Islamic Ijtihad: The Key to Islamic Democracy Bridging and Balancing Political Islam and Intellectual Islam
Adham A. Hashish
Alexandria University Faculty of Law
March 21, 2010
Richmond Journal of Global Law & Business, Vol. 9, No. 61, Winter 2010
Religion is a timeless culture in the Middle East. This article interprets Islam not only as part of the problem of democracy in the Middle East, but rather part of the solution. It proposes a formula of checks and balances that has its origins in Islamic history.
Much has transpired since Muslims were left to govern their own affairs after the death of prophet Mohamed. Muslims' nostalgia is particularly focused on two famous eras in Muslim history, the Rightly Guided Caliphate Era and the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization. The first era is famous for the dominant atmosphere of justice and represents the rise of the first democratic political institution in Muslim history, the historic Caliphate. The second is famous for its advancements in humanities, science, and technology, which represent the rise of advanced academic institutions which include the influential four schools of law (madhhabs) that continue to shape the Islamic legal system today.
This article focuses on the role of Ijtihad in building institutions of Islamic democracy. Rather than addressing the importance of Ijtihad in general or its importance in academia, this article attempts to emphasize Ijtihad's importance as a main tool to empower the intellectual Islam (Intell-Islam) stream to check the political Islam (Polit-Islam) stream and balance it within a framework of Islamic governance.
That helps explaining the dilemma that faces the Arab world right now manifested in the checks and balances between the two wings of Islam, Intellectual Islam, which is ruled by reason, and Political Islam, which is ruled by passion. Ijtihad represents the untold story behind the big picture of any proposal for Islamic democracy. Both Polit-Islam, through its main tool Jihad, and Intell-Islam, through its main tool Ijtihad, represent [*64] the heart and mind of Islamic democracy. Polls show only the strength of the Polit-Islam stream through measuring civil society's passion in the short term. However, it is the Intell-Islam stream that shapes civil society's culture in the long term, through its structuring of Ijtihad institutions.
The argument will be addressed in three parts in this article. Part I focuses on understanding Islam as a culture of pursuing justice. Early development of Islamic law mirrors culture as a phenomenon in which pursuing ideals went side by side with appropriating realities. Ijtihad played the major role in achieving such development. Part II deals with the institutional role that Ijtihad played in the early development of Islamic law. This includes the rise and fall of Ijtihad institutions, which applies to both madhhabs (as organizations) and Usul (as norms). Part III deals with the institutional role that Ijtihad could play in contemporary development of Islamic democracy. Following a model of early Islamic governance, I propose a contemporary model that is based on reviving Ijtihad institutions. These institutions represent an Intell-Islam stream that could balance the dominating Polit-Islam stream in shaping Islamic culture and ultimately Islamic governance.
Keywords: Ijtihad, Islamic Governance And Democracy, Political and Intellectual Islam, Islamic Law and Culture
Date posted: March 21, 2010 ; Last revised: November 17, 2010
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