this
has invariably, been used as a slanderous tool against the Muslims to prove
that the women folks were sex chattels, were lesser equal and inferior to the
That is true to a degree. In order to deal with this contentious
issue, it is necessary that the Muslim jurists and theologians should sit
together and hammer out a formula that should aim at discouraging the
polygamous tendencies and practices in the Muslim societies. Or it can be
declared forbidden through Ijtihad.
But I strongly reckon that as the societies tend to be more
progressive, the Muslims would themselves abandon the polygamy. As a result,
though, the divorce rate would soar among the Muslims as we can see in the
western societies where polygamy is lawfully banned. Even now the educated and
independent women do not like to marry a person who would be already married.
So, the modernization of the Islamic conservative societies would neutralize
this social slur associated with Islam. The domestic violence should be sternly
dealt by the Islamic governments but it would also be hopefully outstripped and
fade away with the passage of time.
Modernism, liberalism and secularism is the answer to the
backwardness, indolence, underdevelopment and intellectual, economic and social
decadence of the Islamic world. The Jews hammered out a historic compromise in
18th century when they imbibed and adopted the western ways of life at
the behest of the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Professor Moses
exhorted the Jews to abandon their rigid fanaticism and Talmud and conform to
Through a political movement aided by the capitalist Europe and
America the establishment of the state of Israel was made possible in 1948. In
the same way, the Islamic religious fervor has got to be rational and aided by
the political and reformative spirit if the Islamic countries want to be
counted as modern nations in contemporary world.
The first constitution is always vulnerable to further alterations
and amendments. Likewise, the original Islamic ideologies and dogmas that
became controversial, counterproductive and rather unworkable, should be
overhauled while keeping intact their spirit and core philosophy and teachings
If Ijtihad started barely 80 years after the demise of the prophet
of Islam by the Muslim reformers, theologians, philosophers and scholars, then
such an endeavor is indispensable in the modern times when the Islamic teachings
are targeted for their irrationality, obscurantism, subjectivity,
inconsistencies and for being out of sync with the rapidly advancing
imperatives of a highly competitive modern world.
In Christendom, after prolonged controversies, debates and
bloodshed, the state finally managed to relieve itself from the influence of
papal supremacy or the domination of the church. Every country established its
own church or denomination in Europe, elsewhere in the world, and of late in
the United States. The Church and state were separated for their respective
roles. That proved to be a blessing in disguise both for the church and the
state. Similarly, in Muslim societies a gigantic effort is needed to
harmoniously blend the Islamic beliefs and religious creed with the dynamics
and progressive spirit of the modern societies without compromising the
In Islamic states, the state and religion have to function without
mutual conflict and contradiction. There should be no place, for
fundamentalism, sectarianism, fanaticism, or rigid adherence to a creed, that
is outdated and ruinous to the cosmopolitan nature of Islam. An enlightened and
updated fundamentalism (the age of prophet) is the need of the hour for Islamic
societies to move forward and join the comity of modern states in
technological, scientific and in other domains of human and material