Islam & the Dynamics of Change


There may be certain moral values which are agreed upon by all human beings, or most of them, in different times and places, and which can be included in the "common sense," but they may be understood and practiced in different ways. Since Islam is the last of God's messages to humankind, as Muslims believe, it provides the permanent principles and the dynamics for responding to the human change. Change follows the general natural laws of God (Sunan, e.g. 3: 137, 4:26, 33:38, 62, 35:43. 48:23). The human societies have their natural laws, and the succession of social or political powers follows certain laws, just like the succession of day and night (3:26-27). With regard to the general natural laws, God does not treat Muslim individuals or societies exceptionally or with favoritism: "...and had God so willed, He could have indeed put them down [those who stubbornly denied the truth] Himself; but He willed to test you all through one another" (47:4).

Muslims have to struggle, suffer and persevere according to the natural laws (3:140-142, 165). Their religiosity and sincerity would definitely be rewarded in the life to come, but in this world they obtain the best through the individual and social peacefulness balance, and steadfastness as a result of the belief in the One God and the life to come (3:140, 4:104). Praying to God for something beneficial in this world life may be positively answered, according to the Prophets tradition, by granting the person who has prayed something good rather than what he/(she) has prayed for, in this life or in the life to come [i.e. availing something bad in this life or receiving the reward in the life to come for turning oneself to God and relying on Him - as brought out by Ibn Hanbal]. The modern Muslim thinker and poet Muhammad Iqbal (1836-1938) underscored "The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam," and stressed the essential place of ijtihad in this respect.

A great difference can be felt between the dynamism which Iqbal pointed out and for which he called "reconsolidation, ta'sis" of fundamental verities of Islam to present its inherent merits, as he was not inclined to reopening the door of ijtihad anew. While the modern West has concentrated on "change" and has rejected or ignored any "permanence", many Muslims have stuck themselves to "permanence" and have ignored "change", and its effects and implications in the human life in different times and places. They become fond of the "oneness" in the Muslim thinking and the Muslim society, thinking that this is a natural and essential result of the belief in the One God and in Muslim unity. Such a fundamental misconception has developed other distortions about human nature, the message of Islam, and the Muslim history.

A static understanding of the Islamic "model" has led to ignoring human diversity in conducting a Muslim lifestyle and adhering to the same faith and divine sources. The flourishing civilization under the Umayyads and Abbasids has been simply considered by some Muslims now as a deviation from the right path, since the pattern of that lifestyle was different from what had existed at the time of the early caliphate in Medina. Naturally, not every difference is deviation, and all the Muslim life and the entire Muslim society cannot be restricted to the political system and the rulers or to a certain political pattern. Magnificent material and intellectual developments in the Muslim civilization which were brought up by the whole people, whatever the rulers' behavior may be, cannot be denied, and they had their impact on non-Muslim countries at the time.

Hereditary monarchy and absolute authority characterized the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, but during that period fascinating developments took place in the exegesis of the Quran, the examination and collection of Sunna and the commentary on it, jurisprudence, theology, logic and philosophy, linguistics and literature, science in its various fields, medicine with its various areas, architecture, art, agriculture, industry, trade, transportation etc. Can we ignore such total distinguished civilizational developments produced by all the people because of the negatives of the palace life?

As a result of that civilization which had its variations and continuous changes in different times and places, the Muslim thinking in general, and Islamic jurisprudence in particular, obtained the best of the dynamism of ijtihad to cope with the changes and respond to the emerging problems. Analogy (qiyas), preference (istihsan), consideration of unspecified common benefit (al-maslaha al-mursala), goals and general principles of Sharia (maqasid, mabadi’, qawa’id) and implementation of Sharis principles in government policies (al siyasa al-shariyya) have become well-known in the methodology and outcome of Islamic jurisprudence during its remarkable times. Different views appeared, and various schools developed with differences among them, and each school had its differences between its prominent jurists, and through different regions and successive generations.

In general, Muslims often talk about the prominence of Shari'a without sufficiently clarifying its dynamics for coping with human change. They let Muslims and non-Muslims think that we have static views, and that "change" as a part of human nature has no place in our conception or planning.

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