You are on page 1of 8

A Global Networking for Muslim Intellectuals & Activists

islam21
Issue No. 19, October 1999

Islam21 P.O. Box 21272 London W9 3YN, UK Tel/Fax: (+44) 870 0130286 Email: inquiry@islam21.org Homepage: http://islam21.org

The International Forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID) Editor: Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri

Shaping the future, not yearning for the past


Islamists are sometimes accused of being utopian in their approach. Critics point out that what Islamists tend to do is to create a picture of an "Islam" that had rarely, if ever, existed in the past 1400 years or so. Such an ideal picture vary according to the mind-set of its imaginers. Thenceforward, followers are motivated to "yearn" for the glory of the past and to embark on a "defensive", mostly futile, approach in the face of an advancing modernisation process. "Muslim Mind" and the "Arab Mind", but most of the critical assessments came from outsiders, rather than insiders. Many Islamist insiders opted for selfglorification and expression of satisfaction with the available packages of tradition (turath) and practices (seerah), thus losing the opportunity to criticise the inherited mind-sets which limited the vision and saturated the thinking process. This approach prevented the imagining of a better future.

Self-criticismisafirststep Successful mobilisation


Islamist have proved to be effective and powerful mobilisers of the masses. The vast majority of the Muslim populations are disgruntled with the failure of post-colonial secularists or traditional monarchs who imported means of power and control but neglected basic rights of their people. The Islamists are viewed as authentic and indigenously-rooted populist leaders for the their communities and many of them have not been stained by corrupting materialism. Islamists have by now experienced opposition and some of them achieved power. Such experiences were all based on the images created of a glory once achieved. The vast majority of Muslim countries are yet to start developing. The culture of the people is pre-industrial in nature, while most Western countries are going through a post-industrial, or postmodern, era. Many parts of the inherited culture is austere and is incapable of producing solutions for complex environments. The inherited masculinity, for instance, blocks the emergence of a superior role for Muslim women. The inherited tradition does not provide guidelines for a multi-dimensional age similar to the one we live in. This has nothing to do with the completeness of the message of Islam. This is not a point of difference amongst Islamists. What they differ on is the way to understand and interpret the scripture. Static understanding prevails in most traditional circles. The revival of Islam in the modern age can not be successful so long as the need for dynamism is neglected. And a dynamic understanding starts with self-criticism. There is a view that ideology is dead and more interaction is taking place across nations and cultures. If this is so, then Islam can fill the gaps that exist in many of the global trends. But to play this role, Islamists ought to start shaping the future instead of yearning fort her past.

Less successful statesmen


Once in power, the Islamists are faced with the harsh realities of today's world and the population is more interested in the present rather than the glory of the past, whether such a past existed or not. The issues relating to social development and the economy, political stewardship and plurality, international relations, justice and human rights, etc., are real and critical ones requiring vision and capabilities that match the challenges of the present.

Austerityofvision
While the yearning for the past proved its success in mobilising the masses, it lacked the richness of vision that is needed for creating a better future. Much research has been accomplished about the

PAGE 2, Islam21, October1999

'Freedom of Expression' and Islam


Dr. S. Parvez Manzoor
Perhaps the best point of entry in this highly seminal field is Mohammad Hashim Kamali's original contribution to the debate over 'Freedom of Expression in Islam' that is truly a labour of love and a work of devotion and piety. (Freedom of Expression in Islam. By Mohammad Hashim Kamali. The Islamic Text Society, Cambridge, 1994. Pp 349. ISBN 0-94662160-8.) It is uncompromisingly 'Islamic' in temperament, approach and method, a normative study in the 'traditional' mould that consciously strives to remain within the indigenous paradigm of fiqh. And yet, it is also quite radical and original in that it treats a thoroughly 'modern' theme and by so doing, willy-nilly, gets involved in ideological polemics with modernity. As a pioneering effort, it is both daring and imaginative, sober and scholarly and has won the 'Ismail alFaruqi Award for Academic Excellence'. Fulfilling a genuine need and initiating an authentic discourse, its merits have been duly recognized by the scholarly community. However, in its dialogue with modernity, in its perception and response to the polemics of secular modernism, it is far from satisfactory. In reflecting over the problem of 'freedom of expression in Islam', the author may not have envisaged and planned entering into polemics with modernity but such is its sway over the moral and intellectual clime today that no contemporary discourse may claim authenticity if it ignores the modernist context of our world. Least justifiable is this negligence in a study that deals with a theme, freedom of expression, which is the gift, as it were, of modernist consciousness. In dealing with an uncompromisingly modern subject, there's no escaping its polemics and criticism of 'traditional' worldviews. True enough, Kamali is not totally insensitive to the modernist context and subtext of his work and his diffidence and humility at the treading of this virgin territory are quite genuine and touching. Nevertheless, it is my conviction that a sharper intellectual vision of modernity and a more vigorous encounter with its polemics would have enhanced the already considerable worth of this work. The few following remarks, it is hoped, would put the polemical subtext of 'freedom of expression' in sharper focus. Modernity espouses a metaphysics of immanentism within which the state, or existential body-politic, assumes certain attributes that theistic religions ascribe to the Transcendent God. And yet, paradoxically, though secular modernity (ostensibly) passes no judgement on the question of God's existence, it insists that religious and transcendent tenets be banished from politics, from the governance of the state. Or, differently expressed, questions of God's existence or nonexistence, and other similar 'metaphysical' issues, it claims, belong to individual conscience with respect to which the state and its legal order must remain neutral. But, the state also insists that there are other issues, not pertaining to conscience, where it is the highest, sovereign, authority and that these constitute the crux of politics and statecraft. The individual is free with respect to religious and metaphysical 'beliefs', but not with respect to civil matters such as taxation, property, matrimony etc. Here the state has the right to use force to secure compliance. State laws are thus not laws of conscience but those of coercion. Freedom of expression is the outward, public, side of the inward, individual, freedom of conscience. However, despite its neutrality with regard to questions of conscience, the state does get involved in the issue of their 'expression', their manifestation in the common, public, space. It is this very neutrality that stipulates, it is argued, that all individual consciences have the right to free expression in the public sphere and that guaranteeing that right is a state obligation. The state is concerned, however, only with the legal aspect of public expression and not with the moral content of private conscience. Freedom of expression, in short, pertains not to truth but to the logistics of its 'self-disclosure': it is not an individual issue but an 'affair of the state'. Any discussion of 'freedom of expression', it ought to be underlined, is contingent upon the dialectics of individual and state, conscience and society, public and private, religion and politics that are all peculiar to secular modernity. (However, not only is the definition of what constitutes a private act of conscience, in contradistinction to a public act of politics, always historically conditioned and dependent upon the prevailing societal consensus, even the distinction itself, namely between private conscience and public politics, is a contested claim of secular modernity and not a given fact of human existence.) Without taking full cognizance of these dialectics, or rejecting these dichotomies on normative grounds, in other words, there cannot be any meaningful probing of the theme of 'Freedom of expression in Islam.' Without any delineation of the Islamic vision of the state, albeit in modern times, the project of discovering (the dialectic of?) 'Freedom of Expression in Islam' cannot even be launched: it does not even lift off the ground, to use a modern metaphor. One may, of course, regard Islam as an autonomous, selfreferential, system that is in no need of corroboration or correction from other worldviews and philosophies. Modernity and adherents of secularism may, in such a case, enter into dialogue with Islam, but only on Islamic terms, only on the pre-condition of acknowledging the possibility of transcendence in human affair. Such a stance, had it been adopted in this study, would have entailed the task of deconstructing modernity, exposing its metaphysical foundations and charting the moral parameters of its secular project. It would have certainly not required the borrowing of a patently and self-consciously polemical topos of modernity and transplanting it in the Islamic intellectual and moral landscape as has been done here. For to launch a project of delineating the parameters of 'Freedom of expression in Islam' is tantamount to acquiescing in to the moral validity of the modernist claims, if not accepting them as the yardstick of Islamic theopolity. Then there are the notorious conundrums of the concept of freedom that are logically and metaphysically intractable. Again, for the purpose of managing them within a pragmatic discourse, modern theory reduces their scope to certain civil and political 'liberties', i.e. absence of legal and practical constraints from the authority and power of the state. To define freedom as 'the ability of the individual to do or say what he or she wishes, or to avoid doing so, without violating the rights of others, or the limits set by the law' (p 7) is to turn it into an empty tautology. For, if freedom is simply identical with the licit, the legally valid, one may dispense with the concept of freedom altogether, retain only that of law and not a whit need be modified of the moral discourse! Little wonder that prior to the advent of modernity, rights and liberties did not form the stock motives of the politico-religious discourse and, as Kamali himself realizes, the introduction of the expression 'Freedom of Expression' into the political vocabulary of Arabic is of recent origin. Kamali, who has been forced to approach this subject without the benefit of any precedent or prior model of reflection, declares in the beginning that the principal question that he addresses in the study is 'whether or not the Shariah subscribes to freedom of conscience.' If so, the title of the book fails to pay tribute to his intellectual labour, for it announces that the work is about 'Freedom of Expression', and the two are by no means identical. Sure enough, an inquiry into this subject is worth a sizeable volume and may

PAGE 3, Islam21, October1999


demand a close examination of the traditional sources of fiqh, something that Kamali does quite judiciously before saying 'yes'; nevertheless, to ordinary believers like this writer, the question admits of only one, affirmative, answer - with or without the ransacking of the brains of our illustrious fuqaha! The modern query leads to a single, foregone conclusion as the very concept of submission (Islam), as found in the Qur'an, denotes an act of voluntary assent, a receiving of God in the soul as it were. Islam and fettered conscience are contradictions in terms. Only a jurisitic intellect, which identifies Islamic reason with raison d'tat, could be so befuddled as to regard 'freedom of conscience' an original fact of modernist consciousness that needs authentication from indigenous legal sources! Though Kamali remains firmly anchored in the fiqhi tradition, his perception and conceptual schemes show unmistakable signs of having acquired modernist influences, nay prejudices. A clear, and for this critic quite distressing, sign of this is Kamali's indiscriminate use of the prejudicial term, 'religion', which modernity regards as synonymous with private conscience. (The concept of a universal and essential 'religion', it has been cogently demonstrated, is part of the polemical repertoire of modernity and a historical construct of secular forces (Cf. Talal Asad, 'The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category', (Genealogies of Religion, Baltimore, 1993)). Another, far more grievous, sign of jurisitc positivism comes from the reified perception of the pivotal concept Shariah: it is used such that it can be totally identified with the extant corpus of fiqh. Needless to say that from the Islamic point of view, there are very convincing arguments for keeping the transcendent vision of the Sharia distinct from its fallible appropriation in the juridic tradition, for keeping the text of the law separate from its interpretations. Nor is Kamali's disregard of the modern distinction between the legal and the moral going to cut much ice with the critics of the tradition for whom it merely represents the obsolete and the archaic. He is least likely to convince modernists like Habermas with his contentions that actions like slander, insult and blasphemy are part of the modern political discourse. "This work is a an attempt to explore some of the Islamic responses to issues of contemporary concern', says Kamali, and 'to develop further the existing positions in the light of prevailing conditions, or failing that, to take a direct approach to the source materials of Shariah in the quest for an alternative solution.' (p 5; Italics added). This reviewer couldn't agree more but would also like to add that in this search the philosophical and conceptual analysis of the key Qur'anic terms be given priority over the atomistic and literal approach of fiqh. Needless to say that in this regard, regardless of Kamali's commendable effort, the task is yet to begin. Let me recapitulate the main insights of this review: 1. 'Freedom of Expression' is a problem bestowed to us by modernist consciousness which makes a pragmatic distinction between public and private. Islam, a doctrine of truth, which transcends the Public-Private divide, does not confront the problem of the freedom of expression in a purely pragmatic spirit. For it, the content and ethic of freedom are more paramount than its form and logistics. 2. Freedom of Expression is a problem that demands attention and resolution within the public realm, but especially within a public realm that does not claim to 'incarnate' any 'transcendental truth', that makes no effort toward the 'salvation' of its citizens. Little wonder that the problem is intimately related to the constitution of the (modern) state (political and existential community) and 'the ultimate ends' toward which it does, or does not, strive. 3. For the secular modern state, the mot paramount freedom is the freedom of 'religion', or of 'conscience' - which does not entail, however, freedom from taxes or laws! That such a scale of values establishes the sovereignty of the political over the religious is beyond doubt. Nevertheless, the historical fact that the modern, non-confessional, state arose as a consequence of the internecine sectarian wars of premodern Europe, should make us sensitive to the sustaining ethos and moral pathos of the modern longing for freedom. Despite this, however, modernism cannot claim to possess any ultimate truth, and, hence, the secularity of its constitution is not the only guarantee for the freedom of conscience and expression. 4. Freedom of Expression, like everything else in modernity, is an instrumental value, since the modern state pretends to be neutral towards - cares nothing about - the final goal of the human existence. (All this is of course disingenuous and misleading, for the modern state does have its agenda, its commitment to the, secular, wellbeing of its citizen; it is not merely a formal and instrumental entity but does have a substantive commitment to the values of this worldly- meliorism, just as it espouses a metaphysics of immanentism. 5. To pose the problem of the freedom of expression in its ultimate, metaphysical and moral, context (and then transpose it to the contrasting metaphysics of Islamic transcendentalism) also renders it intractable and beyond the kin of any pragmatic solution. Such a 'fundamentalist' epistemology, though indispensable for a correct understanding of the problem, is counter-productive in a world of competing civilizations and contending moralities. However, if we confine our attention to the purely functional and logistic aspects of Freedom of Expression, then the theme that would merit further exploration and reflection would not be 'Freedom vs. Islam', but the nature and scope of that freedom in a concrete historical polity, say Turkey, or Iran, or Kuwait, or Pakistan, etc. 6. A logical corollary of the above argument is that Freedom of Expression is essentially a matter of the presence or absence of 'civil and political liberties' and that it should be problematized as such. Nevertheless, even within the provision of such a concrete objective, the debate in modern Western societies, which are assumed to provide yardsticks for such liberties, is seldom enlightening or capable of unambiguous guidance. That there is a logical, and moral, tension between the ultimate value of 'freedom' and that of 'equality' (or 'justice') has been the cause of much philosophical and moral distress. That any actualization of 'freedom' enjoins a counter-balancing of its effects by the equally obligatory quest for justice, or equality, renders the issue of 'Freedom of Expression' far more problematical than a glib slogan of civilizational polemics! Nor must we forget the uncomfortable fact that in a hierarchical and hegemonic world, the beneficiaries of freedom are not always the week and the oppressed, but also, and indeed pre-eminently so, the rich and the dominant! 7. Despite all these reservations, and the genuine intellectual, philosophical and moral quandaries that, the theme of Freedom of Expression gives rise to in a cross-civilizational context, let's not, as Islamically committed thinkers, shirk our responsibility of exposing all the hurdles - socio-political and local but also neo-imperialist and global - that prevent the emergence of a humane regime of civil and political liberties in the lands of the Muslims. Let us not produce any apology for the corrupt and oppressive order of the Muslim regimes that seeks legitimacy by exploiting the name of Islam. And let us not transform Islam, the religious faith which for the recognition of its truth accepts no constraints on the conscience of man, into a political ideology that for the glories of this world would establish a regime of coercion and force.

PAGE 4, Islam21, October1999

Reconstruction of Islamic Political Thought


Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer
How do we look at a religion? As a set of rituals, dogmas and institutions? Or as values and thought system? Some emphasise the former and others the latter. Generally the masses of people are more concerned with rituals, dogmas and institutions whereas the intellectuals lay more emphasis on thought system and values, particulary on the thought system. For the masses, religion is nothing but performance of certain rituals as laid down and to have belief in certain dogmas formulated by the learned scholars. For them anyone who deviates from performance of these rituals or questions any of these dogmas is a 'heretic' worthy of condemnation. The intellectuals may lay more emphasis on the thought system of a religion but there are those who accept the thought system as inherited and there are those who are intellectually quite active and consider it necessary to rethink the thought system of the religion they have inherited. In a dynamic society , there are much greater possibilities of rethinking the thought system. In a stagnant or a closed society such possibilities are smothered. The early Islamic society was highly dynamic and full of vitalities. Islam was a great revolution, not only religious but also social and economic. It had upturned all old ideas and ideologies. It gave human society a new value system and heightened the human sensitivity for change for the better. Islam put greater emphasis on change and called everything old into question. It encouraged people to rethink the beliefs of their ancestors. All that ancestors believed in was not necessarily right and beneficial. Thus in early Islam change was never thought to be a 'sin'. The Qur'an laid great emphasis on 'ilm as well as 'amal (knowledge and practice). The Arab peninsula was an area of darkness in many ways. Only poetry was their passion. The other area of information they were proud of was what they called ansab i.e. the family tree. For them the nobility (sharf) of ancestors was more important than their own. They were greatly proud of their ancestry. Islam changed all this. It brought about complete revolution in the Arab mind set which spread to other areas conquered by the Arabs. The emphasis was on present and future, not on the past. The Individual was brought at the centre, not the tribe. The individual was made responsible for everything, not the tribe one belonged to. knowledge with conviction) is of great value. It is thus clear that the Qur'an neither encourages superficial knowledge nor allows its instrumentalisation. Qur'an has been described as hudan lil muttaqin i.e. a guide for the God fearing or the pious. Thus the term 'ilm is not only comprehensive but also value-oriented. Knowledge must not only be true but should also be based on conviction; it should not only advance the state of information about the universe but should also serve the humanity. Similarly 'amal (practice) as pointed out above, has to be nothing but salih (healthy). The practice, based on knowledge and conviction, must promote the health of society. What kind of revolution it was in a stagnant society of Arabian peninsula whose whole universe was its own tribe cannot be easily imagined by us today. It was nothing short of a total break from the past; a break which changed the whole quality of social life and brought about tremendous advancement in knowledge. The ritual system of Islam - 'ibadat - was also not devoid of value-system. Islam does not accord any priority whatsoever to race, tribe, language, creed or colour. The Qur'an makes categorical statement to this effect (see 49:13 and 30:22). It also strictly forbade the Muslims from making any distinction between an Arab and non-Arab and a white and a black. The Prophet, in order to effectively demolish any such hierarchical distinctions, appointed a black liberated slave from Ethiopia, Bilal Habshi, to give azan ( i.e. call Muslims to prayer), a distinction, many Arabs close to the Prophet, intensely desired. But the Prophet accorded this distinction to a black slave to emphasise the importance of equality of all human beings. As anthropologists tell us, in a tribal society the main fulcrum of knowledge is knowledge of received traditions and tribal customs. Any other knowledge which is not related to the tribe is totally meaningless. The ideas of cosmos, creation and all related notions originate from the tribal practices. The frontiers of knowledge, in other words, cannot transcend the boundaries of the tribal universe. Islam, however, broke these tribal boundaries and made knowledge coterminous with the universe i.e. the entire creation of Allah. It is also very interesting to note that the Arab world which had never known beyond tribal customs and traditions, became the fore-runner in the world of jurisprudence. We may have several problems today with the Shari'ah formulations. But, the juris corpus of Islam, was a highly progressive body of laws in those days.

Knowledge and practice:


There was no quest for knowledge in the pre-Islamic Arabia. In fact any knowledge except that of ones tribal ancestry was derided upon. The Qur'an, on the other hand, put all the emphasis on 'ilm (knowledge) which is a very comprehensive word in Arabic. 'Ilm is used for science as well. It includes knowledge of everything created by Allah including the knowledge of creator himself. Allah invites human beings to think, to brood and to reflect on the whole universe, on the creation of Allah, the stars, the earth, the plants and the animals. Also, the Qur'an lays great emphasis on induction rather than deduction. The former leads to objective knowledge of the universe and latter to speculation. Modern science is based on induction rather than deduction. Also, knowledge was given further practical orientation by laying equal emphasis on 'amal (practice). 'Ilm without 'amal was projected as bereft of any benefit to humanity. Correct knowledge ('ilm al-yaqin) and healthy practice ('amal salih) is the most desirable synthesis. The word 'ilm al-yaqin (i.e.

Justice:
The notion of justice is very central to Islam (5:8). And it is justice in its absolute and varied sense. The Qur'anic notion of justice is quite comprehensive. No Muslim jurist could ever ignore the significance of justice in his legal formulations. But how justice was understood to have been done has of course been debatable. There may be arguments about how justice was thought to have been done in medieval ages and what is modern notion of justice. But that does not reduce the significance of justice as a Qur'anic doctrine. The relativity of medieval notion of justice and its modern notion is understandable. The Qur'anic notion of justice was not tribal but universal. And this made all the difference. The Qur'anic notion of justice is so universal that it laid down that even the enmity with any one else should not come in the way of dispensing

PAGE 5, Islam21, October1999


justice (5:8). In a tribal society justice was confined to within the tribal limits. There was no question of justice vis a vis other tribes. Islam, on the other hand, lays down that justice be done even to an enemy. The Qur'an gives the principle of justice as a norm; the legal doctors applied it to various issues which arose from time to time, according to their own ability, understanding and socio-cultural background. It is necessary to understand that it is justice which has to be rigorously applied to all the issues in framing laws. It is the very foundation of the juris corpus of Islam. It is more central than the corpus of laws inherited by us. As the legal doctors applied the notion of justice in keeping with their own circumstances we must rethink the issues in Shari'ah laws based on the notion of centrality of justice particularly in the sphere of family laws. from different sources and from different fields was not only accepted by early Muslims but was also creatively advanced by them. The entire corpus of Greek knowledge in various sciences, mathematics and philosophy was transferred into Arabic language and passed on to Europe. No wonder than that H.G.Wells, the noted British historian, has described Arabs as foster father of knowledge. The Europe had lost contact with the Greek treasure of knowledge and they reestablished contact with it only through the agency of Arabs. The House of Wisdom (Dar al-Hikmah) established by the Abbasids fulfilled this task. The Muslims assimilated this knowledge and also enriched it immensely. Their own contribution in enriching the Greek knowledge acquired by them was no mean contribution. Also, they imbibed knowledge from other sources as well i.e. Persian and Indian sources, besides their own Islamic sources. The Mu'tazila were a party of rationalists who gave primacy to reason. For them reason was the test of faith and not vice versa. Thus if reason holds something good, Shari'ah will also hold it good. The Asha'irah, on the other hand, held something good because Shari'ah held it good even if reason contradicted it. The Mu'tazila also gave primacy to justice along with reason. this is what the modern rationalists also plead. Thus the Mu'tazilah were as fervent advocates of reason and justice as the modern rationalists are. But the modern rationalists tend to be atheists which Mu'tazilah were not. Mu'tazilah were also known as the party of tawhid wa al-'adl i.e. party of unity of Godhood and justice. Thus Mu'tazilah were essentially theists but also rationalists. Islam, as all of us know, had arisen in Arabian peninsula and had its vitality and practicability. Practical rationality remained quite central to it. But when it spread to the ancient centres of great cultures like parts of Eastern Byzantian empire, or Persian empire and India, it was confronted with entirely different mind set. These great civilizations were based, as pointed out before, on speculative reason and sophisticated intellectual achievements. This had both positive and negative impact on Islamic thought.

Women:
Here we would like to point out that the position of women in the Qur'an is not subordinate to that of man. Certain verses (like 4:34) are used selectively, and out of context, to project subordination of woman to man ignoring several other verses (like 2:228, 9:71, 33:35 and others) which clearly indicate equality of man and woman. The verses 9:71 and 33:35 are quite central in this respect. In verse 9:71 men and women are not only shown each others friends but also charged with equal responsibilities of enjoining good and forbidding evil, keeping up prayer and paying the poor-rate (zakat). How could then women be inferior to men? Thus we should not hesitate in having a second look at the Shari'ah laws which have in built medieval biases towards women. The Qur'an was the first scripture in the world to accord equal dignity to man and woman. Prior to Islam even great Greek philosophers thought that animal and women have no soul and hence women deserve no legal rights. Women could not inherit, let alone holding property in her own right, even in Roman law, prior to Islam. The spirit of the Qur'an is more important than the opinions of medieval legal doctors and hence entire corpus of Shari'ah laws in this regard should be re-examined and rethought. Also, as pointed out in some of my books (Rights of Women in Islam, The Qur'an, Women and Modern Society and Status of Women in Islam) there never was unanimity on these issues among the legal doctors themselves. The opinions differed from one legal doctor to another and on several issues even the disciples differed from their masters. While some legal doctors do not even admit women's evidence on hudud matters, others, like Imam Abu Hanifa, maintain that a woman can even become qadi on the basis of verse 9:71. The Shari'ah laws as formulated by early Muslim fuqaha' (i.e. legal doctors) need to be thoroughly reviewed. The centrality of justice must be asserted.

Resisting outdated cultures:


The Islamic thought became inward looking on one hand, and, lost some of its most fundamental concerns like justice for weaker sections of society. These centres of civilization were centres of feudal culture and along with feudal sophistication, feudal values were also imbibed. Thus what Islamic thought gained in swing, lost in its sweep. Islam spread with great rapidity because of its great concern with justice for weaker sections of society but now it became an integral part of a huge Islamic empire and nearly lost its sensitivity towards suffering of the downtrodden of the society. The Qur'an which was so direct and simple in its teachings, became a target for exercises in sophisticated inner meanings justifying hierarchical values which came to be acquired through feudal cultures of Roman and Persian empires. Monarchy became an acceptable institution and blind and uncritical obedience to the ruling monarch on one hand, and religious establishment of the time, on the other, became very common. Disobedience to them was construed to be disobedience to Allah and His Book. The earlier critical faculty and concern for justice was totally lost. It was in this atmosphere that Islamic thought became totally stagnant and part of oppressive establishment. There is great need to recapture its earlier vitality, dynamism and sensitivity. Critical evaluation and not blind obedience, is closer to the Islamic spirit. What predominates today, however, is Islamic theological thought, on one hand,

Rationality:
Knowledge, as pointed out above, was quite central to Islam. Some of the 'ulama, however, confined knowledge to knowledge of din (i.e. religion of Islam). But there is no strong evidence in the Qur'an or sunna in this respect. It is product of theologians' own mind. Since theologians were primarily concerned with religious or theological matters, they tried to confine knowledge to theological issues alone. Imitating these theologians many people still argue that 'ilm should be confined to the 'ilm al-din and reject other spheres of knowledge. But this view is no more a central view in the world of Islam today. In fact this view that knowledge in the Qur'an is confined to the knowledge of din did not go uncontested even in the early history of Islam. Knowledge

PAGE 6, Islam21, October1999


and, age-old shari'ah formulation, on the other. It has made Islamic thought totally stagnant. What is to be noted is that what goes in the name of theology is human construct and divine commandments as understood by human agency under a set of socio-cultural influences. For example, 'Ilm al-Kalam (Islamic dialectics) came into existence as a reaction to the widening influence of Greek philosophy and Greek sciences during the Abbasid period. This became an integral part of Islamic theology. Kalam, undoubtedly influenced the great minds of Islamic world of the time and also the succeeding generation for several centuries. But now Kalam cannot be treated as unchangeable. There is urgent need for a new ilm al-kalam in the light of modern corpus of scientific knowledge.

Women and the


Can a feminist reinterpretation of Islamic sources be set in the context of Islamic theology? In other words: Can there be a feminist interpretation of Quran and Sunna? Was there one in the past, and if notcan we initiate one in the future? These questions have appeared on the agenda of womens debates in the Muslim world in the past two decadesstressing the feminist as differentcurrently absent and urgently needed.

Advocating a change culture:


A religion consists of several sub-systems like ritual system ('ibadat), institutional system (like zakat, etc.), thought system and value system (like equality, justice, compassion etc.). Of these ritual and value- system are permanent and cannot be changed under any circumstances. But the thought system could and must change, if religion has to keep pace with time, its thought system should change. There is misconception among Muslims about the Qur'anic verse 5:3 (i.e. This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favour to you...). They think that now what we have inherited is perfect in every respect and there is no need for re-thinking in any sense at all. Our din is perfect. The din is undoubtedly perfect but the meaning and significance of din should be understood properly. One cannot include the kalam, for example, in din. The Islamic thought system has been evolved by theologians who are human beings and no human person can ever be perfect. Human beings think under certain influences which they cannot transcend as human beings. All Divine commands are sought to be understood by human agents under certain socio-cultural influences and these influences are reflected in the religious-thought system. Once we understand this there will be no resistance to change in the thought system. This will bring about a great revolution. The Islamic Shari'ah is also an embodiment of Islamic values. Islamic Shari'ah is nothing but a sincere attempt by the fuqaha' (Islamic jurists) to apply divine commands and the Islamic values to a number of issues like marriage, divorce, inheritance, nature of evidence, crimes like theft, rape, adultery, division of property etc. This attempt to approach these issues in the light of Islamic values and divine commands was also influenced by the socio-cultural circumstances of the time. They could not have applied Islamic values and divine commands to these issues in vacuum. There is great deal of change in these external influences and hence many of these shari'ah formulations stand in need of change. This change does not amount to tempering with the divine commands but making yet another human attempt in the light of our own experiences and our own circumstances. If we evolve this understanding of religion the dynamics of problem changes and religion will be even greater force to bring about spiritual transformation for the better. Naturally there will be differences in opinion while bringing about these changes. We should not be afraid of differences. These differences, if honest and sincere, provide greater vigour to human thought. The founders of the different schools of jurisprudence during the second and third centuries of Islam were not afraid of differences. Why should we be?

Introductory issues:
1- Womens contribution to Islamic sciences dates back to early Islam, and has not seized through the centuries, with interruptions here and there in history due to different reasons in each case. This history of womens involvement in Ilm and Fiqh was recorded by male scholars themselves in books of history of Islamic sciences. The issue is not initiated by contemporary Western feminism but has its roots in our culture. This is important to clarify that the liberating potential of Islam is inherent in Islam itself and its history and is not a result of forces outside the culture and civilisation of Islam or a result of the contact with the West in the colonial era. The issue is not necessarily feminist and other terminology can and sometimes should- be used instead of the confusion and the enforcement of the concept feminist on the Islamic concepts and their semantic field as a key concept. 2- The text dealt with in Christianity (the Bible) differs substantially from the Book (Quran) in Islam regarding the status of the text , its origin , its legacy , and its position in the religion. While Jesus is the logos of the Christian faith , Muhammad is not the logos in Islam, but the revelationthe Bookthe Quran. This gives the text - as well the Sunna that put it into action - a centrality in the process of jurisprudence and legislation that is quite unique. This raises the question whether one can talk about an international cross-cultural and cross religious, unified or common agenda for women in this matter. 3-While in the back of mind of the Western discourse of the matter is only related to the text , in Islam the interpretation can not be completed without the a complex interaction with the Sunna , a thorough understanding and critical reading of the fiqh , and a continuous process of Ijtihad and Tajdid to place the divine and absolute within the relative and present. The knowledge of related Islamic disciplines and methodologies is a must, along with a profound updated knowledge of the social and political contexts. Not only average Muslims are required to study carefully the Islamic sciences, but Islamic scholars are also required to know the realities of life - a strict condition of Fatwa and Ijtihad that is known to everyone. 4-Contemporary Muslim women have been involved in studying and teaching the Islamic sources, and Islamic Universities have distinguished women scholarsthe most prominent Bint Al-Shati -the professor of Tafsir in Egypt and Morocco who died recently, as well as many female professors at Al-Azhar and in all Islamic Universities. It has been neglected in recent writings that started giving attention to the role of women within the Islamic movements in transmitting and studying the Islamic sources that they, too, contributed to the knowledge and Ijtihad. Ann Sophie Roald (In K.Ask & M.Tjomsland 1998 ) for example studied Bint AlShati, yet forgot Zainab A-Ghazali - the leading Egyptian

PAGE 7, Islam21, October1999

interpretation of Islamic Sources


Heba Raouf Ezzat
Muslim activist of the Muslim Brotherhood - who published an interpretation of the Quran 1994. Though published by the famous Dar Al Shorouk publishers, and forwarded by a praise by a (male) professor of Tafsir at Al-Azhar University, Karam did not even refer to that volume when studying Ghazalis feminist ideas. (A.Karam , 1998) Womens reading and interpretation of the Islamic sources is then an ongoing process in the Islamic as well as Islamist circles. 5-Taking the awareness about womens problems and the unjust treatment of women in Islamic societies with different Islamic pretexts as the criteria according to which one classifies writings as feminist or not (sometimes regardless of the sex/gender of the author], one can find indeed that male scholars have been more outspoken and revolutionary than women scholars. Hence insisting on feminist as description for the reading or interpretation, places feminism as a frame of reference and a basically secular paradigm to be the point of reference. Within the Islamic circle adjectives such as : fair , just", methodologically correct and nearer to the general aims of Islam (Maqasid) are more accurate. of a real intellectual environment for dialogue blocks change on the grass root level for the best of the majority of women. A second point is that attempts to bridge the gap between social sciences and Islamic sciences have been going on in many academic circles in the Muslim world. Disciplines like economy were given more attention than other disciplines such as political science and sociology. It is very important to realize that any reform in women issues by combining a contemporary reading of the sources with a knowledge of social sciences requires Ijtihad on both sides. Till now only attempts to reform the reading of the text have been in process, while the Ijtihad on the social sciences level has been almost non-existant. A simple example for that is the attempt to seek new fatwas allowing women to participate in politics by voting as well as become political representatives. Little has been done to introduce a new political theory that would revise the centrality of the state major actor, or revise the whole issue of ploitical representation and its problems. Democracy , as people have to be constantly reminded, can take many forms, not necessarily representative democracy, and not necessarily in a party system. Authoritarianism or totalitarianism are not the only option to the former statement, but a vriety of forms for political governance that are definetly NOT the simple non-sophisticated talk about an Islamic State that is always more of a State than it is Islamic. The Ijtihad has to be on all tracks, otherwise one will end up defending just and equal women participation in a political system that is not just nor fair or equal itself structurally speaking . Discussing the issue of women and politics one finds different approaches. Following you will find two different ones. The first is called here the selective anti-Sunna method as it is based on the selection of the source (reference), denying and refusing the whole of Sunna and Hadith. It is short and brief as it saves itself the path of Ijtihad and argumentation.

Methodological reflections:
Established Islamic methodology to approach the Islamic sources has been challenged lately by secularist writings, either generally as a whole, or focusing mainly on the issue of women. In this respecr Fatima Mernissi (Morocco) can be considered to be the most sophisticated one. Her work discusses among other things- the compatibility of some narrators of the Hadith and their hostile position towards women that affected their integrity and credibility, deconstructing by that some crucial Hadith on women that were narrated in Al-Bukhari and accepted as authentic Hadith. (Merrnissi,1996) . Her work was attacked by many Islamic scholars, not because of its feminist nature but because it challenges the established, widely accepted, methodology. Others such as Nawal Saadawi (Egypt) or Farida Banani (Morocco) are more general in their arguments. These writings state that Ijtihad is needed to initiate new ideas and perspective that are more compatible with the modern notions of human rights, while at the same time accepting and advocating intellectually Western notions and concepts on gender and patriarchy without much revision or criticism. A researcher with a secular paradigm when dealing with the Islamic sources rejects established Islamic sciences methodology and usually bases his/her analysis on approaches that deal with texts regardless of the origin of these texts - revealed or human. Any contribution will always be classified as a secular critique to the transcendental and will hence be rejected and refuted by the mainstream Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence - even if insightful and worth discussing. The political situation and polarization is dominant in a lot of discussion spaces. The arguments of secularisits are not read and understood by Islamic scholars, while any effort or new Ijtihad on the Islamic side is usually accused of being for propagandist, not serious, for political purposes and temporary. Especially in the issues of women the political is very much linked with the methodology, the selection of topics and the way these are addressed from both sides according to the hot issues on the political agenda. The lack

The selective anti-Sunna method:


Can a woman take the leadership role? Is it prohibited? The answer will be different if you look at the Quran, or if you look at the the Hadiths, that most of them were written about 200 years after the Prophet's death. When God tells us a story in he Quran, He does not do so just for entertaining us, but to teach us a lesson. "We narrate to you the most accurate history through the revelation of this Quran. Before this, you were totally unaware." 12:3. "In their history, there is a lesson for those who possess intelligence......" 12:111. The role of an important woman in the history of the old world, as much as Muslims are concerned, is shown in the story of Belquees, the Queen of Sheba. See 27:22-44. God mentioned her history in the Quran to let us know that a woman in a ruling position is not offensive as far as God is concerned. She represented a democratic ruler who consulted with her people before making important decisions, See 27:29. She visited Solomon, talked to him , made decisions for herself and her people, not hiding behind walls, or shying behind another man. After witnessing what God

PAGE 8, Islam21, October1999


gave Solomon, she became a submitter (Muslim), while still the Queen of Sheba. "She was told, "Go inside the palace." When she saw its interior, she thought it was a pool of water, and she (pulled up her dress) exposing her legs. He said, "This interior is now paved with crystal." She said, 'My Lord, I have wronged my soul. I now submit with Solomon to God, Lord of the universe". Here we witness one of the first Muslim women in charge of a nation, ruling them as a queen of Sheba. Can we learn a lesson from the Quran? we should. The lesson is that, God in the Quran never put restrictions on a woman in a ruling position. Contrary to what the traditional Muslim scholars and Hadiths teach, a woman in a leading political position is not against God's system or against the Quran. It might be against the chauvinistic views of the men who wrote the corrupted history of Hadiths. What did the books of man, the Hadith books ,teach about women in leadership positions? Completely the opposite, and then they claim that Hadiths do not contradict the Quran.. Of course the reason is that, the Prophet Muhammed would have never contradicted the Quran, but those who invented these stories about him did. In one of the most famous Hadiths that is often raised in the face of any Muslim woman seeking higher education or higher position in her career is one by a man called Abu Bakra who narrated a Hadith reported in Bukhary that states that any community ruled by a woman will never succeed. The fallacy of this Hadith is not only proven in history but in the fact that Abu Bakra himself was reported in the Muslim history books to be punished publicly for bearing false witness. Despite this known story of his bearing false witness, Bukhary did not remove his Hadith from among his collected Hadiths according to the rules that Bukhary himself claimed to follow. Such a bearer of false witness should never be allowed or accepted as a witness ever, according to the Quran (24:4).

Book Review
Political Islam and the United States, A Study of US Policy towards Islamist Movements in the Middle East, By: Maria do Ceu Pinto, Ithaca Press, ISBN 0 86372 245 8, 1999. In the West and particularly in the United States, Islamism has come to be seen as a disruptive force that threatens friendly Arab regimes, has a strong anti-Western bias, is anti-democratic and a source of terrorist activity. Attacks against foreign tourists in Egypt and the savage events in Algeria have added fuel to these feelings. The political Islam debate in the United States has become one of the most controversial debates in academic circles. In this book, Dr. Pinto depicts the two major schools of thought on political Islam that have emerged. One considers the Islamist movement to be a healthy grassroots response to the failure of Arab governments to tackle growing soci-economic problems. The other argues that political Islam is inherently hostile to the western world that Islamists are only rhetorically committed to democracy and pluralism but that their real aim is the establishment of a religious dictatorship. This book discuses the process whereby political Islam has been identified as one of the major security threats to the new international order, and brings to light the vested interests if certain political groups within the United States in disseminating this idea. It then goes on to look as the cases where political Islam poses a series of challenges under different guises to the United States: terrorist acts against the US, attempts to derail the Middle East peace process, the Islamist states in Sudan and Iran, and the Islamist political movements that challenge the regimes. women). (IV:34). Some interpretations argue that being in charge is exclusive for men since they possess superior attributes over women with respect to the management of affairs, the physical and psychological strengths, etc. To them, this makes it unfeasible that a woman takes over any public jurisdiction that can make her in charge or even let her share such responsibility. In their view, the text states explicitly that responsibility is given to men. It is also argued that even if the responsibility stated in the above-mentioned verse is meant to be in the specific family context, the argument is still valid, since a woman is necessarily then incompetent in managing wider public affairs. Other scholars maintain that the relationship between men and women in general is based on equality and that the Quran here only refers to the family in a regulative manner not to the human nature or the competence of women in general. This does not indicate that women are less competent, but rather suggests the more appropriate party who can be replaced by the other if necessary in cases of the absence of the father due to any reason. Views are at variance concerning the Prophets Hadith narrated by al-Bukhari in the authority of Abu Bakra who said, When the Prophet was informed that in Persia, the daughter of the King (Kisra) succeeded to the throne, he said, No success is destined for a folk whose ruler is a woman. Some literature debate that this includes all women in all public jurisdiction. The statement is seperated from its context and taken as a divine rule. Other opinions see that, in general, this is exclusive to the caliphate -the highest position in an Islamic political system. Some contemporary scholars deny the authenticity of the hadith altogether, describing it as fake, maintaining that it is at best a Hadith Ahad - a Hadith narrated by a sole narrator-, a case which excludes it as a source of Sharia in serious matters of legislation and constitution. The first party have done no attempt to interpret the above-mentioned Hadith in the light of the other relevant Quranic verses (the simple next step in interpretation that is usually forgotten here!), or the other Prophetic tradition on the issue. The second group basically adhered to the same approach except that they made it specific and have not associated it with competence but with certain positions.

The Tajdid method:


Access to political positions is dealt with in the dominant feminist discource as a gain that women should target for power and influence. Power is also the reason why Islamists deny them that right so they would have no authority over the supposedly wiser males. It is usually forgotten that political positions are not gains to be sought but rather responsibilities to be carried. They necessitate specific competence which, according to Ibn Taymiyya, is based on two factors: strength and integrity. Strength is dependent on the nature of the jurisdiction. Strength in judgments is based on the knowledge about the Quran and the Hadith and the ability to implement them. Personal integrity all depends on the fear of God. It is also neglected that whoever takes that power is obliged to abide by the laws of the Sharia - be that person a man or a woman. Their decisions concerning the public law and the codes of ethics should be issued through the mechanisms of Shura. They are obeyed in as far as they do; otherwise, there is no obedience to those who disobey God and Obedience is conditioned by the virtues and If the ruler judges unfairly or in contradiction to the established rules, his judement is rejected. Reading literature on the topic reveals that the disagreement arises in Fiqh from the different readings and interpretation of the Islamic sources that we can discuss as following: Scholars disagree on the possible meaning of the verse, which goes, Men are in charge (qawwamun) of women, because of what God has graced some of them over the others and because they spend of their property (for the support of