The purpose of the shari’ah is to fully realise human potential, to guide to that which is wholesome and uplifting. It is also to safeguard people from the excesses that lead to less-than-optimal outcomes, and in the least, bad ones. The problem we have in sectarian debates is where the line is (mis)placed, and unfortunately, it is often the case that restrictiveness is seen as the marker of God’s will and guidance. God is rather explicit about this matter, where He stands on permissiveness vs restrictiveness, and the attitude believers should take. Yet, preachers driven by ethnic and sectarian commitments and interests muddy waters that are in fact very clear.
So what is our philosophy towards life as God intended it?
In what has become known as ‘conservatism’, religious personalities mischaracterise God’s law as restrictive when nothing could be further from the truth. Literally trolling the masses, preachers tell them that “Islam is easy” whilst arbitrary rules or poorly thought-out assertions cause misery, hardship and a narrative that perpetually inhibits growth and human development, whilst denying them resources and unendingly bringing about worst outcomes – all shamefully in the name of God. I’m pointing out the obvious here – one only need study life outcomes of Muslim demographics to see this is the case.
Today, for most sects Islam is an absurd list of don’ts peppered with ‘spirituality’: a concept that translates into mystical feelings and ideas that (mis)cultivate a senseless mindset that will then conveniently accept the absurd when it comes to claims on God’s Law. It’s all a curated process. Now yes, scholars in the medieval period would have the illiterate laity perform rituals and maintain an unreflective observance of the law, but they had a reason. The masses were illiterate living simple lives with little experience of engaging with any level of complexity or sophistication. Understandably, in such a context anything but the simple would lead to confusion and disorder. But we live in an age of the complex and thus oversimplification only serves to portray God’s Law as absurd and uncompelling mythology, and in the face of modern life, unfeasible. It doesn’t take a genius to see that upcoming generations tied less to cultural norms (a tether for past immigrant generations) will push back at a narrative unable to fully engage with their lives and guide them holistically in the ways God intended. These narratives are constructed to fail. Anecdotally, the very same people who railed against my work a decade ago due to sectarian commitments now encourage their teenagers to engage my work and have realised the functional uselessness of sectarianism. May God reward them for their sincerity, and evidently, maturity provides great learning. As the godly minded, we’re not interested in saving the sects but avoiding the conflation that will set in: sectarian-interested narratives must not tarnish the repute of God’s beautiful guidance. As the Prophets put it, “Who then will be left to serve God tomorrow?”
God is not some made up fantasy. He is reality: a living and present entity, supreme in knowledge and wisdom, knowing everything about human nature, benign and just. God’s guidance is always feasible (every region, age and context), offering what is always obviously the wisest courses of action, cultivating the best state of being, always bringing about the best outcomes achievable by an individual.
In the age where shar’i learning is either superficial or highly theoretical with little focus on practice and functionality, religious personalities offer frame shots that impose medieval-period Arabian lifestyles on us or attempt to morally justify illegitimately constrictive views based on their own insecurities. We’re subject to their uncertainties: “Don’t do this because I am unsure” rather than “I don’t know/I don’t fully understand the world and neither do I have the aptitude to relate revelation to it.” So what we get are superficial takes such as ‘err on the side of caution’ and ‘if you don’t know, desist.’ Yes, these are sentiments taken from the final Messenger of God, but woefully misapplied. Putting aside the fact that the Prophet recommended “make things easy and not difficult, spread positivity and not the negative,” (Bukhari) they actually relate to the laity where a layman is unsure about something with no one to refer to in proximity. It is not appropriate for the learned to offer advice if they feel conflicted or unsure where they have to err on the side of caution, or they don’t know – in such a situation they are simply meant to hold back an opinion instead saying “I don’t know” and allow the questioner ask another who might. The prophetic advice concerns an individual in relation to their own practice – not on how a consultant should advise. Here, it is essentially the ignorance of the consultant that becomes action-guiding. How absurd!
The truth is that God repeatedly criticises the Pagans and Jews for being restrictive and inventing prohibitions that impede human flourishing and allow humans to enjoy themselves. In the context of food (although elsewhere in the Quran and hadith the sentiment is continued to underpin a range of topics) God challenges the naysayers: “Were you present when God gave you these commands? So who is more wicked than he who fabricates lies against God with no basis in knowledge in order to lead people astray? God does not guide the evildoers.” (6:144) Going on, God clarifies the permissive nature of the Law: “In all that has been revealed to me, I find nothing forbidden for people to eat except…” (6:145) with the few exceptions safeguarding humans from harm.
As for restrictions applied to the Jews which some Muslims absurdly celebrate as showing a similarity with them when in fact they should be marking out their difference and thanking God for not being subjected to the same punitive strictures, God explains: “We forbade for the Jews every animal with claws, and the fat of cattle and sheep, except what is on their backs and in their intestines, or that which sticks to their bones. This is how We penalized them for their disobedience…” (6:146) In the context and for clarity, God says, “Do not say falsely, ‘This is lawful and that is forbidden,’ inventing a lie about God: those who invent lies about God will not prosper – they may have a little enjoyment, but painful punishment awaits them. [Prophet], We forbade the Jews what We told you about. We did not wrong them; they wronged themselves.” (16:116-118)
Now when we say, out of the above principle of inventing restrictions of any nature in God’s name or mischaracterising His sensible and judicious Law, “God has not forbidden so-and-so,” we’re told we’re being permissive as if that’s a bad thing although God explicitly wants it! They assume that the purpose of life is to stay away from random things, justifying this uneducated narrative with the non-sequitur: “but life is a test!” This then leads to people assuming Abrahamic godliness is to search out prohibitions under the guise of being God-conscious. But the Prophet put it to the contrary, “The gravest sinner amongst Muslims is the one who probes into things and it becomes prohibited due to his insistent questions.” (Bukhari and Muslim) God and His messenger criticise this depraved attitude, with the Messenger of God saying, “He has prohibited certain matters, so do not violate them; He prescribed certain limits, so do not transgress them; and He kept silent about certain matters out of mercy – not forgetfulness, so do not delve into them.” (al-Daraqutni) As the Hanafi polymath al-Taftazani commented on al-Nawawi’s forty hadith: “…pursuing matters leads to obligations that are difficult to observe. A person must presume permissibility as a principle.”
A challenge is only nefarious where we decide to legalise what God has clearly stated to be unlawful. But let’s be frank, most things we challenge are either baseless, misunderstood by these preachers, or miscontextualised by them – and always in the realm of what is legally speculative (dhanni). Yes, most shar’i justification is speculative (dhanni) but their arguments tend to be of the weakest or most ridiculous form! To see such challenges as “making everything halal” is not only pathetic but particularly disturbing as it shows a warped sense of godly morality and misfocus. God is particularly clear on what is bad:
“Say, ‘Come! I will tell you what your Lord has really forbidden you. Do not ascribe anything as a partner to Him; be good to your parents; do not kill your children in fear of poverty’– We will provide for you and for them – ‘stay well away from committing obscenities, whether openly or in secret; do not take the life God has made sacred, except by right. This is what He commands you to do: perhaps you will use your reason. Stay well away from the property of orphans, except with the best [intentions], until they come of age; give full measure and weight, according to justice’– We do not burden any soul with more than it can bear – ‘when you speak, be just, even if it concerns a relative; keep any promises you make in God’s name. This is what He commands you to do, so that you may take heed.’”6:151-153
This passage is explicit on what we ought to be focusing on, rather than tangential focuses that merely represent membership to sects. This is “what your Lord has really forbidden you” as opposed to invented prohibitions and restrictions in His name. The underlying reasons to His prohibitions are simple: “Say [Prophet], ‘My Lord only forbids (1) disgraceful deeds, whether they be open or hidden – and (2) sin and (3) unjustified aggression, and (4) that you associate things with Him without His sanction, and (5) that you say things about Him without knowledge.” (7:33)
So how on earth have we come to this point where God’s sentiment on the Law has been turned on its head? Well, the devil works eagerly to disenfranchise believers and one strategy has been to mischaracterise godly subservience as being absurd and unfeasible so that good people doubt God and give up their commitment. And in the very least, even where they still cling to the absurd and unfeasible no matter the dissonance it induces, the devil works for them to commit to bizarre things that’ll impede them from fully realising their potential as God wanted.
On a final point, it is unfortunately but necessary to point out that I care little for the web of modern ideologies and consequent reactionary battles. And I’m not interested in reactively counter-positioning myself to ideological ‘liberals’. Pointing out God’s permissive sentiments as clear shar’i thinking and from revelatory sources does not, to any intelligent person, somehow suggest I morally legitimise unlawful sexual behaviour such as illicit intercourse (whether heterosexual or homosexual), dishonest behaviour, unsanctioned violence, or any other such malevolent behaviour. “Look, he said X is halal, now he’s going to make everything halal!” This is the juvenile thinking of small minds and reactionaries – either a misrepresentation and intentional lie produced to maintain sectarian interests among insular people, or a knee-jerk irrational response by those fearful of having to change their ways. Reactionary to the evolving world around them and seeking to bunker away rather than intelligently deal with their surroundings, they deny what they struggle to deal with viewing it as a challenge to their assumed way of life. It’s not driven by shar’i considerations but a disturbed psychological pathology.
Believers are confident in God’s guidance and do not see modernity as any greater challenge than others. The Most High graciously grants us the Quranic narrative which is a robust godly approach to life and guidance on legal matters. This is what the faith of Abraham (millat-Ibrahim) is, as the final Messenger of God Muhammad b. Abdillah put it when asked which religiosity is best:
“Permissive Abrahamic monotheism.”Musnad Ahmad
May God grant us guidance and sincere commitment to His will.