Is Sharia law reconcilable with mod...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Is Sharia law reconcilable with modernity?

Is Sharia law reconcilable with modernity?

Among the claims made against the man behind the mosque near Ground Zero, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the assertion that he wants to bring Sharia law to the United States. In fact, Rauf has done considerable work to reconcile Sharia and America. His wife, Daisy Khan, characterized the imam's beliefs this way:

Rauf sees the United States as "the most sharia-compliant state" because it upholds what Rauf believes is the proper interpretation of the Koran's emphases on protection of life, freedom of religion, one's property, family, dignity.

Ali Gomaa, Egypt's Grand Mufti, explains Islamic religious law and Sharia:

Islam is not a static, authoritarian system devoid of flexibility. To live in accordance with Islam does not necessitate a return to the Middle Ages, nor does it require that we cease to be who we are. Islam has never required its adherents to give up their own cultures and become Arabs. This is why we see a vast variety of cultural, artistic, and civilizational phenomena all of which can be described as Islamic ranging from the Taj Mahal in India, to the winding streets of Fez, to the poetry composed by English converts that represents not only the rigor of English verse, but also encompasses the beauty of Islamic piety.

This flexibility is not just present in the cultural output of Muslims. It is an integral part of the Islamic legal tradition as well; in fact you could say it is one of the defining characteristics of Islamic law. Islamic law is both a methodology and the collection of positions adopted by Muslim jurists over the last 1,400 years. Those centuries were witness to no less than 90 schools of legal thought, and the twenty-first century finds us in the providential position to look back on this tradition in order to find that which will benefit us today. This is one of the first steps in the issuing of a fatwa. Fatwas represent the bridge between the legal tradition and the contemporary world in which we live. They are the link between the past and the present, the absolute and the relative, the theoretical and the practical.

For this reason it takes more than just knowledge of Islamic law to issue a fatwa. Muftis must also have an in-depth understanding of the world in which they are living and the problems that their communities are facing. When those who lack these qualifications issue fatwas the result is the extremism we see today. We have to be clear about what is at stake here. When each and every person's unqualified opinion is considered a fatwa we lose a tool which is of the utmost importance to reign in extremism and preserve the flexibility and balance of Islamic law.

This flexibility is present in the Islamic political sphere as well. But this is a point that is often missed. Many assume that an Islamic government must be a caliphate, which was one of the political solution that Muslims adopted during a certain historical period, but this does not mean that it is the only possible choice for Muslims when it comes to deciding how they should be governed. The experience that Egypt went through can be taken as an example of this. This period of development was begun by Muhammad Ali Pasha and was continued by the Khediv Ismail who attempted to build a modern state. This meant a reformulation of Islamic law, but not a rewriting of it. Many people are under the impression that Egypt adopted French law. This is not the case. Islamic law was rewritten in the form of French law, but retained its Islamic essence. This process led Egypt to become a liberal state run by a system of democracy.

None of the Muslim scholars of Egypt objected to this. Muslims are free to choose whichever system of government they deem most appropriate for them. The principles of freedom and human dignity for which liberal democracy stands are themselves part of the foundation for the Islamic world view; it is the achievement of this freedom and dignity within a religious context that Islamic law strives for.

The world has witnessed tremendous change over the last two hundred years. This change came in the form of new technologies and political ideologies. There were also new communications technologies developed allowing us to be aware of what is happening in nearly every part of the world the instant that it occurs, whereas in the past it would take months if not years for even the most urgent news to spread.

This wave of change has caused a complete alteration of nearly every aspect of our lives. It is this modern occurrence that presents the greatest difficulty to Muslim jurists and Muftis. In the past, there was little alteration of the way things worked and progressed. Even when things changed it was slow and isolated to a handful of fields. The change of the past two hundred years, however, has made it necessary to re-examine how everything works. Meaning that the way in which Islamic law is applied must take into account this change.

The flexibility and adaptability of Islamic law is perhaps its greatest asset. To provide people with practical and relevant guidance while at the same time staying true to its foundational principles, Islam allows the wisdom and moral strength of religion to be applied in modern times. It is through adopting this attitude towards the Sharia that an authentic, contemporary, moderate, and tolerant Islam can provide solutions to the problems confronting the Muslim world today.

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