It should be apparent from the foregoing discussion that the traditional
solutions, be they historical or foreign, have failed because they do not
represent the proper approach to reform. The crisis of the Ummah is not one of
capabilities and resources, but rather one of concepts. This conceptual crisis
is not a crisis of beliefs, values, or principles, but rather a long-standing
crisis of thought and methodology brought on by a change in the Ummah's
political foundations and the resultant distancing of the intellectual
leadership from any sort of societal responsibility. This single development
ended all intellectual and scientific growth, and rendered the Ummah incapable
of keeping up with change, development, and challenges.
This inability to keep abreast of the march of civilization is the core of
the crisis. But the situation will not be rectified until several other matters
are attended to: until the course of the Muslim mind is set aright; the ways by
which Muslim thought approaches various issues are rectified, and its
methodology is restructured in a way that will enable it to deal with events,
challenges, relationships, and all other aspects of social life. If the Ummah's
methodology is sound, Its thought will be capable of providing it with the
energy required for reformational efforts and for confronting the challenges
that face it.
For this reason, we must take a closer look at the methodology of the Muslim
mind and thought to understand them better and to recognize their shortcomings
and failures more easily. Thereafter, we should be able to draw some tentative
conclusions about how the Muslim mind might be reformed.
The science of usul al fiqh (Juridical source methodology) is the historical
methodology of Islamic thought. This science represents the most important
component of the methodology used in the classical Islamic disciplines. Taking
into account the perspective of those who have mastered this science and its
branches, from the earliest generations to the present, ' it might also be
called the traditional methodology of Islam for the reason that its perspective
has always been one of passive, if not blind, acceptance.
In the early days of Islam, the broad principles and universals of this
methodology reflected the nature of Islamic thought and its correlation to the
religion and mission of Islam. The best example of its spirit and its creative
application Is to be found during the times of the khulafa', a time when
revelation (wahy) was taken as the source of guidance and direction, and when
reason and ijtihad were used both as tools for understanding and interpreting
revelation, as well as for dealing with events and developing responses and
In the age of ijtihad that followed, when the first schism occurred between the
Ummah's political and intellectual leadership, Muslim thinkers and scholars were
still in close touch with the spirit of the message and the methods of the
earliest age of Islam. As a result, they wrote and thought on the basis of the
early methodology. However, as their political isolation grew, they began to
shun all but academic pursuits, and taught and wrote on the most personalized
aspects of the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, such as worship and
transactions, and ignored issues related to politics, government, social
organization, and the general nature of the group and society. As a result, the source methodology they
used became conditioned by the purposes it served, while conforming to the
circumstances under which it was developed, and over which the scholars of Islam
had no control.
Even so, the general principles of their methodology remained open to
development and real contribution. But continued development, based upon the
spirit of innovation as opposed to taqlid, became the responsibility of the
generations to follow. Only In the spirit of progress would it be possible to
deal correctly with the methodology, to derive benefit from It, and to build
upon it in order to meet the challenges presented by changing conditions. Such a
spirit would allow the methodology to evolve in a positive and effective manner
and thereby contribute to life outside the personal realm. This spirit would
also allow Islamic thought to preserve its comprehensive and original nature, as
well as its ijtihad and the complementarity of its sources and disciplines.
It will be advantageous here to survey briefly the universals of the
traditional methodology of Islamic thought as we know it today. This will be
followed by a discussion of some of the more pivotal aspects of that criticism
and of the more Important issues of that methodology.
The methodology of Islamic thought as we know it today is represented by the
science of usul al fiqh which, in turn, is represented In its general principles
and axioms by the rational foundations and basic precepts of the Islamic mind.
However, usul al fiqh, as a discipline, was developed by scholars of the
successor generation (tabi'in) and those immediately following them (tab'u al
tabi'in), generations that came after the age of al khulafa' al rashidin. Thus
the work, al Risalah, by Imam al Shafi'i is considered the earliest academic
articulation of Islamic thought methodology in general, and of the science of
usul al fiqh in particular.
The basic principles upon which this science and methodology are based may be
classified into two types: primary and secondary. The primary foundations are
composed essentially of studies related to the Qur'an, the Sunnah, ijma' (the consensus of the learned), and qiyas (analogy). The
secondary foundations consist of studies dealing with those sources of evidence
on which the scholars differed as to how and under what conditions they are to
be applied (al adillah al mukhtalif fiha), sources which are used in the main as
the basis for the process of ijtihad. Among the most important of these
secondary sources are: istihsan (the more reasonable analogy), al masalih al
mursalah (the wider Interests of the community), sadd al dhara'i (the
obstruction of ostensibly legitimate means to illegitimate ends), 'urf (custom
and legal usage), the sayings of the sahabah, and the practices of the people of
On the basis of this division, we find that all Islamic sciences and
disciplines since the first generation have been classified as either Shari'ah
or non-Shari'ah sciences. From the earliest generations, the distinguishing
characteristic of the Shari'ah sciences has been their concentration on studies
related to legal interpretations of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It was on this
basis that the sciences of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, of fiqh, theology, and the
classical Arabic language developed into the Shari'ah sciences. The inclusion of
the sciences of the classical Arabic language under the general heading of the
Shari'ah sciences was due to the fact that Arabic Is an essential element In all
studies of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
This division or separation in the foundations of the methodology of Islamic
thought explains the position of the theological sciences ('ilm al kalam) on the
lowest rung of the Shari'ah sciences. Although the central concern of the
theological sciences is the study of Islamic beliefs and doctrines, their
intrusion into the realms of comparative religious studies and their
Infiltration by Aristotelian logic and Greek philosophy gave them a low
priority, and left them open to much acrimonious debate and division In the
ranks of all those scholars who dealt with them.
Thus theology remained a source of weakness in the Ummah's thought. As a
result, the Ummah was unable to use it as a guide to its actions and
deliberations in the domains of its social and civilizational organization and
development. Another result was the dichotomy between the spheres of the legal
sciences, with their orientation toward the life of the individual, and the
instructive and universal orientation of the theological sciences. Without the
complimentarity of these sciences, no comprehensive Islamic vision developed,
and so both sciences developed incompletely, a result which led to their later
inability to keep abreast of the changes and challenges faced by the Ummah.
At this point in our discussion it will be necessary to look at each of the
basic issues in the framework of traditional Islamic thought. This will enable
us to understand the reasons for its shortcomings and also how best to deal with
The first sources of Islam are the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The most important
qualifications for their study under the traditional methodology are at once
historical, theoretical, and linguistic knowledge. All traditional Islamic
studies hinged on the theoretical, while all of the other vital elements
associated with these two sources (i.e., interpretation and relevance to actual
situations) remained of secondary importance. The utilization of these elements
depended on chance, the background of the scholar, and the scholar's personal
way of life.
This realization helps us to understand the reason for the domination of
petrified lexical methodology in all the Islamic sciences and studies, and the
demise of ijtihad. In addition, it helps us to appreciate more fully the
abilities of a handful of brilliant scholars over the centuries who performed
ijtihad despite the long stagnation of the institution itself. Their brilliance
can surely be traced to their exposure to political and social life which
enabled them to excel in the contemporary sciences, to understand the situation
of the Ummah as a whole, and to look objectively at problems as opposed to
dealing with them from a purely theoretical or lexical perspective.
Another relevant observation Is that the traditional studies of the Qur'an
and the Sunnah often confuse the one with the other and actually dispute each
other's positions and the ways In which they are interrelated. It Is almost
impossible to discern in these studies any sort of distinguishing role or any
particular contribution for either of them. This is why contemporary Islamic
studies have been overshadowed by traditional historical taqlid and the concept
of abrogation (naskh), with the result that the wisdom of the higher purposes of
the Shari'ah and the concept of a relevant and responsive fiqh were lost. In
addition, the static Intellectual atmosphere resulted in the confusion of such
elements as time and place dimensions, and the position of specific and
contextualized texts in relation to the general and universal meanings of the
original revelation, and to the nature of humanity and the universe.
Such a state of affairs is contrary to what we find in the record of the
Sunnah itself or to what we know of the lives of the khulafa' and their
contemporaries. Thus, for example, the study of the Sunnah was transformed into
a complex study of the formalities of transmitting and relaying hadiths. This is
not to deny the importance of these studies, but to point out that centuries
have passed since these matters were essentially settled, classified, and
codified. The tragedy is that the meaning and relevance of these same hadiths
have not received nearly the same amount of scholarly attention.
Likewise, if we look closely at the fundamental concept of ijma', we find
that its purpose as defined in the traditional usul studies is not consensus in
the sense of the dominant or majority opinion, but rather as an absolute
consensus leaving no room for disagreement or opposition. Thus, those who have
studied ijma' have realized that it is virtually impossible for it to be used in
any matter of either doctrinal or juridical significance, save for those
fundamental teachings specifically mentioned in the sources. Of course, in those
circumstances, where a clear text from the sources Is available, there is no
need for ijma'!
Moreover, the kind of traditional Ijma' defined by the scholars of usul al
fiqh is never referred to by anyone other than certain groups of specialized
academicians In their studies of the Qur'an and Hadith. Thus Ijma', even if it
ever were to be achieved, is essentially a theoretical issue with no practical
bearing on contemporary Muslim needs. It is out of step with our ways of
thinking and has no relevance to our present situation. This situation has, in
addition to its theoretical and academic dimensions, real social and political
dimensions, for it makes ijma' a phenomenon that perpetuates and encourages the
rift between the Ummah's Intellectual and political leadership. The result is
that society as a whole suffers. This, in practical terms, spells an end to the
true meaning of the Ummah or the Muslim community that is based on the harmony
and legitimacy of the two leadership groups.
Thus ijma, as conceived by scholars of usul, is purely theoretical and
represents no practical or reliable source and no real expression of Islam's
social or political dynamics. As such, It plays no significant part in the
politics, government, or legislation In contemporary Islamic society.
Muslims should seek to establish another type of ijma', one based on ijtihad
and shura, one that draws in a major way from the Idea of consulting groups of
qualified people and those leaders of society committed to Islam irrespective of
their various political or intellectual leanings. The needed ijma' is the one
that also draws from the idea of majority rule, the majority as represented by
its true and responsible leadership. This is the kind of ijma' that is needed
when the Ummah cannot agree unanimously on an issue. In this manner, we may
easily differentiate between theoretical studies based on personal opinion
(especially on issues dealing with transactions, organizations, and public
policy) and politically and legally binding legislation that affects Muslim life
in practical, conceptual, and ethical ways.
The fourth primary foundation is qiyas, the exercise of reason In regard to
events about which no textual injunctions have come to us in either the Qur'an
or the Sunnah. Its purpose is to establish similarities between the event in question and one that occurred in the lifetime of the Prophet, in the belief
that their similarity will allow the application of the same ruling. However,
there is one major qualification to this practice: the general social
circumstances In both Instances must be the same. If anything is different, it
must be ascertained whether the difference(s) are minimal and limited to details
rather than fundamental and demanding of attention. If the differences are found
to be inconsequential, a parallel may be drawn with the historical event, and
the same ruling may be applied.
From the time of Islam's greatest expansion, during the khilafah of 'Umar,
comprehensive and sweeping changes have taken place. Thus, such a limited form
of qiyas as described above is no longer practical or suitable for dealing with
contemporary problems and changes. This was realized by certain of the classical
scholars themselves, so that they moved toward another option, istihsan. This
methodological tool first gained currency with the fiqh scholars in Iraq,
Persia, and Central Asia. Moreover, the reason why istihsan first appeared in
those territories was due to social developments during the period of the
khulafa', the expansion of Islam into Persia, and the establishment of the
'Abbasiyah empire. This period was a time of massive demographic, social, and
political change on a scale never before seen in the early days of Islam or in
the Arabian peninsula where the political role of the scholars had decreased to
insignificance after the passing of the first khulafa'.
Istihsan heads the list of secondary sources in the science of usul al fiqh.
Its development indicates clearly the changing legislative and social needs of
society, especially in the more developed urban situations in lands where
pre-Islamic civilizations had flourished. The traditional form of qiyas and its
method of comparing one incident or event to another that resembled it in
certain (but not all) aspects was far too simplistic. Such a method was actually
misleading, for it distracted scholars from seeking the true causes of the
problems confronting society and led them instead to base their legal rulings
and judgments on circumstances that did not represent the total picture or the
truth of those situations. Hence the need for istihsan was clear, for without it the legal
scholar could not transcend the limited approach represented by qiyas and his
own inability to undertake a comprehensive approach that took into account the
higher purposes and priorities of the Shari'ah. Only in this way could the
jurist go beyond the limited particulars of the problems that continually sprang
up to confront him, and give rulings reflecting the true spirit of the Shari'ah
and its higher purposes. There can be little doubt that such rulings are always
better in the long run for Islam.
In order to comprehend the vital Issue of understanding Islamic Institutions
and social change, we should note that the majority of classical jurists,
particularly those given to a strict adherence to the literal, chose no other
means to deal with social change other than a belated acceptance of its
consequences. They had no alternative but to move beyond their literalist
methodology and its constricted horizons to consider the purposes, principles,
and priorities of the Shari'ah.
Among the examples of this new phenomenon was the position of such scholars
concerning price regulation. Despite the existence of texts in the Sunnah that
categorically rejected such regulation, and In spite of the scholars' natural
inclination toward literal acceptance of everything in the Sunnah, they ruled in
favor of regulation because it was obvious to them that economic injustice would
ensue if they did not. Since they were unable to deal with the issue In a
comprehensive way that would restore general social and economic balance, they
had no alternative but to rule in favor of regulation and governmental
Intervention In the marketplace and, in particular, the setting of prices.
These observations on the general lines followed by the traditional usul and
methodology, and their origins and development, clarify how the secondary usul
represented the principles and approaches of Islamic rationalism toward reality
and life. However, even though these principles represented the basis of ijtihad and its practical application, their being
accorded only secondary Importance is clearly indicative of the flaws that beset
Islamic thought and methodology in general. These, then, were the landmarks on
the road to the social, organizational, and cultural backwardness that
eventually caused the Ummah's decline and fall.
The obvious result of the intellectual leadership's resignation (forced or
otherwise) from public life was that its principles and methodological tools
were never put to significant use in developing distinctly Islamic sciences of
fitrah and Muslim society (on the lines of today's social sciences and
humanities). As a consequence of the political turmoil experienced by the
Islamic world from the times of the "great fitnah" and the murder of
'Uthman ibn 'Affan that led eventually to the establishment of the Ummawiyah
dynasty, the political and intellectual leadership of the Ummah had a parting of
ways. With the separation of the committed Islamic Intellectual leadership from
all real forms of authority, Islamic thought turned away from using its usul for
the development of sciences and disciplines dealing with the organization and
well-being of society, preferring instead to focus on the spiritual and
ritualistic needs of the Individual Muslim.
Having considered the events that contributed to the development of Islamic
thought and its methodology, we may now more fully appreciate the causes behind
the failure of Islamic rationalism and why the door to true ijtihad and
intellectual initiative was closed so early in the history of the Ummah. While
there were a number of outstanding contributions in these fields, they were no
more than the efforts of individuals and never constituted anything like a
formal intellectual movement. This explains why we may find in the science of
fiqh examples of profound thought about the nature and workings of society.
However, these isolated thoughts may in no way be considered "Islamic
social sciences," nor could they be expected to become a new trend In
Islamic thought or direct the Ummah and its institutions towards solutions to
its problems. Based on what we know about the growth of Islamic thought, we can easily understand
the reasons for the lack of serious intellectual studies on the general
organization of society and the issues of authority, government, caliphate, and
politics. Thus, the all-important questions of what constitutes the Ummah and
the essence of its existence were either ignored or left to passing mention in
minor works of little import.
The Intellectual framework that evolved from the separation of the Ummah's
political and intellectual leadership reflected on both the methodology and the
content of Islamic thought, as well as on the Islamic sciences and the scope of
their concern. The result of this was that all of these studies became
hopelessly mired in descriptive traditionalism and literalism. This development
accounts for the excessive attention of classical scholars to language and
literature, and to all the learning requisite to a proper and orthodox
understanding of the texts.
The resulting intellectual gulf led to a clear division in the society of the
Ummah. On the one hand there was the individual and on the other there was
society in general. The classical Islamic scholars made the individual the focus
of their concern, especially In matters of worship, ritual, personal law, and
transactions. Thus the affairs of individual Muslims were largely governed by
the opinions of jurists and their legal pronouncements (fatawa). The affairs of
society as a whole, as well as the affairs of state, became the sole domain of
royalty and the feudal hierarchy, or of the powerful and influential. These
leaders and authorities were looked upon by both the common people and the
scholars with outright distrust and suspicion.
The Intellectual and psychological atmosphere of estrangement led the
traditional scholars to have a poor and incomplete understanding of politics and
society In general. Then, without the guidance and learning of the scholars, the
Ummah's policies and institutions suffered. Without the intellectual
leadership's input, true Islamic institutions never developed. Instead, whatever
Institutions did evolve fell prey to corrupt hands. Thus the concept of an
ummatic entity, of the group, the state, or society never sparked the inner
conscience of the Ummah.
Another result of this gulf was a weakening of the political leadership's
commitment to Islamic teachings and principles, as well as the lack of any
formal or comprehensive educational or cultural programs. As the Ummah and its
institutions grew weaker, so did the role of its leadership and its law, until
finally the Ummah became divided into sects, tribes, serfdoms, and mutually
antagonistic groupings unchecked by either religion or conscience.
Under the influence of these factors, the essence of Islamic thought and
education was transformed Into trepidation, compulsion, and submission. In many
ways this was practiced, propagated, and encouraged, either Intentionally or
otherwise, by all sectors of the Ummah's political, social, and intellectual
Among the most important effects of the Intellectual and political
estrangement and confrontation was the existence of an imaginary struggle
between reason and revelation. This struggle resulted In a portentous rift
between the juridical sciences of fiqh and those of theology ('ilm al kalam).
This rift was not limited to outward appearances or even to specialized and
academic issues, for it was a serious intellectual rift that had deep-seated
effects on the relationship between concepts and purposes of religion on the one
hand, and between social life and institutions on the other. One result was that
the sciences of theology became entangled in philosophical arguments and
rational debates (more often than not over metaphysical Issues related to the
"world of the unseen") that had no relevance to the Islamic mind or to
those issues which were of concern to It. Such Intellectual acrobatics gradually
exhausted the Muslim mind and blurred true Islamic vision, thus negatively
affecting the Muslim intellect when it came to matters of the "seen and the
unseen" (i.e., revelation, reason, faith, determinism and free will, the
divine names and attributes, and a whole list of futile intellectual sophistries
that contributed nothing to the Ummah, Its thought, or Its faith). The result of this was that
the science of fiqh, and Islamic thought in general, formulated no clear
theological basis that could represent the purposes and principles enabling the
Ummah to progress and develop both socially and organizationally. In this
manner, the Islamic mind and thought became the prisoner of a specific and
limited methodology that was Incapable of growth and of keeping pace with
changing realities, needs, and possibilities.
Another traditional issue of Islamic thought that represents the conditions
mentioned above, including the gulf between the intellectual and political
leadership, and one which has yet to be settled, is the abrogation (naskh) of
text In the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The widely held and accepted opinion on this
issue is that the correct legal ruling or teaching belonged to the last revealed
text, so that the previously understood meanings and rulings derived from the
earlier text would be annulled. This annulment, however, did not necessarily
take into account the circumstances around which the ruling revolved or the
wisdom behind the earlier legislation. In this way, and despite the discrepancy
between the two cases in content and circumstances, the concept of naskh in
Islamic law became almost synonymous with the concept of abrogation in man-made
legal systems in which later legislation is given precedence over earlier
legislation owing to the differences In circumstances.
This concept, generally speaking, leads to the supposition that all Islamic
legislation and social organization is to be patterned after the example of
Mad7mah during the last days of the Prophet and subsequent to the conquest of
Makkah. This may be referred to as the "second Madinan period" as
distinguished from the "first Madinan period." The first Madinan
period was characterized by fear, frailty, and deficiency, for it was a time of
building amidst a hostile environment. In my opinion, the time of the Prophet
can be divided into three distinct stages: the "Makkan period" (the
Initial phase during which an Individual propagational style was used to spread
Islam. This was a period in which the fundamentals of belief and the principles of change were suggested to society
at large), the "first Mad-man period," and the "second Madinan
A comprehensive look at the progression of revelation and the prophetic
mission will show the policies and the attempts used to deal with varying
circumstances and situations while maintaining the same basic principles
stemming from a single divine source. The Makkan period, as It represents the
stage of propagation and reform based on new and higher principles, was
concerned with the call, dialogue with fundamentals, and with generalizations.
It is also for this reason that the Prophet used to emphasize to his followers
never to use confrontational methods or to return open hostility with hostility.
Regardless of the price they had to pay in suffering, the early Muslims were
never to turn away from the basic issue: the reform of society.
Moreover this was, generally speaking, a political issue, and the only thing
that can Influence politicians is politics. Furthermore, a nonviolent response
to violence exposes the aggressor before the conscience of the world, while the
issue under contention remains a point of focus, especially for sympathy,
regardless of its details.
The first Madman period took place before the truce of Hudaybiyah, at a time
when the Muslims were forming their own polity In the face of conspiracies and
alliances of pagan Arabian tribes with the Jews. Thus, we find that the dominant
characteristics of this period were discipline and sacrifice as well as the use
of force in answering force in order to make the enemies afraid and discourage
them from ever again attempting to use violence against the Muslims.
The second Madinan period, from Hudaybiyah to the time when the new Muslim
state and society had gained absolute ascendancy over all its adversaries, was
characterized by its completion of the detailed organizational and social
arrangements for society and for ensuring its progress and protection. This was
also a period during which the new Muslim state dealt with forbearance and
understanding toward its enemies and neighbors.
Here we may note that the way things were done and the nature of legislation
at the time, even though they represented a similar vision and goal, reflected
policies connected to the realities of that period and stage of development.
Moreover, these were aimed at Influencing, directing, and bringing about
fruitful change in those conditions.
In that period, any concept of action or legislation which did not take the
specific nature of that action or legislation into consideration would have been
the same as a crime against the thought of the Ummah, for it would have
transformed the guidance of Islam into theoretical chains divorced from the
surrounding actualities and circumstances and from the policies and strategies
appropriate to each stage of development.
Thus the concept of naskh as the abrogation of the earlier by the latter in a
strict academic and legalistic fashion is something which, in this day and age,
cannot possibly have any sort of application outside of institutions run on
strictly parliamentary lines. (The obvious reason for this Is that such
Institutions are the only ones In which there are established guidelines for
carrying out legislative decisions.) Thus, whatever is legislated subsequently
on any particular issue will automatically cause the earlier legislation to
become legally null and void. This, however, Is an entirely different matter
from the Issue of interpreting a text from revelation, or turning to It for
guidance In human affairs at any time and in any place.
The concept of naskh, as traditionally elaborated, reflects a static
understanding in the methodology of Islamic thought, for it acts without taking
notice of the difference between the general and universalist nature of the
Qur'anic teachings as opposed to the specific and particularized treatment of
subjects found In the Sunnah. The traditional concept of naskh also reflects a
total lack of appreciation for the elements of time and place In the process of
Interpreting and applying texts, as well as In comparing and analyzing them.
This matter Is clearly illustrated in the limited attention paid to the asbab al
nuzul (the study of what occasioned the revelation of verses in the Qur'an) and
the lack of scholarly works on the subject. The scholarly attention paid to what
occasioned the sayings and deeds of the Prophet and their chronology was even
The traditional concept of naskh prevalent In methodological usul studies (a
concept which spelled contradiction and abrogation along the lines of man-made
legislation) immediately jars the sensibilities of the modern scholar, thinker,
legislator, or leader who looks to the prophetic period for guidance, legal
rulings, policies, Ideas, and solutions to current situations. While current
situations may share some common elements with events of the prophetic period,
the differences are far more numerous.
The Muslim student of today will notice that the concept of naskh in its
traditional form actually came Into conflict with many of the basic principles
of revelation, actually nullifying or limiting the scope of their applicability
to include only as much as was relevant during the second Madman period.
Two examples of the negative effects of this concept of naskh are the issue
of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and the effect that mistaken
interpretation had on matters like da'wah, international relations, Islamic law,
and political strategy.
In the field of Muslim-non-Muslim relations, we find that the "verse of
And fight the pagans wherever you encounter them
is a clear example of the negative effects of the classical interpretation of
naskh as annulment. This verse was revealed late in the second Mad-man period
and at a time when the Muslims enjoyed power and dominance over their enemies,
the pagan Arabs who had for nearly twenty years opposed the mission and message
of Islam through open hostility, conspiracy, and the repeated breaking of
treaties, despite the diplomacy, peacemaking Initiatives, and patience of the
Muslims and the Muslim state. Thus the Qur'an commanded the Muslims to fight the
intractable and obstinate pagan bedouins until they submitted to Islam and became members of
Its structured and civilized society. Only then would their situation Improve
and their aggression cease. But here we discover that the traditional
interpretation of naskh failed to derive the desired perspectives from this
situation, those of reform, refining character, and meeting injustice and
oppression with deterrent force. Instead, the traditional Interpretation was
carried over into the fields of dawah, relations with others, and every other
form of discourse with non-Muslims. By extracting similarities from these
events, all sense of how to deal with equals, give doers of good their due, and
soften the hearts of those who appear to be coming close to Islam Is lost. Thus
tolerance as a concept became a conditioned value, one qualified and relegated
to particular situations only, while the concept of limiting the Individual's
freedom of religious belief became a hard and fast rule.
Likewise, the meaning of the Qur'anic term "People of the Book"
(and the dealings the Prophet had with them) lost its comprehensiveness and so
excluded people of all other enlightened and civilized religions. Instead, the
term was understood as limited only to those mentioned specifically and
unambiguously; the Jews, the Christians, and the Magians.
This issue and its far-reaching repercussions have been discussed in my book,
The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic
Methodology and Thought. There, it was concluded that apparent contradictions
between the revealed texts and Shari'ah rulings do not necessarily indicate that
one must have been abrogated or annulled. Rather, the true significance of such
contradictions is that human life and society, when faced with different
conditions, require different forms of regulation. Thus, the application of a
particular Shari'ah ruling depends upon the prevailing circumstances For
example, when non-Muslims live in peace with Muslims and deal with them
decently, Muslims must reciprocate. But when non-Muslims act aggressively toward
Islam and Muslims, then the only proper Muslim response is one ofconfrontation and even open hostilities. There can be no mistaking the one position for the other due to a mistaken understanding of naskh. In other words, the legal ruling applied depends upon the particular situation. However, if the circumstances change, it is senseless to insist on maintaining an irrelevant ruling. Rather, a new ruling that takes into account the new conditions must be sought. In this way, we may understand the "verse of the sword" as being completely compatible with those Qur'anic verses that insist on tolerance and forbearance toward
It is for this reason that the interpretation of this verse as the final revealed word on the subject, as well as the Prophet's final practice, is in fact in opposition to the concept of Islam's finality and universal mission.
At the time of the Prophet's death, the new Islamic society had essentially gained the upper hand over its enemies throughout the Arabian peninsula. During the time of the Ummayah and the 'Abbasiyah khilafah, when ijtihad was alive and the classical schools of fiqh flourished, those conditions remained constant. Today, however, Muslim society is debilitated and in many ways resembles the conditions faced by the first Muslims in the early days of Makkah, the period of the first emigration to Ethiopia, the first Madman period, and before the treaty of Hudaybiyah and the conquest of Makkah, all times when the Muslims were literally surrounded by enemies threatening them with death and destruction.
If contemporary Muslims were to consider carefully the teachings of Islam and the priorities, policies, organization, and strategies of the Prophet prior to the treaty of Hudaybiyah and the conquest of Makkah, they would learn a great deal about how oppressed, weak, and unequipped nations could best deal with the challenges put forward by powerful enemies. Certainly the weak and oppressed Muslim masses of today have much to learn from the policies and methods adopted by the Prophet for the economic, political, and military advancement of the weak and disadvantaged Muslim community.
The second example of the traditional interpretation of naskh is related to the position of Islamic thought toward strategies for da`wah and the implementation of Islamic law. Basically, there are two trends of thought on these issues. One group, saying that the present circumstances of the Muslim world resemble the Makkan and the first Madman periods, claims that Muslims need to concern themselves with issues of faith and propagation in the same way as the early Muslims did. Such matters as transactions, arrangements, and administration that characterized the second Madman period do not need to be considered at this time. The other group, however, holds that the present state of Muslims is more like that of the second Madman period, when the Muslims were the majority and held sway over the entire Arabian peninsula. Moreover, as this second group understands naskh to mean that the rulings and policies of the second Madman period abrogated those of the earlier periods, they feel themselves bound only by the teachings of the latter period.
While we have no doubt that certain rulings or teachings of the earlier period were actually replaced in the later period, we also have to believe that the religion and mission of Islam are in fact two parts of the same whole. It is therefore incorrect to say that a certain person or organization is presently going through a stage that closely resembles the Makkan stage, and that therefore that person or organization does not have to follow the teachings of the later Madman period.
Rather, we must understand that both the formality of the religion and the flexibility of the mission have gone through distinct stages and that we cannot compare those stages to present situations when so many of the elements involved have changed so completely. Nor is it any more sensible to attempt to force a distorted analogy from any historical period, especially when there can be no comparison between those who live after the revelation was completed and those who were living while it was still being revealed.
The real issues here are those of the particular and the general, the
methodology of Islamic thought, the lack of appreciation for the elements of
time and place in the composition of society, and the concept of revelation as a
source of knowledge complementing both reason and nature so that humanity can
fulfill its role of doing good on earth. Individuals and societies in different
times and places win differ according to their circumstances, opportunities,
needs, and challenges. Therefore their policies and organization will also vary.
Even contemporaneous societies will differ greatly, so that differences in time
will hardly seem to be more significant than differences in place. Thus, when
the matter is looked at in a comprehensive manner, there is really no scope for
labeling a situation as Makkan or Madinan. Rather, one must deal with situations
realistically and on the basis of the laws of nature and the Shari'ah's higher
purposes, objectives, and principles. Moreover, a dynamic kind of fiqh is
required, one that relies upon living ideas suited to the circumstances of
contemporary society rather than on the fossilized and forced legal analogies or
qiyas of bygone ages. Thus, every individual and every society will pass through
its own special stages in the light of broader Shari'ah principles.
One problem currently afflicting the Ummah is that of riba (usury). The
contemporary application of the traditional methodology by Muslim scholars and
students has proved inadequate in the face of this issue's import, implications,
the relevant Qur'anic guidance, and the prophetic practice. Upon further
consideration, it is clear that these shortcomings are due to the limited vision
and experience of Islamic scholars in matters of economics and the social
sciences in general. The result has been that their efforts have brought forth a
plurality of formalistic and contradictory exercises in regard to the term's
meaning and significance. Today there are over twenty different schools of
thought on this single issue.
Significantly, several of these schools have ignored a very important
authentic hadith which, if viewed from a comprehensive economic perspective,
would go a long way toward clarifying much of the reasoning behind the economic policies of the Prophet
and the stages through which these passed. This hadith, related by Usamah ibn
Zayd, concerns how riba is limited to deferred payment (riba al nasi'ah) on the
exchange of the six similar commodities named in the hadith. [This was the hadith related by Abu Sa'id al Khudari and others in which
they reported the Prophet to have said, "Gold for gold, silver for silver,
oats for oats, wheat for wheat, dates for dates, and salt for salt; a like
amount for a like amount, and passed from hand to hand. Anyone who increases or
asks for increase will have taken riba." (Trans.)] Owing to their
constricted vision and methodology, some of the classical schools were forced to
resort to legal artifices that would allow them to tamper with the true spirit
of the law while at the same time adhering to the strict letter of the texts.
This is what happened in their interpretation of the hadith related by Rafi'
ibn Khudayj concerning the Prophet's prohibition of a landowner renting land to
a farmer in return for a percentage of the resulting crop. [The wisdom behind such a prohibition was obviously to encourage those who
own land to take an interest in making it productive. The classical jurists,
however, understood the prohibition only in terms of riba, considering that the
agreement to pay a percentage of a crop that is unknown in quantity at the time
of agreement is a form of deferred payment, the prohibited nasi'ah, to be given
in exchange for an unknown. (Trans.)] The classical
jurists [Often such decisions were made under pressure exerted on the fuqaha' by
royalty and princely landowners whose interests and influence made them
impossible to ignore. (Trans.)] opined that if the landowner supplied the seed to the farmer, then the
landowner could legitimately take a share of the harvest. Another group of
classical fuqaha', in an opinion that amounted to a declaration of surrender and
a squandering of the Shari'ah's higher economic objectives and wisdom, said that
riba was a matter of ritual and therefore to be accepted blindly, but only in regard to
commodities mentioned specifically in the hadith literature on riba al fadl
(i.e., gold, silver. and salt). No wider application, they held, was necessary.[For a more detailed explanation of these and other matters, see the
author's introduction to Islamic economic theories, Contemporary Aspects of
Economic and Social Thinking in Islam, American Trust Publications, Plainfield,
Such shortcomings in methodology and thought caused Muslim economic policy to
undergo an important change when experienced Muslim economists began a serious
professional Inquiry into the issues of Islamic economics. This new attitude has
resulted in the good tidings of a comprehensive academic and intellectual
breakthrough in Islamic economic studies, and it can now be hoped that a
contemporary movement of reform In Islamic economic thought and methodology has
begun. These advances will in turn help to reestablish the vitality and
comprehensiveness of Islamic thought In general.
Another shortcoming in traditional methodology and those who attempt to apply
it is their view that the sayings and opinions of the salaf (predecessors) are
nothing short of sacred. This is especially true in regard to the understanding,
ijtihad, and interpretations of the salaf, some of which have been elevated by
the traditionalists to the status of revelation itself. So, In spite of our
acknowledging the circumstance of human limitations In terms of time and place,
and In spite of our theoretical certainty that nothing other than divine
revelation is sacred, we find Muslims studying the works of the salaf not to
extract from them authentic Islamic perspectives on contemporary issues of
concern, but In order to transpose their situation on our own and then follow,
by means of legal analogy, the rulings that they had prescribed centuries ago.
Without our even sensing it, the false understanding we have of what it means
to respect the salaf has been transformed into a whip with which we flagellate
ourselves. Such faulty perceptions obstruct our attempts at reform and progress. This is also
why we find many of the enlightened Ideas and thinking of contemporary scholars
being distorted by those traditionalists who believe that all ideas must agree
with those held by the salaf.
As long as Muslims refuse to deal realistically with the heritage left by the
salaf and continue to bestow upon them and their work a sort of sanctity, the
latter's ideas and experiences cannot be used to solve contemporary problems or
help Muslims to relate Islam to the actualities of contemporary human life and
To summarize, It should now be clear that the traditional methodology of
Islam sufficed in its own times to address the political and civilizational
issues then current. Many of the shortcomings in that methodology resulted from
its futile concentration on ways to extract the Ummah from its long-standing
problems instead of helping It to keep abreast of Issues of progress and
development. While the classical disciplines did contain the seeds of the
methodology essential to inquiry In the social sciences, these were never sown
or cared for by the generations of scholars that followed. It is also important
for us to understand where the traditional methodology falls short in dealing
with present-day problems, for It is not only the shortcomings in the
methodology itself which render it ineffective, but also the shortcomings In the
attempts to apply it by traditional scholars.
Another important methodological issue to keep in mind is related to the
texts of the Sunnah. It Is quite amazing that, despite the passing of so much
time since the Sunnah was first preserved and recorded, Its texts still present
scholars with difficulties as regards their authenticity or lack of it.
Likewise, the highly technical terminology developed by the classical Hadith
scholars has created no end of confusion among contemporary Islamic scholars. As
a result, whenever an author cites a hadith, he is automatically subjected to
criticism that serves little more than to distract readers from the point the
author was trying to make by needlessly engaging the reader in disputes over technicalities related to the transmission of the hadith in question.
It is therefore imperative that the texts of the authentic Sunnah be
collected, classified, and placed within easy reach of scholars, researchers,
and specialists in all fields of knowledge. These texts must be indexed, ordered
by subject content, and purged of all accretions.
Such a classification of the Sunnah may be completed in the following manner:
- Those hadiths which, owing to the authenticity of their narration (sanad)
and the soundness of their meaning, may be accepted as authoritative evidence.
- Those hadiths which, owing to the soundness of their meaning, may be
accepted as evidence, even if their narration is open to debate.
- Those hadiths which, regardless of what may be said about the authenticity
or otherwise of their narration, are questionable in terms of meaning (i.e.,
their meanings seem to be in some way contradictory to the principles or
purposes of the Shari'ah).
- Those hadiths which, owing to the dubious authenticity of their narration
and the contradictory nature of their meaning, may not be considered acceptable
The importance of this methodological issue is not limited to the mishandling
of the Sunnah, for In many cases the Muslim mind is overawed by what is clearly
unsound, with the result that when it accepts something unsound as sound, it
loses its ability to discriminate and perceive things as they truly are.
Finally, the Muslim mind, thought, and methodology lose all value and utility
when they become accustomed to accepting principles other than the divinely
revealed principles and approaches contained in the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Quite clearly, then, awareness of and sensitivity to the principles and
approaches of thought as well as to the principles, values, and purposes of the
Shari'ah are the only proper standards for the preservation of revelation, the prophetic message, and the Shari'ah from all distortion and
misrepresentation. In the same way, these are the only standards of importance
to guarantee the freedom and integrity of the Muslim mind and methodology.
Furthermore, preserving the Muslim mind and methodology is the same as
preserving Islam itself.
What is true in regard to the Sunnah is true in regard to all of the
literature of our heritage. It must be made accessible to scholars and it must
also be analyzed and presented in a way that the pure and simple teachings of
Islam shine through the accretions of alien influences. In this way, this body
of literature may serve as an example and an aid to lucid contemporary Muslim
thinking, rather than as a means to renewing intellectual disputes that should
have been buried long ago.
Among the important issues deserving mention at this point (a
detailed discussion will follow in a later chapter), is the confusion over the
roles of revelation and reason in Islamic methodology. This occurred during the
centuries following the first expansion of Islam which brought Muslims into
contact with the philosophy and culture of other civilizations and religions
(primarily Greek and Roman) and saw them begin to inquire into the subject of
theology. Even leading Islamic thinkers, like many of the mu'tazilah, fell under
the influence of abstruse metaphysical inquiries. Many orthodox Islamic scholars
went to the extreme of denying reason and its role, thus limiting Islamic
thought to literalist and descriptive studies of the revealed texts that have
continued to influence Islamic thought by making it suspicious even today of all forms of
At the end of this brief critique of the most important issues in traditional
Islamic methodology, it is essential that we pause to consider some of the
questions dictated by the circumstances of contemporary Islamic thought and the
increasing number of problems presented to it by the modern world.
Perhaps the most pressing question is: Who is to blame for the present
situation? The answer to that question, however, is that there is no place for
such a question. It is simply not important that we be able to place this
responsibility on a particular person or age. Such an exercise only detracts us
from gaining a proper understanding of the problem and prevents us from
obtaining an overall view of the Ummah's progress over the centuries. Rather,
the questions that need to be asked are: What is the proper framework for coming
to an understanding of the dimensions of the issues with which we need to deal?
And how may we discern the outlines of the course we have taken so that we may
direct our attention back to the right course? In order to answer these
questions, we must do the following:
- We must understand our past, benefit from its lessons, and make it a
source of strength by concentrating on its positive aspects and then building
upon them. We have already wasted centuries on the negative aspects of our
history, and we certainly cannot afford to waste any more time or effort on such
- In order to progress, we must understand that many past mistakes were made
with the best of intentions. It therefore behooves us to study the past in order
to extract from It only that which is positive and beneficial. Furthermore,
there is no point in reopening disruptive chapters of our history. What we need
to remember is that the Ummah's previous achievements were due to its adherence
to Islam and Islamic thinking and methodology. Islam, and Islam alone, allowed
the Ummah to establish its civilization and culture all over the world. Still,
the objective of this study is to direct the reader's attention toward the
future so that the Ummah may continue to develop and reach out toward new
horizons. Only by thinking in this way can the Ummah regain its strength and its
pioneering and reformative energies.
- The Ummah must also overcome its tendency toward talfiq, or the urge to
graft essentially Western solutions onto its own political, military, cultural and economic problems. Both talfiq
and taqlid must give way to an original and integral Islamic approach that
rejects imitation. Such an approach requires an intellectual and reformational
movement based on a methodology that truly reflects Islamic concepts,
objectives, and values. In the final analysis, of course, this requires
Independent Islamic intellectual inquiry nourished by Islamic social sciences
that are distinguished by their sources and their unique premises and
What all this ultimately means is that an original and systematic
intellectual vision must emerge, one that will not suffer adversely from the
achievements of others but will, on the contrary, both welcome and accommodate
them after weighing them against the standards of its own unique perspective.
The calamities that befell the Ummah after the period of its early expansion,
calamities that led to the fall of the khilafah, should not be attributed to
Islamic thought or even to the mistakes and excesses of the political
leadership. Rather, the reasons for their occurrence can be traced in the main
to the Influx of peoples and nations into the society of Islam before they were
properly attuned to the Islamic way of life or had educated themselves in
Islam's objectives and noble values. As a result, the new political leadership
never developed or matured as it should have. Instead, the new political and
military leadership represented a cross between the old pre-Islamic ways and the
new. It was no surprise then, especially after the political and intellectual
leadership parted company, that the effectiveness of Islamic thought was never
extended to aspects of the administrative or the hard sciences.
Yet in spite of all this, the achievements of that thought in the early
period were sufficient to bring light, guidance, and knowledge to humanity. In
view of the accomplishments of the early generations of Muslims, is there really
any reason for us to attempt to place the blame on them for what they did not
manage to achieve?
Under such circumstances, It is no wonder that their Islamic vision should
have become obscured, that the forces of Islamic originality should have
weakened to such an extent that they gradually faded away altogether, and that
the thought of the Ummah should have been transfigured to mere form, empty
words, and a heritage venerated, but seriously misunderstood, by succeeding
generations. it is thus imperative that we take pride In the achievements of
Islamic thought for the betterment of the Ummah and humanity In general. Indeed,
none of our historical achievements can be understood except as a result of
Islam's contribution and its ways of thought, civilization, and reform. So even
If it did not deliver all that It was capable of delivering, there can be no
doubt about the fact that it did deliver a great deal in spite of all the
obstacles in Its way.
What we must understand is that what happened to us is what happens to all
nations and communities. But when the progress of nations is impeded, they need
to regain their original and uncontaminated vision so that they may rechart
their course and again set out on their way.
So here we may rephrase the questions: Why was our progress impeded? How do
we regain our vision and strength and thus correct our course? The objective of
our study and research should be to take a step toward renewing our vision,
reforming our methodology, and developing the sources of our strength.
At this point, we have reached a suitable place in our study from which to
look comprehensively at the issues of our thought and methodology in full view
of the challenges now confronting us.
Islam came as a message of guidance from Allah to all creation at a time of
Ignorance in Its history, a time when the previous revelations had been
distorted and corruption had become universal. Islam came and opened peoples'
minds and souls to its light, to learning, and to civilization.
The methodology of Islam in its earliest ages was a natural and automatic
sort of methodology that relied on the wisdom of revelation and the soundness of
human reason and ijtihad that sprang from the untainted human fitrah. Thus the prophetic and the caliphal ages were the best examples of
the human spirit for all the generations that followed. Whatever remains today
of goodness in the lands of Islam Is directly attributable to Islam, Islamic
character, or Islamic objectives. Thus it is safe to say that Islam has
remained, despite all the factors of decay, the only refuge for the Ummah.