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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

shah waliullah -- khwaja masud

Before and after Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Prof Khwaja Masud

The writer is a former principal,
Gordon College, Rawalpindi


Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) and his school of thought have been the predominant influence in the Muslim religious and intellectual life from the mid-18th century onward.

Among Shah Waliullah’s main contributions is the fact that he broke the shackles of taqleed (compulsory adherence to any one of the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence), which has been the single biggest factor in the intellectual stagnation of the Muslim thought.

Shah Waliullah’s main point of departure was the attempt to work out the social basis underlying the Qur’aanic injunctions. The Shariah, he pointed out, only aims at the reform of society. But, no Shariah takes place in a vacuum. It develops in the context and on the basis of usages and customs of the society concerned. This is also true of the Islamic Shariah. The customs of the Arabs, and, among them especially of the tribe of Quraish, constituted the raw material of the Shariah of Islam.

Iqbal also took the same line. After giving a summary of the prophetic method as explained by Shah Waliullah, in Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, he says: "The Shariat values (ahkam) resulting from this application (for example, rules referring to penalties for crimes) are in a sense specific to that people; and since their observance is not an end in itself they cannot be strictly enforced in the case of future generations."

Preceding Iqbal, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan independently discussed the principles of the exegesis of the Qur’aan. He was dealing with the problem when the discoveries of natural sciences were sought to be rejected on the plea of being opposed to the Qur’aanic text. Sir Syed argued for the word God (revealed text) to be understood in terms of the work of God (ie nature); its meaning, he said, will have to be reinterpreted in the light of the ‘ever’ of the ever-growing human knowledge and the latest discoveries of science.

Sir Syed applied the same principle of exegesis of the Qur’aan in matters concerning social affairs. He came to the conclusion that cutting of the hands of a thief is not compulsory, nor is polygamy, nor slavery. The Qur’aan at one place enjoins adl (justice, equity) between wives; at another, it says equity is impossible (III, 13; III, 129). Sir Syed argued that, read together, the two verses sought to prohibit polygamy. In the same way, he argued that the Qur’aan sought to abolish slavery gradually.

Moulvi Chiragh carried forward Sir Syed’s idea in a more radical way. He says in Azam-ul-Kalaam fi Irtiqa-il-Islam, "The most essential civil and political problems of Islamic Shariah said to be based on the Qur’aan have been deduced from a single word or sometimes from a single phrase. Uncalled for insistence on following the letter, neglect of the true intent of the Qur’aan has become a characteristic of our exegesists and our jurists. Of the six thousand verses in the Qur’aan, there are only about two hundred, which relate not only to civil, penal, fiscal and political matters, but also to prayers and religious rites. It is obvious that these verses cannot provide definite guidance or specific rules about civil law."

About the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH), Moulvi Chiragh maintained that the Prophet (PBUH), his Companions and Successors had condemned the practice of compiling the Traditions, thus denuding them of religious authority.

About the third source of Muslim Law, Moulvi Chiragh notes that none of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence has claimed any finality for their conclusions. They never insisted that their opinions or analogical deductions be compulsorily followed by their contemporaries, not to speak of the future generations.

Let us see what the Quaid-i-Azam had to say on the matter. On February 6, 1912, an amendment to the Special (Civil) Marriages Act was moved by Bhupendra Nath Basu in the Legislative Council. It sought to provide for the registration of the civil marriages between persons belonging to different religious denominations. Till then, both the parties to such marriages had to declare that they belonged to no religion. The amendment was lost. But the 1912 amendment is memorable for Quaid-i-Azam’s speech on the subject.

When Quaid-i-Azam rose to speak, the Law Minister, Sir Ali Imam, drew his attention to the Qur’aanic injunction prohibiting a Muslim male from marrying women outside the People of the Book (Ahl-i-Kita and, of course, the Muslims and Muslim women from marrying any but a Muslim.

Quaid-i-Azam, then, reminded the Law Member that it was not the first occasion in the history of legislation in India that the Council had either ignored or amended Islamic law in such a way as to make it suitable to meet the requirements of the times. He cited many examples. The Islamic Law of Contract was not recognised any more. The Islamic Penal Law, which had continued to be in fora even after the establishment of British rule in India, had been completely abrogated. The Law of Evidence, as set forth in the Islamic Law was nowhere prevalent in the country. Then there was the Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1854. Under Muslim Law, a person in the event of apostasy lost all rights of inheritance. This, too, had been abrogated.

"I submit", said Quaid-i-Azam, "that these laws are the precedence which we should follow in order to be able to meet the requirements of the times. For this many a precedence can be found in Islamic Law."

On August 4, 1955, a seven-man commission was appointed to study the existing laws of marriage, divorce, and family maintenance to determine whether these laws needed modification in order to give women their proper place in society according to the fundamentals of Islam. Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakim, secretary of the commission, wrote in the introduction to the majority-report: "Islam is not the name of any static mode of pattern of life; it is spirit and not body; it is an aspiration and not any temporal or rigid fulfilment. The essence of life is constituted of permanence and change. The ideal only is permanent; the changes or the regulations that deal with particular situations of a particular epoch can never assume the status of the ideal. Land and capital mean different things in different epochs; the mode of the handling them must change accordingly."

The trouble with the traditionalists, as Khalifa Abdul Hakim sees it, had been that they confused the permanent ideal with the temporary regulations.

As a result, the Islamic law lies buried beneath the heap of retrograde legalism, its spirit smothered by centuries of obscurantism, clericalism and despotism.

Too often, too many people have been duped in the name of religion. But obscurantism stands doomed, though the struggle is tough and hard.

Inspired by the true and ever-fresh spirit of Islam, people are moving ahead, despite temporary setbacks. The direction of the path travelled by Islamic thought so far makes it amply clear.

Islam is a faith in which God provides mankind anew, every day, riches whereby we can understand and solve the problems created by an ever-changing reality and an evolving universe.

At one end, Islam relates itself to the immeasurable diversity of mankind; and, at the other end to the immeasurable greatness of the Divine.


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