Islamic Thought: Why Rethinking is a Must?

Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef *

Much work has been done in Islamic thought in recent times, especially in the field of the revival of traditional sciences such as Quranic exegeses, Hadis’s legacy, the printing of classical Fiqh literature, etc. What concerns us some contemporary subjects and current issues remained untouched until now. The following lines will briefly highlight some of the aspects in which, to me, rethinking is a must. For the sake of brevity, only main points have been mentioned and detailed discussion has been avoided.

After Ibn Khaldun and Al-mawardi, there was no further evolution in Islamic politics at all. For, Muslim political thought is text-based as they did not develop new ideas based on human experiences. That is why on a practical level all Muslim countries are compelled to adopt secular liberal western political systems against which Islamists are waging jihad, save the Mid-East, where religious or semi-religious monarchies and kingships are ruling the roost. That is why Islamists everywhere are having only anachronistic ideas in this regard. So a new discourse is needed, where you freely question, rethink in and discuss all the questions arising from modernity, to develop a new jurisprudence relevant to this age. Without this rethinking and revisiting the old set of political norms that became irrelevant now, we cannot imagine any breakthrough in stagnant Islamic thought. Here I should clarify my point

 citing some examples.

 In a democracy, contrasting to army dictatorship, monarchy or kingship the real emphasis is on the participation of common people in power not realizing this fact many Muslim scholars have arbitrarily raised the issue of sovereignty of God discussing the democracy. This is an additional and relative issue. No Muslim can challenge the God Almighty’s sovereignty in Muslim majority countries, the debate is practical because people fear that in the name of Islam pure mullahism would be established, and keeping in view the gory nature of now dead ISIS caliphate emerged in Mideast recently that played havoc in the region and more recently the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. However, in non-Muslim majority countries, the demand for God’s sovereignty will be futile. The secular polity is the best option for these countries, and of course, Muslims in such countries do prefer that option, but here lies the contradictory stand of Muslim intelligentsia and Ulema. That where Muslims are in the majority they oppose the secular state vehemently and wherein they are in the minority they want to keep, defend and protect it. Secularism in its European sense is an ideology and practice that excludes religion from human life or at least restricts it to a private niche. Obviously, no one among the Muslim scholars can support this ideology. As far as the countries where different religious units reside secular neutral polity is the best policy for these multicultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious societies. Muslim intellectuals generally confuse the two and talk non-sense about it. Yes, there are some exceptions too for example Saeed Ahmad Akbar Abadi, Prof. Mushirul Haq, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, and Dr. Abdul Haq Ansari the ex-chief of Jamaate Islami Hind support secular state being not interfering in the affairs of any faith community and being not biased to any religious, ethnic or racial group, and where all citizens are equal in its eyes and the rule of law be maintained. 

Islamic jurisprudence is full of old discussions of Darul Islam (abode of Islam) and Darul Harb (abode of Kufr) but the terms were relevant in the Abbasid times not today. Now new terms need to be coined as Khan termed the world as Dare Dawah and Qarzawi termed it as Darul Ahad as all the world nations now are signers of the UN Charter and are bound to comply with its rules and regulations. Likewise, the terms dhimmi, trusted citizen (mustamin), etc. are used for non-Muslim citizens in a nation of Muslim majority, but they are not in accordance with the currently accepted concepts of citizenship. In modern nation-states, all the citizens have the same constitutional rights in a nation, for they are governed by their constitutions respectively. Yes, the practical situation is indeed quite the opposite in many countries. It is not acceptable for the modern mind to differentiate between citizens based on religion as some are first-class citizens while some are considered second-rate ones.

The concept of the punishment of apostasy is in conflict with the modern religious freedom as seen by the majority of modern educated people and also against the explicit text of the Qur’an(there is no coercion in the matter of religion,2:256) as averred by the majority of Muslim modernists today. Of course, the majority of Islamic scholars have through the ages been bearers of this notion, but there has been another opinion about it from the first Hijra century itself, which remained suppressed because this was not suiting to the nexus of kings, politicians, and mullahs. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to put forth that opinion in today’s world? 

The concept of the blasphemy law and its application being vested in public hands is not acceptable to the modern mind. It should be discussed thoroughly which is less likely in Muslim societies. About 1500 people have been arrested under this law in Pakistan since 1990. And more than 70 people are extra-judicially murdered. It often happened that on provoking by clergy somebody from the masses have got up and killed the accused. While none of them could be found guilty in the court and even in some cases, the courts had acquitted them. Anyone can be charged with blasphemy in Pakistan if he dares to challenge the behaviour of religious people. Pakistan’s liberal thinkers and intellectuals speak out against this brutal situation but they are always in danger. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by non-other than his own bodyguard, a religious extremist for demanding the repeal of blasphemy laws. And after his execution has become a religious hero to a great section of people.

Strangely the Hanafi Fiqh which is followed by the majority of Muslims in the subcontinent does not confirm the death penalty in every case offering other options too. But ironically in the subcontinent, the opinion of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah is generally accepted and the consensus is claimed on it. The danger lies herein that the general reaction of Muslims in blasphemy cases is to punish the culprit immediately especially in Muslim majority countries, while in the non-Muslim majority countries their reaction is limited to only protests. Moulana Waheeduddin Khan, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi et al have challenged this traditional stand. Many other scholars hold the same view but do not express it for fear of public backlash. 

On the one hand, the subject is very sensitive, it can be said safely that in this regard Muslims do not understand the sensitivities of the West about the freedom of thought which is almost a religion for westerners and is considered as a summum bonum and the people of the West do not understand the sensitivities of Muslims regarding the honour of the beloved prophet (PBUH) on the other. So dealing with this subject and opening the way for dialogue with the West is the need of the hour. One of the points related to this is that theoretically blasphemy law includes insulting Allah, the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet, and any other prophet and there are many blasphemous statements towards Jesus in the west but Muslims do act violently against the humiliation of the Messenger of Allah only so why this disparity?

I lament the bankruptcy of Indian Muslim leadership that not taking any lesson from Pakistan the AILMPLB is demanding to enact blasphemy law here in India.

Today though, practically no Islamic country demands Jizyah from its non-Muslim citizens. But scholars and jurists in their writings and fatwas still insist on it and say that it is Godly prescribed to humiliate non-Muslims. Moulana Subhani has given a new opinion that Jizyah will not apply to the common people nor is it a sign of humiliation of non-Muslims rather it is a political settlement between combatant Muslim and non-Muslim states. Would it not be appropriate to ponder upon this opinion?

 In fact, when the compilation of Islamic jurisprudence began, the Islamic world at that time was superior and the whole Islamic lands were under one caliph, or at least the authority of one caliph was not being challenged ideologically and the Muslim sultans were claiming allegiance and fidelity towards the caliph. The political principles that were written down then and the writings Muslim thinkers left behind are mostly ideological and do not contain any solution to the new problems of the present. For example, they do not answer the question that if a non-Muslim country does not commit aggression the Islamic State’s relations with it will be based on war or peace? Because most of the jurists say that a true Islamic state is permanently at war with non-Muslim countries. Obviously, this opinion is very problematic in today’s world and it leaves all the claims Muslims make that Islam is a religion of peace and love flawed.

According to some Muslim scholars, Islamic jurisprudence flourished under the rule of Islam. For this reason, it gives detailed guidance to Muslims on the situation when they are in power, but when Muslims are in a state of living under the suzerainty of others or in the situation when power is somehow shared as in India now, then the Islamic jurisprudence is unable to provide guidance for such a situation. The discourse of “jurisprudence for minority” has been created by this practical need because Muslim minorities now constitute 40 percent of their total population around the world.

Similarly, there is no mechanism for the peaceful transfer of power in Islamic thought. Due to which most of the history of Islam is full of court conspiracies, power struggles between one caliph, his sons, ministers, and all-powerful army men, and consequent bloodshed. Much work remains to be done and in this regard, Ijtihad and modern thinking are required.

*Research Scholar with the Centre for promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India AMU Aligarh.

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