DAWN - Opinion; September 30, 2005

30 Sep 2005

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Divine-inspired Islamic law

By Syed Imam-ud-Din Asad


ISLAMIC law comprises rules of conduct revealed by God to His Prophet (peace be upon him) whereby people are directed to lead their lives. Thus, unlike the western systems of law, the laws of Islam originate from revelation.

Revelation consists of: (1) communications made by Gabriel, under the directions of God, to the Prophet, either in the very words of God or by hints; (2) such knowledge as occurred in the mind of the Prophet through inspiration from God; and (3) opinion of the Prophet, embodied in the form of ratiocination, delivered, from time to time, on issues that happened to be raised before him.

Revelation is available to us in the form of the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet. The Quran comprises only those revelations that were made in the very words of God, while the rest form the corpus of the Traditions.

The Quran, the ultimate book of guidance, was revealed over a period of 23 years. Of these years, the Prophet spent 13 in Makkah and ten in Madina. Consequently, of the 104 chapters of the Quran, 93 were revealed in Makkah and 21 in Madina. The former deal with the basic beliefs of Islam; whereas, the latter are abundant in laws relating to criminal, civil, economic, political, and social affairs of life. All chapters are divided into verses.

According to subject, rules given in the Quran can be classified as: (1) laws that are concerned with the spiritual aspect of individual life; (2) laws that regulate men’s relation to and dealings with one another; and (3) laws that not only concern the spiritual aspect of individual life, but also affect the Muslim society.

While discussing and elaborating the legal potential of the Quran, in the western sense, we focus on the rules of the last two categories. There are about 70 verses on civil law; 13 on evidence and oaths; 70 on family law; 30 on criminal law; 25 on international law; and 20 verses discuss constitutional law, administrative law, and financial matters of an Islamic state.

Some of these are:

1. Liability: “.... And whoever goes astray, goes but astray to his own hurt....” (17: 15)

2. Vicarious Liability: “.... And no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden....” (17: 15)

3. Theft: “Now as for the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off the hand of either of them in requital for what they have wrought, as a deterrent ordained by God....” (5: 38)

4. Adultery and fornication: “As for the adulteress and the adulterer — flog each of them with a hundred stripes, and let not compassion with them keep you from (carrying out) this law of God .... and let a group of believers witness their chastisement.” (24: 2)

5. Murder: “.... Just retribution is ordained for you in cases of killing....” (2: 178) “.... If anyone has been slain wrongfully, We have empowered the defenders of his rights to exact a just retribution); but even so, let him not exceed the bounds of equity in (retributive) killing....” (17: 33)

6. Testimony: “.... And do not conceal what you have witnessed — for, verily, he who conceals it is sinful at heart....” (2: 283)

7. Proof of contract: “.... Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing .... And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses .... And be not loath to write down every contractual provision, be it small or great .... This is more equitable in the sight of God, more reliable as evidence .... And have witnesses whenever you trade with one another....” (2: 282)

8. Performance of contract: “.... And be true to every promise — for, verily, (on Judgment Day) you will be called to account for every promise which you have made!” (17: 34)

9. Measurements: “And give full measure whenever you measure, and weigh with a balance that is true....” (17: 35)

10. Usury: “.... Do not gorge yourselves on usury, doubling and re-doubling it — but remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state.” (3: 130)

11. Guardianship: “Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things (of your own) for the good things (that belong to them), and do not consume their possessions together with your own....” (4: 2) “And do not entrust to those who are weak of judgment the possessions which God has placed in your charge for (their) support; but let them have their sustenance therefrom, and clothe them, and speak unto them in a kindly way.

“And test the orphans (in your charge) until they reach a marriageable age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions; and do not consume them by wasteful spending, and in haste, ere they grow up. And let him who is rich abstain entirely (from his wards property); and let him who is poor partake thereof in a fair manner. And when you hand over to them their possessions, let there be witnesses on their behalf....” (4: 5-6)

12. Maintenance of wife: “.... Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possession....” (4: 34)

13. Reconciliation: “And if you have reason to fear that a breach might occur between a (married) couple, appoint an arbiter from among his people and an arbiter from among her people; if they both want to set things aright, God may bring about their reconciliation....” (4: 35)

14. Maintenance of divorced women: “And the divorced women, too, shall have (a right to) maintenance in a goodly manner: this is a duty for all who are conscious of God. (2: 241)

15. War: “And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression — for, verily, God does not love aggressors.” (2: 190)

16. Deterrence: “Hence, make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you are able to muster, so that you might deter thereby the enemies of God, who are your enemies as well, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, (but) of whom God is aware....” (8: 60)

The Quran is the principal source of Islamic law. Its principles and teachings, which are valid for all times to come, govern the totality of human life in a wholesome manner. It is mentioned in the Quran: “For, indeed, many facets have We given in this Quran to every kind of lesson (designed) for (the benefit of) mankind!....” (17: 89)

No authority, no legislature has any power to overrule, repeal, or annul the commandments given in the Quran, which are in the very words of God. However, there is no restriction on reinterpreting the rules given in it or extending them to matters not expressly covered by them. This process of reinterpretation and extension is called Ijtehad. When a single jurist conducts Ijtehad, it is called Qiyas; when it is conducted by a body of jurists, it is called Ijma. In case of a conflict between Qiyas and Ijma, the latter prevails.

It must also be mentioned that, in the western sense, the Quran is not a code of law. The Quran, instead of prescribing every possible rule regarding each aspect of human life, mostly defines and describes basic principles that lead men to a certain direction. In other words, though it has laid down complete laws in respect of certain issues, most of the time it only gives an idea as to how a thing should be without defining any details.

These details are left to be determined by the concerned authorities, according to the prevailing circumstances, by way of Ijtehad. For instance, in the verses pertaining to inheritance, everything has been fixed regarding who is to get what. Similarly, the Quran enjoins honesty in trade and honouring of contracts. These centuries old provisions are also applicable to the present-day e-business and online contracts.

Pakistan & Israel: a Palestinian view

By Ghada Karmi


As I sit writing this, Israeli planes are bombing Gaza from north to south. On September 23, 19 Palestinians died, presumed to have been killed by a rogue missile that exploded in a Palestinian vehicle during a Hamas ‘freedom’ rally in Jabaliyya refugee camp.

Whatever the truth, no sooner had this tragedy occurred than Israeli fighter planes went into action over Gaza, in alleged retaliation for five rockets fired from there at Israel.

Over the next two days, Israel killed half a dozen more Palestinians and destroyed buildings and houses, including a school in Gaza city run by Hamas. On Sept 25, Israeli forces arrested 207 Palestinians in a wide sweep of the West Bank. All through that night, Israeli F16s staged mock air raids over Gaza, terrifying an already terrified population.

And I am wondering, is it this that Pakistan wants to recognize? This ruthless state, which shows no mercy or compassion for a helpless occupied people? Whose evacuation of Gaza has brought no relief from its attacks? And which, moreover, still occupies the West Bank and Jerusalem as well?

Following Mr Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri’s meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Istanbul on September 1, Palestinians were outraged. There was condemnation and criticism of the Pakistani move from officials and non-officials alike. Hamas condemned it, Islamic Jihad staged demonstrations against it, and Palestinian sources said they had not been informed about the meeting in advance.

The picture is unclear: some Palestinians reports say that President Pervez Musharraf did indeed inform Mr Mahmoud Abbas two days before and that the Palestinian leader agreed, provided that the meeting would stress Palestine’s rights. Other reports said that it was Mr Abbas who had asked President Musharraf to set up the contact with Israel. The Palestinian street, however, was not impressed, no matter how the meeting came about.

President Musharraf’s attendance at the American Jewish Congress’s conference in New York earlier this month did nothing to cool people’s tempers here. Even worse, Pakistan’s foreign minister admitted that there had been secret contacts between his country and the Jewish state for over 10 years. In the wake of this furore, the Pakistani president explained that he had sought the agreement of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Palestinians ahead of the meeting, and that four Islamic countries already had diplomatic relations with Israel. He refuted allegations that the foreign ministers’ meeting was a prelude to full recognition or normalization with the Jewish state.

But that, of course, is what Palestinians suspect will happen, and, if I remember the mood in Pakistan when I last visited there in 2003, must be suspicion too. There were at the time strong rumours that President Musharraf was considering recognition of Israel. One comment made to me at the time is unforgettable: “Let one Israeli set foot in here and he will not live to return!” Though this was said in passion, I have no doubt it represented a widely shared view. I wondered then as I do now, how a Pakistani recognition of Israel would play in such a country.

Each time that I have visited Pakistan, I have been struck by people’s devotion and commitment to the Palestinian cause, how they identify with Palestinian suffering and how steadfastly they have stood by the Palestinians through thick and thin. In all my encounters with ordinary people, there was no mistaking the genuineness of their passion and anger over what Israel has done to Palestine and to Jerusalem.

How can the leadership of such a country hope to pass this diplomatic manoeuvre off without incurring its population’s wrath? As the Arab press pointed out in their highly critical commentary following the foreign ministers’ meeting in Turkey, Pakistan runs the risk of internal strife as a result; and what Arabs need most of all is a stable ally, not one torn apart by conflict.

Other Muslim states are jumping on the bandwagon. Indonesia’s foreign minister met with Shalom recently and Indonesia’s president is rumoured to be intending to do the same. Israel made contact with representatives from Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco to add to the list of Arab states already with Israeli diplomatic ties. For Pakistan to join this list is hardly setting a precedent. So why the Palestinian anger?

The reason is that Pakistanis have a special place in the hearts of all Palestinians, precisely because of their sincerity, devotion and fellow feeling. They are in a unique category amongst other Muslim peoples, seen as ‘semi-Arab’, closer in fact than many ‘full’ Arabs. No one forgets Pakistan’s generosity to Palestinians in their worst times, the number of students educated in Pakistan’s universities, the warm welcome and support for a cause which won them no friends in the West.

By contrast, an anguished letter published in The Jerusalem Post on September 5, by a group of Indian expatriates from the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, begs Israelis not to ‘betray’ Indians by forging relations with Pakistan. The letter reminds Israelis of their ‘shared values’ with Indians and their partnership in the war against ‘Islamic terrorism’. For Arabs, such a letter emanating from Pakistanis would be utterly unthinkable. And no one at this stage thinks otherwise.

But how long will it be before the slippery road to normalization with Israel is taken? How long will Pakistan be able to hold off America’s pressure and blandishments? Palestinians pray that, for Pakistan of all places, such a day will never come.

Dr Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian academic and writer currently based in Ramallah.

Blair’s testament

EVENTS and Gordon Brown will determine whether the prime minister’s Brighton speech n Tuesday was his farewell performance in front of a party he has led to three successive general election victories.

But if the 2005 conference speech turns out to be Tony Blair’s testament to the Labour party it will prove fit for the purpose. Whether you love him, hate him or simply acknowledge his achievements, Mr Blair has rarely been as clear, as coherent and as confident about his view of progressive politics in the modern world as he was on Tuesday.

The great virtue of the speech was that it started in the place where any serious speech about the 21st-century world has to start — with an appreciation of the transformative force of economic globalisation, of what Mr Blair described as “a world fast-forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed”.

Nearly as important was that it did not duck the difficult issues that, in Mr Blair’s account, follow from globalization’s onslaught — that protectionism is a false alternative or that reform is the only way forward for the public services. Across the sweep of difficult policy choices there were few other issues from which Mr Blair flinched — he had hard things to say about benefit reform, public-sector pensions, nuclear power, road pricing, city academies and of course Iraq.

You can disagree with the analysis or with the prescriptions. But this aspired to be, and for most of the time was, a grown-up speech to what Mr Blair himself described as a grown-up party and a grown-up nation.

Mr Blair deserves to be heard with respect on these matters because he and his colleagues have done what Labour too often failed to do in the past. One of the most telling passages in the speech came when Mr Blair recalled the gallery of progressive talents — from Shirley Williams to Tony Benn — who came together to honour the late James Callaghan for his 90th birthday.

What brilliance was there, said Mr Blair, but what a pity it was that that generation of political leaders had failed to respond to a changing world in the way that their successors finally did. That was a powerful and true point. But it does not follow that everything that Mr Blair has done or says is vindicated by it.

Mr Blair’s style of oratory is remarkable — the speech was a reminder of what a much better communicator he still is than anyone else in British politics. But his leadership, on which he laid so much heavy stress, has been and remains a double-edged sword.

—The Guardian, London

Diplomacy and double talk

NORTH KOREA has always been one of the sternest tests of the Bush administration’s diplomacy, and in the space of 24 hours last week it showed why. In the morning the communist state agreed to give up its nuclear programme, which the president hailed as “a wonderful first step.” But by nightfall Pyongyang seemed to have changed its mind, leaving the administration with a sadly familiar lament: That’s not what they told us.

The confusion was not entirely unexpected, given North Korea’s history of erratic behaviour. And though the Bush administration’s handling of North Korea has hardly been a model of diplomacy, the president can claim some vindication for insisting on multilateral talks, instead of agreeing to one-on-one negotiations.

The administration and Pyongyang have been engaged in talks for nearly three years, and the latest round of negotiations, like the rest, included four other nations with an interest in peace and stability in the region: China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. Under a pact agreed to last week, North Korea basically agreed to end its nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for economic and energy assistance.

Then, a few hours later, Pyongyang said “there would be no change in the nuclear issue” — meaning it would not dismantle its programmes — unless the US provided it with a light-water reactor. The US and Japan have rightly opposed that demand, saying that North Korea cannot be trusted to use nuclear material for peaceful purposes. The morning agreement avoided the question by saying it would be discussed “at an appropriate time.”

Both the US and North Korea have had their moments of intransigence in this process, but Pyongyang has been more reliably unreasonable.

—Los Angeles Times



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005