Books and Documents

Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (14 Mar 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

An Islamic System: Islam Expects People to Use Their Intellect

By Dr. Niaz Murtaza

14 March 2017

MANY people say Pakistan’s problems today stem from the wilful failure of rulers to establish an Islamic system. These are not supporters of the militant Islamic State group but well-meaning individuals who abhor IS excesses. For them, this system is like turning on a water tap waiting to deliver unlimited sustenance.

But when asked for specifics, they can only express vague generalities and wishful desires for an egalitarian system. However, egalitarianism is a final outcome that cannot be reached directly but through effective policies which they struggle to identify. Their basic belief, sold widely by clerics, is that the human mind is weak and leads us astray, so we must follow religious injunctions even for small things by gleaning Islamic history for edicts which only clerics can decipher.

There are many issues with this view. Firstly, what constitutes God’s word? Besides the Quran and Hadith, even broad and often questionable interpretations by latter-day and present-day clerics and often even their unsupported opinions are termed God’s word.

The high disregard for human intellect also seems contrary to the message of the Quran which extols it. Human beings are called the best species only since they have high intellect. The Quran says things have been made easy to fathom and those who use their minds can fathom divine signs easily. It is unlikely that a faith which values human intellect so much would expect humans to constantly copy ancient eras with very different contexts for minor things.

There are many societies globally without any history of revealed religions or adherence to detailed religious dogma which have still built materially and morally advanced states, eg, Japan, which far excels all Muslim states on both counts today. The human mind has made amazing discoveries with no clerical input. Disparaging it makes little sense.

Thus, this view seems designed to empower clerics by making them the custodian of divine knowledge while disempowering the masses as incapable of discovering the right way without clerics’ help. But this is contrary to Quranic edicts that everyone can understand Islam directly without clerics’ help. In reality, especially when it comes to statecraft, Islam expects people to use their intellect to identify policies relevant to their times. So, even the most important issue in governance, i.e., how rulers should attain power, is left to people to decide as both the Quran and Hadith appear silent on such matters. Thus, it stretches credulity to claim that Islam expects the divine word to be followed strictly for lesser decisions when even the most key decision has been delegated to people.

Similarly, while the debate on edicts vis-à-vis present-day governance, eg monetary, fiscal, industrial policies, continues, they are questions about their applicability to the challenges of the current times. Islam seemingly expects policies in all such areas to be developed by people. But many things that clerics present as divine injunction and mandatory policies to be adopted by states are either irrelevant or even harmful to the establishment of an egalitarian society today.

So, while we may think that establishing an Islamic system is like turning on a water tap, the obstacles in doing so are far more structural than unwilling rulers.

The Medina system was heavily reliant on the presence of people of very high morals, the likes of whom are absent today. Even if such people could be assembled, the next challenge would be for them to find an easy and peaceful way of attaining power. But if honest people could attain power, they could perform wonders even within a secular social democratic system.

So the next challenge would be to demonstrate that they have a vision and concrete policies based on Islam which can outperform secular systems, ie, deliver the strengths of Western democracies while avoiding their weaknesses. Even so, the next challenge would be to overcome the vehement opposition of clerics since this new vision will likely be very different from the clerics’ brand of Islam and will marginalise them. Finally, they will have to win the trust of people who, weary of decades of misuse of religion’s name in politics, largely shun religious politics in Pakistan.

Despite being a firm believer in secular democracy, I still believe if someone builds on Islam’s progressive elements, like egalitarianism, rights for women and minorities, etc., they should be able to develop such a vision. I am a firm believer in secular democracy not because I don’t believe in Islam’s progressive elements, but because I see the faith hijacked by retrogressive forces and little inclination within the majority to challenge their hold and develop a progressive Islamic vision. In such a situation, secular democracy seems the best available option.

Dr. Niaz Murtaza heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit, and is a senior fellow with UC Berkeley.

Source: dawn.com/news/1320324/an-islamic-system

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/dr-niaz-murtaza/an-islamic-system--islam-expects-people-to-use-their-intellect/d/110389


  • Agreed! “the faith hijacked by retrogressive forces and little inclination within the majority to challenge their hold and develop a progressive Islamic vision. In such a situation, secular democracy seems the best available option.”

    But isn't secular democracy itself 'largely' if not completely Islamic.

    Secularization does not conflate with annulment or dismissal of religion from the political fabric. It only means delegation of religion at the personal rather than corporate level. Each member of a multi-religious governing body will thus represent the values of his/ her faith and creed giving an unofficial religious or doctrinal underpinning to the legislative process in what may be termed a secular democracy.

    Complete elimination of religious and moral values from the fabric of politics can enable the consensual majority to avail unlawful benefits for itself, redefine established notions to deprive or penalize a minority, render the lawful unlawful and vice versa thereby eroding notions of justice, equity and liberty it proclaims leading to an autocracy of the consensual majority.

    But the spirit of religion must come from the souls of the legislators and not from arrogating religion such as Islamic to the state. In other words, to be Islamic in spirit a state does not need the title of  "Islamic" for s title does not guarantee Islam compatibility of the state. Pakistan and IS living examples. A state that is structured as as  secular democratic can be more Islamic than many so-called Islamic states.

    By muhammd yunus - 3/14/2017 9:53:45 PM

  • Dr. Murtaza presents the perspective of progressive Muslims quite well. Unstinted support of secular democracy is the right way to go.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 3/14/2017 1:41:53 PM

  • unfortunately application of mind has two contrary effects.

    for some it results in questioning scriptures. for the lucky others it results in unquestioning acceptance of scriptures.

    By hats off! - 3/14/2017 6:23:44 AM

Compose Your Comments here:
Email (Not to be published)
Fill the text
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of NewAgeIslam.com.