Ijtihad was exercised from the earliest days of Islam. Some learned companions of the Prophet (PBUH) such as Abu Bakr (RA), Umar (RA), Ali (RA) and many others exercised ijtihad in matters which had no specific solutions in the Quran and Sunnah. Starting from this early practice, ijtihad, then, was used extensively by the four great scholars of Muslim jurisprudence in the second century of hijrah. The sphere of ijtihad at that time was very wide. It covered all the aspects of religious, political and civil life, including the whole field of family laws, the laws of inheritance and all legal questions that arose in social life. In the early years of the growth of Islamic law, any jurist who possessed the requisite qualifications was deemed to be competent to exercise ijtihad. However, in the third century of hijrah, increasing restrictions were imposed, and the four schools of jurisprudence were regarded as fully developed. This resulted in the closing of the doors of ijtihad. Thus, after the third century of hijrah, ijtihad completely disappeared as a practical intellectual force in Islam. The closing of the doors of ijtihad is considered one of the greatest intellectual disasters in the development of Islamic thought.
Iqbal observed that no law or institution can be truly Islamic unless it imbibes the spirit of the dynamic outlook of the Quran. Islamic civilization, according to him, has lost this dynamic element. Therefore, Iqbal tried to revive ijtihad and to bring back this dynamic element of Islamic civilization. He highlighted a few dynamic elements which constitute his principle of ijtihad, the dynamic concept of the universe, society and culture in Islam, the idea of changeability of life, the truth of juristic reasoning in Islam, and the evolutionary and dynamic concept of the intellect and thought in Islam.
Ijtihad means to exert with a view to form an independent judgement on a legal question. Iqbal does not like to present ijtihad with such conditions which are well-nigh impossible of realization in a single individual. Such an attitude seems strange in a system of law based mainly on the groundwork provided by the Quran which embodies an essentially dynamic outlook on life. To him, the principle of movement in the structure of Islam is known as ijtihad. Allama Iqbal thought: “The only effective power, therefore, that counteracts the forces of decay in a people is the rearing of self-concentrated individuals. Such individuals alone reveal the depth of life. They disclose new standards in the light of which we begin to see that our environment is not wholly inviolable and requires revision.” The spirit of Quran is essentially dynamic and it asserted itself in powerful reaction to orthodox smugness in the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah in the 13th century, of Jalal al-Din Sayuti in the sixteenth century and par excellence in the great puritan movement initiated by Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab of Najd in Arabia, in the eighteenth century. Muhammad Ibn Tumart of Muslim Spain falls also in the category of such puritan reformers.
Dig your path with an axe of your own.
It is a sin to tread the beaten paths of others!
If you achieve something unique and original.
Even a sin becomes a virtue.
However, Allama Iqbal could not plead for that uncontrolled independence that certain modernists and so-called reformers put into his mouth. He fully understood that every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot exercise ijtihad in Islam as the notion has its own peculiarities and conditions. It must be exercised by those who are fully competent to do it because of the period of decadence. Allama Iqbal recommends for community imitation or conformity as it is preferable to “ijtihad” itself.
From the foregoing verses of Ramuz-i-Bekhudi, it is evident that Iqbal advised his nation to adhere strictly to their historical, cultural and religious heritage during the time of intellectual darkness and decadence. In that condition, there is safety in the obedience of ancestors.
Allama Iqbal’s historical lecture on ijtihad entitled “The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam” appears as the sixth lecture in his ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’, a collection of Iqbal’s lectures delivered during 1928 and 1929 at Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh.
In this lecture, Iqbal discusses various aspects of the problem of ijtihad. He begins by analyzing the social and intellectual structure of Islam and concludes that ijtihad in this structure operates as a dynamic principle.
He then proceeds to survey the various religious movements in the modern period and discusses the role of ijtihad in this context. He analyses the literal meaning and technical definition of the term ijtihad in order to explain that Islamic law is not a static and unchangeable system, but is rather a living and dynamic institution. Then, where did the present stagnation enter the system, and when? When was the door of ijtihad closed? Among the causes of its immobility, Iqbal enumerates the following.
Orthodox reaction to rationalist movements such as Mutazillah.
Apprehension about Sufism and
Destruction of Baghdad.
These factors forced the Islamic society to discontinue the exercise of ijtihad. But later on, the scholars of Islamic Law, some of them educated in the modern institutions, believed that the restrictions imposed on the development of Islamic law by closing the gate of ijtihad must not be maintained and that there is no justification for these restrictions. Iqbal believed that “a society is like an ever-evolving organism consistently changing and developing as it moves from its beginning to its end. The social, economic, educational and political conditions at the time of the destruction of Baghdad had changed considerably from those of the period of the great Imams, which led to closing the gate of ijtihad.”
He says that the present-day social economic and political conditions of the Muslim society are also entirely different from the circumstances of the earlier periods and require considerable changes in social, economic, political and legal codes to meet requirements. For such a situation, the great Imams and Ulema had a role to follow. It cannot be denied that laws change to accord with the changing of times and age. According to Ibn-i-Khaldun the great historian of Islam:
“The conditions, customs and sects of the world and nations do not continue according to any specific pattern of stable programme. There is always change from time to time, from one condition to another, inasmuch as this applies to persons, times and provinces, it applies likewise to countries, ages and states.”
It is already mentioned that Iqbal set a precedent for ijtihad in his seven lectures in “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,” in interpreting the basic Quranic concepts of life. In the preface to this book, he boldly and honestly declares: “As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views and probably sounder views that those set forth in these lectures are possible. Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.”
About this dynamic and real scientific approach of Iqbal, Syed Amir Ali in his remarkable book “Spirit of Islam” says:
“The expression of this sentiment is in perfect harmony with his progressive, liberal outlook on life and its problem. It is now for us to follow the trail he has so brilliantly blazed for our benefit.”
According to the views of Allama Iqbal, up to the Abbasid period, there was no written law of Islam apart from the Quran. Secondly, during the first four centuries of Islam, the activities of ijtihad, which culminated in the appearance of nineteen schools of law, not only demonstrates the dynamism of Islamic law but also points out that the formulation of Islamic law was the result of these activities. With these preliminary remarks, he goes on to discuss the four basic sources of Islamic law, i.e. the Quran, Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas.
Iqbal elaborates and brings out the dynamic character of these principles and gives us in the present changing situation an entirely new interpretation of Ijma (consensus). Here, it is worth mentioning that Allama Iqbal criticized Western democracy tooth and nail in his poetry because of its defects as a political system. He is in favour of Islamic democracy, which he calls spiritual democracy in the sixth lecture of his “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”. He regards the establishment of popular legislative assemblies in some Muslim countries as a return to the original purity of Islam. He believed that the essence of Tawhid (Unity of Allah) as a working idea was human equality, human solidarity and human freedom. For him, “the State, from the Islamic standpoint is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an inspiration to realize them in a definite human organization.”
So, according to Allama Iqbal, Ijma as a source of legal reasoning should become an active functional source in the form of legislative assemblies in the present political setup. He wants to move ahead with deep caution and organize an academy where he could put together the Ulema and the modern scholars. He felt that it was not always possible that all the aforementioned qualities may unite in any one individual, so he suggests to organize a council consisting of Ulema and modern educated persons, who may, through their corporate efforts, make some original contribution to the reconstruction and the re-codification of the law of Islam.
This task was so predominant in his mind that in his famous presidential address of Muslim League in 1932, he said:
“I suggest the formation of an assembly of Ulema, which must include Muslim lawyers who have received education in modern jurisprudence. The idea is to protect and, if necessary, to reinterpret the law of Islam in the light of modern conditions, while keeping close to the spirit embodied in its fundamental principles, this body must receive constitutional recognition so that no bill affecting the personal law of Muslims may be put on the legislative anvil before it has passed through the crucible of the assembly.”
Today, Islam’s greatest need is the reconstruction of the Islamic law and its re-codification in such a way that it may provide answers to the hundreds and thousands of new questions, that have been posed by the modern economic, political, social, national and international developments.
The writer is a member of staff.