Ijtehad for better society

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Saeed Ahmed Shaikh

We are living in a fascinating world. A world whose charm is unending. We are lucky to be the inhabitants of this charismatic globe which offers countless pleasures. Our ancestors were however star-crossed as they lived in a comparatively less-fascinating world. They missed its hundreds and thousands of gratifications including gladdening themselves from electronic gadgets, booting out Boeings and air-buses, hanging down on manuscripts for knowledge, enjoying online shopping with virtual currencies and so on and so forth. List of our forefathers’ deprivations is too long.

Nothing is perpetual except ‘change’. The perennial presence of ‘change’ is an unchallenged fact and history is also clear-cut testimony to it. None of the surviving societies has remained static so far, nor can it afford to remain so. Those who resisted ‘change’ are now nowhere. Even history has wiped them out from its pages. Let us accept this reality in toto.

No one can deny the fact it was Muslims’ readiness to revere perpetual nature of ‘change’ that they enjoyed their ‘Golden Era’ in a dashing way. They were cordial, accommodative, tolerant and ready to mould their societies as per requirements of ‘change’. They didn’t resist the perpetual process of ‘change’; rather they devised strategies to accept ‘change’ as reality at the same time holding their faith tightly.  And unluckily when they didn’t respond timely to the ‘change’ or at least miscalculated the speed of ‘change’ , they were among the losers and they also paid for it. Victory has thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

Muslims’ readiness to accept change as reality is also envisaged in their religion. We term this readiness as ‘Ijtehad’. No fault lies in our religion; it lies in our slackness.

Ijtehad is usually taken as a theological term that refers to the process of deriving laws of Islamic Shariah from its supreme sources i.e., Holy Quran and Sunnah. But if you peep deeper into the spirit of Islamic Shariah, ijtehad does not appear as such limiting; it invariably comes out as a concept that invites collective wisdom of each and every Muslim society around the globe to be part of a ‘mega collective wisdom’ that can become instrumental in handling the problems that perpetual process of ‘change’ poses or has been posing since centuries.

Early Muslim theologists rightfully believed that ijtehad could perpetuate the efficacy of Islamic jurisprudence in face of ever-changing socio-religious or politico-economic conditions of the globe. These wise men, through their God-gifted wisdom, had predicted that ‘change’ is perpetual and Islamic jurisprudence can only match up this if ijtehad is made a regular phenomenon of Muslim societies. Muslims societies have always adorned true mujtahidins. History is a clear-cut testimony of this fact.

However, during later medieval period and even till the time large swathes of Muslims’ land were colonized by the European powers, Muslims ignored the true spirit of ijtehad by making it a purely religious subject used for deliberating upon purely ideological matters which have very less to do with the practical social lives of common Muslims.

Irrespective of their glory or downfall, Muslim societies from within have always remained vibrant. Muslims are blessed in the sense that they accept wisdom as their ‘lost treasure’. As narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA), the Holy Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The wise statement is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it, then he is more worthy of it.”

Arab Republic of Egypt through its Ministry of Awqaf is currently hosting a general conference on “Ijtehad as the Necessity of the Modern Era” under the auspices of His Excellency President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian President. This is an event which can be safely termed as the most sincere effort from a Nation-state to redefine the word ‘ijtehad’.

Egypt, since the period of auspices of Fatimid dynasty, holds great significance in history. Even afterwards, it has immensely contributed to humanity’s intellectual and Cultural Revolution. Courtesy to University of Al’Azhar (which was opened in Cairo for prayers in 972) and vibrant leadership of this land, Egypt has been continuously patronizing intellectual growth of Muslim Ummah.

What can be more captivating than the fact that the conference even invites the focus of Muslim societies vis-a-vis protection of environment in the light of Quran and Sunnah through the institution of ijtehad. The conference has timely and aptly invited mega collective wisdom of Muslims across the globe on each and every contemporary subject: virtual currencies, corneal transplantation, machine slaughtering of animals, climate change, afforestation, media landscapes, etc. It is a big opening. Egypt has become harbinger. It would be injustice if the magnificent presence of the delegation of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not praised and acknowledged. His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Crown Prince His Highness Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud have always been supportive to all efforts carried out for the glory of Islam.

Praise and applaud is also due to Islamic Broadcasting Union ( IBU), which is a subsidiary platform of OIC, for inviting its members to participate in this two-day conference in Egypt. The way elders of IBU, especially Mr. Ahmed Al Murtda has been facilitating the guests from various Muslim countries so that they are able to reap the benefits of this conference is extremely praiseworthy.

Change is perpetual so is the religion of Islam. Muslim Ummah is once again on the path of searching out its lost treasure, the wisdom. Again congratulations to Arab Republic of Egypt.

( The writer is Director General in Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of Pakistan and is currently attending 33rd General Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Egypt. ).