Modern interpretation & presentation of Islam


Host (Question 2)

Doctor sahib! Two terms are very ear-catching and attractive in your discussion so far and I would like you to throw more light on them. These relate to moderation and modern presentation of Islam. What is modern perception of Islam? Has Islam undergone changes?


This is a basic question and you have very rightly raised it. Whatever be the religion, it has two basic aspects. One is the basic structure, which has fundamental principles. These basic principles of Islam have neither changed nor will they change in any time to come. What I mean by it is the Holy Qur’an. Whatever is mentioned in the Holy Book and Sunna forms an eternal guidance and whatever is celestial guidance would stay intact till the Day of Judgment because it is not man-made law. The characteristic of man-made law is that it gets outdated with the passage of time. Since human mind and vision cannot perceive the requirements and changes, which would come about after 100 years, so as soon as changes happen in human society, man-made laws continue to change in order to meet the changing requirements for survival.

God-made law is permanent and immutable. It never changes. It is neither corrupted nor distorted. Its original text remains preserved as is the case with the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. They are preserved in their original form till today because that is based upon the revelation of Allah. Allah Almighty is the Creator of humanity and the Provider of guidance. So when He furnishes guidance, He caters to the needs of humanity in advance. That is why basic principles do not change.

The second angle pertains to its interpretation and execution. Circumstances continue to register changes in various societies and languages in different parts of the world. Human life also experiences continuous evolution. Social norms and values are changing. Political, economic, sociological and ecological factors are undergoing changes now. A religion, which cannot address the demands of changing circumstances, becomes outdated. Islam is not a religion to be outdated. It is a combination of the modern and the ancient. The Islamic teachings cater to the needs of modern-day society in a satisfactory manner.

After the Holy Qur’an and Sunna, Ijtihad is the third source of Islamic law. There is a form of collective Ijtihad today and if collective consensus among contemporary scholars and jurists is achieved on any given matter, it is called ‘Ijma’. And if it is individual opinion of a competent Mujtahid, it is called analogy. There are further kinds of Ijtihad, and Qiyas. Some are custom-based, others are necessity-based. Many terms like ‘Istehsan’, ‘marsala’ and ‘istuswab’ are used. These are the ways in Islamic law allowing for reinterpretation in accordance with the changing circumstances. They admit of the space for evolution and a new interpretation to respond to complex challenges in changed circumstances. But the Holy Qur’an and Sunna would continue to provide the basis for every new such module of interpretation and reconstruction. It would have to be in the light of the Quranic text and Sunna.

That is why four or five major interpretations of Islamic law have come into being. In Islamic jurisprudence, they are called ‘fiqa’-e-Hanfi, Malki, Shafii and Hambli and the fifth jurisprudential school of thought has come into being in the form of fiqa-e-Jafria. All of these schools of thought have the same origin, same Islam, the same Qur’an and Sunna. Now these schools of thought came into being with a view to meeting demands of contemporary age as I just told you so. This point can be further illustrated by an example of Pakistani Constitution. This is a federal document aimed at running the whole country. But under the federation, there are four provinces with separate legislatures, enactments and rules. But all of these rules and regulations are subject to the basic constitutional document called Constitution. There is no conflict between provincial laws and rules and federal laws. These rules only help in enforcing the government’s writ in accordance with its own peculiar conditions. The Assembly interprets the Article of the Constitution in keeping with requirements of Punjab or Sindh or NWFP or Baluchistan and enforces it as the case may be. There is always a space for reinterpretation. In the similar manner, Ijtihad is such a legal device because of which reconstructive spirit stays intact.

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