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Examples of re-interpretation of Islamic Sharia in modern times

Reader comment on item: Talking Freely about the Enemy

Submitted by Sani (Canada), Mar 8, 2009 at 18:55

Dr. Pipes is correct in his assessment that interpretation of sharia and Quran according to the needs of the day has precedences in islamic history. But the biggest support for his theory, ironically, come from no less than the Ayatollah Khomeini himself.

After establishing the Islamic republic in Iran, the clerical rulers quickly found out that ruling the nation based on the archaic laws of Sharia was almost impossible. In particular, sharia rules of finance and ownership (in particular its rules against market regulation and appropriation of land) was putting too much strain on the government at the time of war.

To solve the problem, Khomeini ruled that Islamic governence was a basic principle of islamic theology as important as monotheism and belief in the prophecy of Mohammad, and is superior to secondary rules (Sharia, prayer, Hajj etc). As such, Khomeini ruled that a just Islamic ruler (Vali-e faghih) would be able to shut down secondary rules for the benefit of the Islamic society, for instance, ban people from Hajj (as happened after massacre of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca in 1987) or suspend or modify Sharia rules.

Khomeini issued several fatwas in this regard, particularly to change some free-maket aspects of sharia rules into the left-leaning views of his government during the Iran-Iraq war. Later on some of his followers (such as scholar Azari Qomi) went as far as opining that the supreme leader should be allowed to suspend basic prinsiples of Islamic theology as well.

Some background is available here (in Persian): http://aftab.ir/articles/politics/iran/c1c1229852661_guardian_council_p1.php

This precedent could make it possible for a moderate leader to change principles of Islamic sharia, even within the Islamic theology itself.

Regards

Submitting....

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Daniel Pipes replies:

Excellent point. Here is an excerpt from chapter 5 of my book, The Rushdie Affair, complete with footnotes:

Khomeini played fast and loose with the laws of Islam [in his edict against Rushdie], and it is not the first time he had done so. No reading of Islamic law can justify the taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the holding of American diplomats as hostages, nor the hostage-taking in Lebanon,[1] nor executing prisoners of war, nor summary trials of political opponents, nor criminal trials based on hearsay.

Further, Khomeini's very grounding in the Shari'a caused him to violate it in ways which would never occur to someone not versed in the law. By far the most important example was Khomeini's assertion in January 1988 that raison d'├ętat takes precedence over the laws of Islam. "For Islam, the requirements of government supersede every tenet, including even those of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca. The government is authorized unilaterally to abolish its lawful accords with the people and to prevent any matter, be it spiritual or material, that poses a threat to its interests."[2]

This pronouncement runs counter to one of the deepest assumptions of Islam, that God's will bends before no man. (In the eyes of not a few Muslims, this makes him an incomparably greater danger to Islam than Rushdie.)


[1] Martin Kramer, "The Moral Logic of Hizballah," Dayan Center Occasional Paper no. 101, 1987.

[2] Keyhan, January 8, 1988.

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