Tag Archives: Liberalism

Contestations of Ijtihad: The Need For Debate

A.A Khalid has sent this exclusive piece for PTH. We are truly encouraged by the fact that there are so many rational Pakistanis who want to rescue their religion from the clutches of bigots and extremists. We would like more and more people to join this debate and develop a discourse which sadly is missing since the days of Allama Iqbal. Raza Rumi

In liberal circles of religious scholarship there is a contention that ‘’ijtihad’’ is the epistemic tool which will solve all our grapples and puzzles of establishing a suitable religiosity for our time.

Ijtihad is elevated from its formal place as a mere tool of legal reasoning restricted in the classical tradition to books of law, to that of an intellectual principle and a citadel of a rational religiosity. Ijtihad is indeed forms part of the rationalist tradition of Islam and as such is the natural ally for reformists and liberals in the Muslim World. But ijtihad, which means intellectual exertion and in a technical sense juridical adjudication, to solve legal problems which have no precedent in the normative texts or in the jurists’ corpus is not naturally an epistemic tool for liberals.

Ijtihad can also be illiberal and can also be disastrous; one can argue the totally unprecedented phenomenon of violent extremism instigated by demagogues and ideologues is indeed ijtihad gone tragically wrong. If ijtihad is taken to mean that all Muslims can interpret their faith as they wish in accordance to what they see as new soicio-political circumstances and new contexts then we must be cautious. After all conservatives and radicals can forward absolutely shocking and regressive opinions as ijtihad as much as a liberal can forward progressive and enlightened opinions as ijtihad. We need to avoid this epistemic anarchism and try and elaborate sensible parameters. Though the determination of these parameters in terms of dealing violent extremism will be easy as violent extremism and radicalism clearly are beyond the pale and their actions clash with the fundamentals of Islam, the real issue is betweeen conservatives and liberals/reformists. Issues such as Islamic law, politics, ethics, morality and epistemology will be where trying to agree on a set of sensible parameters will be difficult. Continue reading

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