Politics, society & community
A Maslaha adviser gives her thoughts on law and society below.
- Browse the Politics, Society & Community Q&A.
For most Muslims, there is only one word for law i.e. sharia. Sharia is seen as the body of writing based on the Qur’an and the hadith and regarded as sacred. Islamic law however, developed largely in the hands of jurists, the fuqaha around the 2nd/8th century who gave expression to the ideals of sharia through a highly developed and specialized form of juristic writing called fiqh or understanding. Fiqh is marked by a diversity of opinions, complexity of doctrines and cultural practices. Through much of Islamic history the fuqaha or Muslim jurists could influence the political rulers by advising on what was in accordance with God’s law but jurists as a rule did not demand to govern society themselves.
Today the relationship between shariah and civil society is complex with some aspects that can be accommodated more easily than others. For instance in the area of ritual and worship including praying, fasting and observing dietary laws, Muslims are free to observe shariah as there is no clash with the legal framework of civil society.
The issue of womens’ rights is one of the most contested aspects of the Muslim faith. For those who defend the various perspectives given in the Qur’an and subsequent traditions regarding issues of gender and equity, this is a misunderstood area of Islam; for those who are critical of the various scriptural and cultural attitudes, this remains one of the biggest challenges facing many Muslim societies.
While many Muslim societies still live with various levels of injustice and inequality, much of the modern feminist movement in Muslim countries insists that the Qur’an itself is egalitarian in spirit and that both male and female believers are equal in the eyes of God; it is not scripture but patriarchy which often denies them their rights. They argue that during the time of the Prophet and even in the medieval period, women were encouraged to learn, to be educated and to make social and political contributions to society. Many Muslim women regard their roles as primary home-makers as essential to the flourishing of good societies and see these choices as reflective of rights given to them by Islam.