Les quatre saisons
It is well known that the Quran claims to be capable of guiding all mankind. Yet the student of the Quran finds that it is generally addressed to the people of Arabia, who lived in the time of its revelation. Although the Quran occasionally addresses itself to all mankind its contents are vitally related to the taste and temperament, the environment and history, and the customs and usages of Arabia. When one notices this, one begins to question why a Book which seeks to guide all mankind to salvation should assign such importance to certain aspects of a particular people’s life, and to things belonging to a particular age and clime. Failure to grasp the real cause of this may lead one to believe that the Book was originally designed to reform the Arabs of that particular age alone, and that it is only people of later times who have forced upon the Book an altogether novel interpretation, proclaiming that its aim is to guide all mankind for all time.
Some might say this with no other purpose than to vent their irrational prejudice against Islam. But leaving such people aside, a word may be said to those whose critical comments are motivated by the desire to understand things better. The latter would do well to study the Quran carefully, noting down any place where they find that it has propounded either some doctrine or concept, or laid down some rule for practical conduct, relevant for the Arabs alone and conditioned by the peculiarities of a certain place or time. If, while addressing the people of a particular area at a particular period of time, attempting to purge their polytheistic beliefs and adducing arguments in support of its own doctrine of the unity of God, the Quran draws upon facts with which those people were familiar, this does not warrant the conclusion that its message is relevant only for that particular people or for that particular period of time.
What should be considered is whether or not the Quranic statements that reject the polytheistic beliefs of the Arabs of those days apply as well to other forms of polytheism in other parts of the world.
Can the arguments advanced by the Quran in that connection be used to rectify the beliefs of other polytheists?
Is the Quranic line of argument for establishing the unity of God, with minor adaptations, valid and persuasive for every age?
If the answers are positive, there is no reason why a universal teaching should be dubbed entirely specific to a particular people and age merely because it happened to be addressed originally to that people and at that particular period of time. No philosophy, ideology or doctrine consists of mere abstractions and is totally unrelated to the circumstances in which it developed. Even if such an absolute abstraction were possible it would remain confined to the scraps of paper on which it was written and would fail to have an impact on human life.
Moreover, if one whishes to spread any intellectual, moral and cultural movement on an international scale, it is by no means essential, in fact it is not even useful, for it to start on a global scale. If one wishes to propagate certain ideas, concepts and principles as the right bases for human life, one should begin by propagating them vigorously in the country where the message originates, and to the people whose language, temperament, customs and habits are familiar to its proponents. It will thus be possible to TRANSFORM the lives of the people into a practical model of the message. Only then will it be able to attract the attention of other nations, and intelligent people living elsewhere will also try to understand it and to SPREAD it in their own lands.
Indeed, what marks out a time-bound from an eternal, and a particularistic national doctrine from an universal one, is the fact that the former either seeks to exalt a people or claims special privileges for it or else comprises ideas and principles so vitally related to that people’s life and traditions as to render it totally inapplicable to the conditions of other peoples. The universal DOCTRINE, on the other hand, is willing to accord equal rights and status to all, and its principles to all peoples. Likewise, the validity of those doctrines which seek to come to grips merely with questions of a transient and superficial nature is time-bound.
If one studies the Quran with these considerations in mind, can one really conclude that it has only a particularistic national character, and that its validity is therefore time-bound?
Those who embark upon a study of the Quran often proceed with the assumption that this Book is, as it is commonly believed to be, a detailed code of guidance. However, when they actually read it, they fail to find detailed regulations regarding social, political and economic matters. In fact, they notice that the Quran has not laid down detailed regulations even in respect of such oft-repeated subjects as Prayers and Alms. The reader finds this somewhat disconcerting and wonders in what sense the Quran can be considered a code of guidance.
The uneasiness some people feel about this arises because they forget that God did not merely reveal a Book, but that He also designated a Prophet. Suppose some laymen were to be provided with the bare outlines of a construction plan on the understanding that they would carry out the construction as they wished. In such a case, it would be reasonable to expect that they should have very elaborate directives as to how the construction should be carried out. Suppose, however, that along with the broad outline of the plan of construction, they were also provided with a competent engineer to supervise the task. In that case, it would be quite unjustifiable to disregard the work of the engineer, on the expectation that detailed directives would form an integral part of the construction plan, and then to complain of imperfection of the plan itself.
The Quran is a Book of broad general principles rather than of legal minutiae. The Book’s main aim is to expound, clearly and adequately, the intellectual and moral foundations of the Islamic programme for life. It seeks to consolidate these by appealing both to man’s mind and to his heart. Its method of guidance for practical Islamic life does not consist of laying down minutely detailed laws and regulations. It prefers to outline the basic framework for each aspect of human activity, and to lay down certain GUIDELINES within which man can order his life in keeping with the Will of God.
The mission of the Prophet is to give practical shape to the Islamic vision of the good life, by offering the world a model of an individual character and of a human state and society, as living embodiments of the principles of the Quran.
Modèle, déviations et réponse islamique
Modern Muslim political discourse often draws a line between an Islamic and a Muslim state. The former, it says, implement rigorously the Law penalties and punishments while the latter is a Muslim majority state ruled by not-so-good or ideal Muslim rulers. Only three out of fifty-seven O.I.C. member states call themselves Islamic. Other call themselves kingdoms, people’s republics or simply an emirate ruled by a chief. On a closer look, the difference does not appear substantial for three simple reasons:
In the case of the earlier Muslim history, the political authority embodied the -religious- and -political- functions. The rightly guided caliphs were also knowledgeable jurists in matters of law. With the Umayyad political take over, the state still in principle remained Islamic, though it was taken over per force by a hereditary claimant to power. Second, the state remained Islamic because its laws were based on the Law, neither the Umayyads nor the Abbasids or later aspirants for power, suppressed the Holy Law, though occasionally in a few areas they tried to influence the judiciary leading to an obvious tension between the two.
Law, however, determined economic and social life. State appointed chief justice as well as local judges, who adjudicated matters according to one or another recognised schools of jurisprudence. It is historically incorrect to think that with the change of the caliphate, the law of the land changed and Islamic laws were confined to personal Islamic laws. Conferment of Islamic laws to the so-called -Muslim personal law- was an imposition by the overseas colonialists, who occupied Muslim lands.
Third, a formal and strong link between the less pious and observant ruler and the people remained through the institution of Friday sermons in which a prayer was made for the monarch for being the Shadow of Allah on Earth, a statement which calls for a critical look; nevertheless speaks for the Islamic character of state.
Then why do we have this ongoing political discourse from Yazid’s time to the British Raj in Pakistan and elsewhere? Mawdudi and before him others, like Rashid Rida, pleaded for an Islamic state in order to bring back those essential features and characteristics, which were suppressed, modified or replaced by certain other features under the kings and monarchs in the past centuries.
Mawdudi addresses the issue at three levels. First, he tries to identify in the Quran and the Prophet’s Tradition the normative foundations of an Islamic political and social order. It is here that theoretical and applied dimensions of concept and sovereignty, viceregency, limits of obedience to the authorities, rights and obligations of the public servants, and more importantly, the role of interactive decision making and implementation of social justice is deliberated.
Having dilated on the intellectual and normative foundations and the framework of an Islamic political order, Mawdudi compared the post-rightly guided caliphate period with the ideal contained in the Quran and the Tradition. He finds certain obvious deviations from the ideal. Making a departure from the romantic and traditionalist interpretation of history enforced at the intellectual level by Shibli Numani (1847-1914) in his classic “al-Mamun” (1887), Mawdudi applies principles of historical criticism in understanding the causes of transition from the caliphate to monarchy. Source criticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition had been the feature of the Muslim scholars from early days, encouraged by the Prophet himself. However, the romantic approach in history and conservative traditionalism did not encourage intellectuals to develop a critique of the monarchial period of the after-fall caliphate.
Mawdudi became critical, however with respect for such personalities, of their policies and decisions which became instrumental in changing the course of events and the trend of society. He based his analysis on the touchstone of the truth provided by the Quran and the Tradition.
This critical work highlights causes and reasons for the transition from ideal to the incidental, which shows a departure from certain basic norms such as decision making done on the principle of Council lead decision making which is direct election of the ruler based on capability and qualifications and not on hereditary succession and public accountability of the expenditure of funds. Despite the preceding three shortcomings, independence of judiciary and the institutions of -legal opinion- and -judicial edicts- and -schools- were practically engines of change thanks to their ongoing practice of independent jurisprudence in various areas of life which helps in broadening the application of Law in economy, social and financial matters as well as in art and architecture.
The social norms, economic practices, family system and personal law, inheritance law, evidence law, as prescribed by the Quran and the Tradition continued to operate even under the greatest usurpers of political power. This peculiar situation resulted into a legal dilemma for the jurists. Even scholars like Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) hesitated in endorsing rebellion against a Muslim ruler who may have obvious weakness but who maintians public prayers and takes care of the people’s welfare.
The issue became more complex with the political decline, disintegration of Muslim political authority and rise of European imperialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The oppressive colonisers, who in the secular European tradition imposed secular laws on Muslim lands, replaced the Muslim rulers. The abolition of the Ottoman caliphate turned out to be the last blow to the concept of the global Islamic state and Muslim community.
The new challenge was perhaps no less serious than the earlier one. The basic issues at conceptual and applied levels though were not completely new, the European secular model concentrated on the people’s sovereignty along with the final authority of the crown or the President in certain cases. The source of law for the European nations was mainly the pronouncement of the crown or customary law in which their religious scriptures had practically no role to play. The distribution of power in the legislative bodies was based on secular principles and on show of hands. Morality was important but confined to personal realms.
For the Muslims, the pain of colonisation added to the already existing concern and desire to revive the Muslim caliphate. The colonisers were generally considered more undesirable than the corrupt Muslims rulers were. EMERGENCE of movements for restoration of Islamic political order was therefore a natural phenomenon in the length and breadth of the Muslims world during this period.