Home Thinkers Series Methodological Study of the Thoughts of Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui – Part II

Methodological Study of the Thoughts of Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui – Part II

He believed that the door to understanding religion should remain open to everyone, free from superstitious fears. When discussing inter-faith dialogue, he advised followers of all religions: “Let individuals reconnect to the divine. Let them do it on their own without imposing on them our dated interpretations of the sacred texts. Trust them. Make them aware of the stakes. Religious mentors who deny these sources to the common man, claiming a monopoly of these sources, commit the gravest of all sins. They have no right to do so. They do not have a divine mandate for appropriating the role of interpreting God.”

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Read Part I at Methodological Study of the Thoughts of Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui – The Companion
Recap:
Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui is counted among the distinguished thinkers of the 21st century who played an extraordinary role in the intellectual leadership of Islamic thought’s advancement and the Islamic movement. While he was well-known and professionally engaged in the field of Islamic economics, his contributions hold exceptional significance in the general subjects of Islamic thought as well. While he participated in discussions on many important subjects within Islamic thought, his focus was primarily on providing essential and general principles, methodologies, and frameworks for Islamic thought, rather than engaging in detailed discussions and presenting research-based opinions on specific topics. His efforts were directed toward making people aware and attentive of these principles and methodologies within the realm of Islamic thought.

In this article, I will try to highlight the foundational and methodological characteristics of his works related to Islamic thoughts spanning almost fifty years which will be a kind of summary and reference point for his works.

  1. Uncertainty, Disagreement, and Humility
  2. The True Understanding of the Nature of Religious Teachings

  3. A Profound Consciousness of the Time:  Change is an essential aspect of human conditions. The human world has always been subject to constant change. However, the degree and pace of change that the present era has experienced are truly unprecedented in human history. According to some speculations, around 80 percent of the changes that have occurred in human history happened in the past two centuries. Therefore, the restlessness and turmoil present in all religious traditions in the modern period are vital subjects of study in contemporary history and sociology. Indeed, the same situation led some sociologists to mistakenly believe that these traditions had come to an end. This misunderstanding then sparked a conflict between tradition and modernity, interpreted through the lenses of continuity and rupture. This discussion has weakened in comparison to the last century, and its trajectory has also reversed in general compared to that period. Judging from Najat’s writings, it seems that he fully supported the position of continuity. He stated:

 “In the initial phase of the Second Renaissance, the scientific centres of Europe used the same books on philosophy, mathematics, medicine, and natural sciences that had been translated from Arabic to Latin. The Islamic system of governance, administrative and bureaucratic systems prevailing in the Islamic world, and the institutions established for economic organization and social welfare continued to serve as exemplary models for the entire civilized world for a considerable period. Islam, by laying the foundation of noble ethics as a way of life, had bestowed a powerful moral inclination, enabling Muslims to acquire knowledge from the past of humanity. Under its influence, Muslims gained an understanding of realities and learned methods of organization. They, in turn, contributed to the progress and well-being of humanity by devising beneficial ways and continuously applying discovered truths in practical life”. (Tehreek-e-Islami Asar-e-Hazir Mein: 180)

It is evident that he viewed the early Muslim civilization as a continuation of the pre-Islamic civilization and the contemporary Western civilization as a continuation of Islamic civilization. Additionally, he believed it was essential for Muslims to benefit from the discoveries and advancements made by others in the present era. It is noteworthy that this massive and unexpected transformation compelled all religious traditions to critically assess themselves on a large scale. They had to adapt to new changes leaving behind the elements that were related to ancient times and make necessary changes according to new demands. Almost all religious traditions, including Islamic tradition, began accepting this transformation and the process is still ongoing. However, an important question arises: to what extent do they accept these changes willingly, and to what extent are they doing it out of compulsion? Furthermore, it is crucial to understand to what extent these changes are incorporated within the framework of religious traditions and accepted from within, and to what extent they are opposed to tradition and accepted through rebellion and defiance.

In this entire context, Nejat Sahib is a distinguished thinker who had a deep understanding of the changing time. I believe that very few Muslim thinkers grasped this change with the clarity that Nejat Sahib did. He sought to explore the possibilities of this transformation from within Islamic tradition and attempted to see it as an integral part of the tradition. Nejat Sahib attributed great importance to the variations arising due to differences in language, place, and changing times within the framework of the understanding of Sharia (Islamic law) and its disputes. He considered the last category, i.e., differences due to changing times, as the most significant and challenging. He stated:

 “I believe that in the process of reaching a decision through deliberation on emerging issues, the relevance of the differences associated with the changes in time holds the utmost importance at present. It is also a fact that the success of the Ummah (Muslim community) in dealing with differences based on language and place cannot be compared to the challenges posed by differences arising from changing times.” (Maqasid Shariah: 129)

Elaborating on this point he says: “there are two important aspects: Firstly, the pace of changes occurring in life has not remained constant as time has progressed. For several centuries after the Prophethood (PBUH) era, there was little progress in transportation and communication means. Similarly, the state of agriculture and industry remained unchanged. Energy was generated solely through human labour, animals, wind, and water, and this situation persisted for millennia. After a thousand years after the Prophetic era, the invention of the steam engine brought a significant transformation in the world of transportation and logistics. Then, two centuries later, the discovery of electricity had revolutionary effects, and in the 20th century, the extensive use of petroleum further accelerated changes. Subsequently, the discovery of nuclear power completely transformed the world. In other words, the pace of transformations in the first thousand years of Islamic history and the last five hundred years has been so vastly different that no comparison is possible.” (Maqasid Shariah: 130)

He emphasized the importance of adapting to change and adopting appropriate attitudes as a result of these changes. For instance, in clear words, he stated:

“The awareness that the world in which this deen is to be established keeps changing, and even in any given period, the conditions of its different countries vary, holds special significance.” (Tehreek-e-Islami Asr Hazir Mein: 72)

He also drew attention to the fact that after these essential transformations, our reliance on history and historical arguments for every issue becomes inappropriate and impractical. He said:

“Finding a counterpart from the tradition for this purpose is futile because the historical context in which we find ourselves today has no exact parallel. This is an unprecedented situation in Islamic history, and it requires new forms of reasoning. If we are confident in our understanding of the current circumstances and have faithfulness to Allah and a strong attachment, then we should trust in this effort and adopt this approach.” (Mulk Ka Maujooda Nizam Aur Tehreek-e-Iqamat-e-Deen: 29)

In the specific context of India, he emphasized the need to address the present circumstances with special attention. He pointed out that “the system in which Muslims in India are living is unlike any experience during the time of any Prophet or any jurist from the past. Therefore, making deductions and analogies (qiyas and istinbat) based on historical precedents is not possible; only general guidelines can be derived. The method of deriving from the compiled fiqh, which is not based on divine revelation or the Prophetic tradition but is a product of human intellect, cannot be considered accurate when determining the legal status of India, such as whether it is Dar al-Harb (land of war) or Dar al-Islam (land of Islam) and this is contrary to what Allah wants from us.” (Mulk Ka Maujooda Nizam Aur Tehreek-e-Iqamat-e-Deen: 31)

They further emphasized that the changing customs and practices of the time should be given full consideration in the process of ijtihad (independent legal reasoning). He stated:

“Many Shari’a rulings are based on the customs and practices of the community to whom the Prophet was sent. This is a natural and wise approach, but it requires that in situations where customs and practices differ, the original religion and objectives of Sharia should be taken into account while addressing issues of ijtihad.” (Maqasid Shariah: 164)

Describing the changes occurring in the modern era, he writes:

“With the expansion of knowledge and advance in sciences and technology the mode of production and distribution of wealth changes and so do the conditions of living. Old attitudes, moves and manners become obsolete and new ones are dictated by the changed circumstances. Islam is not committed to conserve outdated institutions or revive the dead ones.” (Jamaat-e-Islami in Secular India: 87)

Instead of putting labels of liberalism and westernization, he holds religious leadership responsible for not being aware of the changes happening around them and not fully meeting the demands of the time. He says:

“The main issue is not whether knowledgeable and Muslims are equally influenced by modern civilization. The real issue is that in new circumstances, the old standards appear irrelevant, and our religious leadership has been reading the potential of ijtihad for a hundred years but is still not stepping forward in that direction. The real question is, what are the reasons for not moving ahead?” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 10)

Among the major manifestations of modern changes is the emergence and evolution of democracy. Democracy has been an important topic of discussion in Islamic thought, but Nejat Sahib realized that most of the Islamic thinkers who talk about democracy are not aware of what democracy is all about and how the people perceive it. He writes:

“See! We people of Jamaat Islami and the Islamic movement look at democracy on the contrary to sovereignty of God, but this is not how people look at it. Most of the people perceive it in a very simple sense. Democracy for them is the involvement of common people in decision-making. It is a system that does not deprive anyone of the whole power, nor it confines power to a few hands only. So whenever common people are deprived of their say in decision-making from smaller scale to larger scale is a non-democracy and on the contrary, if common people have their say at every level that is democracy. The grand points that we are making are something else that is not under discussion now. (Ikkiswin Sadi me Islam, Musalman awr Tahreek Islami: 13) 

The changes of this era have fundamentally transformed the concept of leadership. Democracy, freedom, equality, advancements in sciences, and the widespread availability of information have left behind the notion of leadership that is used to determine the fate of an entire community, nation, or country solely by the decisions of one individual. Nejat Sahab realized this point and elaborated on it while critically examining one of his old articles:

“In the text of the article, there is a significant emphasis on the transformation of leadership, as if it were the key to a clear victory. Today, this seems a naive idea. In the present era, the reliance of Islamic life on the leadership and sovereignty of new leaders present in some corners of Muslim society is not feasible. For this purpose, it is essential to develop a vision of Islamic life that connects an individual Muslim directly with divine guidance, and through it, they acquire inspiration and harmony with the ground realities of the modern age. Such a vision should prioritize the objectives over the means and give superiority to the core principles of the religion over the legal injunctions.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 15)

The third principle of Islamic thought is that one should have a deep awareness of the times and, especially, a comprehensive understanding of changes.

4. Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Taqleed (Imitation), and Ijtehaad (efforts for legal reasoning):

Dr. Nejat possessed a deep understanding of religious teachings and an astute awareness of the evolving times. This combination allowed him to accurately assess the role of jurisprudence, placing significant emphasis on ijtihad while criticizing taqleed. The foundation of his viewpoints rested on a comprehension of religion and a sensitivity to the contemporary context.

In addressing the significance of jurisprudence, he stated:

“Fundamentally, Allah has mandated our obedience to only the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In modern Islamic legislation, we must certainly draw upon the jurisprudential wisdom of the past. However, it’s crucial to remember that these rulings were crafted by human beings within specific historical contexts, lacking a clear shariah or rational basis for obligatory status. Their practical utility is not a necessity.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 27)

Discussing the temporal and non-permanent status of historical concepts in jurisprudence, he offered examples:

“It is a reality that the division of the world into Darul-Harb and Darul-Islam, as well as the Dhimmi status assigned to non-Muslim residents within an Islamic government, found in jurisprudential texts, do not possess a permanent status. These were scholarly interpretations guided by practical necessity rather than divinely sanctioned permanent divisions.”

Throughout his work, Dr. Nejat consistently stressed that jurisprudence is molded by human and contextual factors. He articulated:

“It’s important to recognize a common misconception among people that jurisprudence is immutable and resistant to change. Jurisprudence is, in fact, a product of human thought from a particular era. Given changing circumstances, the need for fresh thinking and the development of new jurisprudence guided by ijtihad becomes essential. Nevertheless, existing jurisprudence will continue to serve as a model and guide.”

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.”  (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein: 69)

He further emphasized:

“Islamic jurisprudence traditionally evolved in response to changing life circumstances. Yet, for the past four centuries, this evolution has stagnated.” (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein: 70)

Highlighting a major drawback resulting from taqleed, Dr. Nejat noted:

“By elevating the jurisprudential legacy of the past to a binding status, traditional religious circles have deprived themselves of the opportunity to learn from external sources.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 29)

Dr. Nejat recognized the dangers of blindly mimicking Western culture and adhering to outdated legal practices in fiqh, both of which he regarded as equally perilous. He believed that approaching situations with full awareness, connecting with divine guidance, and relying on one’s intellect and comprehension were the correct paths to follow. In one instance, he expressed his perspective very openly:

“The ailment afflicting Muslims, where they either emulate their forebears or Western societies, prevents them from forging new paths using their own wisdom. This affliction permeates all aspects of their individual and collective lives, impacting their worldly pursuits as well as their religious endeavors. Whether they engage in scientific or civil studies, or even when they seek knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah, their approach remains unaltered. Their consistent mode of operation persists whether they plan for economic growth or endeavor to rejuvenate Islam. The ability to think independently and generate novel ideas eludes them. Instead of taking initiative, they hesitate, and instead of engaging in independent reasoning, they mimic others. This pattern is evident across all domains.” (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein:  134-135)

Similarly, in another instance, he wrote:

“The primary task is to liberate Muslims once again from mental bondage, both from Western influences and from the outdated aspects of Islamic tradition.” (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein: 186)

He not only criticized the imitative approach of Muslims towards jurisprudence but also deemed it detrimental to blindly follow past interpretations and understandings of religion. In this context, he stated:

“While jurisprudence remains an integral part of our historical heritage, other crucial aspects of religious thought, such as the interpretation of beliefs, Ilm al-kalam, Sufi literature, and Sufism traditions, hold great significance. This literature has significantly shaped contemporary Muslim society through the contributions of scholars and preachers mentioned earlier.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 27-28)

In his address to the leaders of Tehreek-e-Islami, he highlighted their clarity in addressing other facets of religious thought while expressing their ambiguity regarding jurisprudence. He expressed:

“From my perspective, the leaders of Tehreek-e-Islami have been more explicit in their stance on these other elements of religious thought. They consider them to be expressions of human comprehension of the Qur’an and Sunnah within specific contexts and conditions. They do not regard them as conclusive evidence for modern individuals. Instead, most of the time, they deem them unsuitable and harmful to shaping a modern Islamic mindset. They call for a reevaluation of all relevant issues in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, while considering the current circumstances and needs.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 28)

On the contrary, he strongly felt that mainstream scholars and leaders were unwilling to endorse this perspective of the movement, which had an impact on the effort to reform Muslim society. In light of this, Dr. Nejat aimed to critique this attitude without bias and offer the correct approach and ideas. He stated:

“It is undeniable that many scholars and leaders have not embraced this viewpoint. Even today, the religious beliefs and overall mindset of the Muslim masses are influenced by these outdated views. This poses a significant challenge to the reforms sought by the people and hinders the creation of a dynamic action-oriented Muslim society, which is essential for the revival of Islam in the modern era. The solution to this situation is clear: Criticism of the erroneous positions held by the Scholars, comprehensive development of new religious thought, and intellectual retraining of Muslims to rid them of un-Islamic influences from ancient scriptures and Sufism, fostering the desired positive mindset. Unfortunately, this requirement remains unfulfilled for substantial reasons.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 28)

For Dr. Nejat, taqleed resembled the practices of the church. Consequently, he advocated for freedom of conscience, thought, expression, and the exchange of ideas as opposed to blind imitation. He expressed:

“Islam does not have a church, nor is there anyone infallible after the last Messenger of Allah, whose interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah is binding on everyone. Each individual believer is free to interpret the divine instructions and apply them to their own life challenges. They can seek guidance from others but must not follow blindly.” (Ma’ash, Islam, aur Musalman: 29)

Dr. Nejat regarded jurisprudence as an ancient institution. He considered it vital to continually revise Islamic ideas in light of recent changes, to the extent that he didn’t find even fifty-year-old ideas trustworthy for guiding contemporary circumstances. He boldly stated:

“Consider, for example, the challenge of presenting dawah of Islam to present-day India, thereby paving the way for the establishment of religion here. This is a new challenge that did not exist in the past because today’s India is vastly different from its predecessor. We must seek answers to this challenge ourselves, as a complete solution cannot be found in the writings of Maulana Maududi, or Maulana Ilyas, let alone their predecessors. We must derive the answers from the Qur’an and Sunnah, utilizing our intellect and experience. Unfortunately, we often interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah through the lens of human thinking, failing to contemplate them directly. Furthermore, we rely on the experiences of others rather than understanding the situations and needs through our own observations, daily experiences, and the study of current circumstances.” (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein:  135)

The author strongly believes that, in general, movements, and particularly the Tehreek-e-Islami Hind, have consistently faced pressure from traditional circles when it comes to understanding and interpreting religion. As a result of this pressure, they often find themselves hesitant to adopt the correct position, instead staying within the boundaries of the silent and traditional circle. Dr. Nejat points to one of the reasons behind this situation:

“In every country, Islamic movements have had to temper their criticism, recognizing the importance of scholars and preachers compared to secular intellectuals. Sometimes, the need for public support in political conflicts with secular leaders has forced them to neglect or at least postpone intellectual reform. However, as crucial as this method may seem, we can’t achieve our goals without actually undertaking the important work for which this effort was postponed.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 28-29)

In another instance, he acknowledges that while the principles of Tehreek-e-Islami are clear in principle, however, in practice, the members and leaders of the movement tend to adhere to the prevailing societal attitudes:

“The rank and file of the Jamaat, as also its leadership, are drawn from a society for long-suffering from decadence, the spirit of ijtihad having yielded to taqleed. The principles expounded by the Jamaat are sound, but the actual behaviour of the Jamaat people is partly determined by the dominant modes of behaviour in the society from which they are drawn.” (Jamaat-e-Islami in Secular India, 88)

He  firmly favored ijtihad over taqleed and expressed his confidence:

“Drawing a lesson from Islamic history, we can say with certainty that Muslims will not be harmed by embracing new thinking in new situations. On the contrary, there is a risk of harm if we refrain from thinking and taking action.” (Maqasid Shariat: 146)

He stressed the importance of using ijtihad and intellect, stating:

“Consider the Holy Qur’an. It repeatedly urges individuals to use their intellect when addressing them. Its greatest invitation to believe in Allah is also given by appealing to the intellect.he Qur’an invites people to think and contemplate, emphasizing that monotheism aligns with intellect, while polytheism opposes it.” (Tahreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein:  130)

He eloquently explained the distinction and relationship between revelation, i.e., original knowledge, and ijtihad:

“Actual knowledge transcends time, place, and numbers, while practical life places significant importance on time, place, and numbers. It is the role of ijtihad to extract relevant principles from eternal knowledge and adapt them to the context of time and place. Knowledge is eternal, ijtihad is its shadow under which our present grows up and daily life passes. Knowledge remains constant, but its interpretations evolve.” (Ikkisvi  sadi mein Islam, Musalman, aur Tehreek-e-Islami: 93)

In the context of new questions and challenges, he defined ijtihad as an appeal to the foundational ideas and principles:

“Whatever the answer to this question is, I call it ijtihad. Attempting to find answers in existing books or relying solely on heuristic methods may prove ineffective because these problems have novel origins. Thus, confronting new situations and making informed decisions constitutes ijtihad, in my view. This will be the basic type of ijtihad. (Ikkisvi  sadi mein Islam, Musalman, aur Tehreek-e-Islami: 80)

Dr. Nejat emphasized that in today’s rapidly evolving economy, numerous problems cannot be resolved by relying on old books or fatawa. He highlighted the need for new ijtihad in addressing seemingly simple yet contemporary economic questions:

“Modern-day challenges cannot be resolved through traditional fatawa. For example, determining where to invest one’s wealth, how to save, and evaluating the Shariah compliance of new wealth forms—all seemingly simple questions—cannot be answered through old texts.” (Ikkisvi  sadi mein Islam, Musalman, aur Tehreek-e-Islami: 82)

He also encouraged breaking free from the notion that new ijtihads must align with those of the old imams, stating:

“As a result of careful deliberation, your conclusions may differ from those of Imam Ghazali or even conflict with the views of previous Imams and Mujtahids. It’s important to note that economists generally agree that innovation is the path to development.” (Ikkisvi  sadi mein Islam, Musalman, aur Tehreek-e-Islami: 84)

Dr. Nejat contended that ijtihad and intellect are essential not only for addressing the intricacies of politics, economics, and modern civilized life but also for endeavors like “the struggle of iqamat-e-Deen” or reviving Islam. He pointed out that while the goals and principles may be clear, the methods often require ijtihad. (tehreek-e-Islami Asr-e-Hazir Mein: 131)

He also observed that people are more willing to engage in partial and secondary issues through ijtihad, but they tend to hesitate when it comes to fundamental ijtihad and the necessary change in attitude demanded by changing circumstances. He expressed:

“It is our peculiar psychology that we engage in juzvi ijtihad but shy away from kulli ijtihad and a shift in attitude, which the circumstances demand. I am afraid that this hesitation is driven less by fear of God and more by fear of social backlash.” (Mulk ka Maujooda Nizam aur Tehreek-e-Iqamat-e-deen: 39)

He was firmly against imposing restrictions or limitations on ijtihad or the understanding of religion. He believed that the door to understanding religion should remain open to everyone, free from superstitious fears. Moreover, he stressed that interpretations made by individuals or during a specific time should not be elevated to the level of revelation. This perspective of him applied to every religion. When discussing inter-faith dialogue, he advised followers of all religions:

“Let individuals reconnect to the divine. Let them do it on their own without imposing on them our dated interpretations of the sacred texts. Trust them. Make them aware of the stakes. Religious mentors who deny these sources to the common man, claiming a monopoly of these sources, commit the gravest of all sins. They have no right to do so. They do not have a divine mandate for appropriating the role of interpreting God.” (Relevance and Need for Understanding the Essence of Religious Traditions in the Contemporary World: 4)

To dispel the misconception that opening the door to ijtihad and allowing freedom of thought would lead to chaos, he argued:

“History has shown us that intellectual harmony is not achieved through restricting thought or imposing intellectual constraints. Instead, it is fostered through free thought, the exchange of ideas, and deliberation. Chaos and disintegration result from rigidity and repression, not from openness and tolerance.”  (Maqasid Shariah: 258)

In modern times, creativity plays a pivotal role in success, and ijtihad has historically been the most effective tool of creativity in the Islamic tradition.  Even today, it is important to revive the concept of ijtihad to foster creativity among Muslims. Dr. Nejat highlighted the vital connection between creativity and ijtihad, stating:

“The need for ijtihad exists in every age and in every sphere of life. In our seminaries and schools, we often teach what is already known, neglecting to emphasize creativity. The philosophy of education, especially within Muslim circles, tends to assume that all facts are known and merely need to be reiterated.” (Ikkisvi  sadi mein Islam, Musalman, aur Tehreek-e-Islami: 83)

Dr. Nejat advocated for ijtihad not only in the details of modern politics, economics, and cultural life but also in certain aspects of religion and Shariah that have been influenced by historical circumstances and whose original essence has been obscured. For instance, he strongly emphasized the need for ijtihad in matters of personal law. He writes:

“Various issues in this realm, such as limiting and regulating polygamy, redefining divorce procedures, revisiting divorce rights for women, addressing triple divorces and minor marriages, and the issues of vilayat-e-ajbar and khayarul bulugh, as well as forced will in the inheritance of orphaned grandchildren, require careful consideration.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 38-39)

Similarly, he called for a fresh ijtihad to revisit the boundaries of Islamic or criminal laws. Whether it concerned the issue of rajm (stoning) for a married adulterer, the punishment for apostasy, or the penalty for alcohol consumption, Dr. Nejat expressed dissatisfaction with prevailing jurisprudence in these matters and advocated for open discussion and ijtihad. For instance, while urging ijtihad on the issue of stoning for a married adulterer, he raised questions and wrote:

“The Qur’an does not explicitly mention the punishment of rajm (stoning) for a married zani (adulterer). It is necessary to re-examine the nature of this punishment, which the Prophet (PBUH) applied to specific offenders. It is crucial to determine whether the punishment was intended solely for adultery or whether it extended to the nature of the crime being more complex. Additionally, research is needed to establish whether the prescribed punishment is indeed death or if this specific method of punishment holds a Shariah status.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 30-31)

Dr. Nejat was convinced of the necessity for fresh ijtihad regarding the limits of alcohol. He expressed:

“The Holy Qur’an does not mention a punishment for a drunkard, but it is established from the Sunnah that it is a punishable offense. It is documented that the Prophet (peace be upon him) administered penalties to those found drunk, but the nature and extent of the punishment were detailed in jurisprudence. These rulings were based on the actions of the Caliphs and the decisions of the Prophet’s Companions. Given these considerations, it is worth contemplating the position modern Islamic legislation should adopt on this matter.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 30)

In general, he preferred to pose questions and encourage scholars and thinkers to deliberate on matters of Shariah, refraining from openly presenting his opinions or ijtihad. However, in the case of apostasy, he not only called for ijtihad but also expressed significant disagreement with the prevailing and popular opinion, advocating against the punishment for apostasy. First, he described the severity of the punishment for apostasy and wrote:

“The Holy Qur’an does not prescribe a specific punishment for apostasy. While guaranteeing freedom of conscience, declaring apostasy a punishable crime and penalizing it in a manner that eliminates opportunities for future reform is a highly sensitive issue.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 31)

He proceeded to challenge this perspective with a compelling argument against the punishment for apostasy. He wrote:

“How can it be that the freedoms cherished by Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries are denied to non-Muslims in Muslim majority countries? Justice and fairness demand that double standards not be applied.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 32)

At the same time, he also indicates that he is against the punishment of isolated apostasy, not the punishment of warriors and rebels, as he writes:

“The matter of rebellion against the Islamic state and anti-Islamic sentiments is distinct from the act of leaving Islam—an extremely sensitive issue involving the punishment for changing one’s religion and abandoning Islam.” (Mua’asir Islami Fikar: 31)

It is important to note that, historically, majority of the scholars and jurists have advocated the death penalty for apostasy in tandem with jurisprudence. However, in the modern era, a significant divergence of opinion on this issue has emerged, with many scholars rejecting the punishment for apostasy. Prominent figures like Allama Rashid Raza Misri and Imam Abu Zahra have taken a stance against the punishment for apostasy. In the 1990s, an extensive and reasoned discussion on this topic took shape in the form of two books. The first book, Dr. Inayatullah Subhani’s “Tabdeeli-e-Mazhab aur Islam” (and a slightly different version of the same, “Murtad Ka Hukm Islami Qanoon Mein”), was initially published in Urdu and later translated into English and Arabic. The second book, authored by Dr. Taha Jaber Alwani, was first published in Arabic and subsequently in English, titled “La Ikraha Fiddin.” Interestingly, despite the absence of direct collaboration between the two authors, these two books, published nearly simultaneously, share remarkably similar arguments and reasoning.

Dr. Nejat also emphasized the importance of ijtihad in interpreting the Qur’an. He believed that certain verses had been misconstrued, leading to a spirit of dominance and conflict among people. A major argument for perpetual war against non-Muslims or polytheists has been derived from a Qur’anic verse that mentions fighting the polytheists until the “fitnah” ends. Many Arab and Urdu commentators have interpreted “fitnah” as “shirk,” resulting in the interpretation that fighting polytheists must continue until the end of days until polytheism is eradicated. He wrote:

“The ‘fitnah’ referred to in the Qur’anic verse is often incorrectly construed as an injunction to fight for dominance universally and continuously.” (Muslim Minority: 16)

Contrastingly, he preferred the second interpretation of “fitnah,” as found in English translations (see the English translations of this verse by Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Asad and Pickthall), where “fitnah” is understood to mean “persecution” and “oppression”.

In essence, an important principle of Islamic thought emerges: rather than blindly adhering to the opinions of past scholars and jurists, individuals should strive to directly derive guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah, considering the context of their times and circumstances. Every Muslim should engage in this endeavor of ijtihad to the best of their abilities and within their respective capacities.

To be continued

The following article has been translated by Khushhal Ahmed from Zindagi-e-nau, an Urdu monthly magazine that primarily engages with Islamic thought.

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