Question from a Correspondent
After studying history, politics, society, and culture, I realized that multiple factors shaped what we call Sharia. This means to profess this idea of perfect faith and Sharia would be wrong. But to many people such questions are tantamount to heresy. To question prophetic reports (hadith) and the revealed law, Sharia, will make people ostracize me.
The issue that many people do not understand, is that the earliest scholars and people who wrote the law, could have manipulated it. People could have done so for various reasons. This makes people say to me: “but then you can doubt anything, and you won’t have a religion.” This answer is not good enough for me to believe everything I hear.
So perhaps my questions are:
1. How do we go about ascertaining the laws of Islam?
2. Which ones were time-bound? Which ones can change? Any opinion you offer will be appreciated.
The way I understand the Islamic tradition, and to the best of my knowledge, to ask questions and engage in research are not offenses. So the questioner should have no qualms nor feel shy to reflect on what he or she had discovered during their investigations. In a statement attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, he is reported to have said: “Is not inquiry the remedy to a malady?” (1) In fact, one should face questions, no matter the discomfort it provides. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the famous eleventh century thinker, frequently cited a phrase: ‘it is preferable to have an intelligent adversary than an ignorant friend.’ So friends, books and research that provoke critical thinking and challenge one’s commitments are far superior allies than the false security that mediocrity and unquestioned ideas provide.
Faith is always a work-in-progress. One struggles with faith on a daily basis. Prophetic sayings suggest that one wakes up a believer and retires at night as an unbeliever, and vice versa, a realistic assessment of the human condition during which one tries to find What meaning to the mystery of life.
What we call Sharia, consist of material and sources that stem from the Qur’an and the Sunna but their interpretation have always been the work of humans and were supplemented by the prevailing social and political spirit of the time. The various founders of the law schools and jurists subsequently have interpreted these materials in good faith and in terms of the spirit of their times. So sure, the interpretation of these sources and their accompanying rules also change with a change in time and place, especially those rules that are derived from custom and social practices that continue to change over time. And yes, political conditions also impacted the interpretation of the law.
To have faith in a transcendent God does not mean that one had automatically and correctly fathomed the moral will that God had made available to humans. I would not see “perfect faith” as identical to “Sharia” although people do use both interchangeably. Sharia is wrongly equated as a set of laws and rules, when in fact it is better viewed as a set of moral and ethical values. These rules have been presented as a set of do’s and don’ts, but optimally Shari`a is an embodied set of values, values that one internalizes and acts according to it’s imperatives.
The laws of Islam are generated and developed by tradition. Tradition too is susceptible to change. One can possibly say that the notion of Sharia as it evolved over time can be identified with some core values, but is not restricted to these. So I would say that justice, fairness, compassion, love and integrity are some of those core values. How these manifest themselves in practice are susceptible to change.
1. أ و لم يكن شفاء العي السؤال