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In an interview, Amr Adly discusses his recent Carnegie paper on Egypt’s large private enterprises.

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The dissolution of the NDP

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Taqlid, Ijtihad, and Democracy
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)
  by: : By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

In the wake of the industrial Revolution in Europe , Western countries established their political and cultural domination over much of the rest of the world, leading to the establishment of European colonial empires. This posed a new and major challenge for Muslims. At that time, numerous Muslim leaders in various countries emerged, inspired with just one mission—to engage in armed jihad—thinking that to be the only solution to the challenge of Western imperialism. But despite two hundred years of armed struggle against the West, Muslims did not gain substantially.

If this problem is examined in the light of the Quran and Hadith it is clear that the solution lay somewhere else—in peaceful dawah or missionary work. The Prophet was faced with a similar predicament, and the Quran’s instruction to him in this context was to present the message of God to the people, for this would be the guarantee of his protection (Surah Al-Maidah: 67). The Quran advises us to engage in dawah and propagation of Islam with wisdom (hikmat), and it adds that the result of this would be that one’s foes would become one’s friends. Thus, it declares, ‘And O Prophet, goodness and evil are not equal. Repel evil with what is best. You will see that he with whom you had enmity has become your closest friend’ (Surah Fussilat: 34).

It would not be wrong to say that the Quran indicates that dawah is the only solution. Why is it, then, that modern-day Muslims could not understand this? Why did they take to jihad, in the sense of physical warfare or qital, instead of dawah, especially when it was not difficult to realize that in the given conditions violence would cause even more destruction for Muslims and nothing else? Why is it that modern-day Muslim leaders made such a terrible blunder by adopting the slogan that violent jihad was the only solution?

In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this was that these leaders considered that ijtihad-e mutlaq or directly deriving rules from the Quran and Hadith to be prohibited for them. In accordance with their deeply-rooted taqlidi mentality, they believed that they had to strictly follow the guidance and rules of the established corpus of fiqh. Now these books of fiqh were full of rules and commandments about jihad, in the sense of qital. In contrast, they hardly contained any rules that could provide guidance for the task of dawah. They had long and detailed chapters on jihad, in the sense of qital, but none at all on dawah and tabligh.

These leaders could have learnt about the need to engage in dawah in the Quran, but they viewed the Quran simply as a book of laws. For rules for new issues they turned not to the Quran, but, instead, to the established corpus of fiqh, which, as I said, does not contain any guidance for dawah work. From this it can be gauged how useful and essential ijtihad, in the sense of directly deriving rules from the Quran and Hadith, is, and, contrarily, how harmful taqlid, regarding the established corpus of fiqh as the sole source of rules, can be.

This same mistake was made by many Indian Muslim leaders who, in the wake of the establishment of British rule, declared India to be dar ul-harb or ‘abode of war’. In 1823 Shah Abdul Aziz issued a fatwa, opining that India had now turned into dar ul-harb. Thereafter, 500 Indian ulema signed a fatwa claiming that it had now become obligatory for the Indian Muslims to engage in jihad, in the sense of qital, against the British. Consequently, many Muslims began being involved in violent anti-British activities, thinking this to be their religious duty. This carried on for over a hundred years but it proved to be completely fruitless. Despite this, it is shocking to see how some Muslims still believe, and some even openly announce, that India is dar ul-harb and that they can solve their problems through jihad.

The reason for this peculiar situation is that the minds of these people are still stuck in the groove of the traditional corpus of fiqh based on the established maslaks, or schools of thought, whose views on taqlid and ijtihad they consider themselves duty bound to follow. And according to this tradition of fiqh, countries like India are categorized as dar ul-harb. Had these Muslim leaders gone back even before the formation of the schools of fiqh, directly to the Quran and Sunnah, they would undoubtedly have realized that the status of a country like India is not that of dar ul-harb, but, rather, that of dar ul-dawah, ‘abode of missionary work’ by inviting others to the faith. But this they did not do because they considered ijtihad, in the sense of directly approaching the Quran and Sunnah to derive rules, to be prohibited to them. In accordance with their taqlidi approach, they limited themselves wholly to the corpus of established fiqh for guidance. And, as is known, this corpus of fiqh speaks in detail about dar ul-harb but not at all about dar ul-dawah.

Present-Day Fiqh Is Not Enough

The present corpus of fiqh was compiled by the second or third [Islamic] centuries. Many Muslims erroneously believe that this fiqh is complete and that it contains all the teachings of the Quran and Hadith related to human life. This reflects the belief that, following the compilation of this corpus of fiqh, the doors of ijtihad-e mutlaq or ‘absolute ijtihad’ were fully closed, and that now only ijtihad-e muqayyad or ijtihad within the established schools of fiqh or what can be called taqlidi ijtihad, is permissible.

This belief might have been seen as appropriate in the past, but when social conditions began to undergo massive changes with the passing of the traditional age and the advent of modern science, it proved to be extremely harmful for Muslims. Muslims had come to view the corpus of fiqh as a complete legal system, and believed that there was no need to look beyond it for solutions to all their problems. Because of this, modern-day Muslims were unable to access guidance on numerous issues which was present in the Quran and Sunnah but not in the established corpus of fiqh.

Let me cite one instance in this regard. The political revolutions that accompanied the advent of the modern age brought about democracy as a new political system. Our corpus of fiqh had been developed in a prior age, that of monarchy. That is why it had no conception of modern democracy. Consequently, Muslims who thought in terms of the established corpus of fiqh could not appreciate or understand the importance of democracy. That is why some of them branded it as irreligious (la-dini) and even as ‘prohibited’ (haram). Others denounced it as a system of counting heads, where numbers are given the importance that quality deserves.

But, in fact, democracy has the potential of being a blessing for Muslims. In contrast to the old monarchical system, democracy is based on the principle of power-sharing. It offers Muslims the opportunity to gain political importance if they act wisely. But because of the lack of ijtihadi insight Muslims failed to do so. Instead, their taqlidi approach led them to talk about such plans as launching a movement to establish the Caliphate in America and to change the name of California to Caliph-ornia and dreaming up similar laughable schemes. But they failed to see how by participating in democratic governance and getting involved in democratic processes they might be able to make a place for themselves in democratic countries.

The reason for this terrible backwardness of present-day Muslim thought is the refusal to engage in ijtihad, to come out of the boundaries of the established corpus of fiqh and to gain guidance directly from the Quran and Hadith. But for this Muslims would have been able to ponder on the Quran, and this would have taught them that the Quran provides appropriate guidance in this regard.

The Quran says that at the time of the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), Egypt was ruled by a certain king, who, although a polytheist (mushrik), appointed the Prophet Yusuf to a high political position. He was made in-charge of food and agriculture, but he had more powers than this, acting, in a sense, as the deputy of the king, because in the ancient agricultural age the economy of countries was based essentially on agriculture. In other words, the Prophet Yusuf’s position in the political system was that of the highest official.

If modern-day Muslims did not bind themselves to taqlid but, instead, approached the Quran in a spirit of ijtihad and pondered on it carefully, they would have realized that this incident about the Prophet Yusuf is a prophetic example for them to seek to emulate. They should understand that they can use the principle of power-sharing of modern democracy for their benefit, being confident that doing so is in accordance with a prophetic practice.

 This is a translation of a portion of a chapter titled Taqlid Aur Ijtihad in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Muta‘ala [Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2003, pp.224-228].

 For more writings in English by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, see See also