The Evolution of Sharia

Excerpts and Commentary Defining the Evolution of Sharia

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Acknowledgements

This website and its entire content are on my own personal responsibility, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim, reflecting the final conclusions of my academic work as it has evolved since the 1980s. 

Although all aspects of that body of work are based on my understanding of the thought and life experience of my Ustadh (Master Teacher) Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, I do not attribute any of my reflections or conclusions to my Ustadh.

I am also grateful for 27 years of instructive academic experience at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) of Emory University School of Law, hence referencing the Center in the electronic link to this website.
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Mission Statement

The purpose of this website is to facilitate and promote debates about Islam, politics, and the state among all those who are concerned about political stability, individual freedom, social justice around the world. Although the issues are presented and documented in this site in Islamic terms due to my personal religious belief and cultural background, I am seeking to engage multiple audiences of universal humanity on a global scale. All human beings should be concerned about the security, wellbeing, and freedom of all others human beings everywhere by virtue of their shared humanity, regardless of differences of religion, race, sex, or any other distinction. For Muslims everywhere to realize and enjoy such mutual benefits, they must be willing and ready to extend the same entitlements to all other human beings. To realize and secure such reciprocal entitlements, Muslims must think critically about their own understanding and practice of Sharia, whether it has an official role in the state or not.

To be clear on the point, I am not suggesting that Sharia is the only or primary source of challenge to universal entitlement to the benefits of shared humanity, as there are many geopolitical and socioeconomic factors in the process. Indeed, the flow of cause and effect may run in the opposite direction, whereby Muslims impose their own negative bias and prejudice on Sharia to justify their denial and violation of the security, wellbeing, and freedom of others human beings. Such a negative direction of bias and prejudice may underlie, for instance, the status and treatment of women and religious dissidents within some Muslim communities. This website merely seeks to raise such questions and invite self-critical reflection among all proponents of reciprocal shared humanity, without claiming to be comprehensive or exhaustive.

From my perspective as a Muslim, the purpose and rationale of this website is to attempt to contribute to empowering and supporting every human being to be whoever he or she wishes to be or not to be, as freely and deliberately as humanly possible. This principle of complete individual responsibility and self-determination is affirmed, for example, by verse 164 of Surat al-An‘am of the Quran (I will cite the Quran in this website by the number of the chapter followed by the number of verse, so this text would be 6:164). Here is the Arabic text of this verse:[1]

قُلْ أَغَيْرَ ٱللَّهِ أَبْغِى رَبًّۭا وَهُوَ رَبُّ كُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ ۚ وَلَا تَكْسِبُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ إِلَّا عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌۭ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُم مَّرْجِعُكُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ 

In this focused sense, I understand this verse to emphasize the personal individual accountability according to every person’s understanding of Islam (or other relevant religion). As I see it the purpose of this verse is to affirm that only God will adjudicate and resolve our differences (disagreements) when we all return to Him. One aspect of the relevance and meaning of this verse is that it applies to every human being, and not only to Muslims or believers. Another aspect is that we are all equally accountable, each for his or her own understanding, and never for that of any other person or entity. If we adopt the choice of another person or fail to excise our judgment on which position to take, we are responsible for that decision as well as the consequences of our choice.

Evolution of Sharia and Islamic Political Theory

The premise the argument and resources I am presenting for discussion in this website can be briefly summarized as follows: 
1. Historical interpretations of Sharia cannot be reconciled with a viable Islamic political theory in the modern context because it cannot sustain equal citizenship for women and non-Muslims at home and peaceful coexistence in international relations abroad.

2. Muslim communities have always suspended significant aspects of their own understanding of Sharia to experience domestic stability and peaceful inter-communal relations.

3. Such deep compromise is unlikely to succeed in the present global context since the rise of political Islamist movements which are determined to challenge pragmatic compromise in favor of the so-called Islamic state to enforce Sharia as the formal law of the state.

4. Many mainstream, mostly anti-Islamist Muslims find it difficult to settle for historical deep compromise in this age of post-colonial self-determination.

5. Fortunately, it is possible and sustainable to achieve an “Evolution of Sharia” on Islamic basis which can achieve domestic political stability and peaceful inter-communal relations.

6. The term “evolution” indicates the need for a paradigm shift in Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) by reversing the process of abrogation by which historical interpretations of Sharia were “enacted” based on certain verses revealed in Medina to corresponding verses revealed in Mecca to be “enacted” as modern interpretations of Sharia.

7. While the entire thesis of this website is derived from the insights and life experience of my teacher, Ustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, I remain open to being challenged and corrected.

[1] I will not attempt to translate or quote any published translation of the Quran because any translation is always merely the understanding of the translator of the text in question, and never the “authentic and authoritative” text itself in another language. Instead, I will highlight the relevance of the verse, as I understand it, to the purpose I am citing it for. Readers can then decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree, and to which purpose or outcome.