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


Islamic Shari'at changeable or not?

New Delhi: Writer, teacher and social worker, Dr Sughra Mehdi believes that Islamic shari’at is not a heavenly or divine revelation. Rather, it has been compiled after analysis, defining and interpreting verses of the holy Qur’an and Hadith. Therefore, it can be revised to meet the requirements of changed circumstances. Dr Mehdi had to go a long way to arrive at this conclusion.

She says that there cannot be any amendment in the basic concepts of Islam but with the changing circumstances the principles of shari’at applying to daily life can be changed. An opponent of triple talaq in one sitting, Dr Mehdi is also in favour of incorporating changes in the nikahnama to enable Muslim women to be aware of their rights guaranteed to them by Islam. They have been deprived of their rights because of wrong interpretation of the shari’at. 

Mufti Arshad Farooqui commenting on Dr Mehdi’s views, said that Islamic shari’at has solutions of all problems till eternity. Life and problems change with passage of time. Shari’at is not static. There is sufficient elasticity in it. To settle new problems there is the provision of Ijtehad (interpretation of Islamic laws). Interpretation or exercise of judgments in matters related to shari’at cannot be said as change in shari’at, Mufti Farooqui said, adding that some issues of shari’at are based on urf (norms) and ‘aadat (habits) and because of changes in norms and habits, shari’at needed to be re-interpreted. He said that for the explanation of legal aspects of the Qur’an and Hadith, special and thorough knowledge of Qur’an and Hadith is necessary. Therefore, only muftis and experts of Islamic jurisprudence can properly interpret and explain shari’at laws.

Contesting his arguments, Dr Mehdi said that in the verses of Qur’an it is clearly stated that every man and woman should study Qur’an and give serious thought to its teachings and commands. She asked how far it was correct to say that only molvis or muftis could interpret Qur’an which has been sent for the welfare and betterment of all mankind? Dr Mehdi said that molvis and muftis have wrongly interpreted Qur’an and tried to give a lesser position to women.

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