Striking a Balance
Islamic Legal Discourse on
KHALED ABOU EL FADL
KHALED ABOU EL FADL
Muslims in America, though a growing and increasingly diverse community, are nonetheless still a small minority living in an ostensibly Christian country. One of the most vexing questions for Muslims, particularly those who consider themselves religious or “practicing,” is how to live as persons of faith in a challenging and sometimes hostile environment. Muslim beliefs are generally not understood in the United States, and Muslim practices are not supported by the social, professional, and economic structures of American society.
The problems arising from being in the minority have been debated throughout the history of Islam. Debates have centered on how to define the dar alIslam (abode of true faith), in relation to the dar al-harb, or dar al-kufr, the area where Islam is neither the dominant religion nor the basis for the community s government or legal structure. Muslim jurists have questioned whether Muslims should even try to live outside the abode of Islam and, if so, how Islam should or could be practiced there. They have debated whether the laws of Islam are applicable in a non-Muslim country, and the criteria that should be used in living a pious life under these circumstances. At the core of these distinctions are attempts at determining when justice and righteousness can be served and when one is in a situation of true oppression.
In this essay I will look at several responses to such questions, focusing on the views of the modern Egyptian jurist Rashid Rida (1865-1935) and comparing them to those of other Muslim authorities over the centuries. The issues raised in these continuing discussions have direct ramifications for American Muslims as well as for the many other Muslim communities living in the West. Regardless of whether one designates the United States and countries of the West as a part of dar al-harb, or as part of any other abode,