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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Towards a Fiqh for Muslim minorities - ii

By Yoginder Sikand

Guided by these general principles, al-Alwani argues, new fiqh formulations suited to the conditions of Muslim minorities can emerge and develop that provide meaningful responses to the particular challenges that these communities find themselves faced with. As he sees it, this project would also help recover Islam’s vision of universality, which he regards as having been somewhat overlooked by the classical jurists owing to ‘a certain degree of introversion’, and ‘excessive preoccupation with parochial factors of geography and society’. It would help revive the ‘higher values, principles and objectives’ of Islamic law, which al-Alwani regards as having been ‘obscured’ by medieval fiqh that reinforced, as he puts it, a ‘partial, fractional and personalised’ image of Islamic jurisprudence. It would also enable contemporary Muslims in their task of missionary work, facilitating better relations between Muslims and people of other faiths, and in this way helping to realize some of the fundamental objectives of Islam. Furthermore, al-Alwani writes, it would displace the ‘fiqh of conflict’ that the classical fuqaha developed at a time when the world consisted of mutually hostile groups with little communication between each other, replacing it with a ‘fiqh of coexistence’ that is better suited to the world of today. 

As al-Alwani sees it, the enormous complexity of today’s world and the explosion of human knowledge necessitate a new form of ijtihad in order to provide solutions, in the form of appropriate fatwas, to the problems that Muslim minorities are faced with. He pleads for collective, as opposed to individual ijtihad, calling for the traditional fuqaha to jointly work with experts in social and natural sciences on an equal basis in order to develop new fiqh formulations. These experts would examine issues from various different angles in order to provide contextually grounded and relevant fiqh prescriptions. Al-Alwani argues that collective ijtihad can help open up new possibilities for the progressive development of fiqh, albeit remaining within the boundaries set by the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. As to the authority of these two sources, he insists on the Qur’an’s primacy, while also recognizing the possibility of multiple interpretations of particular Qur’anic verses. 

Central to al-Alwani’s discussion of a possible ‘fiqh for minorities’ are two crucial issues: the political loyalties of Muslim minorities, and their relations with their non-Muslim fellow citizens. Distancing himself from extremists who see non-Muslim states as necessarily ‘anti-Islamic’, al-Alwani argues that Muslim minorities must remain loyal citizens of their states as long as they are allowed full freedom of religion and are not deliberately victimized. This points to the possibility for Muslim minorities to live fully ‘Islamic’ lives even in the absence of an ‘Islamic’ state. Interestingly, al-Alwani critiques the classical notion of the ‘abode of Islam’ (dar ul-Islam) as limited to areas ruled according to Islamic law. He goes so far as to assert that, because Islam knows no geographical boundaries, ‘dar ul-Islam is anywhere a Muslim can live in peace and security, even if he lives among a non-Muslim majority’. Conversely, he says, the ‘abode of infidelity’ (dar ul-kufr) exists ‘wherever Muslims live under threat’, and this also includes several countries with Muslim majorities. In a further departure from dominant classical conceptions, al-Alwani approvingly quotes a medieval Islamic scholar as saying that ‘it is preferable for a Muslim to reside in a country where he can practice his religion openly’ than to live in dar ul-Islam, because in this way he would be able to communicate the message of Islam to non-Muslims, even if by simply living in their midst. Al-Alwani prefers to refer to contemporary non-Muslim countries that guarantee their Muslim citizens the freedom of religion as dar ul-da‘wah or ‘the land for the propagation of Islam’, regarding it perfectly legitimate for Muslims to be loyal citizens of such states. Yet, this does not mean that Muslim minorities must blindly obey the dictates of their states if the states promote tyranny and injustice. In such an event, al-Alwani writes, Muslim minorities resident therein must actively work to promote justice and counter oppression and must not willingly collude in any form of injustice on the part of their states. Furthermore, he argues that for the sake of promoting justice and for protecting or promoting their interests, it is acceptable for Muslim minorities to participate in electoral politics.

On the question of relations with non-Muslim majorities, al-Alwani refers to the Qur’an as mandating ‘tolerance and justice’ and as exhorting Muslims to ‘be kind and equitable’ with those non-Muslims who do not fight them on account of their faith. Al-Alwani regards this as the basic principle that should guide Muslims in their relations with others. ‘All developments and new situations’, he says, ‘must be judged according to this principle’. Linked to this is the Qur’anic injunction that describes committed Muslims as the ‘best nation ever raised for mankind’. This suggests, al-Alwani writes, that Muslims have the responsibility of conveying God’s message to all of humanity, and to work for justice for all, and for this, naturally, good relations between Muslims and non-belligerent non-Muslims need to be promoted.
Many of the points that al-Alwani raises are far from being novel, having already been discussed in considerable detail by numerous Islamic scholars in the past. Yet, his is probably the first book that sets out to formulate a methodology for developing a fiqh specifically attuned to the particular context of Muslim minorities. Increasingly, as the works of al-Alwani and a host of other contemporary Islamic scholars suggest, the need for the revival of the dynamism of early Islamic jurisprudence, sensitive to local contexts and responding to situational demands in a constructive manner, appears to be growing. And in this ambitious project scholars speaking from a context of Muslim minority-ness seem to be playing a leading role, an interesting reversal of the classical model.  «

Part 1: Towards a Fiqh for Muslim minorities - i

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