About the Book
This classic work, written by one of the greatest modern scholars of Islamic law, focuses on the need a reinterpretation of Islamic jurisprudence and for a rediscovery of its original philosophy.
Fyzee presents a fresh critique of Islam based on historical, and comparative Principles. He contends that rules of law can be modified in modern times for the purpose of healthy reforms without compromising on the essential spirit of Islam. Beginning with a brief but meaningful survey of Indian, Arabic, and Western scholarship on Islamic law and philosophy, he goes on to propose six Principles for the reinterpretation of Islam. He explains his belief that in the context of law, ‘the first task is to separate logically the dogmas and doctrines of religion from the principles and rules of law.
In an introduction written especially for this edition, Saiyid Hamid widens the scope of the discussion and shows the book’s significance for today’s world where misunderstandings about Islam abound. Drawing from the works of contemporary scholars, as well as of those from earlier periods, he brings to light essential concepts in Islamic thought-reason, the spirit of Inquiry, social justice, mercy, non-aggression, and individual responsibility.
Thought-provoking, accessible, and relevant, this book will interest all those keen to understand Islam and its role in current day society. Students and scholars of Islamic law and philosophy, family law, jurisprudence, sociology, and gender studies will find it useful.
About the Author
Asaf A.A. Fyzee was a pre-eminent scholar of Islamic law. He was Principal and professor of Jurisprudence, Government Law College, Bombay, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kashmir, and Corresponding Member, Arab Academy, Damascus and Cairo. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1962.
Saiyid Hamid is Chancellor, Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi. He was formerly Vice-Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University. A retired IAS officer he has been involved for many years in voluntary work aimed at promoting education and inter-community harmony.
The Four Essays Assembled Here, For The General Rather Than the specialist, were written at different times within the last ten years; but they are animated by the same-that the creed of Islam as it exists today needs reinterpretation Why? What? How? these questions remain to be answered, and it is my hope to furnish a reply, in all humility, in fairly comprehensive work on the reinterpretation of Islam on historical and comparative principles.
This little volume sets out the thesis briefly, perhaps, not convincingly. It is hoped, however, that those who realize the plight of this Arabian faith will think seriously either of fitting themselves to it, or fitting it to the needs of life in the twentieth century, the fourteenth since its promulgation. There is third alternative, to abandon it altogether. This is an attitude to which I am entirely opposed; for, I believe that Islam properly understood has much to offer to the human spirit in the world of today.
The first essay gives in outline Maulana Abul kalam Azad’s concept of Islam, an essentially modern and liberal interpretation, laying down that all religious teachers and all religions are entitled to equal respect. The second attempts to define religion and law, and to distinguish between them within the fabric of Islam itself. The third endeavours to describe succinctly the contribution of Indian thinkers to Islamic law and theology. And the fourth and last attempts to propound a fresh critique of Islam on historical, scientific, and comparative principles.
All the essays have been published earlier. They are collected and reprinted now with a fair amount of revision and amendment. Acknowledgments are due to the Toronto University Quarterly, the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay and the Middle East Journal (Washington, D.C.) for permission to reprint them.
Asad A.A. Fyzee’s collection of Essays on A Modern Approach To Islam has not lost its validity despite the fact that about two and a half decades have elapsed since it was first published in the form of a book. It comprises four essays: ‘The Essence of Islam’ Law and Religion in Islam’ Islamic Law and Theology in India’ and the ‘Reinteretation of Islam’ In the intervening period, incidents have occurred in India which the author could not have anticipated and which seem to militate against the goal of promoting inter-communal understanding and harmony. These two unfortunate events were the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the 2002 carnage in Gujarat. These were evidently preceded by a campaign of vilification that could persuade a segment of the otherwise tolerant people to resort to inconceivable barbarities. These incidents heightened the need for a better understanding of Islam in a country where it has an appreciable presence. The need for such understanding has become all the more pressing in the West because of the devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the confrontation with Iran, and the unending acts of terrorism triggered by the conflict.
The first chapter on the essence of Islam makes an initial reference to Ameer Ali’s Spirit of Islam’ and Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Though in Islam, and Proceeds to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s Tarjumanul Koran which distils the essence of Islam. Fyzee gives a number of reasons for focusing on Azad, the most important being that Azad an eclectic, accepting and emphasizing the truth of all great religions; other reasons cited by fyzee are that Azad shows a remarkable familiarity with modern thought and comparative religion, that he was greatly influenced by the political philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, that he was opposed to the creation of Pakistan, and that he was a profound scholar and the creator of a new style in Urdu literature’. These latter reasons do not appear to be germane to savouring the essence of Islam and are at best extraneous. The space given to Azad at the cost of other thinkers appears a little out of proportion but it does facilitate undistracted and focused attention on the subject.
While interpreting the opening chapter, ‘Sura-i-Fatiha’ of the Koran, Azad refers to God’s three attributes, namely rububiyya (providence), rahma (mercy), and adala (justice). Azad maintains that all religions are true and that Islam confirms this belief. This gives the lie to the very wrong impression that Islam stands for aggression, force, and violence and that the sword was used to propagate it. It is unfortunate that this erroneous impression has got world-wide currency over recent years. Muslims have come, wrongly again, to be identified with terrorism. This seems in a queer way to conform to political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s theory ‘The Clash of civilization’. He maintains that ‘principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations’. He listed eight such groups but placed emphasis on (a) Western civilization, (b) Muslim world, (c) Hindu civilization, and (d) Sinic civilization of China, korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Huntington foresees a transfer of power, resources. and influence from the West to the two challenger civilization, Snic and Islamic. He perceives Islamic civilization ‘as a potential ally to China, both sharing common conflicts’. As regards his main thesis, Huntington takes within his purview ‘a millennium plus history of conflict between the Western world and the Islamic Civilisation’. In this prediction he ignores the wide that divides communism and Islam despite their common egalitarian ideology. True, they are drawn to each other on the plane of equity and justice but the affinity ends on the issue of belief in God. The conflict, Huntington maintains, is rooted in the fact both Christianity and Islam are missionary and universal of comprehensive religion.
We have to reckon with the fact that fact that Western universalism has acquired the dimension of unannounced aggression and furtive violence. It tends to look with contempt and hostility at those unbending groups that refuse to fall in line.
One of the numerous critiques of Huntington’s theory is that it assumes that the basic clash of Islamic societies is with modernity. Edward Said in his The Clash of Ignorance points out that Huntington omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of cultures and that ‘the World has been imagined in a certain way by him to justify certain politics’. On hindsight there appears to be a deliberate and sinister dimension to Huntington’s theory, although Huntington seems to have had second thoughts and softened his original stance to some extent by saying that ‘I don’t think Islam is any more violent than any other religions, and I suspect if you added it all up, more people have been slaughtered by Christians over the centuries than by Muslims’. This cushions but does not erase the author’s intent. It is significant to note that whereas the theory of clash of civilization came as a sort of wish fulfilment from the West whose ‘universalism seems to have a voracious appetite’, it is the East that ventilated and voiced the desire for a dialogue of civilization. Inspired by former Iranian president khatami’s concept of dialogue, the UN resolved to name the year 2001 as the year of dialogue among civilizations.
Let us now revert to the assessment on Islam from the pen of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The Principle of accountability so Characteristic of Islam is derived directly from adl or justice. Azad has argued that the ‘Islamic notion of destiny is connected with the notion of assessment’. The Koran, he adds, addresses understanding and rational: ‘Taqdir means the proper assessment of something and prescribing a certain state or condition of existence for it. Every being is equipped for life within its environment.’
Introduction by Saiyid Hamid
The Essence of Islam
Law and Religion in Islam
Islamic Law and Theology in India
The Reinterpretation of Islam
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