Who Decides? Right or Wrong

For Muslims, the Quran, revealed over a period of 23 years, between 610 and 632 CE, is the Word of God bestowed from on High through the intermediary of the Angel Gabriel. In this sense, of course, the Quran represents a world of absolutes since it was Revealed by the Creator of the heavens and the earth, of space and time. In the Quran, Believers will find, beyond the events and contingencies of history, the profound and essential message of Tawhid: there is only One God and human beings must answer His call.

This was the quintessential Message revealed to all previous Messengers: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and all other Prophets in the course of history. The Quran, then, is a Reminder, the last one, which is preserved by God Himself.

Behold, it is We Ourselves who have bestowed from on high, step by step, this reminder: and, behold, it is We who shall truly guard it (from all corruption) . (Quran 15:9)

The heart of this Divine teaching, constituting the foundation of all Revelations, is present in the Quran with all its implications for us humans: there is One God, He has created everything, from Him we come and belong and to Him we shall return, everyone will be Judged according to his Faith, his intentions, his sincerity and his behavior: this life is not the Life but a passage,, of a very short time. Basically, this life is a test:

He (God) who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test (and thus show) which of you is best in conduct. (Quran 67:2)

All revealed religions are based on this understanding of what life means. According to Islamic teaching, God, along with this fundamental teaching, provided diverse peoples with a specific way of worshipping Him, adapted to a certain era and in a certain context and that this consequently explains the diversity and coexistence of the various creeds, wanted by the Creator:

And unto thee (0 Prophet) have We vouchsafed this Divine writ setting forth the Truth, confirming the Truth of whatever there still remains of earlier Revelations and determining what is true therein.

And further:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life (shir'a, shari'a). And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works!' (Quran 5:48)

Thus, religious diversity is wanted by God and He gave a specific Message to each people. However, these Divine Messages, in the course of history, were, in one way or another, modified and altered by human hands. So much so, that every successive Revelation had to rectify what was wrong and falsified in its predecessor.

For the Muslim, the Quran confirms what was sent previously and, at the same time, it corrects and rectifies the errors and alterations which according to the Quran itself had been introduced within earlier Messages. As it is the last Revelation, the Quran represents the last guidance, the last frame of reference whose teachings are suitable, henceforth, for all places and times to come, until the end of human history. Thus the Quran, the very Word of God, conveyed by the Angel Gabriel, is the first and essential source for Muslims in both religious and juridical fields. Nine tenths of it deal with spirituality in the widest sense of the term: the presence of' God, creation, Faith, worship, morality, the Hereafter, etc. We also find general rulings concerning social affairs: in its last Revelation, God fixed a global frame within which Believers have to exert themselves in order to find the most appropriate law which is both faithful to the Quran and which also fits their context.    More >>

According to some 'ulama', there are only about 250 verses (out of 6,632) which deal with legal issues and they were, for the majority, a response to specific problems encountered by the community during the time of Revelation. From these verses, the fuqaha al usul (jurists of Islamic principals) have extracted global rulings which should direct both 'ulama' and Believers' comprehension and behavior. This is what the Prophet's Companions first, and then Muslim jurists, soon understood and they tried (the latter basing their works on Quranic studies), to expound the general rulings behind the revealed responses given to Muslims during the 7th century CE.

To assist them in this work they also referred to the Prophet's teachings, his Sunna. The latter contains all that is narrated from the Prophet, his actions, sayings and whatever he tacitly approved, The Sunna, the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, confirms, specifies and, more rarely, adds some elements to what is already present in the Quran The hadith, whose process of authentication has over time become an independent study, permit the 'ulama' to understand the Divine teachings more completely and deeply and they further assist Muslims along the path they should follow. Together with the Quran, the hadith provide a complete and global frame of principles which express the Shari'a's teaching regarding the juridical domain. In fact, this global frame, these general principles and rules are what, in the Muslim's belief, has to be considered as absolute and immutable: revealed by God in His last Revelation and through his last Messenger, they are suitable whenever and anywhere. This partakes of the Islamic belief and it is one of the most important principles and teachings of Tawhid: that is for Muslims to remain faithful to the revealed path, the Shari'a.

Nevertheless it must be clear that faithfulness to such absolute principles is an important and permanent work of the 'ulama' from whom it is expected that they formulate specific and precise rules and laws tuned to the historical and geographical context. This is exactly the function of ijtihad: we will come back to this concept in a specific section but suffice to say here that, just as the fuqaha' of the Muslim community have to provide their fellow Believers with appropriate answers fitting their environment, so they must also exert themselves in forming individual or community judgments so as to preserve the essential link between the absoluteness of the sources and the relativity of history and geography. They must set about a two fold work: a deep and precise interpretation of the Quran and the Sunna along with an appropriate analysis of the social, political and economic situation they are facing. They have to determine the Islamic Law which is the product of rational human elaboration based on the unchangeable rulings of the Shari'a but with responses, adaptations and formulations which are in constant evolution.

These remarks allow us to clarify at least two confusions concerning the Shari'a, its contents and scope. First, the Shari'a is not restricted to the penal code; in our typology and classification, it is an element, a part of a global path, methodology and philosophy of life. To consider one element out of the context which gives it meaning is not only unfair but methodologically incorrect. The teachings of the Quran and the Sunna give shape to a complete way of life and this is, in fact, the Shari'a we are commanded to follow: from performing daily Prayers to defending social justice, from studying to smiling, from respecting nature to helping an animal. The second confusion has to do with the Shari'a and Fiqh being taken as one and the same thing when, in fact, there is an essential difference between them. Fiqh represents the product of human thought and elaboration; more precisely, it is the state of juridical reflection reached by Muslim scholars at a certain time and in a certain context in light of their study of the Shari'a. Thus, if the Shari'a is the revealed and immutable path, it is quite different from Fiqh which, to be faithful to its function, has to be dynamic, in constant elaboration since evolution is the characteristic of our world. To be faithful to the Message of the Quran in no way means to confine oneself to a very restrictive and lazy reading of the two main sources and their commentaries made by great 'ulama' in the past, but, on the contrary, to exert one's intelligence to provide solutions which, by fitting the social and political reality, will express our individual and community intention to be genuine Muslims.  More >>

By knowing the function of Islamic sources and understanding the scope of the Shari'a, one can more easily understand the different spheres and stratum of Islamic thought. God alone decides the path, the direction and the ends, and within the general and global rulings He revealed to them, Muslims have to develop their knowledge and understanding of both sources as also the social reality so that they can implement these teachings in a faithful way. God has decided the way to worship Him, to pray and also what is lawful and what is not: human beings cannot modify this, yet at the same time they cannot merely rely on the general rulings of the Shari'a to solve their problems in a world which becomes more complex every day. We have, for instance, to study, understand and consider the ten verses which deal with economy in the Quran, but it is impossible to propose an alternative economy, a specific system, appropriate to our contemporary situation, without directing all our efforts and resources intellectual and financial. Only then can we bring to the fore the priorities, the steps and prospects which could let us hope for a future free from the domination of capitalism.

The Prophet's Companions were afraid to give rulings which could have been in contradiction with the Quran and the Sunna. To determine what is lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram) is the exclusive prerogative of God:

Hence, do not utter falsehoods by letting your tongues determine (at your own discretion), "This is lawful and that is forbidden", thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never attain to a happy state!) 

0 mankind! Partake of what is lawful and good on earth, and follow not Satan's footsteps: for, verily, he is your open foe, and bids you only to do evil, and to commit deeds of abomination, and to attribute unto God something of which you have no knowledge. 

The Companions' fear of making such errors was, in fact, salutary and it shows the two aspects of their understanding which are the specific qualities of the Muslim scholar ('alim): a deep and absolute respect of God's and the Prophet's teachings coupled with an intense fear of betraying them. At the same time, they never hesitated to formulate rulings where they did not find an appropriate answer in the sources. Linked with God, they knew that they were living in a world in perpetual evolution. They knew, and that is perhaps their greatest gift, that to be a genuine Believer does not mean to neglect our mind, that to seek God's proximity with our heart does not mean to forget intellectual elaboration. Through them we learn that an intensive Faith does not mean a deficit of intelligence. We need both, a heart and a mind, a Faith and an intellect in order to draw our path and to stipulate rulings in accordance with the direction He gave to mankind.

Excerpted with some modifications from the book "To be a European Muslim" by Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan is a Geneva-based author and university lecturer.

To buy this book Click Here.

Related posts from similar topics:

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml If you wish to use any copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

  28 Comments   Comment

  1. Nurudeen from Nigeria

    Insha Allahu,you shall reach your heights. Let this to be happening.

  2. ismail from NIGERIA



  3. kamranfarooque from india

    I think it is very relevent in today's situation

  4. Sharif Ahmed from USA


    Although I agree with Sis. Viola Gary's remarks about the article not showing due respect to Muhammed (pbuh) and Allah (AWJ), I found the article very informative. A very attractive name and enough references to justify the authors point.

    Thanks to the author and Islamicity for bringing such a valuable article.

  5. juliana from usa


  6. Muslima from usa

    Alhamdurillah, the author has done a great job to summerize a delicate subject matter. But, I must say I was more impressed with the title of the article more than the article itself. Who does really decide? Of course Allah subhanamathallah. However, As muslims we are, and must continue to bring discussions of daily matters up front. We must listen to our ulama, be knowledgable of contents of the hadith and the Quran to combat challenges we face daily. And we must ask many questions to our community and listen for the answers. Surely Allah has given us a great mind and if we love Allah and want to please Him we will not go astray. Also, we must stay focussed on main issues and not dwell into minor details that would tear up the muslim community in general worldwide.

  7. Sis. Viola Gary from USA

    I am not for it or against it and I am not indifferent to it. My question is: whenever the Prophet is mentioned, there is no respect given to his name. You know, SAAW, S, or Peace be upon him. Why not? Non Muslims would understand this. As a matter of fact, in this article, there is none given to Allah (which is not even written as the name of the Creator of all things.)Muhammad ibn Abdullah is the last Prophet and Messenger of Allah, yet you make no mention of that. The Quran is the last revelation and the Angel Jibreel delivered it to the last Prophet of Allah (awj) yet you do not give this infomation in this article. Why? This article reads as though you are avoiding making mention of the truth about the Quran, the last revelation to mankind, who received it to give to mankind. Please, give respect where and when it is due so Allah the Beneficent will be pleased with the Muslims for mentioning His Beautiful Names (Al Husna). As Salaalmul Alaykum

  8. Sadieq Ibn Ahmad from USA

    This article is not well written. the outher can hardly express his opinion clearly. This article sounds more like something written by a Modernist. And iam indeed an enemy of those whose oppose the sunnah. the Prophet (saw) specified three centuries where the best people of this Ummah shall live. hence, to follow them in all aspects of life will automatically set us on the correct path.to revise or otherwise devise new rullings on things they rulled upon will automatically lead us astray. What sanctified the first of this Ummah shall sanctify the later of it....thats the following of Muhammad (saw).


  9. omar ahmed awled from djibouti

    this article is raealy good and attractive one ,its way to explain gradualy and clearly is also very interesting.

  10. King from UK

    Great post Abdullah, you given the article the careful and critical reading it deserves.

  11. Nassir Hamid Jones


    Very informative article. May all of receive blessings from Allah.

    La-illa- Ha Illah

  12. Ruhul Amin Maula from Canada

    Well written indeed. But how do we deliver this message to those millions of muslims who are subjugated, demoralized, exploited, uniformed, uneducated, or living in poverty?

  13. abdullah jones from usa

    This is a terrible article written by a liberal humanist attempting to reconcile modernism with Islam.

    This typical garbage is very well put into prose for here, engaging in double speak to not only confuse the average Muslim (who probably didn't even understand the article) but fail to make it clear that the author is pushig people into accepting the idea that Islam can be re-interpreted with the times (sheer stupidity).

    Honestly this is a terrible article, and as long as we have mindless drones such as this individual writing articles on behalf of the Muslim community we are never going to re-assert our intellectual supremacy on the corruption of the Western world with their flawed systems of feminism and democracy.

    And Allah knows best...

  14. al shawaksha from usa

    Ya Saalaam, They knew, and that is perhaps their greatest gift, that to be

    a genuine Believer does not mean to neglect our mind, that to seek God's

    proximity with our heart does not mean to forget intellectual elaboration.

    Through them we learn that an intensive Faith does not mean a deficit of

    intelligence. We need both, a heart and a mind, a Faith and an intellect

    in order to draw our path and to stipulate rulings in accordance with the

    direction He gave to mankind. Common sense is the virtu.

  15. Daayiee from USA

    As-salaamu alaykum. I find his work thus far of great interest, but not to the extent where I buy into his whole frame for I know not the fullness of his dimension he proposes--how wide is wide, how tall is tall? Do we break the bounderies of of cultural adaptations, and how much tradition is favored? I deeper reading of his book may respond to these questions. I prefer additional commentary after consideration of his book.

  16. Tanvir Nasir from Karachi - Pakistan

    Yes Quran Revealed in a months time see 2.185 Ramdan is the month in which Quran was sent down. No era mention in Quran. It is not a book of history. It is a book of guidance. Plz read the Quran with understanding not to get any sawab.

  17. Tanvir Nasir from Karachi- Pakistan

    Islam is an Arabic word, it means PEACE.

    Aldeen is an Arabic word, it means JUDGEMENT. Millat is an Arabic Word which means Religion.Muslim is an arabic word which means Submitter. Quran means reading. Al-kitab means the written one. So br in Islam do give care the words while readin Quran.

  18. shirley thomas from usa

    Asalam alekam, I think this is a very good article teaching us to be careful what we say and do as muslims ,but to look for ways to teach others around us through our good behavior that Islam is the ony religion for mankind.

  19. Dr M. D. Shah from Kashmir India.


    This is realy an excellent article. Every person will benifit from such collection of information with explaination of figh, Sunnah and Shariah.

  20. AshShahid Abdulla Ahmad from USA

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article and its extrapolation on one of the most perplexing issues facing Islam and the massive amount of ignorance that must be overcome in both muslim and non muslim community alike. The law is non negotiable but human beings are not robots. Thus what someone suggested as a means to satisfy a problem 1000 years ago could veriwell be approached with a different solution today. This seems to be appropriate and makes common sense. In fact, I believe the essence of Islam and the Quran is the practicality and common sense in its message. I continue to search for the truth daily.

  21. DR. Asad U khan from Canada

    It is difficult to comment on this article since these are exerpt from a book. But I will like to make a point that a lot of research is needed to understand this great religion by present day Islamic Scholors. We as Umma should encourage our young generation to think and question religious dogmas to get better understanding and deepening of thier faith. We should not be afraid to question an established school of thought if it contradicts Quran or presents a weak argument in the light of present day knowledge.The understanding of Quran directly depend on the back ground knowledge of its reader.The Sharia law dealing with MAMLAT in my humble opinion need a second look in 21ist century.

  22. Akbar Khan from Canada


    It's wonderful reading this explanation of Shariah, Fiqh, Sunnah, and the Qur'an itself, and also how we should conduct ourselves in an ever-changing atmosphere. I enjoyed the order that this information was presented, and how only God holds the decision as to what is deemed halal, haram; I also am glad to see the explanation of the role the Sahaba's also had, and how cautious they were in conducting themselves as pious Muslims, so that they would not commit acts of Bid'ah.

    I think Ijtihad is should not be determined at large by the Ulema, or by Islamic Scholars, unless it has a strong and reasonable reference to what has been determined already by the holy Prophet (SAW), Sahaba's, or from among the Imams of the four schools of thought. I say this simply because there is a severe lack of understanding for Islamic principles today, and during the time of the for Imams, they had the resources to go and study the Arabic language and determine its deep meanings of words. Meanwhile today, there are millions of Muslims around hte world who are not fully literate of Arabic. There's a distinction to be made between those who can read the arabic of the Holy Qur'an and understand its meaning, and those who can read hte arabic in the Qur'an but cannot understand what it means. Maybe this is hte next issue that needs to be addressed, in relation to rules and laws of Islam becoming common knowledge among the Ummah, so that our lives are not continued to be unequivocally moulded by the man-made laws of Parliamentary and Congressional governments !

    I pray to Allah that information like this be presented on a mass scale, not only on this website, but through new television networks such as Bridges TV, and not only half an hour Islamic segments in some network time-slot, will give non-Muslims a clear insight into what Islam encompasses, Insh-Allah.


  23. Amina from Mxico

    Assalam aleykum in the Name of Allah.

    Here a are key remarks that every muslim may benefit from in the way of the Prophet of Mercy and not of condemnation and bitterness.

    Thank you, dear brother Tariq.

  24. Patti from USA

    Great article. I really enjoyed it. i look forward to your postings in my mail. Thank-you.




  26. Ala' Yasin Abuhijleh from Jordan

    God bless you.

    you hit the point.

    May Allah bless you.

  27. Allah Jallashana from India

    The contents is nothing but truth.No sensible person having religious knowledge could deny the facts.

  28. adele devalcourt from usa

    this was a very refreshing point of view. i believe this article will benefit all walks of life. thanks to God for such clarity and compassion for humankind.