On Thursday, 28th May 2020, Al-Mahdi Institute successfully convened its third consecutive virtual research seminar, amid the Covid-19 circumstances. Whilst the prevailing situation has posed its own challenges, holding the seminars virtually has given the Institute the opportunity to benefit from scholars based across the globe.As such, on this occasion, the seminar attendees were audience to a live presentation from Prof. Liyakat Takim, of McMaster University, Canada.
The presentation, entitled “Islam and Post-Ijtihadism”, critiqued the position of classical jurisprudence, asserting that many of its laws may not conform to conventional understandings of morality and ethical ideals. Prof. Takim cited instances, such as the permissibility of child marriage and of stealing from non-Muslims, as examples illustrating how classical jurisprudence contravenes ideals of justice and fairness. This led him to question whether Islamic jurisprudence is subservient to ethics or vice versa. To answer this question, Prof. Takim drew upon the views of AMI senior lecturer, Dr. Ali Fanaei, who is recognised as a member of the select group of “enlightenment thinkers” in Iran owing to his contributions pertaining to ethical theory and the moral foundations of jurisprudence. Based on Dr Fanaei’s ideas, he argued that the apparent tension between moral norms and certain Islamic rulings stems from the prioritisation of textual sources over the use of reason in deriving such rulings.
The ensuing discussion concerned the nature of Islamic rulings and how they were intended to be appreciated by the Divine Legislator. Many of the social laws enacted and applied at the dawn of Islam, were laws that were either endorsed or tweaked, from the prevalent pre-Islamic social-legal structure. Prof. Takim asserted that ethical ideals, like that of justice, predate Islam as a formal religion; and that the legislated laws should be recognised as context-bound instances of those ideals, rather than being seen as definitions of them. This gives rise to the notion of mutability of Islamic jurisprudence within different socio-political contexts. The presentation cited scholars both outside and within the traditional seminary, including Mohsen Kadivar and Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, whose approaches encourage reforming the structured jurisprudence as it stands, in order to make it more aligned with moral standpoints. Prof. Takim concluded his presentation advocating that the sharia should not exclusively be seen as an expression of the Divine will; it should be seen as an expression of Divine morality. Accordingly, rulings that contravene basic ethical principles ought to be reformed in accordance with principles of justice and fairness. The delivery was followed by a vibrant question and answer session, the participants of which were also based around the globe.
Professor Liyakat Takim is the Sharjah Chair in Global Islam at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. A native of Zanzibar, Tanzania, he has spoken at more than eighty academic conferences and authored one hundred scholarly works on diverse topics like reformation in the Islamic world, the treatment of women in Islamic law, Islam in America, the indigenization of the Muslim community in America, dialogue in post-911 America, war and peace in the Islamic tradition, Islamic law, Islamic biographical literature, the charisma of the holy man and shrine culture, and Islamic mystical traditions. He teaches a wide range of courses on Islam and offers a course on comparative religions.