Need of Ijtihad in Modern Times
Abdul Rasool syed
“[I]f we contemplate on the present situation we will come to the conclusion that as, in order to support the fundamentals of religion, we need a new theology, similarly we need great jurists for the reinterpretation of Islamic law. The jurist must be able not only to codify Islamic law on a modern pattern but he should also be capable of extending these principles, by his power of imagination, to cover all the possible situations of the present-day social needs. …”
(From Iqbal’s article “Qaumī Zindagī” published in Makhzan, October 1934)
Many Muslims believe that they must choose between Islam and modernity or between Islam and democracy, but these are false choices. To reinterpret Islam for the twenty-first century, the practice of ijtihad (interpretation and reasoning based on the sacred texts) must be revived. Moreover, demands of life change day by day thus it become necessary to take on the structural review of Islamic laws keeping in mind the spirit and discipline of Islam
With rapid, ever-changing course of the world, the need to have recourse to Ijtihad has significantly increased. Islam, with its unique attributes of assimilation and adaptation, is the religion of every day and age. It offers solutions not only for the problems of antiquity but also for those of modern times. As George Bernard Shaw, a renowned Western scholar once remarked, “I have always held the religion of Mohammad (SAWW) in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age.”
Ijtihad is one of the most important sources of shariah. It is indispensable for Muslim ummah to cope with emerging new challenges in the light of Islam. It allows Muslims to interpret their beliefs according to the time and place they live in. This concept, however, has not been used for centuries. Unfortunately, the Muslim ummah has closed the doors of Ijtihad and this has resulted in its socioeconomic backwardness. This very torpor on the part of Islamic scholars has provided an opportunity to the conservative and reactionary forces to hijack Islam, and to present to the world their self-concocted versions of this great religion which oppose modernism and innovation – even if they are within the defined parameters of Islam – and promotes extremism and rigidity.
“Ijtihad,” in fact, is an Islamic legal term that means “independent reasoning,” which is used for defining an issue in a way that does not contradict the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
While defining Ijtihad Abu Ishaq Al-Shatibi writes, “A process in which one exerts one’s efforts to one’s full capacity in order to acquire exact or probable knowledge or reach judgement in a given case.”
Moreover, the Holy Prophet (SAWW), while sending Ma’ad Ibn Jabal to Yemen as its governor is reported to have asked him as to how he would decide the matters coming up before him. “I will judge matters according to the book of Allah,” said Ma’ad. But if the book of Allah contains nothing to guide you, then I will act upon the precedents of Prophet of Allah. But if the precedents fail? “Then I will exert to form my own judgment.” The Prophet (SAW) approved the answers. The answer that I will exert to form my own judgment paves the way for Ijtihad.
Ijtihad cannot be exercised by every Muslim. It is done only by a Mujtahid that posses certain qualifications. Abul Hasan al-Basri in ‘al Mutamad fi usul al- Fiqh’ outlined some qualifications for a mujtahid which were also accepted by later scholars including Al-Ghazali. According to al-Basri, a mujtahid should possess the following qualities:
(a) Faithful and firm in belief and action;
(b) Justice, piety and fear of Allah;
(c) Knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and other necessary matters connected with it;
(d) Knowledge of Hadith, principles of Hadith and other related issues;
(e) Knowledge of Jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence and other relevant matters;
(f) Complete grasp of Arabic language and literature;
(g) Deep understanding of the Islamic laws, commandments, their secrets and mysteries;
(h) Inference of commandments, interpretation of texts of the Holy Quran and Sunnah;
(i) Perfect rules of gnosis of analogical and interpretative reasoning; and
(j) Perfect understanding of modern problems and their complications;
(k) Complete familiarity with the contemporary developments and reasonable appraisal of modern exigencies.
The scholarly debate over Ijtihad has been going on for well over 200 years, and has produced some prominent revivalist thinkers such as Jamaluddin Afghani (a 19th century Iranian scholar), Mohammed Abduh (Afghani’s Egyptian friend and reformer), and Mohammed Iqbal (a poet-philosopher from the Indian Subcontinent). These scholars also included Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutb and Maulana Maududi, founders of Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Jamaat-i-Islami in the Indian Subcontinent.
Their works deal mainly with issues such as state and religion, individual and society, secularism and Islam. They had a major influence on Muslim thinkers, writers and political activists in the 20th century. Yet, they were generally accepted as scholars, not Mujtahids.
Indubitably, Muslims did a colossal and grave mistake by closing the doors of Ijtihad. It has had extremely detrimental ramifications for the Muslim world. According to Zakria al-Qazwini, this decision has resulted in chronic intellectual stagnation, as thousands of potential mujtahids and scholars have been prohibited from offering workable solutions to newly emerging problems. Muslim thinkers have become captive to the rules that were made long ago, leaving little scope for liberal or innovative thought.
Furthermore, Governments in Muslim countries today, many of which are unscrupulous, greatly benefit from the absence of Ijtihad. These governments deliberately want to keep the doors of Ijtihad closed in order to perpetuate their control over religious establishment. Since religious bodies in Muslim countries rely on government financing, this makes them captive to the government policies. The domination of religious establishments by secular governments has been so powerful that it has often made religious authorities look inept. The first step towards opening the door of Ijtihad, according to Qazwini, should be the liberation of religious establishments from the influence of political regimes. Religious authorities should disassociate themselves from political regimes so that they can independently interpret religious law.
Additionally, there can be no true Ijtihad, Maulana Naeem Sidiqui, pointed out, unless scholars are free to express their opinions and other scholars are free to criticize them if they make errors. Freedom of expression is inherent in the concept and practice of Ijtihad. This means that the democratization of Muslim societies and basic freedom for scholars is sine qua non for this process to work. Without freedom and democracy, which are sharply limited in the Muslim world and particularly in Arab countries, Ijtihad cannot be performed. Democracy is key to opening up Ijtihad, and Ijtihad is key to solving problems confronting the Muslim world today.
Since 9/11, the western world has witnessed a tectonic shift in their attitude towards Muslims. Muslims are often subjected to undue stricture and prejudice. There has also been a steady increase in islamophobia in the west. This fear of Islam or Muslims, however, has not led to physical attacks on the lives and properties of the Muslims living in the West. But their beliefs and ideas are openly challenged in the media and are sometimes also questioned by their colleagues and neighbors. The pressure is even greater in the social media where Muslims are often asked to explain: Were those who attacked America on Sept 11, 2001 right or wrong? Does Islam allow attacking civilians to avenge foreign occupation and political victimization? Is suicide bombing allowed, particularly when Islam outlaws suicide? What is the place of a woman in Islam? Can a woman lead prayers, be a priest or a mujtahid? Can there be a feminist interpretation of Islamic religious texts? Can women interpret those texts? Such questions and many others keep vexing Muslim minds living in non-Muslim societies.
Ijtihad should be used to guide the almost one third of the ummah that is living as minorities in non-Muslim countries. What Islamic rules and guidelines should these Muslims follow to be good citizens of their native or adopted land?
Inter alia, Ijtihad can also be called for forging unity among the Muslim Ummah. Muslim world, currently, is in disarray. They need to be brought together to collaborate more closely. And a new mechanism to promote unity should be devised through resorting to Ijtihad. Presently, the response of Muslim world over the issue of Kashmir has raised many eye-brows. What is more heart-wrenching is the Conferring upon Modi, the proclaimed butcher of Muslims, the highest civil award by UAE government that vividly suggests that the unity among Muslim Ummah is withering away day in day out. The need of Ijtihad among the Muslim Ummah, under given situation, over the question of whether trade relations or the relation of Muslim brotherhood should be preferred, becomes inevitable.
Appropriate method of Ijtihad
Ijtihad is basically of three types:
- Ijtihad bayani (interpretative reasoning)
- Ijtihad qayasi (analogical reasoning)
- Ijtihad istislahi (conciliatory reasoning)
Each of these types of ijtihad should be undertaken in accordance with certain rules designed for each category. For example:
- The Interpretative ijtihad is related to interpretation of the texts containing definite meanings. The method employed to conduct this ijtihad while interpreting commandments need to be considered: particular and general, infinite and finite, realistic and figurative, overt and covert, elaborate and abridged and definite and indefinite etc.
Consideration should also be given for inference of commands to the expression, implication, direction and necessity contained in the text. The interpretative ijtihad should this way be conducted keeping in view other technical methods of exegesis an d interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunna.
- The Analogical ijtihad is derived from legal analogies.
Here the origin or root, sub-section or branch, command and its cause require to be determined. Proper method of interpretation, review and research of the legal responsibility needs to be employed to determine the cause an d application of command. Moreover, to identify effectiveness of command and nature of reasoning, discrimination is required between the appropriate, unusual, derived an d transmitted reasons. And in case of oneness of the cause an d command, oneness in kind and sex needs also to be kept in view while perpetuating juristic reasoning (ijtihad).
- The Conciliatory ijtihad is derived from necessity and expedience. To accomplish this kind of ijtihad, the established jurisprudential principles and rules are required to be kept in view including the principles of appreciative, conciliatory, coalitional and deductive reasoning in addition to usage, law of necessity, exigency and changing times. The ijtihad done in accordance with these principles, conditions and rules will be considered appropriate otherwise it will remain an individual opinion.