The word شَرِيعَةٍ “sharia” has come in the Quran (45:18). The Arabic root meaning of this word is that it is a path that leads people to a continuously flowing fresh water that is the source of life and sustains life. If it is accumulated static water, then it cannot be called شَرِیْعَۃُ (sharia).
The Quran said 1,400 years ago (when the world was shrouded in darkness of ignorance) (21:30): وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ – We made from water every living thing. Scientists have only recently discovered that all life started from water.
The Quran says:
ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
And now have We set thee (O Muhammad) on a clear road of (Our) commandment; so follow it, and follow not the whims of those who know not. [45:18, Asad]
The above verse leaves no doubt that the Sharia the Prophet (PBUH) was commanded to follow must provide a clear road (or code) for leading our individual as well as collective lives.
Since Islam is universal in scope (6:90), its laws must reflect that universality. Therefore, the Quran itself is the universal sharia for entire humankind. But Allah does not enforce it by force because there is no compulsion in Islam (2:256).
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّهُ ۖ فَبِهُدَاهُمُ اقْتَدِهْ ۗ قُل لَّا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا ۖ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرَىٰ لِلْعَالَمِينَ
to those whom God has guided. Follow, then, their guidance, [and] say: "No reward do I ask of you for this [truth]: behold, it is but an admonition unto all mankind!" [6:90, Asad]
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing. [2:256, Asad]
It involves re-opening the door of ijtihad that has remained shut for centuries. However, this must be done in light of the universal Quranic principles of belief in human freewill, what you sow is what you reap, fairness in justice, and utilizing reason to understand the Qur’an. There has been recent debate on the issue of opening the door to Ijtihad, due to pressing need of the zeitgeist. However, our past scholars and mujtahid deserve our utmost respect, and their work is a collective inheritance of the Muslim Ummah.
The Prophet (PBUH) first planted the seed of Ijtihad and nourished it as commanded by Allah (SWT) – [Qur’an 4:135].
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا ۖ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا ۚ وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God's claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do! [4:135, Asad]
This he (PBUH) did as an integral part of the Islamic way of life (Sharia). The Rightly-Guided Caliphs continued the Prophet’s tradition by their continuous implementation of Ijtihad, resulting in the phenomenal flowering of the Islamic civilization.
In accordance with the universal nature of Islam, the world was offered the fruits of these efforts in areas of science, mathematics, art, philosophy, architecture, jurisprudence and medicine. Yet, while the West enjoyed these fruits of the tree of Ijtihad planted by early Muslims and continued with the process of inquiry and scholarship, the Muslims stopped nourishing the tree of Ijtihad that had proved so vital to their vigorous development. Consequently, this robbed the Ummah of its ability to carry on with the intellectual inquiry so integral to the early Islamic tradition [4:82].
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
Will they not, then, try to understand this Qur’an? Had it issued from any but God, they would surely have found in it many an inner contradiction! [4:82, Asad]
This single act of shutting the door of Ijtihad may have contributed to the downfall of Muslims more than anything else might have. The Quran is unequivocal about keeping the door of Ijtihad open for all generations forever. Allah says that if all the trees on the planet became pens and all its oceans became ink, the words of Allah (i.e., the meanings contained in them) would not be exhausted [31:27, 18:109].
وَلَوْ أَنَّمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ مِن شَجَرَةٍ أَقْلَامٌ وَالْبَحْرُ يَمُدُّهُ مِن بَعْدِهِ سَبْعَةُ أَبْحُرٍ مَّا نَفِدَتْ كَلِمَاتُ اللَّـهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
If all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea [were] ink, with seven [morel seas yet added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted: for, verily, God is almighty, wise. [31:27, Asad]
Allah enjoins on every Muslim in every age to use his/her reason, intellect, and knowledge to understand and explore the meanings of His revelations.
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِّرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ لَمْ يَخِرُّوا عَلَيْهَا صُمًّا وَعُمْيَانًا
And who, whenever they are reminded of their Sustainer’s messages, do not throw themselves upon them [as if] deaf and blind. [25:73, Asad]
So, there is a definitely a way to get out of our present abyss, but that would require opening the door of Ijtihad to the present Ummah so that it may debate and discuss and do ijtihad on all issues in the light of the Qur’an as our predecessors did. Life, according to the Qur’an, is nothing but Ijtihad or struggle – persistent struggle, continuous exertion (29:69):
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
But as for those who strive hard in Our cause -We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good. [29:69, Asad]
Those who strive hard for the attainment of earmarked divine objective will result in opening new avenues of life. Each avenue will lead them to the straight path. They direct all their efforts towards the fulfilment of the divine program. Allah helps those who live a balanced and disciplined life according to the Divine Laws.
This is the only way we can reclaim Allah’s universal Sharia (22:78). Only then will we be able to realize the true and full potential of Islam. It was done before and it can be done again.
According to Allama Iqbal:
Persistent struggle gives maturity to the elixir of life:
O ignorant ones! This is the secret of immortal life.
Let us pray to Allah to give us the necessary strength in these difficult times to strive hard in His path. It is Allah’s promise that if we do that, then we will regain our dignity, power, and glory in the world (24:55). This is the promise of Allah; and Allah does not break his promise (30:6).
Allah’s revelation and forces of nature will then work hand in hand resulting in a life that is completely peaceful and secure.
سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ ; تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْ
In hosts descend in it the angels, bearing divine inspiration by their Sustainer's leave; from all [evil] that may happen does it make secure, until the rise of dawn. [97:4-5, Asad]
There will be security in every aspect of life. However, this will happen gradually. The revelation and the forces of nature will gradually transform the human society until the forces of darkness disappear and the light of peace and security reigns supreme everywhere on Earth: وَأَشْرَقَتِ الْأَرْضُ بِنُورِ رَبِّهَا
And the earth will shine bright with her Sustainer’s light. [39:69, Asad]
The entire Universe will start shining by harmonizing the forces of nature with divine energy. This is the final goal, which will happen through human effort in the light of the Quran.
May Allah give us the fortitude, perseverance, and unwavering commitment to follow the shining footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH). Then Allah guarantees that His cosmic forces will join us in our effort to achieve this goal:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender! (33:56) [Asad]