Islamic legislation in the present times

ijtihad

It is the need of the entire Muslim Ummah that legislation should keep up with the changes in culture, civilization and technology. After the death of Prophet (saw) Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) and Hazrat Umar (ra) organised consultative councils to decide religious matters and make laws.

Umar (ra) would consult his companions in all matters – political, social, economic and legislative. He would often accept the counsel of intelligent and pious men. Many a times, he also changed his opinion in favour of another’s point of view.

Among the notable Tabaeen, a group of seven scholars took over the task of legislation in Islamic matters. Even the chief judge in Madinah used to consult the group, when making important decisions, and took actions accordingly. When Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was the governor of Madinah, he took full advantage of this forum. The seven scholars included Abu Bakr Bin Haris, Haris Bin Zaid, Qasim Bin Mohammad, Saeed Bin Musayyab, Abdullah Bin Utbah, Salim Bin Abdullah and Suleman Bin Yasar.

After the first few glorious centuries of Islamic rule, Ijtehad (reasoning by scholars on current issues) came to a virtual end after a long period. The entire Muslim Ummah came to rely only on the work done by the four the Imams centuries ago. There were a few individual efforts at Ijtehad, but they were few and far between and could not satisfy the demands of the changing times and technology comprehensively.

A notable effort in this regard was made by Aurangzeb Alamgir, the last of the powerful Mughal rulers. In the 11th Hijri, Aurangzeb formed a committee of religious experts under the supervision of Sheikh Nizam. The purpose was to compile a comprehensive book which covered all the issues of Fiqh, and would be acceptable to all the religious scholars. The book came to be known as Fatawi Alamgiri.

Although it was accepted at the government level, but never became part of the constitution of the state. It was a good effort as it contained varying opinions of religious scholars on different issues of Fiqh.

On the state level, we find another example in the Usmani period. In 1293 Hijri, a document containing different laws was compiled by a seven member team of religious experts, under the supervision of the judiciary. This effort took nine years to complete.

Islamic legislation has not been very successful because it did not get the attention it deserved. According to the author, the reason was the lack of coordination and trust between the religious scholars and rulers. It has been seen that kings and monarchs try to pressurise to get the religious scholars under their influence.

Religion has been used as a tool to forward the interests of the ruling parties. Traditionally, the righteous scholars moved in the backlines and the pseudo religious scholars were not accepted by the masses. Hence, there was no measurable stride in the field of Islamic lawmaking at the official level.

The need of the hour is to establish a reliable institution which should comprise of prominent religious scholars who enjoy the support of all the major schools of thought. The institution should merely send recommendations to the parliament (like the Islamic Ideology Council) but these must be acted upon for the change to take place. Additionally, the body should also address the modern problems faced by the society and should inform the masses of their opinions on different issues. This would help in guiding the Ummah in better decision-making.

For example, the issues faced by our society today are the influence of the media with values conflicting to ours. A lot of questions crop up in the minds of people regarding such issues. Also, questions like the definition of terrorism according to Islam and Shariah’s views on suicidal attacks, and other such problems have been addressed by some individual scholars but the Ummah continues to wait for a coherent and collective opinion from acclaimed scholars.

Excerpts from “Imam Abu Haneefa” by Naima Sohaib (translated by Eeman Asif Misbah).