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BARAZA! 2 - Diversity of Opinions: An Islamic Legacy
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baraza21.jpgWelcome to the second issue of BARAZA!, Sisters in Islam's biannual issues bulletin. The inaugural issue of BARAZA! tackled the impetus for the reform of Islamic family laws across the Muslim world. We compiled scholarly opinions, historical facts and trends that made the case for a comprehensive reform of laws governing personal status of Muslims. The recurring theme was that such reform was necessary because the realities and complexities of our lives today are vastly different from the realities faced by pre-modern Islamic jurists.

However, making the case for such reforms opened up a series of larger questions. What do we do when there is diversity of opinion in Islam? Has there always been such diversity? If so, were these opinions complementary or were they ever competing and conflicting? What facets of Islam are affected by this diversity of opinion? The spiritual? The mundane? The legal? The theological? The nature of Government? Which opinions, then, are "authentic"? What happens when certain stakeholders refuse to acknowledge diversity of opinion? What happens when we are beset by new problems that are not referred to in the traditional opinions of jurists and scholars?

In this issue of BARAZA!, we have compiled articles by key Islamic scholars on the subject of diversity of opinion in Islam. Our main essay, by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, explores the scope of diversity and disagreement among pre-modern Islamic jurists. He reveals that diversity can be traced back to the formative years of Islam, when the Companions themselves "disagreed about matters of interpretation and even ... reached an agreement to disagree." Next, we present a Q&A with M.A. Muqtedar Khan, who argues for a "democratisation of interpretation" in order to achieve meaningful democratisation in Muslim societies. Muqtedar suggests that an interpretation that remains frozen in the past is what leads to an inflexible fiqh-centrism.

It is precisely this problem that Muhammad Khalid Masud looks at by exploring the complications in applying Islamic laws to Muslim minorities. Unlike Muslim-majority contexts, in which Islam can be - and is very often used as - a source of law and public policy, Muslims in Muslim-minority contexts have to deal with the formulation and application of fiqh within largely secular contexts. In order to reconcile the dilemmas faced by Muslims in either context, Muhammad Khalid stresses the need for "Muslim jurisprudence of citizenship in the framework of pluralism, in order to respond to the current political and legal challenges."

Kecia Ali's essay looks at differing interpretive approaches to a complex Qur'anic verse “ Surah An-Visa (4:34) - which is very often quoted to support the idea of women's subordination to men. The essay looks at the complications behind this assumption and points towards the vast implications of different interpretations of this verse.

We also include a short essay by Shanon Shah explaining the evolution of a very important juristic tool in Islam - the fatwa. He compares the pre-modern practice of fatwa-making to contemporary institutionalisation of fatwa in different Muslim states.

To round off this issue of BARAZA!, we revisit two aspects of our work in reforming Islamic family law. The legal aspect is explored by Fulbright scholar Ziad Haider, who helps us compare key differences between the current Islamic and Civil Family Law codes. The experiences of women affected by the law are related by SIS legal officer Razlina Razali in presenting the background to the legal services offered by S1S. Razlina and Zaitun Kasim also recap our Islamic Family Law campaign in a separate essay.

Exciting times lie ahead for Muslims around the world. Certainly, there is a strong and vocal sector among Muslims which claims to speak for an "authentic" Islam, and chooses coercive and sometimes violent means of crushing dissent. However, growing numbers of Muslims feel that the discussion on diversity of opinion in Islam is long overdue.

These Muslims are moved by the same humility that underlined Imam Shafi'i's assertion that "My opinion is correct but the possibility of error exists." It is also this humility that underlined Imam Malik's refusal to allow his own opinions to be imposed upon the public. In fact, when the second Abbasid Caliph Mansur wanted to display Malik's Muwatta at the Ka'abah, the latter forbade it, saying, "People in different parts of the Muslim world may have received differing information." Malik told the Caliph that, "Diversity of opinion is Allah's gift to the ummah" and any imposition of one individual's opinion upon the public would be tantamount to destroying this divine gift.

In light of this, SIS has always maintained that Islam's treasury of wisdom and guidance lies in plural interpretations that have existed and enriched us since the earliest days of Islamic civilisation. Our view is that productive spaces to explore this pluralism must be enhanced and expanded so that this treasury will continue to ensure universal justice, equality and human rights for all times.

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