By Sabir Badr Jaffery
August 23, 2013
IN the article ‘Is a new Fiqh possible?’ (July 12) published in this space, Ahmad Raza has touched the ailing nerve of Islamic jurisprudence — Fiqh.
Since Fiqh is based on the Quran and Sunnah (Ijma and Qiyas are secondary sources subservient to the Quran and Sunnah), to aspire for a ‘new’ Fiqh would be tantamount to compiling, God forbid, a new ‘Quran’ and ‘Sunnah’.
Therefore, what is needed is the rejuvenation and reinforcement of Fiqh, which can be undertaken only through Ijtehad.
People not aware of Islamic teachings and having no substantive knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, who may otherwise be highly educated, suffer from gross misunderstanding as regards Ijtehad. They refer to every “conceptual distraction and meditative bewilderment” as Ijtehad, and manoeuvre to brand it as Islamic. Toiling under this mindset they give the ruling that Ijtehad should continue.
Continuance of Ijtehad is a complex issue. On the one hand, there is the modern, educated class which, without visualising the complexities of Ijtehad, thinks that it should continue. Suffering from this self-styled philosophy, they either themselves resort to what they consider is Ijtehad, or brand every untoward notion as Ijtehad.
On the other hand there are people who don’t want this pinnacle to be scaled by anyone else. Both these extreme views carry hardly any substance.
What is true about Ijtehad is that it cannot be undertaken on Nusoos, ie matters on which categorical injunctions of the Quran and specific versions of the Sunnah are available. Ijtehad on matters other than Nusoos should continue incessantly.
In the modern age when all facets of life have undergone massive changes and when changes are continuous, the existing scope of Islamic jurisprudence falls short of covering all facets. Hence the need for Ijtehad has become all the more necessary.
Economic, political, commercial, and social issues relating to all aspects of human life termed as Mu’amalat have assumed vast magnitude that need to be covered by Islamic laws, which is possible only through Ijtehad. Of the Islamic tenets, ethics is yet another area that should be targeted by Ijtehad.
The writer of the article has asked: “who can interpret Fiqh — an individual mufti of a traditional madrasa, a nominated council or the elected representatives of the public?” As a matter of fact, the job is not that of interpretation. It is stretched to include in its fold the concepts of Mutabeqat (conformity), Talab-o-Justujoo (urge and research, efforts and endeavours in corroboration with and subservient to the Quran and Sunnah), and Ittiba (following). All these concepts are embodied in the term Ijtehad, which is a task befitting of a Mujtahid, and not that of so-called muftis.
Reproduced below are some of the parameters of Ijtehad. I now leave it to the reader to evaluate who is able to meet the underlying challenges.
Eminent jurists have defined Ijtehad differently, in their own style. All definitions, however, include the following basic ingredients of Ijtehad.
Mujtahid ie the person who undertakes Ijtehad: the qualifying conditions for a Mujtahid are Sulbi (integral traits of his personality), and Iktisabi (derived or acquired knowledge). Under the former, he should be Muslim, adult, wise, intelligent, and capable of digging deep into matters under consideration.
With regard to acquired knowledge, he should be highly proficient in Arabic and other languages. He should possess firsthand and in-depth knowledge of the Quran’s teachings, vast and perfect knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and workable knowledge of divine commandments associated with other religions.
A Mujtahid may be proficient in any one of the major schools of Fiqh but he should have functional knowledge of other schools also. He should also be fully aware of the findings of Ijma. And finally, the purpose of Sharia should be well-known to him, and his endeavours should conform to that purpose.
Like a person willing to dive deep into the ocean in search of pearls, he should be the perfect diver and also fully proficient in the required skills so that he may not take pebbles for pearls and pearls for pebbles.
Hypothesis or problem under consideration: this may be an issue on which there is no explicit guidance from the Quran or Sunnah. Issues that have been discussed threadbare by the Quran and Sunnah are called Nusoos, which cannot be subjected to Ijtehad.
Sharia Dalayil (reasoning acceptable to Sharia): these may be Naqli (taken directly from the Quran and Sunnah) and Aql (based on Ijma, Qiyas, or Istihsan).
Obviously, what is produced by traditional madrasas doesn’t come up to the mark. Those associated with most such institutions cannot visualise and accept anything different from what has been implanted into their minds as the ‘last word’ on the subject.
These people, with their particular appearance and speech devoid of substance, have given the world at large a highly distorted message of Islam. They are simply unable to take up any serious or sophisticated assignment. I would, therefore, most humbly suggest that modern scholars who have the urge to take up the arduous task of research and also possess the drive to explore the truth, are the types who should come forward to dedicate their lives to undertake the uphill task of Ijtehad.
The future generations of Muslims shall be deeply indebted to them.
Sabir Badr Jaffery is a freelance contributor.