Many Muslims are anxiously trying to find their place in the world and beyond the walls between them and the West – they are expressing feelings of confusion, apathy, shame from the constant demonization in the media, and despair at the situations in the Muslim world. There is a desire for reform and taking ownership of their problems.
Listening to the conversations in the American public square, one hears a lot of criticism of Islam and Muslims. The criticism toward Muslim societies isn’t always objectionable; however, they are problematic for two reasons. First, it usually comes across in a hateful tone flooded with ridicule seeing nothing good in Islam or Muslim societies. Second, it comes from a platform where Muslims cannot fairly respond to the critique or voice their own valid criticism of the West.
From vainglorious bashing pulpits – there is the continuous desire to fix or liberate Muslims, instead of engaging them in sincere dialogue allowing them to find their own unique voices and their own solutions to their problems. Currently, we hear calls for Muslims to engage in Ijtihad, or an exerted intellectual effort to arrive at an Islamic opinion. Some Muslims who have no knowledge of Islam or Islamic Laws have stepped forward.
Ijtihad is only done on matters that are not clear in Islam such as cloning, not on issues that are clear such as modesty or sanctity of life. Yet, we are seeing ijtihad applied on matters which are very clear, leading to movements that are divorced from Islam. In addition, these movements have not provoked thought and debate within the Muslim community, but have resorted to shaming tactics striking at Muslims’ core identity eliciting feelings of shame and worthlessness, pushing them into isolation instead of engagement with the West.
In order to protect the Shariah (Islamic Law) from the danger of innovation and distortion, rigorous conditions must be fulfilled by anyone wishing to claim the right of ijtihad for himself/herself.
These conditions are not meant to prevent critical thinking, but to prevent anarchy. If every American felt they have the right to interpret the constitution, and rebelliously follow their own interpretation of it – this country would collapse.
The conditions are reasonable and attainable. They include:
(a) mastery of the Arabic language, to minimize the possibility of misinterpreting verses in the Quran on purely linguistic grounds;
(b) a profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah(life of Prophet Muhammad) and the circumstances surrounding the revelation of each verse and hadith(saying of Prophet Muhammad), together with a full knowledge of the Quranic and hadith commentaries, and a control of all the interpretative techniques allowed in
(c) knowledge of the specialized disciplines of hadith, such as the assessment of narrators and of the text;
(d) knowledge of the views of the companions of prophet Muhammad, their followers and the great imams, and of the positions and reasoning expounded in the textbooks of Islamic jurisprudence, combined with the knowledge of cases where a consensus has been reached;
(e) knowledge of the science of juridical analogy, its types and conditions;
(f) knowledge of ones own society and of public interest;
(g) knowing the general objectives of the Shariah;
(h) practicing Muslim.
A scholar who has fulfilled these conditions can be considered qualified to apply ijtihad on problems arising in Muslim societies today.
So where are these scholars? The reality is they are emerging everywhere. There are scholars helping Muslims to rediscover their voices, to restore Islamic teachings and are applying ijtihad on today’s problems. These scholars are helping Muslims to understand the compromises made to protect Muslims for the sake of their survival such as suicide bombings and terrorism is not Islamic. They are working to encourage healthy relationships between Muslims and others including the West. Two people worthy of mentioning are Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Islam. Both were prevented from entry into the US.
If the West is sincerely interested in positive change and ijtihad amongst Muslim societies and not divorcing Muslims from Islam, then America needs to open doors to these voices within the Muslim community and give a platform where Muslims are seen, understood and engaged in the public square as valuable human beings opening a door for empathy and compassion toward each other and allowing each to feel valued.