Follow Islamic finance path in reforming Islamic law, says scholar
Systematic Islamic law reform is possible, similar to the development and advancement achieved today in the field of Islamic finance, a forum was told today.
Asserting that Islamic law has been changing all along, University of British Columbia assistant professor of Islamic Law Dr Rumee Ahmed said it was no different from the Islamic finance sector, which would have been unrecognisable 50 years ago.
"This seems to violate lots of principles in the Islamic tradition and in the Quran and Sunnah.
"But Muslim scholars got together and redefined the terms of Islamic law so that today someone can have their Islamic credit card and feel they are operating in a world where using that card will help them achieve salvation," Rumee said, drawing laughter from the floor.
As such, he said that there was a need to look into Islamic law reform seriously, which should include the issues of amputation for the crime of theft and gender-based laws.
"There is nothing wrong with the Quran and the Sunnah but there is something different about the way we apply them today," he said at the public forum entitled Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, held in Kuala Lumpur.
Rumee added that currently, gender was the biggest challenge to systematic Islamic legal reform because of the differences in gender-based Islamic law that covers prayer, inheritance, leadership, dress code, marriage and divorce among others.
He also said that while Islamic reform would sound wrong to the ears of some Muslims, the fact was it did not change the Quran or the Sunnah.
"Only the laws which were interpretations of the Quran and the Sunnah," he said.
"Muslims scholars get their legitimacy and authority from the fact that they uphold the law but they need us to help them uphold the law.
"The reality is Muslim scholars are representing less and less Muslims, nobody is listening to the ulama," he added.
Rumee said that the consensus was that laws enshrined today violated modern notions that Muslims hold about human dignity and human rights.
As such, he said that it was possible to come up with a different interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah as Muslim scholars have done it in the past.
He said that right now, the readings that are authoritative are very narrow readings of the Quran, the Sunnah and Islamic law, and do not represent the views of general Muslims.
As such, he hoped to come up with a new language where Muslims who are like-minded can get together and flesh out new arguments on Islamic law.
"If Muslims come together and have this shared language, they could push for new interpretations.
"The ulama represents this small strand, but they are strongly influenced by social factors. For example, the reason Islamic finance had such a big push is because there is money involved.
"And if Muslims are pushing at that same level that happened for finance and even slavery reform, they can gain authority by promoting certain interpretations," he said, adding that he was in the midst of coming up with an app where Muslims can propose law reforms.
Ratna Osman, executive director of Sisters in Islam, which is the forum organiser, said that while religious scholars refused to budge from Islamic tradition on issues pertaining to the relationship between husband and wife for example, they have broken away from tradition when it came to Islamic banking.
"We know that happened because the push was fueled by monetary gain.
"But whatever not related to 'Ringgit Malaysia', the ulama will say it cannot be changed.
"And so they stick to medieval definition when it comes to marriage, where the women are supposed to obey their husbands as he is their ticket to heaven. These things cannot change apparently," she said.
The second speaker, Dr Ayesha Chaudhry, University of British Columbia's assistant professor of Islamic studies and gender studies, said that Islam never says anything, adding it was Muslims that said things about Islam.
"Islam is not a person, you cannot go to lunch with Islam.
"Muslims are the ones saying many different things about Islam," she said.
Chaudhry added that while Islamic tradition was vast, complex and sophisticated on many other issues, it was not so when it came to issues related to gender.
"So we need to expand the way Muslims think about Islamic tradition to include the modern conversations.
"Because, if we expand the definition to include Islamic conversations, we add richness and complexity to the tradition in areas that was lacking in the pre-colonial period," she said.
She added that it was her opinion that progressive and reformist scholars were speaking authentically about Islam today.
Chaudhry also said that in Islamic tradition, the right of husbands to physically discpline their wives was considered a fundamental marital right.
She said there was authoritative dilemma in this area, however, where a traditionalist would say that it was ethically good to hit one's wife for disciplinary purposes while progressives and reformists argue that it was never good to hit one's wife, not even symbolically.
"Why can't Muslim scholars agree that it is categorically forbidden for husbands to hit their wives in any or all circumstances?
"I think that any law, be it religious or secular, which preserves human dignity, is best," she said.
Meanwhile, Ratna said that SIS had come across many Muslim women who related to them how the religious authorities would tell them to be patient when they complained about domestic violence.
"These women were told by the Islamic Department that their husbands beat them because they were not good wives, so they were advised to speak to their husbands nicely if they wanted the beatings to stop." she said.