Authority, Responsibility and the Law

If there is one thing that the reading this weak made abundantly clear is the element of personal responsibility in the Islamic world.  I find the idea admirable in a way.  In so much of culture of the United States that I see and experience (especially these days) there is a tendency to try to shift blame to someone – anyone else – and not take any level of personal responsibility for your own words, actions and beliefs.  To be fair, the United States has always been a litigious society, just ask the Pilgrims.  But I digress.  The simple base knowledge that each individual Muslim is responsible to God for all of their actions regardless of their education, beliefs or knowledge levels means that diligently seeking the truth, seeking out those more educated and aware than yourself and making sure that you are reasonably well informed on God’s will and expectations becomes critical.[1]  I also found it particularly interesting that in Islamic thought, God judges a person not necessarily on their conclusions or the end result of their search for the Divine will but rather on their efforts.[2]

Although the reading was difficult to follow at times and was highly technical and informative, the concepts of authority verses authoritarianism were also particularly interesting.  Since there is no “church” in Islam, and no central authority or religious leadership that could be compared to the Pope in the Catholic faith, understanding the will of God and accepting that will and “submitting” – literally the meaning of the world Islam – to that will becomes the product of individual search.[3] Since it is not possible for every Muslim to become an expert on Islamic jurisprudence, they rely on various jurist schools within Islamic tradition, though these jurists themselves are not in a position of authority with an expectation of obedience without question.[4]  Although debated and somewhat curtailed, questioning is actually a foundational principle of Islam, and choosing a jurist school to follow is completely up to the individual.[5]

While Shari’a should necessarily be evolving, changeable and informed by the culture and the people of various generations, it seems to have become more fixed and unchangeable.  I see this as an indication of power struggles within Islam itself and the desire to exert authority over Muslim people, not necessarily keeping the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of Muhammed himself or his vision for Islam going past his death. For women specifically, this manifests in a male-dominated society and cultural practices that in many ways keep them from the equality that was perhaps Muhammed’s original intent.

[1] Khaled Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name, (London: United One World, 2001), 58.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 43.

[4] Ibid, 33.

[5] Ibid, 58.

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