Islamic Law and Its Use in Muslim Politics

By Khan, Muqtedar | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 3, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Islamic Law and Its Use in Muslim Politics

Khan, Muqtedar, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Islamic Law and Its Use in Muslim Politics

The American Muslim community is in its formative stages and, as such, is facing many contentious issues, such as whether to participate in American politics, how to deal with non-Muslims, what kind of citizen a Muslim should be in a secular democracy and how to redefine gender roles in postmodern times. Needless to say, many different perspectives are competing to gain legitimacy and leadership to guide the emerging direction of the new community.

This process is further compounded by the resonance and variety of Islamic resurgence in the Muslim diaspora. Many Islamic movements are experiencing strong revival in Islam's traditional homelands, and also are influencing Islamic life in the U.S. Among its different manifestations are Islamist political movements seeking to establish the Islamic state, puritanical movements seeking to purify the faith, Sufi movements seeking to revive their tariqas (ways), and sectarian movements renewing old and forgotten disputes.

The enormous energy released by these movements is galvanizing Muslims everywhere, leading to intense, heated discussions and debates about how Islam and the global Islamic revival should be understood and implemented in their local context. In all these contentious discussions, more and more people are turning to the tradition of Islamic law to settle disputes and issue decisive verdicts on what is right and what is wrong. Often this takes the form of who is right and who is wrong.

It is in this discursive environment that I wish to share some reflections about Islamic law in order that, in invoking it, we do no injustice to Islam or the spirit of Islamic revival.

Before we consider the nature of Islamic law let us reflect on the relationship between Islam and Islamic law--for the two are not identical. Islamic law is a subset of Islam. In other words, Islam is more than just a legal entity, and being a Muslim means a lot more than following legal injunctions.

Islam is the "shar," the way or the path revealed by God that will lead to success in this life and in the hereafter. Islam is about enlightenment above anything else. It makes a human being a civilized one. Islam brings knowledge to the ignorant and discipline and direction to his or her life.

Most importantly, Islam provides answers to the mysteries of existence. As humans we all seek answers to such questions as who am I? Where do I come from? What is life? What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of life and death? What happens after death? What is the nature of the eternal and how do I relate to it? What are my obligations to the divine? Why am I obligated to the divine? What is goodness and what is the meaning of a good life? What is the relationship between knowledge, goodness, happiness and success?

Islam provides rational, substantive, empowering, enlightening and inspirational answers to all the above questions. The purpose of Islamic law is not to present a set of arbitrary hurdles to test the belief of Muslims. Rather it is a set of norms that direct an individual toward a materially and spiritually good life. It also provides constitutional principles to help ensure justice and welfare for all as society develops political and legal institutions to manage the ever-increasing complexity of life and human interactions.

Islamic law, or shariah, is not a clearly articulated set of rules available for immediate reference.

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