January 29, 2010

"Human-Made" Rules in Islam

Recently, one of my readers has asked me to answer some questions her husband has asked of her. Based on the questions she submitted and several other e-mails she has sent to me, her husband, a European convert to Islam, appears to be a lukewarm Muslim at best. (I do realize that I'm only hearing from one-half of this couple; in fact, this woman has asked me to meet her husband face-to-face, but my schedule in the evenings and on the weekends at this time makes such a meeting very difficult to arrange.) She has asked me, instead, if I would post my answers to her questions on my blog, so I'm going to address each question separately as time permits, insha'allah.

Here is her e-mail:

Here are among the questions my husband always ask me
1) He said some of the rules in Islam are actually human-made. Some are not necessary in this modern world. For instance: the hijab for ladies, abolution before prayers, prayers with the necessary standing rules.. (sometimes I adapt the prayer accordingly like when we were on traveling). Also the importance to eat halal food ( for him only pork is haram, but all others should be halal like chicken, meat eventho it is not slaughtered by muslim)

"He said some of the rules in Islam are actually human-made."

My answer: Of course; so what? My initial thought was, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) created a number of "rules" that we Muslims follow; he was a man, like us. Thus, yes, some of the rules in Islam were created by a man. "But," my wife says, "the Prophet (pbuh) was also guided directly by Allah (swt) and the angel Jibril; in that regard, he wasn't like other men." To which I most wholeheartedly agree. However, even if we set the Prophet (pbuh) aside as a special case (which, obviously, he was), many men - scholars, jurists, imams - over the centuries have defined and refined "the rules in Islam" (regardless of whether one classifies them under fiqh or shari'ah) that Muslims live under.

However, just because these rules are made by men doesn't invalidate them. There are several reasons for this. First, the vast majority of men who have created rules have done so based upon the guidance of the Qur'an and Sunnah. In order for any rule in Islam to be valid, there has to be justification for the rule; that justification almost always comes from the appropriate Qur'anic ayat and/or ahadith from the Prophet's (pbuh) Sunnah. Secondly, even though individual men may have different opinions regarding a specific issue, the rules Muslims follow are based upon a consensus (ijma) of opinions. Extreme opinions are noted but rejected in favor of the majority opinion; likewise, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "My community will never agree upon an error." So a human-made rule in Islam is not necessarily invalid simply because it came from a man or men.

Two other points I'd like to raise: All these men over the centuries - the scholars, jurists and imams - who created the rules that Muslims follow, the vast majority of them have significant credentials in terms of their ability to render a judgment. To which I would ask you, what are your qualifications? Why should I trust your judgment? What do you bring to the table?

And secondly, don't you see the hypocrisy inherent in your own statement? You apparently think that something is wrong if the rules in Islam are human-made, but then you go ahead and make up your own rules! Ridiculous!

To be continued, insha'allah.


bambam said...

While i think i'll be detracting to any answer to her questions
(but i can't help my self but to ... most of the stuff you will find the answer to in quran with some contention. except for how to pray thats a different one and its tawator *transfer through inheritance*)
on the other hand when it comes to rules and how they came about that's very much very complicated and i wouldn't just say they need to be out of sunnah and quran since that view only held at the late abasaids age and wasn't really instituted until someway through the time of the amir states during the mamluk era.
With a lot of discussions going on about those and a lot of intersting views on the matter by muslims of time.
Even sunnah itself was a way to justify jurisprudence and at the time of the ummayads some of it was used to discredit or authenticate rulers.
So while in her case its good to stick to the basics but its interesting to understand how islam as we know it today came to be across history and its definitely not monolithic or there are consensus amongst all muslim thinkers about anything actually other than the 5 pillars. i'm speaking historically

JDsg said...


I quite agree with your comment. The perspective I've taken with respect to the creation of rules within Islam is very much a modern one and doesn't take into account the wide differences in opinion amongst the early Muslim community (within, say, the first 200-250 years AH). By chance I happen to be reading a book right now ("The Concept of Belief in Islamic Theology" by Toshihiko Izutsu) that discusses many of the different early schools of thought with respect to the concepts of iman and islam.

But the basics of the religion (as exemplified through some of the husband's questions) are largely settled issues. And for those new issues that require some sort of ruling (mostly in the form of fatawa), I think the process by which a ruling is created is fairly stable today (i.e., by using the Qur'an and Sunnah to determine the correct answer).

George Carty said...

I remember reading a review of Charles Mann's 1491, which mentioned that the American Indians in what is today the southern United States were almost entirely wiped out in the 16th century by smallpox and other epidemics, which were probably introduced by pigs brought along by Hernando de Soto's expedition.

I wonder if there was a similar holocaust (plagues spread by pigs) in the ancient Middle East, some time before the kingdom of Israel was established? Might that be why both Jews and Muslims steer clear of pork?