Iqbal on Islamic law

Published: April 21, 2010
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Dr Riffat Hassan is professor emerita of the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr Riffat Hassan is professor emerita of the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

In Iqbal’s view, “the ultimate spiritual basis of all life, as conceived by Islam, is eternal” and that a “society based on such a conception of reality must reconcile, in its life, the categories of permanence and change”.

While permanent principles are required to give society “a foothold in the world of perpetual change,” they must not be understood “to exclude all possibilities of change which according to the Holy Quran is one of the greatest ‘signs’ of God”. What is eternal and what is changeable is exemplified for Iqbal by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who “seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the modern world”.

One of the major reasons for the decline of the Muslims in the past many centuries was due in Iqbal’s judgment to their inability or unwillingness to subject the legal system of Islam to intellectual scrutiny, particularly with reference to Ijtihad which is one of the acknowledged sources of Islamic Law.

Iqbal refers to Ijtihad which “literally means to exert” as “the principle of movement in the structure of Islam.” Seeking “the revaluation and re-codification of the Islamic Fiqh” and stressing the critical need for Ijtihad by contemporary Muslims, Iqbal said: “I know the ‘ulema of Islam claim finality for the popular schools of Muslim Law, though they never found it possible to deny the theoretical possibility of a complete Ijtihad…. For fear of … disintegration, the conservative thinkers of Islam focused all their efforts on the one point of preserving a uniform social life for the people by a jealous exclusion of all innovations in the law of Sharia as expounded by the early doctors of Islam.

Their leading idea was social order, and there is no doubt that they were partly right, because organisation does to a certain extent counteract the forces of decay. But they did not see, and our modern ‘Ulema do not see, that the ultimate fate of a people does not depend so much on organisation as on the worth and power of individual men.

The closing of the door of Ijtihad is pure fiction suggested partly by the crystallisation of legal thought in Islam, and partly by that intellectual laziness which, especially in a period of spiritual decay, turns great thinkers into idols… Modern Islam is not bound by this voluntary surrender of intellectual independence. The claim of the present generation of Muslim liberals to re-interpret the foundational legal principles in the light of their own experience and altered conditions of modern life is, in my opinion, perfectly justified.”

Here it is apt to observe that Iqbal regarded collective Ijtihad or “Ijma” as “perhaps the most important legal notion in Islam”. Elaborating on this, he said: “The transfer of the power of Ijtihad from individual representatives of schools to a Muslim legislative assembly which, in view of the growth of opposing sects, is the only possible form Ijma can take in modern times, will secure contributions to legal discussion from laymen who happen to possess a keen insight into affairs.”

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Apr 21, 2010 - 6:15AM

    thanks for sharing this.

    iqbal’s message falls on deaf ears in today’s polarized muslim world.Recommend

  • Majid
    Apr 21, 2010 - 11:31AM

    What is the role of Ijtihad in the modern world ? Ijtihad is the process Islam has given whereby someone who has qualified in Islamic Jurisprudence and understands the reality at hand then proceeds to exert their full effort to deduce a verdict based on the Shariah evidences (Quran, Sunnah, Ijma Sahaba and Qiyas).

    An example is the Ijtihad carried out on Human cloning by Sheikh Abdul Qadeem Zaloom (Palestine). However, we should be clear that Ijtihad is only a tool to evolve Islamic verdicts on new realities which have yet to be given a Shariah verdict – not a process to give new verdicts for existing clearly defined rules. For example, it would be illegal to try and carry out Ijtihad on whether same-sex marriage is allowed – it is clearly forbidden in Islam, similarly whether interest-based transactions should be carried out etc.

    Where a clear injunction is given then we do not have the right to abuse the process called Ijtihad just so we can fulfill our benefits and desires. There are post-modernist so-called Islamic thinkers who want to fit the existing social lifestyles into Islam by generating “Islamic” rules to justify the modern day greed, glutony and other human desires we have started to adopt from the western lifestyle.Recommend

  • Umer Zubair Awan
    Apr 21, 2010 - 2:54PM

    Nice topic Dr Riffat Hassan .Recommend

  • Adnan
    Apr 21, 2010 - 3:17PM

    Aptly put Majid sahab!Recommend

  • Apr 22, 2010 - 12:45AM

    Excellent article but too concise. In fact, the occasion calls for a supplement containing at least 1500 words articles.Recommend

  • Mansoor Khalid
    Apr 22, 2010 - 12:06PM

    I am no doctor on “Iqbaliat” but the limited knowledge I have about him and his work makes me believe that he was secular in nature. He works mostly revolved around inspiring the Muslims to adapt logic and understand Quran, not just wrap it in a expensive cloth and keep high in the house. He wanted Muslims to be educated. May be he had foreseen the extremist element that was being injected into Muslims. Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Apr 22, 2010 - 8:39PM

    A good thing to remember is that Laws are made for human beings and not the other way around. Laws are only as effective as applicable to the human condition. Any law that does not , will not and can not stand scrutiny and change is dead. Whether divine or secular, if something refuses to take into account reality and truth, it becomes ineffective.The huge gap between the teachings and practice of Islam testifies to our inability to face our life and times in a reasonable manner.Recommend

  • Apr 23, 2010 - 3:46PM

    Justice (Retired) Javeed Iqbal spoke the other day at the Nazaria Pakistan Council on the conept of Ijtihad in Islam. In his lecture he defined the term jtihad as structural movement within Islamic society and said that Ijtihad would bring results if it was done wisely and after objective study of history.

    The retried Justice also observed that God Almighty sent Vahi (Hazrat Jibrail’s visitation) to the holy Prophet (PBUH),and declared him to be the last Prophet because He felt that mankind had received full guidasnce and thereafter mankind should deal with his problems and find tjeir solutions with confidence. He said that the concept is found in te works of both Jalauddin Rumi and philosopher Iqbal that one could fall in love (ishq) with God by reaching Him through exercising one’s faculty of wisdom

    According to the Retired Justice Iqbalis ideas on Ijtihad is found in his lectures The reconstruction of Political thought in Islam, a prose work delivered in the form of lectures in 1924 at Lahore Islamia College. But very few people read the lectures’ we don’t even ad books.’

    But Iqbal stood against all forms of imitation. It is necessary, therefore, that before passing judgments we must seek lessons from history and past precedents for guidance, that is essential to get informed opinion on any subject, even if it is a religious question. ‘We do not require a priest to this job for us because Islam had jettisoned priesthood’ and asked the audience to apply their minds and seek solution in history.’.history.’. In this regard he said ‘National integration, democracy, and creation of pluralistic were essential concomitants of a modern state; however the most important thing was democracy. ‘We frequnely show inability to work democracy successfully.

    The retired justice also quoted from history that the use of faculty of history was necessary quoting precedents from the days of Hazrat He narrated two judgments of Hazrat Omar’s days. Hazra Omar once dilated on a question of inheritance that displaced the right of a foster son, while the right of the real son was not available from the portion of inheritance after the death of his father. Omar then divided one sixth portion of inheritance between the two sons. In making this judgment Hazrat Omar had done Ijtihad. Quoting one more case history Justice Javeed Iqbal related the story of a woman who had contracted two marriages. When the judge asked her why she had done this, the woman replied there was nothing in the Quran that forbade bigamy by women. Then Wazi then explained her that people would have difficulty in deciding the parenthood of his children. The women saw the wisdom of the Qazi’s decision, because the deisions were made after the use of one’s aql (wisdom)

    In the present times, Iqbal gives Parliament the right to Ijtihad and to take decisions for the collective good with the aid of learned doctors well versed in law and a corpus of learned Ulemas well versed in theological matters. Justice Javed Iqbal said in Iqbal’s view the Parliament should be composed of judges, and the function of the Ulemas had to be done by the present Islamic Ideology Council, which answers to the description that the Ulema bodies can only advise without any right to voteRecommend

  • Apr 24, 2010 - 10:24AM

    Correction: The Qazi then explained. …In Iqbal’s view the Parliament should be composed of lawyers and the Ulemas Recommend

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