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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Fiqh of minorities - ii
By Taha Jabir Alalwani

Understanding the purpose and intent
The central theme of Fiqh is: the performance of man as inheritor of the earth particularly from the point of view of his compliance or resistance to the divine purpose of creation and how he falls short of that purpose. The debate regarding the realities of the human mind and our abilities to evaluate ourselves independent of revaluation has gone on for centuries. Islam recognizes the role of the human intellect as part of the decision-making process. Also, we are provided with two books to help guide us in our decisions, the revelation (Qur'an) and the moving cosmos which is the sum total of all aspects of life. The study of each book leads to a better understanding of the other. Some of the criteria for the method of study that emerge to facilitate a better understanding of ultimate purposes are:

  • Realize the unity of message and structure within the Qur'an and study its application by Prophet Muhammad in specific and practical everyday matters. Because the documentation of the Sunnah was not perfect and some questionable sayings have crept in, we should hold everything to the benchmark of the Qur'an. If a saying does not appear to be in keeping with the Qur'an, we should follow the Qur'an in such circumstances and simply acknowledge that we might not have all the information surrounding that Sunnah (i.e. the circumstances that generated it).

  • Be in line with the concept that the Qur'an and the Prophethood in general are a completion of the legacy of past prophets. The message and purpose have always remained the same but the form has changed as human society has matured.

  • Grasp the delicate differences between humanity and the individual, and how the Qur'an relates to each.

  • Be alert to the inherent logic of the Qur'an, and the parallel nature of that logic for both capturing the divine purpose, and the spiritual logic of the All Knowing, and yet speaking to and being logical to the unlettered human mind.

  • Adopt the Qur'anic concept of geography on the basis that the world belongs wholly to Allah, and so the Qur'an is inherently a global message, and should be treated and understood as such.

  • Contemplate the facts of life, so that when a question is formulated it is done while taking into consideration all aspects involved.

  • Understand the aims and purposes of the Shari’ah as well as the resulting outcomes.

  • Test the Fiqh verdicts to evaluate their validity by seeing if they provoke the desired outcome of bringing people closer to the pure path of Allah.

The Problem of Dar al-Kufr
Some modern scholars and certain groups of people have cast doubts about the Muslims' ability to live and interact with western countries like the United States. They pose the argument that we should all move back to Darul-Islam (land of Islam), and if we are forced to live in Darul-Kufr (land of disbelief) we should consider it a temporary stay and should either not participate in, or fight, the “Kufr” government. The answer to this argument is three-fold:

The Muslim Ummah
Darul-Kufr and Darul-Islam are not concepts that existed at the time of the Prophet (pbuh). They were introduced much later to describe the war-torn oppressive world outside the borders of the Islamic state, and the peace and justice that existed within its borders. The only group/nation concept that exists within the Qur'an and Sunnah is the concept of the Muslim Ummah. The Muslim Ummah as described in the Shari’ah is completely independent from association in any way with numbers of people or geographical locations / boundaries. Rather it is associated with the Islamic principles and the Islamic way of life as a model for people. So even a single person can represent this principle, as in fact the Qur'an does in referring to the Prophet Abraham:

(16:120) “Abraham was indeed an Ummah, devoutly obedient to Allah, and true in faith, and he did not worship other than Allah. (3:110) You (Muslims) are the best Ummah sent out to mankind, to encourage righteousness and to forbid the harmful, and to have complete faith in Allah….

The above ayahs summarize the definition of the Muslim Ummah. The Muslim Ummah is those people who are linked, no matter where they are in the world, with a common love of Allah, and they stand up for justice equally even if it is against them. Both later and early jurists understood that being the “best” for all people meant that in the past people didn’t feel safe with people from other groups, but everyone feels safe and secure within and in contact with the Muslim Ummah.

Fighting & relationships with others
(60:8) Allah does not forbid you from dealing kindly and justly with those who did not fight and drive you out of your homes for your religion, For Allah loves those who are just. (60:9) Allah does however forbid you from those who fought you because of your religion and drove you out of your homes and supported others against you so that you will be forced to submit, and turn to them for friendship and protection, and whoever submits to them (in these circumstances) has wronged himself.

These two verses lay the legal foundation for the relations between the Muslims and non-Muslims, and they speak for themselves. At all times justice is obligatory for the Muslim, and kindness is also obligatory unless and until it is used as an excuse for committing treason against Allah. Other than that we should treat everyone both Muslim and non-Muslim with justice, respect, and kindness so that we will get closer to Allah and attract people to Islam. 

Therefore, even if a government or institution is not perfect in its Islamic practices, but does not commit open and severe oppression against the Muslims, Muslims are allowed to work within the system to try to improve it. This concept is not a new one to Fiqh because all the scholars and teachers after the end of the enlightened Caliphate and the beginning of royalty continued to teach and worked within the imperfect system to serve the greater Muslim Ummah despite the problems within the government.

The Example of Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
The example we have of Muslims taking refuge in another country to protect themselves and their religion is the emigration in Abyssinia. Like today Muslims at that time were being persecuted in their homeland, and Prophet Muhammad sent them to Abyssinia because their rights would be protected there.

The Quraish (the leading tribe of Makkah) sent two emissaries to make a plea before the Abyssinian king, the Negus, to return the refugees back to Quraish. The Negus, however, was not ready to make a judgment on people in absentia. So after hearing the arguments of the emissaries (Amr, and Abdullah) he asked to hear the defense of the Muslims. When the Negus’ messenger informed the Muslims of his decision to hear them, they had a discussion amongst themselves and decided to stick to the truth no matter what. They also agreed to choose Ja’far ibn ‘Abi Talib as their spokesperson.

When they came before the King, Muslims did not bow to him, and when asked why, they explained that they bowed only to Allah. Then Jafar said, “O King! We were a people in ignorance, we worshipped idols, rejected kin, abused our neighbors, and the strong among us oppressed the weak. We continued so until Allah sent us a prophet from among us.. He invited us to worship the one God, leaving the idols of wood and stone, and to tell the truth, guard the trust, to keep good relations with both family and neighbors, to give charity… We have come to your country, chosen you and not anybody else, and desire being near you, and hope that we would not be treated unfairly in your audience, O king.”

The king was impressed with the Muslims’ argument and granted them what is now called “political asylum”. During their stay in Abyssinia Muslim developed very strong relations with the Negus and his people, and when his throne was challenged they prayed for him and were ready to help defend him if requested. They continued to live in Abyssinia until they were obligated to go to support the new Muslim state in Madina which was fighting off its enemies.

Some lessons to learn
Existence of Muslims in any country should be planned on the basis of being permanent residence, not temporary or accidental.

We should drop concepts like Darul-Islam and Darul-Kufr and consider all land to be for Allah as the Qur'an says: (7:128) Moses said to his people: “Seek support from Allah and be patient, surly the earth is Allah’s to grant to the servants of his choice, and the best is for the righteous”

Muslims in a foreign country should work together, within the established system to better their position as long as they do not get so carried away or are forced to sacrifice a core pillar of their religion.

We must present Islam in our own words, in the most tactful way possible so that we gain the interest and respect of those around us. Summary by Omar Tarazi

See also: Fiqh of minorities - i  

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