By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Minaret of Freedom Institute
I shall address the relationship between Islam and liberty, emphasizing the significance of the rule of law as the connecting cord. The core teaching of Islam is that every human being is directly responsible to the Almighty. The core principle of libertarian analysis is that no person or group has the right to initiate force or fraud against others to seek to attain their values. These ideas are certainly compatible. When analyzed within a context of the concept of the “rule of law” they prove to be supportive of one another, both analytically and historically.
Shari`ah is not any particular system of laws, but the notion that there is a fixed law supreme not only over individual human actions, but collective institutions as well, including the institutions of government. Islam is neither democracy nor theocracy, but nomocracy. The law is to be discovered by the human intellect through rational study of human nature and the divine texts. In the context of a worldview in which religion governs all spheres of life the commandment of the Qur’an “let there be no compulsion in religion” amounts to a restatement of the non-aggression principle.
The importance of economic and property rights in Islam can be seen from a variety of perspectives. Theologically, man requires property in order to fulfill his function as the khalîfah. Legally, property has been sanctified in Islamic law. Morally, theft, fraud, and injustice have been prohibited by the shari’ah. Practically speaking the objective of falâh cannot be achieved without respect for economic realities. Historically, Islam has been favorable to the merchant beginning with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his wife Khadijah (may God be pleased with her). The adoption of democratic formalisms will not relieve the Muslim world of its economic stagnation if it is not accompanied by a return to historical civil society institutions like the awqâf, free markets, just government, and a well-defined and protected system of private property.
The Achilles’ heel of a fixed law is the danger of an inflexibility that will lead to stagnation. For hundreds of years Islamic civilization avoided this problem by a willingness to reinterpret the law as conditions changed and new knowledge became available. This flexibility of interpretation was gradually dropped during the declining years of the classical Islamic civilization as the door to ijtihâd (original legal thinking) was considered closed, and the backwardness of the modern Muslim world is the fruit. Reopening the doors to critical thinking so that the eternal truths that underlie not only Islam, but all revealed religions, may be re-considered in the light of the progress made in all branches of learning in the time since the Qur’an was originally interpreted is the fresh air that can lead to a revival of the Muslim world and overcome the misunderstandings, stereotyping, and outright demagoguery that poisons relations between the major civilizations of the world today.