To read the Qur’an without understanding means deliberately ignoring the clear order of Allah about Tafakkur (pondering). If we do not search for the real meaning of the Qur’an, to practice in our daily affairs, to regain the missing glories, how we will stand equal with the developed world? This article provides the guidance of the Qur’an, Aimmah Ahl al Bait (as) and their Du'at (r.a) in this regard. The process of Tafakkur shall continue in living nations while being completely prohibited in cults. Blind followers are militant by nature and they are addicted to the extent that they believe all those different from them will make their abode in Jahannam (Hell) and for them 72 beautiful virgins will wait in the Jannah (Heaven). Of course, this is again the result of the ignorance of the Talim of the Qur’an. May Allah grant us Taufiq of Tafakkur in the light of the Qur’an, Aameen.
Authority without Territory: The Aga Khan Development Network and the Ismaili Imamate
Examining the connection between the concept of authority and the transformation of the Ismaili imamate, Authority without Territory is the first study of the imamate in contemporary times. With a particular focus on Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary leader of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, Daryoush Mohammad Poor shows how the Ismaili imamate surpasses the barriers and restrictions of the Weberian ideal-types and represents a novel image of a Shii Muslim community that has successfully adapted to modernity without losing its essential values or ethical commitments. Including interviews with key figures in the intellectual and administrative arms of the Ismaili imamate, this book sheds light on how these institutions develop and the challenges they face.
A Semiotics of Infinite Translucence: The Exoteric and Esoteric in Ismaili Muslim Hermeneutics
Karim H. Karim
The complex juxtaposition of private practice and public visibility/invisibility of contemporary Ismaili Muslims has certain parallels with other religious communities, but it exhibits unique features. This community adheres to an esotericism that has shaped its hermeneutic and communication practices. In a seeming paradox, the group is also exten-sively engaged in the public sphere. However, its communal institutions are limiting the dis-semination of texts pertaining to the religious addresses and biography of the group’s leader, Aga Khan IV. He is instead increasingly turning to architecture to communicate the commu-nity’s worldview through a symbolic use of design.
Islam; Hermeneutics; Semiotics; Public sphere; Private sphere
Review: Beyond the Qur'an: Early Ismaili Ta'wil and the Secrets of the Prophets by David Hollenberg ~ Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations
Scholarship on the history and doctrines of Shi‘i Ismaili Muslims has progressed at a dizzying pace over the last few decades. Most publications in the field to date are historical studies of particular periods of Ismaili history analysing Ismailism's socio-political activities, such as the famed Fatimid era or the Nizari state of Alamut. Relatively speaking, the study of Ismaili doctrine – theology, cosmology, hermeneutics and soteriology – remains in the early stages. In this context, David Hollenberg's monograph is a penetrating study focused on the intellectual contributions of Ismaili thinkers, primarily Jafar ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. ca. 349/960), as well as a methodological intervention into the way Ismaili spiritual hermeneutics, known as tawil, is studied. Hollenberg's main argument, based on his analysis of tenth-century Fatimid Ismaili texts, is that Ismaili tawill is best conceptualized as a form of cognitive training and intellectual conditioning that brings about ‘new habits of mind’ among members of the Ismaili movement and engenders in them a sectarian sense of special identity.
Ismaili Interpretations of the Shari'a: Between Abrogation and Affirmation
This paper is a historical study of how the Nizari Ismailis (hereafter called “Ismailis”), the second largest branch of Shia Muslims after the Twelvers, conceived of and practiced shari‘a through their storied history. The Ismailis present a unique case study on the topic given that the Ismaili Imams have abrogated parts of the shari‘a for their community on at least two occasions in their history. The most famous of these instances is the oft-misunderstood event of 17 Ramadan 559/1164 when the Ismaili Imam Hasan ‘ala dhikrihi al-salaam (d. 561/1166) declared qiyama (resurrection) for the Nizari Ismaili community and abrogated the ritual shar&i‘a. But this event was also an expression of a deeper and nuanced Ismaili theological orientation toward the shari‘a that has manifested in different ways throughout Ismaili history and has yet to be analyzed by modern scholars. In this study, I argue that the historical Ismaili attitude towards the shari‘a is one of systematic ambivalence: the Ismailis conceived the sharia as a prophetic composition of rules and regulations, a symbolic discourse representing higher level truths, and a mode of religious practice subject to the interpretation of the Ismaili Imams based on hiero-historical conditions and the socio-political environment in which the Ismaili community finds itself. Thus, the Ismailis interpreted the shari‘a as a means towards different ends at different times: sometimes the shari‘a served as a common discourse by which Ismailis related to a Sunni majority, presented their claims within the framework of Sunni legal discourse, or forged common religious and political ground with the Sunni Caliphate; in other instances, the Ismaili abrogation and noncompliance with the shari‘a served to demarcate Ismailis from other Muslims and strength Ismaili religious identity. This Ismaili orientation historically manifested both through the affirmation of the shari‘a and the partial abrogation of the shari‘a, depending upon the theological and socio-political contexts in which the community found itself.
Why Islamic debates over slavery matter to everyone
FOR ANY system of belief that vests ultimate authority in the past, slavery is a big moral problem. That goes for all three of the monotheistic faiths, and even for civil creeds such as traditional American patriotism, which is now wrestling hard with the fact that human equality’s most eloquent advocates, the republic’s founders, were also slave-owners.
For several reasons, this dilemma is an acute one for Muslims, as emerges in a scholarly but digestible new book, “Slavery and Islam”, by Jonathan Brown, a professor at Georgetown University and himself a Muslim convert. He focuses on both theology and history right up to the mid-19th century—when slavery became a bone of contention between European imperial powers, full of new-found abolitionist zeal, and traditional Muslim authorities across the Middle East and beyond. Like everything else about the Muslim encounter with European colonialism, this is a painful memory, and many Muslims insist that the European stance was patronising and hypocritical.
In certain cases, the Muslim sheikhs’ response to colonial pressure involved a tart recourse to Islam’s holy texts, in which the existence of slavery is taken as an inexorable feature of human society. If God tolerated this system, the traditional Islamic scholars said, it was surely not for any human authority to abolish it.
Others told their Western critics that slavery, as practised under Islam, was a far more humane phenomenon than the bondage endured by say, American plantation workers; therefore the Westerners had no moral standing.
Understanding Sharia, Islamic Law in a Globalised World
In 35 VOL. 28, NO. 1 - CANADIAN ARBITRATION AND MEDIATION JOURNAL
Canada, as a country committed to pluralism, today stands as a beacon of hope for all mankind. At the same time, there is much debate on the role of religion in the public sphere, most particularly in the field of private justice where arbitration and mediation are practised. Faith communities have generally shown a preference for ensuring that the ethics and values of their faith are engaged when disputes arise and their resolution is attempted. However, legitimate concerns with regard to human rights are expressed by those in Canadian society who feel that alternative forms of justice can be prejudicial to vulnerable groups such as women, minorities and children or those who are on the wrong side of the power balance. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has both supporters and detractors in these cases.
Over the years the issue of alternative forms of justice has become contentious with regard to family dispute resolution and the role Sharia, as portrayed in the popular media, plays in its deliberations. Sharia is viewed as a draconian, punitive and pre-modern system that has been defined over the years by a patriarchal interpretation. The deeper ethical values of Sharia are obfuscated and the fact that it has an inbuilt mechanism to respond both to necessity (darura) and to public interest (maslaha) and that each day in the Muslim world these mechanisms are used, is often overlooked.
Understanding Sharia, Islamic Law in a Globalised World is a book by two common law lawyers, a Canadian lawyer mediator and an English barrister, which has been written for the educated lay reader and which is both accessible and informative. The authors do not sidestep the controversial issues associated with Sharia but address them with reason, thought, and understanding.
Multiple English translations of the Qur'an, Islam's scripture, line shelves at book stores. Amazon.com sells more than a dozen. Because of the growing Muslim communities in English-speaking countries, as well as greater academic interest in Islam, there has been a blossoming in recent years of English translations. Muslims view the Qur'an as God's direct words revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632). Because the Qur'an stresses its Arabic nature, Muslim scholars believe that any translation cannot be more than an approximate interpretation, intended only as a tool for the study and understanding of the original Arabic text. Since fewer than 20 percent of Muslims speak Arabic, this means that most Muslims study the text only in translation. So how accurate are the Qur'an's renderings into English? The record is mixed. Some are simply poor translations. Others adopt sectarian biases, and those that are funded by Saudi Arabia often insert political annotation. Since translators seek to convey not only text but also meaning, many rely on the interpretation (tafsir) of medieval scholars in order to conform to an "orthodox" reading.
Contextualizing the Qur'an
No serious researcher denies that Muhammad came to a milieu that was highly influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas. Indeed, the Qur'an presupposes familiarity with Judeo-Christian ideas to the extent that it often does not give the full version of a narrative; there is no need to identify what is supposed to be common knowledge. A typical example is in the verse that was only partially cited by Muslims commenting on news programs in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks: "Whoever has killed a single human without just cause, it is as if he has killed the entire humankind." In fact, the full verse is: "And for this reason, we ordained for the children of Israel that whoever has killed a single human without just cause, it is as if he has killed the entire humankind." Significantly, the complete verse refers to a divine edict not found in the Torah, but rather in the Mishnah, part of the Jewish oral tradition.
Evidence of Muhammad's familiarity with Judaism is present in the Qur'an. One verse suggests that his contemporaries accused him of having a Jewish teacher. When some Arabs challenged Muhammad's claim to be a prophet based on his mortality, he suggested that they consult Jewish scholars about history. Early Muslims resorted to Jewish lore so heavily that they produced a genre of literature: the Isra'iliyat, loosely translated as the Judaic traditions. An oral tradition was even attributed to Muhammad wherein he supposedly said, "Relate from the people of Israel, and there is no objection," thereby enabling Islamic scholars to cite precedents from Jewish scholarship.
By the ninth century, this began to change. Muslim jurists, increasingly opposed to reliance upon Jewish lore, created new sayings from the Prophet and his companions that contradicted the original allowances. In one of these apocryphal traditions, Muhammad's face changes color when he sees his follower Umar reading the Torah. Muhammad declares that had Moses been their contemporary, he, too, would have followed the Muslim prophet. An alternate version claims that the Prophet asked Umar, "Do you wish to rush to perdition as did the Jews and Christians? I have brought you white and clean hadiths [oral traditions]." Despite the unreliability of this hadith, it has evolved into a position that any Muslim who questions it could be accused of heresy.
Suicide Bomber In the Light of the Shariah
Qazi Dr. Shaikh Abbas Borhany
Synopsis: It is the intolerant clergy of Madaris who are creating radical-militant-nature, the suicide bombers being the end product. Role of Madaris (seminaries) is very important in this regard. Frequent mental-health checkup of each and every faculty member of Madaris, Masjid-Imam and his immediate staff along with a vigilant eye on the activities of the suspicious clerics cannot be emphasized enough. Moreover, the media can play an important and constructive role if they stop inviting clerics who promote hate speeches and sectarian violence and hatred instead provide a platform to the enlightened scholars of international repute who have the ability to change the existing narrative.
Sufism, Spirituality and Consumerism: the case study of the Nimatullahiya and Naqshbandiya Sufi orders in Australia
This article is a comparative study of two well-known Sufi orders, the Khaniqahi (Nimatullahi) and Haqqani (Naqshbandi). This is a preliminary work that draws on in-depth qualitative interviews to examine the process of self-representation and localisation of Sufism in Australia. Despite the fact that these Sufi orders each have established global networks and cyberspace presence, they also demonstrate strong local identities and indications of adaptation and appropriation. Recognised Sufi orders have historically operated through a complex local social network, often with links into local politics. This initial study, based on fieldwork analysis across Sydney and Melbourne, offers insight into the changing attitude of two contemporary Sufi orders of Australia on issues to do with religion, spirituality, consumerism and westernisation.
The Role of Hadith in Islam - A Bibliography of the Works in English Language, Working Draft of 07.07.2019
Abu Raihan Muhammed Khalid
In Islam, the Arabic word hadith means prophetic tradition. Hadith are the practices performed and ordained by the Prophet (SA) that a Muslim must follow in fulfilment of his religious obligations. In the corpus of Muslim laws, the hadith stands right after the Quran Majid - the words of Allah Rabbul Alamin, as the second most important source of Islamic laws. However, there are significant differences of opinion among the Muslim regarding the authenticity of a great number of hadith. There are perhaps even more differences regarding the application of these hadith in today's world after fourteen hundred years of their pronouncement. As a result a Muslim is unsure and often embattled on what he should practice as his religious duty. This has caused significant rifts among the Muslim society throughout the world. It is therefore necessary to precisely determine the scope, breadth and methods of the Hadith in order to enable the Muslim to determine the role of the Hadith and its application in today's world. As the first part the project we are here preparing a bibliography of the works in English Language.
Prelude to the Symphony of Being With Patients Ears Attend
Islam is the most recent (and final) revelation of divine guidance provided for humanity to shape their individual as well as collective lives. Its promise of peace and prosperity led to the formation of a pure and sublime community over 1400 years ago. In this setting, Muslims created an excellent and unmatched civilization that pushed the frontiers of human existence, knowledge and development. This community remained a beacon of light for humanity for almost a millennium. The world was watching this glorious civilization, embracing its discoveries of intellect and practice, but in meantime the civilization faltered, and Muslims slept. During this deep slumber, the Muslims, looking to their glorious past, cried: Our father was King. This claim did not and does not help the Muslims’ current situation at all. Past glory does not negate the need for ongoing growth and development. Muslims need to carry out a serious introspection and generate fresh ideas that will result in the creation of a new world. It is imperative for their survival, and to avoid the stagnation of a living death. In this book, you will find my dream of such a new world.
I began studying Islam at a very young age in a Madressa in the far off area of Multan, and my effort still continues. With the passage of time, the beautiful truth of Islam began dawning upon me and at the same time, I became convinced that the existing conservative interpretation of Islam was not only anachronistic but also anti-human and anti-development. Islam, the last mercy of the Lord for mankind, has become a tool for exploitation, poverty and even homicide through acts of terror. My conclusion is that Muslims are stuck to the past and, because of that position, they have failed to create a truly Islamic modern existence, even though Islam could have led the development of such an existence, if it had been properly understood and practiced by its followers. The lack of real ijtehad has deprived Muslims of living a peaceful and prosperous life, and with that, the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
The idea of writing a new narrative of Islam was the basis of a lecture I delivered in 2003 before a gathering of Ulema at International Islamic University, Islam and expanded version of this lecture was first published in Urdu (2004) and then in English (2008). When the government of Pakistan was developing a New Action Plan to fight extremism in Pakistan in 2014, there was a general consensus of the need to develop a counternarrative of Islam to curb the fanaticism, extremism and terrorism in Pakistan (and the world) as, unfortunately, Islam was (and is) being misused by certain extremist elements as justification for their ideology of terror. So far that counter-narrative has yet to appear. This book is my humble endeavor toward this objective, an endeavor informed by 40 years studying Islam, a study that continues to occupy my thinking (and my heart) every day and every night.
This book is divided into two parts: Part I is a description of the past and Part II examines the present and the future. In Part I (chapters one to five), I have tried to go through a process of historical deconstruction to gain a clear understanding of the past, so that we can begin to reimagine the future. In Part II (chapters six to twenty-three), I present a scheme of restructuring Islamic thought and Muslim societies.
The Fanatical ISIS through the Lens of Islamic Law
AHM ERSHAD UDDIN
Series of attacks under the disguise of Islam; ISIS created an outrage throughout the world, bombings in a number of places, beheading innocent citizens, kidnapping women and children of different sects of Muslims for the cause of harassment and assault, also,burning non-Muslims alive and drowning, then upload those video clips of murder-in-action in the name of the so-called revival of Khilafah and post Quranic verses has raised questions like is conflict one of the principles of Islam? During and after the propagation of Islam did the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) ever behead a non-Muslim and present it to a ruler in order to accept Islam? Does Islam allow to amputate any human body who claims the prophet a liar or who talks against him? Furthermore, it is concluded that ISIS misinterprets the fundamentals of Islam and misrepresents them to the world either go against Islam or form the ideal of massacre. This paper intends to comprehend the fanaticism and radical terrorists’ frequent murders of ISIS that is statistically increasing daily, its brutality and more importantly creating a phobia of Islam with their bestial activities, critically, if Islam allows it and how it objectifies this in the light of Islamic law. As well as to lay out a content of Islam as religion and where it stands today under shari'ah.
EDITORS’ NOTE: Yasir Qadhi — Dean of the Islamic Seminary of America, an international Islamic educational institution and a doctoral graduate of Yale University, specializing in Islamic intellectual history and thought — discusses his insights on Muslims in America, challenges people of faith face in the West, academic vs. seminary study of Islam, religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, intra-faith (Muslim to Muslim) relationships, Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding of reason vs. revelation, and his vision for the future.
1. To start, I want to generally talk your experience growing up in America. How are things the same and how are they now different for you?
Follow Up: Has you seen the way in which Muslims define “Muslim-ness” evolve in the last 20 years (let’s say since 9/11)?
Follow Up: What would you see as markers of Muslim identity for Islam in the 21st century? Both at the general level and more specifically in the West.
2. In the past decade, especially, Muslims, have engaged in robust outreach initiatives to help correct the perception of Islam in the West. How do we change perceptions perhaps more quickly? You’ve mentioned it starts locally. And what areas would you, personally, like to see more Muslim presence?
3. Another challenge especially in the west that people face, people of religion face, and particularly the youth, is the influence of atheism, secularism, and a growing antipathy towards faith, that religion lacks intellectual merit.
It feels as though religion is fighting a losing battle, an ideological tsunami. Given your decades of work again, what, if anything, can be done to create a robust response to this antipathy towards faith?
4. How did your exposure to the study of Islam in an academic institution like Yale University, change your views about Islam or how Islam should be approached (for example, the role of historical context in situating Muslim-ness and expressions and ideas of Muslim identity through time and place)?
5. You’ve written a chapter entitled: “The Path of Allah or the Paths of Allah: Revisiting Classical and Medieval Sunni Approaches to the Salvation of Others” in a book called “Between Heaven and Hell. Could you share your insights on religious pluralism you share in chapter?
6. What are your thoughts on inter-faith dialogue? Some people are all for it, while others feel that it has its limitations. Where do you lie on the spectrum?
Follow Up: So if we think about humanity at large and think about how every person seeks a better or improved quality of life – however we define this – but even if it be purely in material terms, how powerful do you think this concept can be in bringing communities together around a common purpose. So moving from a lens of theology to a lens of improving the quality of life of all people – And the Qur’an speaks about this, as all of humankind being made from a Single Soul (as in Sura an-Nisa Ayah 1)
7. How do you understand the relationship between the unity of humankind as well as the diversity inherent within it? How do you feel this may connect to the notion of respect for the “other” and the notion of pluralism not just between different faiths but also within Islam?
Follow Up: What can be done to improve those relationships and, in these times, how can Muslims, especially in America, better support each other?
8. Your explored how Ibn Taymiyyah understood the perennial debate between what is usually referred to as “reason versus revelation” – I wonder if you would be happy to share some of your thoughts regarding the relationship between “Reason” and “the Intellect” and how Ibn Taymiyyah defines ‘aql vis-a-vis revelation?
Follow Up: In your understanding, as Sunni thinker and scholar, how do you view the role of the intellect in the understanding and practice of one’s faith?
9. If I may ask, what would be a question, even a faith-related question, that you are still searching for a satisfying answer to and for which you would even welcome other perspectives on?
10. And finally, we need to think about a vision for the future. We end up talking about these in general terms, but could you name a specific objective, perhaps, you see the world can achieve, let’s say in 25 years, and what insights and suggestions would you offer that might help achieve this vision?
Saudi Arabia is to abolish flogging as a form of criminal punishment, according to legal documents.
The state-sanctioned lashings will be replaced by prison sentences or fines, a directive from the Gulf kingdom’s Supreme Court says.
“The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman … [and will] bring the kingdom into line with international human rights norms,” the document is reported to state.
Other forms of capital and corporal punishment — including beheading for murder and amputations for theft — will remain in use.
While analysts will see the new decision as a further attempt by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to present the country as modernising, critics have already pointed out that the kingdom’s human rights record remains among the worst in the world.
Anti-government dissent is banned, and those who dare to criticise the country’s rulers are routinely subject to arbitrary arrest. Other freedom of expression is severely curtailed.
In 2019, some 184 people were executed — a record number for the kingdom in a year when such government-approved killings were in decline almost everywhere else in the world.
This article presents a description and analysis of a Persian translation and commentary of the Quran, entitled Tafsir-i munir , by Abu Nasr al-Haddadi (d. after 400/1009),the earliest exegetical work in Persian whose author can be identified. A manuscript of this multivolume work housed in the Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul offers an important historical testament to the calligraphic development of Persian exegetical writing and the manners in which scholars and authorities sought creative ways to visually balance the sacred Arabic text of the Quran with vernacular exegetic material.The manuscript also reveals a good deal about Quranic book art, as well as the development of Persian commentaries and translations, thus offering further insight into the history of the Quran across the frontiers of Central Asia and Khurasan.
Book art – calligraphy – Ghaznavids – Persia – Quranic exegesis – translation
Academic Knowledge and Religious Subjectivity in the Global Ismaili Community
Nizari Ismailis are one of most active Muslim communities in academic education and knowledge production in the fields of Islamic studies and humanities. For this purpose, the community runs two academic institutions based in London: The Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations. Drawing on sociological approaches to religion and knowledge, this study examines the academic discourse of these two institutes an the religious subjectivities of their international body of students. It shows that the Ismaili community is navigating challenges along three axes: its relationship to secular modernity, to mainstream Islam, and to itself (its own history and identity). The Ismaili response to this three-dimensional challenge is interpreted as a process of reflexive modernization, whereby Islam is discursively reconceptualized as culture rather than religion and uncertainty is internalized into individual religious subjectivity.
Where the Powerful Can Kill the Weak, as Long as They Pay
The Quran introduced blood money as a path to “mercy” and to end tribal conflicts — not as impunity for the rich.
In October 2018, the world was shocked by news of the gruesome murder of a prominent Saudi journalist: Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Mr. Khashoggi had been in exile, fearing for his safety, but he was lured to his country’s consulate in Istanbul with hopes of getting documents for his planned marriage. Instead, he was slain and dismembered.
This appalling murder sent shock waves through the West, which only set off a Saudi effort at a cover-up. The kingdom’s authorities first denied that Mr. Khashoggi had disappeared in the consulate. Then they had to admit that he was killed by a special squad, but said it was without the knowledge of the crown prince.
Last month, Salah Khashoggi, the victim’s eldest son, who still lives in Saudi Arabia, announced that he had “pardoned” his father’s murderers, an act that may be enough to close the case under Saudi law. In April, The Times had published reports that Salah Khashoggi and his siblings had received tens of thousands of dollars and real estate worth millions of dollars from the rulers of the kingdom as compensation for the murder of their father.
How can a murder case be closed through a mere “pardon” by a family member? And how is it acceptable, legally and culturally, that the family member gets handsomely paid for it?
The answer is in the notion of “diya,” or “blood money,” which has been used in Saudi Arabia for decades to cover up grave crimes.
Diya is built on the idea that murder is not always a crime to be prosecuted; instead, it can be treated as a tort to be privately compensated. In other words, if I kill your daughter, I owe you something. You can ask for my execution or accept a negotiated amount of blood money from me. If I pay the agreed price, we are even, and I walk away.
While defenders of this practice with ancient roots say it provides a form of justice, it allows an affront that no modern code of justice would dare to codify: The powerful can easily kill the weak if they pay to do so.
In 2013, Saudi society saw a horrendous example: Fayhan al-Ghamdi, a preacher, tortured and killed his own 5-year-old daughter, Lama, then walked free by paying blood money to her mother. Only after a public outcry, raised under the Twitter hashtag #AnaLama, was the killer sentenced to eight years in jail and 800 lashes.
The more usual scene in Saudi Arabia is that a wealthy killer saves himself by offering the victim’s family big sums of blood money while raising the money from relatives as an act of “charity” and creating a lucrative business for middlemen. The overall result is a culture that “mitigates the atrocious behavior of killers and criminals,” as a Saudi journalist, Hani Alhadri, described last year.
In 1990, the problem was exported to Pakistan, with its Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, a law that made blood money a legal option to close cases of murder. It soon proved to be a perfect cover for so-called honor killings: Once a family decided to kill their daughter for their twisted notion of “honor,” the brother could do the job, and the father could simply “pardon” him.
In 2012, Pakistan was shocked by the story of Shahzeb Khan, a young university student who protected his sisters from drunken thugs, only to be killed by them. But the thugs’ powerful family threatened Mr. Khan’s poor family that they would kill the Khan daughters as well unless the Khans accepted blood money to close the case.
Cases like those have led a Pakistani scholar, Hassan Javid, to call for ending all blood money laws, which are in effect in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, because they “provide the rich and powerful with the means by which to evade responsibility for any crimes that they might commit.”
However, there is a major obstacle to such legal reform: the notion of blood money comes from the Quran, and for some Muslims, that ends any discussion. But those Muslims are missing something important: The Quran, a scripture with a human context of the seventh century, appealed to a very different society, in which blood money served a very different purpose.
We can understand this context through The Great Exegesis by the 12th- century Sunni scholar Fakhr al-Din al-Razi: Before Islam, Arabia was a war zone of tribes, lacking any central authority, police force or court system. Murder among these tribes was punished with “qisas,” the principle of “life for a life, eye for an eye.” However, tribes had different claims to “honor,” and the haughtier ones demanded two or more lives for one of their fallen. This led to disputes and blood feuds that went on for generations.
That is why, as the Islamic history expert Montgomery Watt, alluding to a custom among early Anglo-Saxons, noted: “The wiser and more progressive men of the time seem to have recognized the advantages of substituting a blood-wit for the actual taking of a life.” Which is exactly what the Quran did. It authorized the law of retaliation, but also added:
“But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a mercy from your Lord.” (2:178)
In other words, the Quran introduced blood money as “mercy” and a way to end tribal conflicts — not to give immunity to rich thugs, families who kill their own daughters or rulers who kill their critics.
Yet a literalist application of scripture can lead to horrific outcomes, as we are seeing now.
So what must be done? First, understand that Quranic commandments are not ends in themselves but means for a higher end: achieving justice. And different contexts may require different means for achieving justice.
This was realized by the Ottoman Empire, the last seat of the Caliphate, which introduced modern laws and secular courts in the 19th century. A big step was a new penal code in 1858 that said even if a murder is settled with blood money, secular courts can still punish the killer. Two decades later, under the pious Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the empire also introduced the office of public prosecutor to indict for crimes regardless of any bargain or cover-up.
Today, Saudi Arabia represents the deep troubles of an archaic Islamic tradition that bypassed many of these modern reforms. Its crown prince may try to close the gap cosmetically, by allowing women to drive or dance, which is fine. But real reform for the kingdom will be accepting the rule of law and freedom of speech. That would include not murdering critical journalists and not covering up their murders by paying blood money.
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