The commentary written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The article, the Quran as source of Islamic Law, by Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib
This is my commentary of an essay by Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib titled, the Quran as source of Islamic Law, which is included in a recent commentary of the holy Quran by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and associates.
If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, an American musician, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
A comprehensive response to the question of ‘Islamic Law’ or ‘Shariah Law’ is needed as it is a constant struggle for public life of every Muslim and the biggest fuel for Islamophobia in the West.
The table below shows the continuous struggle with the question of ‘Shariah Law,’ in every Muslim country:
This is a longish article and if you want to browse it briefly, let me suggest that read the section under the heading ‘Tayyib’s central thesis’ (that heading has been colored red) and my response to it and then the epilogue or conclusion of the article.
The title of the article by al-Tayyib immediately suggests that every thing from personal life and piety to spiritual life and life in the hereafter, to socio-political and economic systems, to interfaith tolerance, pluralism and coexistence, is going to be lumped together. Such an approach, which is all too common among the Muslim scholars, creates an unnecessary totalitarian view of Islam in their minds that is then transferred to the Muslim masses; leaving little room for insightful understanding of religion and important life issues in the Muslim world.
Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib is a man of some stature in Egypt as the former Grand Mufti of Egypt and current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University. This is the reason why I have chosen his article for my commentary.
But, an unfortunate reality is that even though he is going to give us contemporary understanding of the Islamic Law, the words science, universe, multiverse, Europe, America, USA, religious tolerance, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judicial system, political system, economic system, country, global village, constitution and supreme court don’t appear in this article.
What is most dramatic is that the expression “human rights,” which defines the modern conception of humane societies does not occur in this article. This is the biggest dilemma that when apologists for “Islamic Law” or “Shariah Law,” express themselves they have no desire to recognize any modern concepts or to bring the Muslims to the present era. To use a golf expression, they don’t want to hit the ball from where it is rather always hit from the deserts of seventh century Arabia and the religious, social and political debates continue to rage, with no signs of abating. This is why I have used the strong term of myopia or short-sightedness for their vision.
The point that I want to make is that a large majority of the Muslim scholars use modern cars rather than camels and horses and use cell phones and modern means of publication, almost exclusively created by the Western science and technology in an elaborate process over the last five centuries or so, yet in their understanding of Islam, Quran and life, refuse to learn even an iota from the social, judicial, political and economic systems developed by the same Western civilization. Here, they reflect an obsession with the past and not the slightest desire to understand the Islamic tradition in the modern context.
This is an attitude among the Muslim clergy, not to learn from others, namely the non-Muslims or the Muslims who are not of their liking, or at least giving them no credit or acknowledgment. This leads to unfortunate splintering of the Muslim psyche depriving them of wholesome understanding.
The reason why I have chosen Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib’s article is because of his stature, if I can successfully refute his presentation then it may be reasonable to assume that I have presented enough materials to refute others obsessed with the ‘Shariah Law’ or the ‘Islamic Law.’
Here, I propose to take the liberty of reproducing most of his article for the purposes of my discussion and give my commentary section by section, a work made very easy for me, thanks to the modern Western creation of internet, blogging and social media. I have omitted few sections of his article as indicated below and his references. Mostly I will agree with him and I want to use his text also to establish some of the concessions that he has made in favor of progressive and liberal thinking that lesser informed Muslim scholars will not make.
My hope here is that my short commentary will prepare the ‘Islamic Law,’ of al-Tayyib and like and the Muslim masses, for our modern times to lay the secular foundation for the co-existence of humanity in our global village.
The Quran is a collection of metaphors as is said in Surah al-Hashr:
If We had sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, thou wouldst certainly have seen it humbled and rent asunder for fear of Allah. And these are metaphors that We set forth for mankind that they may reflect. (Al Quran 59:21)
And in Surah al-Zumar:
And, indeed, We have set forth to men all kinds of metaphors in this Qur’an that they may take heed. (Al Quran 39:28)
There are several additional verses that describe Quranic presentation as metaphors, similitudes or parables. The Arabic word is Masala or plural form Amsal الْأَمْثَالُ.
If we just learn and use the metaphors to educate each other by sharing, it promotes knowledge and wisdom. But, when the Muslims try to impose their understanding of the Quranic metaphors by sword or through rhetorical and oratorical gymnastics on others the problem starts.
Here let me borrow two metaphors from medical science, tunnel vision and myopia. I believe that most apologists for the ‘Islamic Law’ or ‘Shariah Law’ tend to show myopic and tunnel vision. If they broaden their horizons, they would come to believe what I am presenting in this article and in the host of other articles promoting secularism in every country of the world.
As regards the numbering of the Quranic verses both in Tayyib’s article and my commentary, I have not counted Bismillah, “I begin in the name of God, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful;” which is the opening verse of all the surahs except for one.
The Quran descended (nazala) or was revealed over a period spanning almost twenty—three years, divided by the migration (hijrah) of the Prophet—peace and blessings be upon him—into two fundamental eras: the almost thirteen years of the Prophet’s residence in Makkah and the ten years of his residence in Madinah before the end of his earthly life. Among the most important topics covered by the traditional disciplines devoted to the study of the Quran (ulum al-Qur’an) is the determination of which revelations belong to the Makkan period and which to the Madman with regard to the number of verses revealed, the themes covered, the different commandments, and their various possible meanings (dalalat). The Makkan and Madinan parts of the Quran are distinguished from one another based on the principal objectives (maqasid) of each period as established by the scholars of Quranic exegesis (ulama al-tafsir). The primary objectives of the Quran during the Makkan period were to establish the fundamentals (usul) of the faith, argue for the truth of Divine Oneness (tawhid) while deepening knowledge of it, refute the errors of polytheism (Shirk) and idolatry (wathaniyyah), and elucidate the connections between the central tenets of the faith and the fundamentals of morality? The principal objective during the Madinan period was to promulgate laws for the creation of an Islamic society and therefore the ordering of life in a wide range of areas covering family life, social interactions, and business transactions.
I agree with the broad concept.
The verses of the Makkan period are therefore distinguished by extensive references to the Resurrection and the Judgment, Paradise and Hellﬁre and stories of the early communities of faith and their acceptance or rejection of revelation—those truths most necessary to bring about a change in the hearts and minds of people given to false beliefs, misconceptions about reality, and unworthy habits and customs. The Madinan parts of the Quran are distinguished by the promulgation of laws for personal affairs, society, and the state, including rules of marriage, child nursing (rada’ ah), family maintenance (nafaqah), inheritance (mirath), usury (riba), commercial transactions (buyu), retribution (qisas), and struggle in society and in the path of God (jihad) — all of the different laws that came to be a matter of concern for the Muslims as soon as they were constituted as a community, with a state of their own, social institutions, an army, and a leader.
Accordingly, Makkan groups of verses almost always begin with an address to humanity at large, such as O mankind or O Children of Adam, while Madinan sections usually open with an address to the community of the faithful, that is, the Muslims in particular, almost always beginning with the phrase O you who believe. Similarly, verses of the Makkan period are characteristically short and redolent with endless shades of warning (tarhib) against wrong action and incitement (targhib) to the right action; they abound in symbolic stories that convey moral and spiritual lessons and offer admonitions. By contrast, most of the verses of the Madinan period are relatively long, comprising accounts of fundamental changes in society and elaborations of rules pertaining to these changes. The majority of scholars also point out that all surahs mentioning hypocrites (munaﬁqun) are Madinan, whereas all surahs containing the retort kalla (“Nay!”) are Makkan. Additional distinguishing characteristics exist, but need not be mentioned here.
I agree with the broad concept.
Tayyib on broad differences between Makkan and Madinan verses
For the purposes of the present inquiry, the most important point to draw from this distinction is that it is in verses from the Madinan period that are found the roots of Islamic laws in their vast number and variety. Therefore, it is through special attention to verses of the Madinan period that the pivotal connection between Islamic Law and the Quran—that is, the fact that it issues directly from the revealed Book—will be most clearly seen.
The Quran carries within it many references indicating its status as a lawgiving book: it gives commands (awamir) and prohibitions (nawahi); it states what is licit (halal) and illicit (haram); it contains formal obligations (takalif) as well as doctrines and ethical directives. In this respect the Quran is more like the Torah of Moses than the Gospel of Jesus—may peace be upon them both. We read in Surah 7, al-A ‘raf (“The Heights”):
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find inscribed in the Torah and the Gospel that is with them, who enjoins upon them what is right, and forbids them what is wrong, and makes good things lawful for them, and forbids them bad things, and relieves them of their burden and the shackles that were upon them. Thus those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him; it is they who shall prosper. (v. 157)
In Surah 42, al—Shura (“Counsel”) it is said:
He has prescribed for you as religion that which He enjoined upon Noah, and that which We revealed unto thee (Muhammad), and that which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, that you uphold religion and not become divided therein. Grievous for the idolaters is that to which thou callest them. God chooses for Himself whomsoever He will and guides unto Himself whosoever turns in repentance. (V. 13)
In Surah 4.5, al-Jathiyah (“Upon Their Knees”) we read:
Then We placed thee (Muhammad) upon a clear path from the Command, so follow it, and follow not the caprices of those who know not. (V. 18)
And, ﬁnally, in Surah 2, al-Baqarah (“The Cow”) it is written:
And whosoever transgresses against the limits set by God, those are the wrongdoers. . . . These are the limits set by God, which He makes clear to a people who know. (V. 229-30)
A very large majority of the do(es) and don’ts of the holy Quran are about personal life and spirituality and are not the realm of public discourse.
Of course, every Muslim believes Islam to be the best code of ethics and the above verses are applicable to our personal lives and I have no issue with what Tayyib has said.
Tayyib’s central thesis
The Quran thus contains explicit statements that it is the sacred source and primary authority for Muslim legislation in personal, social, economic, and political matters — and no change of time or place can affect this primacy. Nowhere does the Quran indicate—whether directly or indirectly—that its laws are of limited duration, that they belong to a particular period, age, or society, that Muslims may thereafter deem themselves no longer bound by its precepts, or that they may choose to organize their lives or societies by resorting to other than the revealed Book or the Prophetic authority in founding their common laws and establishing their familial, social, economic, and constitutional orders.
This is the most important pargraph of Tayyib’s article in my view, as it reveals his exclusive focus on the Quran as being the main focus for not only personal and family life but also political, judicial and economic systems and every thing else of human interest.
Let me make a simple suggestion rather than making tall ideological claims that the Quran contains political, judicial and economic systems, the apologists should write and present those systems in detail and let the world see their utility compared to whatever else is in vogue in the world. It is commonly said that there are only 250 verses of the Quran pertaining to legislation and legal matters. Isn’t it more likely that they mention only some guiding principles for legal, political and economic systems, leaving the details to human discovery and experimentation, just like our science and technology, which has not been taught by the scriptures, rather discovered by human experimentation over the millennia.
I do hold the Quran in very high esteem, but, I believe that Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib, by not fully appreciating the scope and emphasis of the Quran, within the first three pages of the article, has changed the Quran into a political ideology, by lumping all its teachings together. Some exceptions and flexibility will be allowed by him in the paragraphs that follow, but the trap is all set here, for a totalitarian philosophy.
If we take Tayyib’s claim, “The Quran thus contains explicit statements that it is the sacred source and primary authority for Muslim legislation in personal, social, economic, and political matters — and no change of time or place can affect this primacy,” on face value, all the non-Muslims will be disfranchised in the Muslim majority countries. Imagine if we were to substitute the word the Quran with the Bible, the Torah or the Gita! What catastrophic consequences would it have on the Muslims living in the West, Israel or India?
Such parochial vision in any country will leave no room for pluralism or multiculturalism and allows no room for the non-Muslims to be part of the legislative process. Such promotion of the Quran in the legislative process, rather than in personal lives, provides perfect rationale for Israel to be a Jewish state with little consideration for the Arab Muslims and for India to be Hindu state, ready to punish eating a beef burger with ten years of prison; as has actually happened in some states of India.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
So, for the last two centuries it has risen to the level of self evident in USA that a state religion implies taking away the religious freedom of the other religions. With this background when we read the holy Quran, especially the verse 256 of Surah Baqarah: “There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing;” we realize that the only political system that the holy Quran will sanction will be a secular system and not a theocracy.
Legislation in this day and age when each country has populations from different religions has to be based on the shared human values based on our conscience. This is not a modern secular concept rather finds grounding in the verses of the holy Quran:
And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness, and enjoin equity and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper. (Al Quran 3:104)
You are the best people raised for the good of mankind; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah. And if the People of the Book had believed, it would have surely been better for them. Some of them are believers, but most of them are disobedient. (Al Quran 3:110)
Here, the Quran is not telling us to invite non-believers to the ‘Shariah Law,’ rather to the goodness inherent in every human conscience. This is Allah’s plan to bring humanity to live peacefully in a pluralistic society.
The commentary of 3:104 by Seyyed Hossein Nasr states:
Some interpret enjoining right and forbidding wrong to be the two kinds of good, mentioned in the ﬁrst part of the verse, to which one calls others (R). Others say that one can interpret the right as what is considered good and beautiful in one’s consciousness, and the wrong as what is considered bad and ugly (M), meaning that right and wrong are determined not only through religious teaching, but also by one’s innate moral consciousness. The Prophet said, in answering a question about piety (birr), ‘Consult your heart. Piety is that by which the soul and heart ﬁnd peace.’
In other words these verses are appealing to the shared human conscience and the human desire to do good. President Abraham Lincoln is famously known to have said: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica under the heading ‘conscience’:
Focusing on common themes among religions, in recent times has created an emphasis on the Golden rule. In view of the Golden rule in almost every religion and tradition, religious scholar Karen Armstrong has in recent years established a charter of compassion:
The paragraph from Tayyib, as quoted above, when read in isolation will be a perfect justification for right wing Islamophobes in every Western country to be constantly fearful of their Muslim minorities that as soon as they gather minimal majority they will be ready to force the ‘Islamic’ or the ‘Shariah Law’ down their throats.
This is not what the Quran is with its extraordinary emphasis on religious freedom and freedom of speech.
In this very commentary there is an article by Maria Massi Dakkak, which states that the Quran has nothing explicit to say about the governance of the community. I want to share with you a nice excerpt from her article, Quranic Ethics, Human Rights, and Society. The accentuations have been picked up by me:
One can identify ﬁve interrelated principles governing Quranic social ethics: The ﬁrst is the signiﬁcance of the religious community, or ummah. The Quran envisions the ummah as a collective of individual believers and has nothing explicit to say about the governance of the community or who has the right to authority over it. Although the Quran enjoins believers to obey those in authority among them (4:59), it never speciﬁes the criteria for such authority or the mechanisms by which such an authority should be chosen and exercise power. These matters are discussed to some extent in the Hadith literature. The Quran does, however, encourage believers to determine their affairs by consultation among themselves (42:38) and even directs the Prophet Muhammad to consult with his followers in certain matters (shawirhum ﬁ’l—amr; 3:159). Thus, the Quranic conception of the ummah is primarily that of a collective of believing individuals who have moral obligations to the community as a whole and to each of its members as well as to themselves. The good of the whole and the good of the individual are not seen as competing interests that need to be opposed to each other, but as mutually reinforcing concerns. The Quran explicitly states that all believing men and women are protectors (awliya’) of one another (9:71) and thus bear substantial moral responsibility toward fellow believers. Importantly, according to 9:71, both men and women share in this moral responsibility toward fellow believers and the ummah. Each individual has the duty to uphold the moral standards of the community, and the community has the collective responsibility to enforce these standards. Ideally, the moral health of individuals contributes to the moral health of society, while the moral integrity of society encourages and provides fertile ground for the proper moral and spiritual development of each of its members. This principle can be derived from the Quran’s charge to both individuals and the collective community that they enjoin right and forbid wrong (3:104, 110; 9:71).
The prophet Muhammad never prescribed a political system for the Muslims to succeed him after his death. Even, when the prophet addressed a unprecedented crowd of almost a 100,000 in Makkah at the time of the final pilgrimage to Kaaba, while he made allusions to his near demise, he did not give a succession plan, only an admonition to follow the ever lasting principles in the Quran.
Sir Zafrulla Khan was the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan. From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973. Let me quote from his biography of the prophet, Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets, as he describes the last sermon:
Muhammad was now surrounded by an ocean of faithful, devoted hearts, all proclaiming the glory of Allah, celebrating His praise, affirming His Unity, supplicating Him for forgiveness, mercy, compassion, invoking His blessings upon Muhammad. Arrived at the Mount, the Holy Prophet stood on the back of Qaswa and made his address:
‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah, the One, without associate, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.
‘I do not think, O people, that we shall be gathered together here again. Your belongings, your honour, and your lives are sanctified and made inviolate like the sanctity of this day, this month and this city. You will soon appear before your Lord and He will call you to account for all your doings. Take heed that you do not go astray, after I am gone, and start slaying one another.
‘Take note, that I trample underfoot all un-Islamic customs and traditions. All blood-feuds are utterly wiped out. I hereby remit everything owed to any member of my family on that account.
‘Riba [interest] has been declared unlawful and is no longer due. I hereby remit any interest due to any member of my family; for instance, all interest due to my uncle, Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, is remitted altogether.
‘Be ever mindful of the duty you owe to Allah in respect of your wives. You have married them with the guarantee of Allah’s name, and you have made them lawful for yourselves in accordance with Allah’s word. So be mindful of your covenant. They owe you fidelity; for any default on their part you may correct them gently. You owe them suitable maintenance. As regards those under your authority, see that you feed them with such food as you eat yourselves; and clothe them with the stuff you wear. If they commit a fault, which you are not inclined to forgive, and then sell them, for they are the servants of the Lord, and are not to be tormented.
‘Allah has made you brethren one to another, so be not divided. An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor is a white one to be preferred to a dark one, nor a dark one to a white one.
‘I am leaving something with you that will safeguard you against all error, if you hold fast to it. That is Allah’s Book.
‘There is no new prophet after me, nor any new law. Worship your Lord, observe Prayer, observe the fast during Ramadhan, pay the Zakat cheerfully, perform the Pilgrimage to the House of Allah, and obey those in authority among you; Allah will admit you to His Paradise.
‘You will be questioned concerning me also on the Day of Judgment. Tell me, then, what will you answer?’
There was a tremendous response: ‘We bear witness that you have conveyed all Allah’s commands to us.’ The Holy Prophet raised his finger to heaven and then pointed it at the people, and voiced the adjuration, ‘Hear, O Allah.’
The people affirmed, ‘You have discharged in full your obligations as Prophet and Messenger.’
In the same manner again, the Holy Prophet begged, ‘Bear witness, O Allah.’
A third time came the response, ‘You have made clear to us that which is right and that which is wrong.’
Again the entreaty went up from the Holy Prophet, ‘Hear, O Lord.’
He then charged those present to convey the substance of his address to those absent, observing that perchance he who hears at second hand may retain it better then one who is present.
As soon as he concluded, the revelation came: ‘This day have I completed My commandments -for you, and have brought to its fullness the favour that I have bestowed upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion’ (5:4).
The prophet clearly did not give a succession plan. Let this be the ultimate proof that Islam does not prescribe a political system. Let us put this discussion to rest after 1400 years now and let the Muslims of every country work on the political system of their respective countries and bring it closer to the highest ideals of justice, human rights, human and gender equality and pluralism.
Now let me present a possible scenario, how debate about secularism versus theocracy can potentially play out, regarding different verses of the Quran.
Sir Zafrulla Khan wrote in a short article, The Concept of Justice in Islam:
Before Islam, the concept of justice in Arabia was purely patriarchal inside the family and the tribe, and between different tribes a rough and ready balancing up through a succession of tribal feuds and vendettas. The administration of justice on the basis of law, rights, duties, and penalties through the machinery of courts and judges was something unfamiliar to the Arabs. Islam not only introduced this concept but made the settlement of disputes through judicial determination obligatory upon the Muslims.
But no, by thy Lord, they are not believers until they make thee judge of all that is in dispute between them and then find not in their hearts any demur concerning that that which thou decidest and submit with full submission. (4:66)
This verse lays down, first, the obligation that disputes must be judicially determined; then the moral duty that once the judicial process has terminated in a final decision, the decision must be accepted without leaving a trace of resentment or demur in the minds of the parties whichever way the decision may have gone, and finally that it should be submitted to and carried out to the full.
Those who are not familiar with the style and idiom of the Quran might be disposed to restrict the operation of this verse to judgements delivered by the Holy Prophet himself. This would not be correct. Very often when the Prophet is addressed directly, the commandment, injunction, or obligation is laid upon all believers, or has a general application. Nor is there any room here for attributing special sanctity to judgments delivered by the Holy Prophet. He has explained that in determining a dispute he tries to arrive at the truth of the matter on the basis of the presentation of the case by the parties. He may go wrong and award something to a party to which the party is not entitled. Should that happen the party that under the judgement takes or recovers that to which he or she is not entitled is guilty of appropriating wrongfully that which does not belong to him or her.
This verse is thus emphatic in making obligatory the determination of disputes through judicial process and complete submission to the final judgement is not merely carrying it out, but in reconciling oneself to the judgement in one’s mind so that no resentment or sense of privation is left behind.
Incidentally, the verse quoted above would be 4:65 in many translations of the Quran; for while Sir Zafrulla Khan has counted the very first verse shared by every surah, except one, also referred to as Bismillah, many translations don’t.
Now, the judicial systems in the Western societies have become elaborate and sophisticated over time and given this very articulate presentation of Sir Zafrulla Khan, I believe, the believers have no choice but to benefit from the scholarship and precedence of the last five centuries in Europe, Australia, USA and Canada.
Some suggested readings:
For those who fail to be resigned to the fact that the Quran has not given us every thing that humanity needs for political, judicial and economic system, would do well to realize that the All-Knowing God did not give a single precise fact of science to humanity in the Quran or the Bible, even though He alluded to some scientific realities, as high lighted in books like the Bible, the Quran and Science. In other words the Quran is not a book of science. Likewise, the Quran is not a book of political, judicial or economic philosophies. It is a book of religion and provides for our moral and spiritual development. So the emphasis of the Quran is on human moral and spiritual life and our eventual salvation in the hereafter. Therefore, its emphasis on the themes of Monotheism and accountability. The Quran does, however, give us some guiding or even the essential principles for political, judicial and economic systems, but, leaves the rest to human discovery and endeavor.
Tayyib Defining those who will not agree with him
Quranic laws are accordingly distinguished by permanence; yet they are ﬂexible and have the potential to accommodate future developments. Indeed, Muslims consider the capacity of Quranic laws to yield perennially appropriate rulings and applications one of the features of the Divine inimitability or miracle (i ‘jaz) of the Noble Book. Other such features include eloquence (fasahah), rhetorical power (balaghah), and the telling of unseen events, past, present, and future. Concerning this understanding of its supernatural nature, Muslims have remained unanimous for fourteen centuries. And, indeed, history has proven that Islamic civilization has prospered and ﬂourished under the shining rays of the Quran, reaching, by virtue of its Divine Guidance, summits of excellence and unity, enduring over the long stretch of fourteen centuries, and procuring happiness and contentment for a vast sector of humanity by offering truth, goodness, and beauty—hardly the products offered by the civilizations of today.
Against this View maintained by Muslim scholars and a large sector of the community of believers over the ages, some people today object to the necessity of linking legislation to the Quran as the primary source of law and the insistence that it should remain the authoritative reference for the Islamic social order, arguing that it makes no sense to honor the authority of a text revealed some fourteen centuries ago in today’s world, which has little or no similarity to or continuity with the one that gave birth to it. This perception has led such people to resort to modern readings of the text that are totally unconnected to the traditional Quranic disciplines (‘ulum al-Qur’an), which developed around the Quran and became, over a long period, an integral corpus establishing the logical and linguistic criteria that alone guarantee the Quran’s accurate interpretation. The results of such ungrounded forays into the demanding territory of Quranic exegesis are readings foreign to both the form and content of the Quran and, in many cases, reach conclusions directly opposed to its true objectives (maqasid). The root of the problem here is a conﬂict between the nature of modern readings that believe in neither the sacredness nor the inimitability of the Quranic text and those who see the Quran as a Divine Text transcending time and place and not merely a work of human authorship. We shall thus try to refer as much as possible, in the context of the present inquiry, to some of the fallacies into which this or that modern reading has fallen. Some are either entirely Western or simply misguided from the start insofar as they do not see the Quran as a Sacred Text, but as a literary one upon which all the crises and deviations of the modern Western mind may be projected.
We do see the Quran as a sacred text. But, we also see it in the context of time and in a holistic manner rather than one verse at a time, in the broad Quranic concepts of rationality, justice and compassion.
In recent years ISIS had introduced the institution of slavery and more specifically sexual slavery and invited broad, unequivocal and severe condemnation from all non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
But, they claim that their heinous actions are based on the Quran. In a literal sense they may be right but what they have missed is that the Quran had allowed slavery and even marrying of married female slaves only in the context that the enemies and other parties were practicing things that were much worse. In other words it was only a temporary teaching for the purposes of deterrence and not a permanent law.
Let me collect the verses that use the expression “your right hands possess,” a term used by the Quran for the female slaves. I have put eleven references here and this may not be an exhaustive list:
And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or what your right hands possess. That is the nearest way for you to avoid injustice. (Al Quran 4:3)
O Prophet, We have made lawful to thee thy wives whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesses from among those whom Allah has given thee as gains of war, and the daughters of thy paternal uncle, and the daughters of thy paternal aunts, and the daughters of thy maternal uncle, and the daughters of thy maternal aunts who have emigrated with thee, and any other believing woman if she offers herself for marriage to the Prophet provided the Prophet desires to marry her; this is only for thee, as against other believers — We have already made known what We have enjoined on them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess — in order that there may be no difficulty for thee in the discharge of thy work. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Al Quran 33:50)
And forbidden to you are married women, except such as your right hands possess. This has Allah enjoined on you. And allowed to you are those beyond that, that you seek them by means of your property, marrying them properly and not committing fornication. And for the benefit you receive from them, give them their dowries, as fixed, and there shall be no sin for you in anything you mutually agree upon, after the fixing of the dowry. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, Wise. (Al Quran 4:24)
And whoso of you cannot afford to marry free, believing women, let him marry what your right hands possess, namely, your believing handmaids. And Allah knows your faith best; you are all one from another; so marry them with the leave of their masters and give them their dowries according to what is fair, they being chaste, not committing fornication, nor taking secret paramours. And if, after they are married, they are guilty of lewdness, they shall have half the punishment prescribed for free women. This is for him among you who fears lest he should commit sin. And that you restrain yourselves is better for you; and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Al Quran 4:25)
Except from their wives or what their right hands possess, for then they are not to be blamed. (Al Quran 23:6)
Except from their wives and from those whom their right hands possess; such indeed are not to blame. (Al Quran 70:30)
And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they disclose not their natural and artificial beauty except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they disclose not their beauty save to their husbands, or to their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers, or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or such of male attendants as have no sexual appetite, or young children who have no knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And they strike not their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn ye to Allah all together, O believers, that you may succeed. (Al Quran 24:31)
O ye who believe! let those whom your right hands possess, and those of you who have not attained to puberty, ask leave of you at three times before coming into your presence: before the morning Prayer, and when you take off your clothes at noon in summer, and after the night Prayer. These are three times of privacy for you. At times other than these there is no blame on you or on them, for they have to move about waiting upon you, some of you attending upon others. Thus does Allah make plain to you the Signs; for Allah is All-Knowing, Wise. (Al Quran 24:58)
And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful. (Al Quran 4:36)
He sets forth for you a parable concerning yourselves. Have you, among those whom your right hands possess, partners in what We have provided for you so that you become equal sharers therein and fear them as you fear each other? Thus do We explain the Signs to a people who understand. (Al Quran 30:28)
There is no blame on them in this respect with regard to their fathers or their sons or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their womenfolk or those whom their right hands possess. And fear Allah, O wives of the Prophet, verily, Allah is Witness over all things. (Al Quran 33:55)
As far as the verses about slavery are concerned a large majority of the Muslim scholars will agree that these verses as far as slavery is concerned have no application in the modern age and those who will not agree with such consensus will be recipient of harsh condemnation.
But, the unfortunate myopia of many of the Muslim scholars is that unless their hands are completely tied, they want to bring all the other verses of temporal significance into the modern age. Such short sightedness becomes a source of constant conflict and unnecessary debates in the Muslim society.
As I alluded to above, the words ‘human rights’ do not appear in Tayyib’s article. So, he, despite his scholarship and broad success, is also guilty of building a myopic reading of the Quran rather than a contemporary one.
The key flexibility needed that many scholars of Islam fail to understand is that the world was divided into the Islamic Empire and the rest of the world after a few decades after the prophet Muhammad, with no religious freedom for the Muslims in any country other than the Islamic world. Now, we are living in a global village where religious freedoms are broadly honored every where and there are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Convention on Human Rights.
Trying to describe ‘Islamic’ or ‘Shariah Law’ without reference to above commonly recognized paradigms is just not reasonable by any standards.
Tayyib on Principles of Islamic Law
EASE OF OBLIGATIONS (‘ADAM AL-HARAJ)
The ﬁrst point to note concerning the laws promulgated in the Quran is that they do not burden believers with more than they can bear; nothing excessive is imposed. The Quran indicates the lightness and ease of its laws for the faithful in many verses, for example: God desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you (2:185); God tasks no soul beyond its capacity (2:286); God desires to lighten [your burden] for you, for man was created weak (4:28); God desires not to place a burden upon you (5:6); and There is no fault against the blind, nor fault against the lame, nor fault against the sick (24:61). The Prophet—peace and blessings be upon him—conﬁrmed this principle when he said, “I have been sent with the true and tolerant religion of primordial unity (al-haniﬁyyah al-samah),” which he would put into practice whenever he was presented with a choice between two things by always choosing the least burdensome obligation.
The universal rules of Islamic Law upon which are based all obligations of the religion, whether in matters of ritual (‘ibadat) or pertaining to human transactions and social relations (mu‘amalat), were developed in conformity with this principle of not imposing a heavy burden. Among these rules we ﬁnd such legal maxims as: “Too much hardship calls for ease” (al-mashaqqah tajlibu l-taysir); “Necessity makes the unlawful lawful” (al-darurut tabihu l-mahzurat); and “When a matter becomes too narrow, it calls for broadening” (idha daqa’ l-amr ittasa ‘a). As an example of this principle jurists cite the rules for the canonical prayer, which Muslims must normally begin in an upright posture—an easy enough requirement; but they are permitted to perform it sitting or even lying down whenever sick, exhausted, or otherwise unable to maintain the upright position. The same qualiﬁcation applies to the obligation to fast, which people are allowed to forgo in situations of great hardship, during travel, illness, pregnancy, or when nursing a baby. Carrion meat (al- maytah), normally forbidden, also becomes permitted when there is no other alternative. Similarly, the rite of ablution with water (wudu’) ordained in the Quran may be replaced by the easier rite of dry ablution (tayammum) in cases of illness, danger, or the unavailability of water.
Thus, whenever there may be a legitimate reason, Islamic Law either releases believers completely from the obligation to perform a certain act of worship, lightens it for them, exchanges it for a less taxing act of worship, combines two acts of worship, changes the form or order of some acts of worship, or allows the use of a forbidden thing in situations of dire necessity.6 Indeed, the rule even touches upon one of the major principles of Islam, the duty to “enjoin right and forbid wrong” (al-amr bi’l-ma ‘ruf wa ‘l-nahy ‘an al-mvmkar), a pivotal principle of the Quran conﬁrmed by many Verses. The principle of noncomplication permits a Muslim to remain silent before an evil, if a greater evil or a greater tribulation could result from speaking out. The jurists derived such rulings by means of rational inference from the practices of the Prophet during his thirteen years in Makkah prior to migrating to Madinah, during which time he witnessed many objectionable events, yet remained patient and silent because he could do nothing to change them. It is narrated that the hanbalite jurist Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328), while in the company of some scholars, came across a group of Tartars who were drinking wine. One of the scholars wanted to object to their practice, but Ibn Taymiyyah forbade him, saying: “Wine was forbidden because it distracted from the remembrance of God and prayer, and these men are distracted from killing souls, enslaving offspring, and seizing money and property. So, let them be.”
FEWNESS OF OBLIGATIONS (QILLAT AL-TAKALIF)
The second principle upon which Islamic Law is founded is fewness of obligations. Among the obligations imposed by the Quran, verses that issue rulings governing human or social relationships (mu ‘c71maldt) are by far fewer in number than those that prescribe ritual acts or ethical behavior. They are also fewer in number than verses that call for learning from the examples of earlier religious communities, warning against their ways or showing the perils that result, and they are likewise fewer than the verses exhorting to reward (targhib) or warning against punishment (tarhib) and similar topics. Even though jurists are not unanimous about the exact number of verses that pertain to formal obligations, because they differ with regard to their speciﬁc number or meaning, they are nonetheless unanimous about the small number of these verses as such, which accords with the Quranic precept forbidding excessive questioning about rules in order to prevent the proliferation of restrictions and obligations. Thus: 0 you who believe! Ask not about things that, if they were disclosed to you, would trouble you (5:1o1). And the Prophet used to forbid his followers to ask too many questions, saying: “The gravest wrong committed by a Muslim against other Muslims is to ask about something that is permissible, causing it to become impermissible because of his question.”9 He did not encourage inquiry into matters about which the Quran is silent, leaving them to the golden Islamic rule declaring, “The norm in all things is permissibility (al-asl fi’l-ashya’ al-ibahah).” Prohibition is only an exception (tari’) and, as such, always stands in need of proof; if no proof is found, no prohibition is possible.
In other words, there are matters about which the Quran remains silent, and this silence on the part of the Lawgiver is deliberate; it is meant to offer people more leverage, more room for maneuver and choice. They are left to the jurists’ exercise of independent judgment (ijtihad), conducted in accordance with their changing perception of the welfare of society, relative to time and place. This is precisely what the following hadith refers to: “God has enjoined certain obligatory duties: do not neglect them. He has imposed certain limits: do not transgress them. He has remained silent about certain matters, out of mercy to you, not out of forgetfulness: do not seek after them.” This hadith is quite positive about the existence of a vast area of cases and issues in peoples’ lives about which the Shari’ah offers no speciﬁc rulings. These belong to the sphere of Divine Pardon (al-‘afw), described in another hadith in which the Prophet said, “Whatever God has called licit in His Book is indeed licit; whatever He deemed illicit is indeed illicit; whatever He remained silent about is pardoned, for God does not forget a thing.”
FLEXIBILITY OF TEXTS
Despite their limited number, the Quranic texts dealing speciﬁcally with legislative matters are marked by broadness, ﬂexibility, and variety of forms and are general or speciﬁc depending on the nature of the circumstances and obligations. In the verses that deal with legislative matters having little room for the exercise of independent reasoning, such as the spheres of ritual acts and of rules concerning the family, or what is now called personal law —that is, in matters not particularly affected by the logic of social customs and circumstances—the Quran is quite speciﬁc. Acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage are obligations whose meanings, mysteries, and wisdom alongside the reasons for their taking one form rather than another are beyond the power of the human mind to know or determine. Such obligations are what the Sl/u1ri‘ala calls “matters of worship” (al-umur al-ta ‘abbudiyyah), that is, matters that the Lawgiver—God Himself—commands people to perform, matters they are incapable of determining on their own initiative. To take the canonical prayer (salah) as an example, prayer occurs in more than seventy places in the Quran and given, among others, are its correct performance, the necessary conditions for making it acceptable (such as ablution, wudu’, and facing the Ka‘bah, qiblah), the particular times it must be performed, and the general bodily position that must accompany it, although the details of the form of the salah are based on Prophetic example.
Then there are the rules for acts pertaining to “human transactions” (mu‘amalat) and “matters of public welfare” (masalih), which are generally unaffected by either the passage of time or a change of environment; they are causally determined (ahkam mu‘ allalah), their meanings and objectives intelligible, and the verses revealed about them are accordingly fewer and less speciﬁc in nature. In these spheres the Quran offers mostly general principles, leaving vast room for the use of analogy, inference, and other forms of reasoning. With the exception of a few rulings concerning inheritance (mawarith) and the punishment of certain crimes, “speciﬁc rules are generally lacking,” in the formulation of the Quran itself.”
With regard to situations subject to change, the Quran offers a general framework of universal principles, ethical and humane in essence, to regulate and govern the particulars of changing conditions.” Among other places, this may be seen in the rules concerning the contract of sale. Though this is the contract with the most rules in civil law, only four are mentioned in the Quran: the rule that makes trade lawful: God has permitted buying and selling and forbidden usury (2:275); the stipulation that transactions between seller and buyer be governed by mutual consent: O you who believe! Consume not each other’s wealth falsely, but trade by mutual consent (4:29); the instruction that they be declared and witnessed: And take witnesses when you buy and sell between yourselves (2:282); and the prohibition against buying and selling after the call to prayer is made on Friday: O you who believe! When you are called to the congregational prayer, hasten to the remembrance of God and leave off trade. That is better for you, if you but knew (62:9).
Similarly, with regard to constitutional law, the Quran limits itself to specifying the principles of consultation (shura), justice (‘adl), and equality (musawah); and with regard to criminal law, the Quran stipulates only ﬁve punishments, for the crimes of murder, theft, adultery and fornication, corruption upon earth (hidd al-hirabah), and calumny against women of virtue. The same may likewise be said of most other aspects of legislation relating to daily life or affected by changing circumstances in the general conditions of society, the foremost among these being matters pertaining to human transactions, punishments, crimes, and economic affairs.
Quranic Law is to determine the general principle or universal rule, so that people will be able to integrate the diverse conditions of life with the guidance of Heaven. This purpose of Quranic legal texts, to combine the sphere of permanence with the sphere of change, is the main reason for Quranic Law’s continuing vitality, survival, and ability to keep pace with various developments; it has allowed Quranic Law to guide Muslims for more than thirteen centuries prior to European colonial powers’ replacement of it with laws imported from the West. It is, indeed, to this very ﬂexibility that the credit for the preservation of Islamic civilization must be given, and this Law continues even today to possess and provide the power to resist the disintegrative elements of modern conditions.
GRADUALISM OF LEGISLATION
Many of the verses of the Quran pertaining to legislation were revealed gradually and intermittently. This is particularly true of the verses that legislate against the deep-rooted customs of the pre-Islamic Arabs. As the most effective way to bring about lasting social change, gradualism was the chosen method for drawing people away from slavish adherence to idolatrous customs to the freedom and dignity of sufﬁciency in God. It is almost certain that if the Quran had confronted the Arabs of the time of revelation with strict commands and prohibitions without offering them sufﬁcient time to abandon their entrenched ways by degrees, many of them would have abandoned its teachings.
We thus ﬁnd the gradual announcement of the prohibition against intoxicating substances rather than the issuance of a single law, because the habit of drinking was a deeply ingrained custom among Arabs at the time. First the Quran undertook to show that intoxicants possess both beneﬁts and evils; then it prohibited the performance of prayer while in a state of intoxication; and ﬁnally it prohibited intoxicants altogether, along with gambling (2:219, 4:43, 5:59), once people were prepared to accept this ﬁnal ruling. Similarly, the Qur’an’s prohibition of fornication and usury came gradually, as did its calling upon Muslims to remain patient vis-a-vis the aggressive acts of their enemies; only at a later stage were they commanded to defend themselves by ﬁghting back.
This was likewise the case with the command to perform prayers and the qiblah, the direction of prayer. At the beginning prayers consisted of only two cycles performed by day and two cycles by night, but were increased when people were ready and able to do more, as decreed by the Wisdom of God. Muslims originally prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, until a special revelation descended commanding them to face the direction of the Sacred Sanctuary in Makkah. Quranic laws were, therefore, not arbitrarily imposed all at once, but were revealed gradually, which allowed the Arabs to reform within themselves deeply rooted patterns of behavior that may otherwise have been ineradicable.
The paragraphs that I have highlighted and made bold above are very revealing. The constant obsession of the Muslims in the Muslim majority countries with the Shariah Law is ultimately about 5 punishments mentioned in the Qurans , mentioned as examples. Often in countries where bribery and injustices are rampant, almost thinking as if these 5 punishments are some magical wand and will serve as panacea for all the malaise and problems of the society. One needs to realize here is that the guiding or ever lasting principles for any judicial system highlighted here are in the words of Tayyib: “With regard to constitutional law, the Quran limits itself to specifying the principles of consultation (shura), justice (‘adl), and equality (musawah).” In other words the primary ingredient of good legislation or legislative body is consultation (shura) and we can find good examples in the legislative bodies of USA, UK and Germany. Likewise, for the judicial system the key ingredients are justice (‘adl), and equality (musawah) and let us learn from the two hundred year history of US Supreme court and others.
The five examples of criminal punishments according to Tayyib are: “For the crimes of murder, theft, adultery and fornication, corruption upon earth (hidd al-hirabah), and calumny against women of virtue.” Now almost all modern states have laws against murder, theft, treason, obscenity and defamation. In other words judging from the present standards there is nothing unique about the 5 examples of the Quran.
However, going back into history one can see that the Quran taught humans how to develop Laws and Europe of 13th century onwards learnt from the Muslim societies not only in religious tolerance and pluralism but also in legislation.
The early Muslims had learnt from the Quran and then Europeans learnt from them. Now the Muslims cannot bury their head in the sand. As they dwell on the guiding principles of justice (‘adl), and equality (musawah), it would be only justice if they also benefit from the rich Western tradition of judiciary over the last 5 centuries. Then the right wing politicians in the West would not be able to do hate mongering against the Muslims by erecting a bogeyman of ‘Shariah Law.’
If we truly agree with gradualism as suggested by Tayyib then the Muslims can overcome their obsession with ‘Shariah Law.’ For example take the case of alcohol. Every time the Muslims get influence in the political process there is a strong desire to immediately prohibit alcohol drawing inspiration from the prohibition in Madinah some 1400 years ago. It is said that the pitchers were broken and alcohol was flowing in the streets of Madinah. There may be a degree of exaggeration in it, for one would need a lot of alcohol to flood the streets. But the point is to take the gradualism USA has pursued against cigarette smoking or nicotine dependence. We can use that model to raise awareness against alcohol addiction. There are some 200 million people suffering from alcoholism in the world.
This is perhaps the best section of his article and we will take all the concessions that he has made in favor of reason and logic.
Tayyib on Implicitness of Rulings in the Text of the Quran
Determining the rulings implicit in the text is one of the subtlest of all inquiries that deal with legislation in the Quran, since it is related to knowing the sense and meaning of the relevant verses and how one may extract rulings from them. This task is made more intricate by the fact that the Quranic text is revealed in Arabic, a language with unique linguistic, poetic, and metaphysical qualities requiring of its readers special linguistic and intellectual qualiﬁcations in order to access its treasures of knowledge and wisdom.
For Muslims, the Quran is unique among all texts, ancient and modern, in possessing three distinctive qualities:
1. It is an intact and direct sacred text. According to the Islamic faith, it is the record of the very Speech of God—may He be exalted—not the speech of some mortal, including Muhammad, who had no role in its wording, composition, or stylistic construction. This sacrality confers upon the Quran a degree of sublimity and transcendence that makes it unyielding, unless one comes to it with the necessary intellectual and psychological qualiﬁcations.
2. Its verses are supremely fertile and rich in meaning. They transcend the boundaries of time and space, acting as a witness and a corrective for whatever situations or contingencies human beings may face. According to Muslim belief, they store in their simple yet profound sentences an inﬁnitude of Divine Knowledge, including ethical and legal directives potentially applicable to all times and places.
3. The authenticity of its verses is extraordinarily well documented, established permanently and indubitably. The Quran is perhaps the only Divinely revealed text that possesses an unbroken line of transmission to its earthly source. Its verses were conveyed by a mouthpiece of Heaven, written down in his presence, memorized, and recorded in manuscripts exactly as dictated by the Prophet, verse by verse and letter by letter. These words, moreover, never disappeared after the death of their transmitter; nor were they ever attributed to anyone other than him (as their communicator), by way of either inspiration or revelation.
Anyone who reads or contemplates this Sacred Text without seeing it in light of these three distinctive qualities can go no farther than the merely literal meaning, for the Text reveals or withholds its more profound meanings relative to the degree of one’s knowledge of the philosophy of its language, its learned disciplines, its literary heritage, and of one’s spiritual inspiration to understand its secrets. Muslim scholars are unanimous in maintaining that the Quranic Text is “unequivocally evident” (qati‘ al-thubut) as an authentic text; the proof of this unequivocality is precisely its broad and uninterrupted transmission (tawatur). Through it alone can we believe in such things as the events of the past that constitute sacred history, the historicity of great personages, the great religions, and the great messengers as well as eschatological events to come.
However, this “unequivocality” (qati‘) of the Text is not shared by the concepts and the meanings implicit within it. Among Quranic texts, there are those that are unequivocal, bearing no shade of meaning except what can be learned from the Text itself, as in the case of the verses indicating the obligation to pray (salah), give alms (zakah), or determine the different allotments of the inheritors of a legacy. The same applies to the verses declaring the illicitness of such things as adultery and fornication, murder, and the dispossession of others’ lawful rights. However, there are other verses in which the evidence for the Shariah ruling given by the Text is only probable (muhtamal); in such cases, the implication of the verse is called “equivocal” (dalalah zanniyyah). The difference between an unequivocal implication and an equivocal one is that the ﬁrst does not require any extra human effort to understand it, there can be no difference of opinion regarding it, nor is it amenable to modiﬁcation or development, whereas the second permits different opinions as long as each is based on a process of reﬂection consistent with the principles of jurisprudence that usually comes under the rubric of “intellectual effort” (ijtihad) in this particular science.
Scholars of the principles of jurisprudence (al—usuliyyun) have summarized this duality between the unequivocality of the Quranic text in itself and the equivocality of the meanings, judgments, or rulings derived from it in the maxim: “The Quran is of unequivocal immutability and equivocal meanings” (qat’i al-thubut zanni al-dalalah). By this they mean that absolute certainty with regard to the Noble Quran is posited only with regard to the words and letters of the Sacred Text, but the rulings that may be understood from it can be of either an unequivocal nature, having no possible meaning but one, or an equivocal nature, bearing more than one meaning; all of this is ultimately governed by the nature of the words and grammatical constructions of the Arabic language.
In this context, one must bear in mind that the unequivocal texts are few in number, mostly concerning the sphere of dogma and ritual, whereas most of the equivocal texts concern the sphere of social relations (mu’ amalat). This fact shows that the claims of certain Western orientalists who accuse Islamic Law of rigidity and stagnation are untrue—the Shari’ah is replete with open- ended texts, and its overall philosophy relies on principles such as desisting from judgment (‘afw)) and maintaining silence (sukut) about innumerable things, so as to give ample room for human thought and responsibility. Moreover, a deeply rooted principle of the Shari’ah posits continuous reviviﬁcation (tajdid): “God causes to rise in this community, at the beginning of every century, someone who will revive for it its religion”; and rational inference (al-istinbat al-‘aqli) is one of the sources of legislation and the formation of legal judgment. Such a legal system can never become ﬁxed in a single understanding or a potentially unchanging school of legal thought (madhhab); nor can its relevance, applicability, or products be limited to a speciﬁc time or place.
This is all well and good. Once again we should make clear distinction between what is personal morality and spirituality and what has public significance. Personal affairs should be left to the conscience of individuals after genuine education and dialogue.
Once again there is no political system described in the holy Quran. Especially there is no model for peaceful transfer of power, at least not in implementable details. We will do well to remember that the Sunnis and the Shiites are still debating, if Abu Bakr or Ali should have been the first Caliph?
Killing the brothers was a common practice among the Ottoman Sultans. According to Elmira Akhmetova in an article, Fratricide (killing of sons and brothers) in the Ottoman History:
The largest killing took place on the succession of Mehmet III (r. 1595-1603) when 19 of his brothers and half-brothers were killed and buried with their father. The excuse for this mass murder was the same – to prevent civil war. Reflecting public disapproval of this violence, his successor Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617) abandoned the practice, and replaced it with the seniority succession and the life imprisonment of the other princes in the Kafes, a section of the Osmanli palace. Sons and brothers of the ruling sultan were locked up in the palace, and they were allowed to have as much as entertainment (women and wine) as they want. They were not permitted to learn administration, or to get political, military or economic experience. This Palace Imprisonment custom continued until the last days of the Sultanate and was one of the reasons for the weaknesses and decline of the ruling class.
Once we understand that there are domains that the Quran has left to human intelligence and experience, we can be better oriented in time, space and person; rather than having some tall yet false beliefs about the scope of the Quran.
Any inspirations from the Quran regarding public life should be taken through the civic and democratic processes that have been polished in the Western civilization over the last five centuries and have reached a degree of maturity.
Tayyib on Rules for Inferring Legal Judgments
This portion is about 4-5 pages in Tayyib’s essay and is not covered here as it does not offer any remarkable facts for Tayyib’s or my case, in my opinion.
Tayyib on Philosophy of Commands and Prohibitions in Islamic Law — ‘Commands’
Inquiry into the rulings that involve Shari‘ite obligations stands in need of another inquiry into the nature of commands and prohibitions as such. These two inquiries are as closely linked as terms are to their meanings or sentences to their import. If commands and prohibitions both express imperative requirements, it is logical that jurists should inquire into their nature. The vast treasury of accumulated juristic principles is replete with rich and subtle inquiries in this ﬁeld, which are beyond the scope of this essay. We shall content ourselves here with reference to only the most important inquiries representative of the general direction of the juristic schools in the majority of cases.
The ﬁrst matter to which attention is given in this study is the actual linguistic formulation obligations take in the Quran in order to be considered as constituting deﬁnite legal obligations. From extensive investigations into the command statements of the Quran, scholars of the principles of jurisprudence conclude that commands are communicated by more than one linguistic form. Foremost among these are imperative verbs, such as God’s saying: Complete the hajj and ‘umrah for God (2:196); Let him among you who is present, fast during that [month]. And whosoever is ill or on a journey, it is a number of other days (2:185); and Give the women their bridewealth as a free gift (4:4). Or an imperative may come in other linguistic forms; it will sufﬁce here to mention predicative clauses that are not standard predicates, but go beyond predication to indicate a deﬁnite requirement, such as: And let mothers nurse their children two full years, for such as desire to complete the suckling (2:233). The verb nurse, even if it is in the present tense grammatically, is meant to indicate a predicative clause, yet the context shifts it from indicating a predication into indicating a command, as much as would the imperative verb itself. Quranic discourse in such sentences is therefore not meant to “predicate” about mothers who are nursing their infants, but to “obligate” categorically that mothers must suckle their infants, for a certain period—and other legal rulings become incumbent as a consequence of this, such as the prohibition of marriage between suckle-siblings. The same principle holds for God’s saying: Divorced women shall wait by themselves for three courses (2:228). The verb is indicative, not imperative, but what is intended is not to describe an event that will happen in the future (divorced women waiting for a time before they can remarry), but to command that the waiting period (‘iddah) for all divorced women be for a duration of three months.
Another matter concerning scholars of the principles of jurisprudence on the subject of commands is the inquiry into what a command indicates and whether a given formula signiﬁes a command or requirement to act whenever it appears in the Quran or the Sunnah. The meaning of a command statement is not limited to indicating obligation, but can also indicate other meanings far removed from this, even in cases where the scholars of the principles of jurisprudence afﬁrm that the ﬁrst meaning to occur to the mind is one of obligation. By means of inquiries and rational inference (istiqra’) into the command statements of the Quran and the Sunnah, it has been well proven that they may indicate recommendation (nadb) as much as obligation (wujub). They may even convey permission (ibahah): But when you have left pilgrim sanctity, then hunt for game (if you will; 5:2); or the teaching of etiquette, such as the saying of the Prophet to a young boy: “Pronounce the Name of God, eat with your right hand, and eat from the portion that is closest to you.” Command may also communicate the sense of human beings’ indebtedness to God: O mankind! Eat of what is lawful and good on the earth (2:168); it may have the sense of a threat: Do what you will; truly He sees whatsoever you do (41:40); or it may reﬂect the sense of the inimitability of the Word of God: Then bring a surah like it (2:23); and other meanings are possible as well.
Scholars of the principles of jurisprudence have enumerated some twenty-ﬁve different senses indicated by command statements apart from the sense of obligation. They thus concluded from the earliest period in the development of the discipline that the command statements in both the Quran and the Sunnah are not all categorical and inevitable requirements belonging to the category of command in the strict sense. This understanding was responsible for the differences among the scholars regarding the nature of the command statements that may indicate legal rulings. Do they indicate obligation in the ﬁrst place and, as such, may not be taken in any other sense unless additional textual evidence (shawahid) exists indicating otherwise? Or may they indicate a recommendation in the ﬁrst place that may later be disregarded due to other supportive evidence (qara’in) in favor of obligation? A majority of scholars in fact espoused the ﬁrst school of thought (madhhab), but a sizable number also followed the second. In any case, what matters in this connection is to clarify that the philosophy of restriction (taqyid) as it is used to determine the concept, phrasing, and meaning of “command” helps to narrow greatly the sphere of “obligations” in the practical and social life of Muslims, for it grants them the freedom to move in a much larger sphere of possibilities and permissible actions. This outlook in fact reveals the internal harmony between the Quran and the cosmos, showing them to be two faces of the same reality: the Quran is an audible cosmos (kawn masmu‘) to be heard, and the cosmos is a visible Quran (Quran mar’i) to be contemplated. The two complement and correspond to each other. This outlook also demonstrates that an excessive number of prescriptions and obligations actually detracts from the principle of intellectual contemplation, which the Quran advocates for the discovery of truth and the knowledge of beings as they truly are. This knowledge is the Divine Wisdom (hikmah) that is mentioned in the Quran and praised along with those who possess it in passages such as: He grants wisdom to whosoever He will. And whosoever is granted wisdom has been granted much good (2:269).
In the Quran, many verses teach that God does not impose upon human beings a burden of commands greater than what they can fulﬁll, greater than what their souls, time, and abilities can accommodate. He does not burden them with anything too heavy to bear or something that they could not help but discontinue or abandon after a while. The Prophetic wisdom emphasizes that few works constantly observed are by far better than many works eventually abandoned. Indeed, there is an explicit prohibition against excessive zeal in religious works and pedantic focus on external observances as such. The Prophet invoked perdition upon such extreme pedants (al-mutanatti’un), saying: “Perdition shall befall extreme pedants,” and repeating the phrase three times.
It is reported that once when one of his Companions complained about the prayer leader’s inordinately prolonging the prayer session, the Prophet said: “O Mu‘adh, do not drive people into a state of tribulation (ﬁtnah), for in the congregation praying behind you there are the old, the weak, ones with pressing errands, and the travelers.” The Prophet himself used to shorten his prayer whenever he heard a child crying, saying: “Oftentimes I enter into prayer intending to prolong it, but when I hear a child crying, I relinquish my intention, knowing how his mother must be distressed for his crying.” The ease of the prescriptions in Islam is such that performing the bare minimum of obligatory ones is sufﬁcient to achieve happiness in this world and the next. Concerning whoever keeps the fundamental obligatory prescriptions alone, without adding or omitting anything, the Prophet says, “He shall attain to salvation, if he is sincere.” Needless to say, the philosophy of commands in Islamic Law, as presented here, is in total contradiction to the attempts at “schematization” (tanmit) propagated by some strident groups in the public arena today who besiege the lives of Muslims and represent a perversion of the proper understanding of Islam and an adulteration of its laws and rulings.
I appreciate every thing Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib has said in favor of rationality and liberalism as opposed to conservatism and orthodoxy. But, I would like to highlight a few points.
The main one being that every thing mentioned in this section is about personal or family life as opposed to public life and would not require any hard core legislation. Just motivational encouragement of individuals to follow the commands for their own personal good and for family life one would require guidelines by different scholars and experts for the families to follow, based on how articulate and lucid these experts are.
Take the example of lowering of the gaze to the believers in Surah al-Nur: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.” (Al Quran 24:30)
One sentence from Tayyib, I found particularly intriguing, “Scholars of the principles of jurisprudence have enumerated some twenty-ﬁve different senses indicated by command statements apart from the sense of obligation.” Human psyche is not capable of appreciating 25 different levels of obligations. This sentence only suggests that in the scholars at that time had a lot of time at their disposal and too many avenues to focus their energy on. To me it only signifies that modern understanding of the Quran and religion is badly needed to make the Muslims productive citizens of the 21st century global village.
Tayyib on Philosophy of Commands and Prohibitions in Islamic Law — ‘Prohibitions’
Most of what was said about commands, their formulations, and signiﬁcance may also be said of prohibitions. The majority of the scholars of the principles of jurisprudence are of the opinion that the least interdiction should indicate prohibition on the basis of such Quranic passages as: Whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatsoever he forbids to you, forgo (59:7). Yet others hold the view that mere interdiction does not imply prohibition, but only abhorrence or scrupulousness, which may correspond to prohibition, but may not indicate it unless an additional piece of evidence (damimah) indicates that intention. According to a third view, an interdiction remains “deferred” (mawquf), without indicating either prohibition or abhorrence. On the grounds of this pluralistic interpretation of the concept of prohibition, jurists state that an interdiction may occur in the sense of prohibition, such as in: And approach not adultery (17:32); And slay not the soul that God has made inviolable, save by right (17:33); And approach not the orphan’s property, save in the most virtuous manner, till he reaches maturity (17:34); and Walk not exultantly upon the earth; surely thou shalt not penetrate the earth, nor reach the mountains in height (17:37). Or it may occur in the sense of abhorrence: And seek not the bad, spending of it though you would not take it except shutting your eyes to it (2:267). It may also occur in the sense of guidance (irshad): O you who believe! Ask not about things that, if they were disclosed to you, would trouble you (5:101); or of indicating the fruits of action: Do not suppose that God is heedless of the deeds of the wrongdoers (14:42). The hallmark of the study of interdiction is to lessen the number of prohibitions in Islam, because the formulas of the Shari‘ah, despite their small number, do not spontaneously indicate prohibition. To return to the general rule of legislation: permission (ibahah) is the original state of things, and no prohibition may be pronounced without explicit evidence. Prohibited matters in Islam are therefore necessarily restricted to a small number of things. This is the position supported by the text of the Quran. For instance, we ﬁnd verses limiting the number of prohibited foods to just three categories: Say, “I do not find in that which is revealed unto me anything forbidden to one who would eat thereof, save carrion or blood poured forth, or the ﬂesh of swine—for that is surely deﬁlernent—or a sinful offering made to other than God. But whosoever is compelled by necessity, without willfully disobeying or transgressing, truly thy Lord is Forgiving, Merciful” (6:145). This text explicitly conﬁrms that in Islam prohibited foods are limited to just three types and that this prohibition itself is lifted in cases of necessity and extreme need—that is, that even the prohibited can become permitted—and not to avail oneself of such permissions in cases of necessity, but choose instead self-destruction, is to sin. Similarly, the Prophetic traditions (ahadith) indicate that grave sins (kaba’ir) are limited to only seven in number: “Avoid the seven mortal sins (al-mubiqat) . . .”, and that the absolute requirements for salvation may be summarized in just a few conditions: “There is no servant who performs the ﬁve canonical prayers, who fasts the month of Ramadan, who gives alms when they are due, who avoids the seven mortal sins, but who shall have the gates of Paradise open to him and it shall be said unto him: enter therein in peace.”
Just as a misunderstanding of the philosophy of “commands” in Islamic Law forms a pernicious ground for the bickering of extremist groups, whose portrayal of it is both deceitful and fraudulent, so an ignorance of the philosophy of “prohibitions” in Islam has played a grievous role for some in transforming Islam into a catalogue of interdictions and prohibitions, banning for people what God has permitted. Had the advocates of such maimed views availed themselves of the speculative legacy bequeathed by the scholars of the principles of jurisprudence on the topics of commands and prohibitions, they would have realized how alien in form and substance is the Islam such people preach to the Quran, the Sunnah, and the overwhelming consensus of Muslims.
Again the focus is on personal life and personal morality. One of the teachings included here is prohibition of murder, but, it is mentioned in this section not as a public threat and for legislation, but only as an issue of personal morality and its bearing on one’s eventual salvation.
I cannot repeat enough that the main difficulty with the Islamic Law is changing it into a political ideology, to give the clergy or the Mullahs in the Muslim society a license to take over power by hook or crook and to violate law of the land and freedom.
There is quite a chasm between a person focusing on avoiding the seven deadly sins and becoming an activist for political Islam. One is a devout Muslim following the Prophet and the other is duped by the Islamist’s leaders vying for political power.
Tayyib The Quran and the Other Sources of Islamic Law
The Quran and the Other Sources of Islamic Law In both Sunni and Shiite schools, the Quran occupies the most prominent position among the sources of law in Islam. The juristic tradition dealing with the principles of law describes it as the ﬁrst source of law, because it is the Word of God and also because of its unequivocally evident nature.” Since the Quran includes numerous and varied rulings, one might imagine the Divine Book to be a self- sufﬁcient source of legislation. However, in most cases the Quran tends to provide general rather than speciﬁc rules. In many instances, it limits itself to “allusion to the general objectives of legislation and its universal principles, not offering extensive detail in rules except in a few instances.” Moreover, despite its simplicity and clarity, a grasp of the objectives and ends of the Quran requires meditation and insight as well as training in Arabic stylistics and the subtle ways of indicating meaning in that language. It must also be borne in mind that the Quran itself makes a distinction between unequivocal (muhkam) and equivocal (mutashabih) verses, saying that the interpretation of the latter can only be carried out by the exceptionally erudite among the learned: And none know its interpretation save God and those firmly rooted in knowledge (3:7).
There therefore had to be another source to function as an explanatory, illustrative, interpretive, and exegetical complement to the Divine Discourse, particularly insofar as human actions and conduct are concerned. If the explicated and interpreted text is purely Divine, it makes sense that the explanatory and interpreting text should be worthy of it, that is, of equally Divine Provenance; this is what is guaranteed by the Sunnah, which, again according to both Sunni and Shiite schools, constitutes a second source of legislation after the Noble Quran. Sunnah (“wont”) designates the sayings and actions of the Messenger of God, whereas Hadith (“tradition”) speciﬁcally designates his sayings.
Understanding the Quran needs the Sunnah to provide clariﬁcations and speciﬁc illustrations of the former’s general declarations. As an example of this principle, consider the canonical prayer. The command making it obligatory comes as a general declaration in the Quran, but if we restrict ourselves to knowledge of the prayer derived from the Quran alone, we would be unable to know the details of its substance, forms, times, the number of its cycles (raka’at), and so on. All of these matters can be known only from the Sunnah. The same holds true for many other obligations, such as almsgiving (zakah), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj). Indeed, there are certain commands and prohibitions in the Quran that can be neither understood nor acted upon in the absence of the Sunnah.
The jurist and authority on the principles of the Law Ibn hazm al-zahiri (d. 456/1064.) summarized this point by asking:
In which Quran shall I ﬁnd that the noon prayer is four cycles or that the sunset prayer is three cycles; the clariﬁcation of what counts as true fasting; the clariﬁcation of the manner of giving alms from gold, silver, sheep, camels, or cattle; . . . the categories of prohibited marriages, of prohibited child nursing (al-rada’ al-muharram), and which foods are prohibited; the rulings regarding punishments; in what way a divorce becomes ﬁnal; rulings concerning valid business transactions and the clariﬁcation of the ways of usury? Indeed, there are passages concerning these matters in the Quran, but if they were left to us without the commentaries from the Sunnah, we would never know how to apply them. Thus one has to refer these matters back to the traditions of the Prophet.
The Quran itself mentions in many places the importance of the Sunnah and its necessity for elaborating the meaning of the Quran: Whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatsoever he forbids to you, forgo (59:7); We have sent down the Reminder unto thee that thou mightest clarify for mankind that which has been sent down unto them, that haply they may reflect (16:44); He it is Who sent among the unlettered a Messenger from among themselves, reciting unto them His signs, purifying them, and teaching them the Book and Wisdom, though before they were in manifest error (62:2). And the Prophet himself emphasizes this truth when he says:
I was given the Quran and with it its similitude; soon a day will come when a man of full stomach reclining on his couch shall say: “Go to the Quran; whatever you ﬁnd permitted therein, consider it as permitted, whatever you ﬁnd prohibited therein, then prohibit it”; yet that which the Messenger of God has prohibited is equal to that which God has prohibited; indeed, the meat of the domestic ass as meat is prohibited unto you; and so is the meat of every wild beast with molars.
The Sunnah’s relation to the Quran is one of seconding and conﬁrming the rulings in it, explaining and clarifying texts of general meaning in speciﬁc terms, clarifying problematic texts that hear more than one meaning, or giving a particular emphasis for a ruling that occurs only generally. All of these aspects serve to demonstrate the necessity of the Sunnah for reaching a proper understanding of the rulings of the Sacred Law.
The Sunnah is indeed as binding as the Quran and is thus second only to it as a source of legislation. Although Sunni and Shiite scholars alike unanimously maintain that the Quran and the Sunnah are the two fundamental sources of legislation, there is no agreement with regard to the remaining sources, though these are most commonly recognized as including analogy (qiyas), consensus (ijma‘), juristic preference (istihsan), beneﬁts in the public interest (masalih mursalah), and injunctions presuming continuity with a status quo ante (istishab).
In summary, Islamic Law is rooted directly in the Quran as its foundational source, and the deﬁnitive authoritativeness of the Quranic text for Islamic Law is permanently binding and effective for all times and places. The Law established in the Quran and elaborated by the Islamic legal tradition therefore possesses an inherent immutability and timeless quality, but it is nonetheless simultaneously characterized by a unique ﬂexibility, an ability to take into account and adapt to diverse contingencies or changing conditions. As a sacred text of the highest order with a long and profound interpretive tradition, it can only be properly understood by reading it as the revealed Word of God and making use of the invaluable tools, methods, and insights bequeathed by the tradition.
Islamic Law is founded on four fundamental principles: a lack of constriction or difﬁculty in its implications for believers; a relatively small number of formal obligations, all restrictions being in fact exceptions to the rule, as “the norm in all things is permissibility”; a multiplicity and variety of form on the part of Quranic legal passages according to the nature of the matter at hand; and a wise and effective gradualism in the implementation of its laws. In the words of Muslim scholars, the Quran is of “unequivocal immutability” and “equivocal meanings,” meaning that its literal text is indubitably authentic and permanently established, possessing an unbroken line of transmission, whereas the meanings comprised by the text are bountifully multiple, and rational inference, the suspension of judgment, and recourse to regular, Divinely guided “reviviﬁcations” of the meanings of the Sacred Book are key elements in Islamic legal philosophy.
Islamic Law possesses a rich tradition of systematic studies on the ways in which legal judgments are contained in the Quranic text and may be derived from it as well as studies on the nature, meanings, and formulations of commands and prohibitions as such. On the basis of such studies, all actions subject to legislation are seen to fall into one of ﬁve categories—obligatory, recommended, permitted, abhorred, or prohibited. Given the general and often polyvalent nature of Quranic legal passages, Islamic Law requires a second source to explain, clarify, and embody the rulings found in principal form in the Divine Text. On the testament of the Quran itself as well as the Hadith, and as agreed upon fully by all schools of Islamic Law, this is providentially and superlatively provided by the Sunnah, or wont, of the Prophet Muhammad.
Translated from Arabic by Maryam Ishaq al-Khalifa Sharief
In conclusion whether it is word of God or a conversation with a man, we need our reasoning faculties to understand the speech and put it in the context of time.
In the last two months, President Trump made a visit to Saudi Arabia and signed a military deal of worth half a trillion. The military equipment that Saudi Arabia will get is largely useless to them, both the masses and the ruling elite, from my perspective. In that sense it can be considered as homage and taxes the royal family pays to the USA to stay in power. In this context, let us read the following verse of the Quran, literally:
Fight those of the People of the Book who do not truly believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, who do not obey the rule of justice, until they pay the tax (Jizya) promptly and agree to submit. (Al Quran 9:29)
Let us read the verse literally and build that scenario.
Today, when all the Muslims are so utterly dependent on the Western science and technology and so submissive to US and European military prowess, if they are being told to collect taxes, tribute or Jizya from USA by All-Knowing God, then it is a total mockery of the Quranic message and human rationality.
ISIS and Taliban may have tried to impose Jizya on some week non-Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan, but, even they haven’t had the audacity to demand it from USA. Even though I am totally against Guantanamo prison and for detaining anyone without due process, I would propose that if anyone is psychotic enough to demand Jizya from USA government, he should be kept there until he repents!
On a more serious note, one cannot apply the verses addressing the 7th century Arabia willy nilly to the 21st century global village, with all its details of international politics.
This verse did convey a useful and pragmatic meaning in the context of the defensive war in the 7th century Arabia. Read my short article: Defensive War in the Holy Quran in 600 Words . However, in the context of the 21st century global village it is not irreverent to say that this verse has no application on the international scene, at least not in a literal sense. Additionally, it cannot be overemphasized that all the verses about war and peace should be read in unison and with the broader context of justice and compassion.
Given the emphasis Tayyib has laid also on flexibility and other principles of the Quranic exegesis, for the Muslims, living in the West, the Islamic Law is nothing but the constitution of their respective countries and the Quran speaks to them about personal and family lives and their spirituality and salvation in the hereafter.
I am not saying we cannot have any inspiration from the Quran to improve the Western political, judicial or economic systems, but, to dream for over throwing them and replacing them with ‘Islamic Laws’ of dreams of some Muslim zealots, would be irrational and insane and clearly not representing the Quran that I read.
Rather than obsessing over our parochial understanding of ‘Shariah Law’ the Muslims will do well to obsess over the well known hadith that a word of wisdom is lost property of a believer, he acquires it wherever he finds it. Then we will be able to learn from many sources and rather than basking in our limited understanding of the few verses mentioned in the Quran as guiding principles for the political, judicial and economic systems, we will move on the path of enlightenment and inclusion. This will create genuine pluralism in the Muslim societies.
The Quran is, of course, the last revealed scripture and is the best source for developing our morality and spirituality and for Monotheism and human accountability: see a recent commentary of Surah Fatihah, by an anonymous group of authors.
But, the Quran is not a political, judicial or economic manual. It gives a few guiding principles about these spheres and Tayyib has mentioned a few of them, but leaves the details to human ingenuity.
Additionally, we have to read and understand the holy scripture in the present day context.
Muhammad Asad, born Leopold Weiss; 12 July 1900 – 20 February 1992, was a Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian journalist, traveler, writer, linguist, thinker, political theorist, diplomat and Islamic scholar. After traveling across the Arab World as a journalist, he converted to Islam in 1926 and chose for himself the Muslim name “Muhammad Asad”—Asad being the Arabic rendition of his root name Leo (Lion).
Asad was one of the most influential European Muslims of the 20th century. He writes in his introduction to the translation of the holy Quran, regarding commentary from one’s opinion:
If, on occasion, I have found myself constrained to differ from the interpretations offered by the latter (early commentators), let the reader remember that the very uniqueness of the Qur’an consists in the fact that the more our worldly knowledge and historical experience increase, the more meanings, hitherto unsuspected, reveal themselves in its pages.
Eyes do not see what the mind does not know. When we delve into the Quranic with a myopic vision it reflects that back, but, at the same time also gives us the good news that when we ponder on the Quran with broader horizons it becomes a source of infinite wisdom, from the All-Knowing teacher, the Creator of the trillions of universes, to Whom our petty parochial concerns, mount to nothing.
Only a commentary or understanding of the holy Quran that frequently uses the terms and expressions, justice, compassion, human and gender equality, human rights, freedom of speech and conscience, the Golden rule, interfaith tolerance, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Convention on Human Rights, would be worthy of being read in the 21st century global village, befitting for the modern times.