Throughout Islamic history, groups of people, who take some sacred texts out of their contexts and ignore the purposes and rationales behind them, have always emerged. They strictly adhere to the literal meaning of religious texts in violation to a rule well-established by Muslim scholars. The rule states that when investigating any legal issue, all relevant texts should be collected and consulted in order to form a holistic view of the issue at hand. It is through the application of this methodology that scholars become able to arrive at the proper and correct meaning as well as the objective of any given text. Nowadays, extremists and terrorists adopt an erroneous approach, i.e. to ignore the purpose or higher objective behind a certain legal ruling. Consequently, this leads them to quote classical fatwas and opinions of early scholars and apply them to the modern cases, which are totally different from the old ones with regard to time, place and circumstances.
Investigating the Glorious Qur’an, one finds that it includes many verses in which Allah, the Almighty, mentions the purposes of many rituals, obligations, prohibitions, etc. This means that from the very beginning of the divine revelation to Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH), Allah wanted to communicate to people that there is a rationale and purpose of the legal rulings. For example, the Almighty Allah says, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Qur’ān 51: 56); “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (Qur’ān 2: 183); “…And fear Allah that you may succeed.” (Qur’ān 2: 189); and “Recite, [O Muḥammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.” (Qur’ān 29:45).
These Qur’ānic verses, among many others, clearly show that Sharīʿah rulings aim at promoting the welfare of all people in both this life and in the hereafter. In his al-Muwāfaqāt (2/322), Al-Shāṭibī says, “investigating the [texts of] Sharīʿah, I came to the conclusion that it comes for serving the interests of people.”
During the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH), there were many examples which prove that he (PBUH) used to observe the purposes of Sharīʿah and teach his companions to observe them. The incident of the ‘afternoon (‘Aṣr) prayer at Banū Quriazah’, where the Prophet (PBUH) ordered his companions to rush to the dwellings of Banū Quriazah and not to pray ʿAṣr prayer until they arrive there[i], is a very popular and important example in this regard. The issue here is that the companions of the Prophet were divided into two groups; the first one understood that the statement of the Prophet (PBUH) was intended only for hurrying people up in order to arrive there more quickly and, therefore, they prayed ʿAṣr on their way to Banū Quriazah; whereas the second group opined that they would pray at Banū Quriazah anyway even if the time span for the prayer was over because the order of the Prophet was very clear. Upon the arrival of the Prophet, he was told of the story and he approved both opinions.[ii]
Had the contemporary extremist groups considered the objectives of Sharīʿah, they would have known that all the main issues they are propagating and killing people for are not well established legal rulings, but rather opinions and fatwas that were suitable to their times and places. For example, the issue of caliphate (khilafah), which they insist that it shall be revived in the same way practiced in the early centuries of Islam, is not intended for itself. Rather, it was a method of government that prevailed during the era of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) Companions and the following centuries. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself did not designate a certain way of government to be adopted. He (PBUH) left Muslims free to choose the way suitable to their circumstances as long as it is based on consultation, justice and equality. In this sense, caliphate is meant to be a way of serving the interests of people.
In order to further clarify this point, let us examine the purposes of caliphate from the Islamic point of view. According to Muslim scholars, the system of caliphate is meant to fulfill three main requirements: the unity of the Muslim ummah (nation), application of Islamic Sharīʿah and integration of all Muslim territories. In the early centuries of Islam, Muslim caliphates controlled power and were able to exerciser their sovereignty over the very large territories that came under the rule of Muslims. But, with the passage of time, the central authority began to weaken and some rulers of some territories began to independently exercise sovereignty over their respective areas, admitting only nominal affiliation to the caliphate.
Accordingly, when the caliphate was officially abolished in 1924, it had been in reality abolished beforehand as the links between Muslim countries had been severed before that date. Therefore, Muslims, at that time, should have developed another way of government that secures the interests of Muslims and achieves the unity of Muslim nation. This may take the form of a union of Muslims countries that guarantees integration among Muslims worldwide and facilitates the application of the rulings of Sharīʿah.
However, these extremist groups always ignore the universal values and objectives of Sharīʿah and focus on the issues that stir disagreement and discord among all people, Muslims and non-Muslims. This, in fact, is not the true Islam preached by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but a distorted image thereof, which they keep communicating to the world. In this regard, it is by presenting the true image of Islam that we can counter their narratives.
[i] Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, p. 1391. Kitāb al-Jihād wa al-Siyar, Bāb al-Mubādarah bi al-Ghazw wa taqdīm ’Aham al-’Amrayn al-Muta‘āriḍayn, ḥadīth no. 1770.
[ii] Abū Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Hishām, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2nd edition, 1430 AH/2009 CE), pp.462-463.