Dealing with the shari’ah on its own terms

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There are many ways in which the shariah ought to be dealt with on its own terms, and in this post, I’d like to point to three issues which arise frequently in the real world, and briefly highlight how I approach them.

1. Using shar’ī terms

When discussing the sharī’ah, I believe we ought to stick to the shar’ī terms God sets out as closely as possible, they are most accurate since it is how God and His messenger described and taught an issue/concept:

  • the words God and His messenger use reflect particular meanings and an outlook which allows us to more accurately get to the kernel of what was intended,
  • it offers a ‘rooting’ which ensures that however wild and lost interpretations get, we always have an established and legitimate basis to default back to and start again.

This point also extends to translations. Often, English words that are meant to represent shar’ī concepts (whether fiqh or aqīdah) are the closest resembling words but not the exact thing, rarely are they conceptually the same. For example, riba is not the equivalent of interest, and depending on context, interest might or might not be ribawi. (There are many other examples.)

2. False dichotomies:

I do not consider concepts such as deen/dunya or religion/science as binaries, and in the case of spirituality/fiqh I hold separating the two to be detrimental to our understanding of what God wants.

  • The deen occurs in the dunya so there shouldn’t be antagonism between the two, what God warns of is obsessing over ‘hayat dunya’ in a way that causes us to neglect the ‘hayat akhirah’; ‘hayat’ (life) refers to the way we act out our time, not the time itself.
  • The English word ‘religion’ refers to a social construct premised on certain beliefs, and science is an enquiry into the processes behind what God has said about the corporeal world – there shouldn’t be antagonism between the two;
  • Spirituality is an ambiguous term that undermines the fact that heartfelt subservience to God as an inherent part of our ‘religious’ actions, and the basis of their validity/divine acceptance.

An important point to consider is that there is an inherent difficulty in carving up the nature of subservience to God into neat slices which can be removed from one another. It’s nigh impossible to precisely determine where one ends and the other begins, and rigid divisions such as those between spirituality and law, or the sacred and profane are myths. I strongly advocate the undifferentiated whole.

3. Categorisations in fiqh and aqīdah

The purposes of categorisations in fiqh and aqīdah is to provide a presentation that is analytically clearer and has greater explanatory power for issues that concern us. This means that categories have no inherent value but simply serve as aids – they are conceptual tools that help us to understand things. Issues change and so do the ways we understand things. So sticking to categorisations formulated by mediaeval scholars who were speaking to the particular needs of their masses defies reason. Nearly every categorisation/framework we have in aqīdah (regardless of the school) was formulated by men and derived through reasoning and deduction (sabr wa taqsim). Depending on the perspective, there are always variant ways the same thing can be looked at – this is just common sense.

If today we seek to categorise things, it should simply be to make things analytically clearer and offer greater explanatory power for issues that concern us, not out of some immature notion to champion something from the past that doesn’t require championing.

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