Monday, August 18, 2008
Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence - Part 1
In order to pre-empt, to some extent, some of the concerns which might arise in conjunction with the main focus of this essay concerning Sacred Law and shari‘ah, a few things need to be said in order to try to place things in an appropriate perspective before proceeding with the commentary proper. I am a Muslim, I love Islam, and I strive -- although God knows best with what degree of success -- to wholly submit myself to God because I accept as true that God: "created humankind and jinn only to worship" [Qur'an, 51:56] God.
I bear witness that God is one and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. I make efforts to observe my prayers on a daily basis. I participate in the fast of Ramazan. I give zakat in accordance with my circumstances. I have, by the Grace of Allah, performed the rites of Hajj. In addition, I have faith that God is one and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. I also have faith in the reality of angels, and I have faith in all the Books of revelation which have been sent to various messengers of Allah, and I have faith in the lineage of prophets who came prior to the appearance of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad (peace be upon him). I also have faith that there is a Day of Judgment during which most of us will be held accountable for our deeds and misdeeds, and, as well, I have faith that God is the sole determiner of good and evil.
I believe in Sacred Law and shari‘ah, but I do not approach these issues in a manner that is consonant with many traditional modes of engaging such matters. The fact that I do not share the belief of certain others concerning the nature of Sacred Law and shari‘ah does not make me – or those with whom I have differences on this subject -- an unbeliever, but rather this merely means that I have an alternative method for engaging the themes which are entailed by Sacred Law and shari‘ah.
For approximately 35 years, by the Grace of God, I have sought to serve the Muslim community in my own way and according to whatever abilities and opportunities God has given me. What I am seeking to do in the present essay, God willing, is to continue to serve the Muslim community, although I am sure that there will be those who will choose not to see things in this light.
I am not asking others to necessarily accept the perspective which is about to be put forth. Rather, I only ask people to reflect on what is being said and to strive for the truth of whatever issues may be raised through the following considerations.
A Brief Overview
I will begin by providing a set of brief overview statements concerning the themes that are to be explored in this essay. These are summary statements of the perspective which will be delineated, God willing, during the course of the essay which follows, but the order of appearance of these statements does not necessarily reflect the sequence in which issues will be engaged through the main body of the essay.
(1) The ways in which Sacred Law and shari‘ah are understood by many Muslims, in general, as well as by a variety of Muslim religious scholars, in particular, are often problematic, if not incorrect, in a number of respects;
(2) Sacred Law gives expression to the principles, realities, and truths [physical, spiritual, psychological, etc.] through which the Created Universe operates;
(3) Shari‘ah refers to the individual’s realization of that portion of Sacred Law which enables an individual to grasp truths, as God wishes, concerning one’s essential identity and spiritual capacity that, God willing, lead to the fulfillment of an array of rights concerning all manner of being – including those rights which are inherent in the individual himself or herself … and this is what is meant by the idea of being God’s vicegerent or khalifa on Earth;
(4) To the degree that shari‘ah is correctly understood and applied, it becomes a manifestation of Sacred Law;
(5) The journey toward shari‘ah is an individual pursuit, not a collective one – although the degree to which shari‘ah is properly realized may have ramifications for the social collective, and, as well, the manner in which the social collective is organized may have ramifications for the way in which shari‘ah is understood and/or pursued;
(6) While the Qur’an and the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) constitute the two most essential primary resources through which to engage and understand the nature of Islam, many of the customary ways of describing just what is entailed by this process are problematic, if not incorrect;
(7) Qiyas [analogical and rationalistic reasoning processes] tends to have a distorting and therefore, misleading way of construing the teachings of the Qur’an;
(8) The issue of ijma – consensus – is generally misunderstood and misapplied with respect to the issue of shari‘ah;
(9) Using naksh or abrogation as a methodology for engaging the meaning of the Qur’an is – in relation to the manner in which this concept is generally understood by many Muslim religious scholars – untenable;
(10) The idea of ijtihad – that is, striving to secure a spiritual determination or judgment in a given set of circumstances – is improperly understood as well as improperly used by many Muslim religious scholars;
(11) The five major madhhabs or schools of jurisprudence do not exhaust the ways through which one may legitimately engage Islam, and, moreover, none of these schools – or any other such school – may be used to compel people to behave in particular ways when it comes to matters of shari‘ah; moreover, no one is under any obligation to align herself or himself with any given school of jurisprudence, or, stated in another way, the various schools of Muslim jurisprudence do not necessarily have the requisite spiritual authority to impose judgments on others that are binding;
(12) One of the primary purposes underlying governance is not to enforce shari‘ah but, rather, one of the essential purposes of governance is to ensure that a community – or, more specifically, the public space or commons of that community -- is free from oppression of any kind [including religious] so that people will have an unhindered opportunity to engage the gift of choice which God has bequeathed to them -- providing such an exercise of free will does not interfere with a like gift which also has been bequeathed to others;
(13) Two of the other primary tasks of government are to establish principles of equitability and justice to help prevent the injury, exploitation, and abuse of the members of a community by forces from within or from without that community – and this includes a responsibility to ensure that spiritual abuse will not be permitted to be perpetrated through the political imposition of religious theories of jurisprudence;
(14) The specific guidance given expression in the Qur’an concerning issues like punishment, fighting, and even such matters as inheritance, are subsumable under, and capable of being modulated by, other principles of general guidance given in the Qur’an, and, in addition, such specific injunctions may not have been intended as a form of universal guidance – that is, for all peoples, all times, and all circumstances – but, instead may have been intended to guide a specific group of people during, and shortly after, the period during which the Prophet lived;
(15) None of the foregoing fourteen statements undermines, removes, or alters the basic duties of care one has to oneself, others, creation, or God that are being taught through the Qur’an and for which sharia‘ah is intended as a spiritual journey of striving to understand and apply the truth of such issues during the course of one’s life.