The Immutable Shariah (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَى شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاء الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

And now have We set thee (O Muhammad) on a clear road (Shariah) of (Our) commandment; so follow it, and follow not the whimsof those who know not  [45:18]   (As translated by M. Pickthall)

The above verse leaves no doubt that the Shariah the Prophet (PBUH) was commanded to follow – and hence Muslims in turn are supposed to follow – must provide a clear road (or code) for leading our individual as well as collective lives.Since Islam is universal in scope, its laws must reflect that universality. Therefore it is wrong to refer to a Shariah that applies only to a  particular group or sect as Islamic. In fact, attaching the Islamic label to a sectarian Shariah negates its very universality. Similarly, imposing the Shariah of a particular sect (or Madhab) on all Muslims is also wrong because there is no compulsion in Islam.  

So why the apparent contradiction where everyone wants to impose his or her interpretation on everyone else? And is there a way out of this conundrum?

Yes, there is and that involves re-opening the closed door of ijtihad that has remained shut tight for centuries. The self-appointed custodians of the religion guard it passionately, and even issue fatwas against those who do not step in line with their sectarian shariah and even declare them as heretics or kafirs. These custodians waged war to get rid of M‘utazilah. Their Crime? Belief in human free will (what you sow is what you reap), fairness in justice, and utilizing reason to understand the Qur’an. The stigma remains, so much so that even today anyone advocating to uphold these Qur’anic ideals is branded with this label by the proponents of man-made sectarian Shariah.

But time is the ultimate arbiter. There has been recent debate on the issue of opening the door to Ijtihad, not because they want to do it, but because they have been forced into it by the challenges that confront Muslims today.

The Prophet (PBUH) first planted the seed of Ijtihad and nourished it as commanded by Allah (SWT) – [Qur’an 4:135]. This he did as an integral part of the Islamic way of life (Shariah). The Rightly-Guided Caliphs continued the Prophet’s tradition by their continuous implementation of Ijtihad, resulting in the phenomenal flowering of the Islamic civilization.

In accordance with the universal nature of Islam, the world was offered the fruits of these efforts in areas of science, art, philosophy, architecture, jurisprudence and medicine. Yet, while the West enjoyed these fruits of the tree of Ijtihad planted by early Muslims and continued on with the process of inquiry and scholarship the Muslims stopped nourishing the tree of Ijtihad that had proved so vital to their vigorous development. As a consequence, this robbed the Ummah of its ability to carry on with the intellectual inquiry so integral to the early Islamic tradition.

This single act may have contributed to the downfall of Muslims more than anything else. We are limited now to recycling and regurgitating old commentaries. Any discussion of progress evokes fear of innovation and must automatically be labeled as haraam (forbidden) according to this sectarian Shariah.

There is a definitely a way to get out of our present abyss, but that would require opening the door of Ijtihad to the present Ummah so that it may debate and discuss and do ijtihad on all issues in the light of the Qur’an as our predecessors did.  Life, according to the Qur’an, is nothing but Ijtihad or struggle – persistent struggle, continuous exertion (29:69). This is the only way we can reclaim Allah’s universal Shariah(22:78). Only then will we be able to realize the true and full potential of Islam. It was done before and it can be done again. This is the promise of Allah and Allah does not break his promise (30:6).

According to Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of the East and one of the greatest scholars of Islam:

Persistent struggle gives maturity to the elixir of lifeO ignorant ones! This is the secret of immortal life.

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