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Islam and the Needs of Every Age

Is Islam still relevant in the 21st century?Do we argue about millions of years old laws like 2 + 2 = 4? Or do we challenge the notion that man is by nature a social being? Or do we say that the law of gravity is very old and should now be replaced with something new? We observe that all of these laws are based on the system of creation of the universe, and so these laws are not changeable, because the system of creation or the way nature works remains the same, and change of time does not affect it.

Is Islam  still relevant in the 21st century?In last 1400 years, the face of the world has changed completely. The way we travel, the way we communicate, the way we fulfill the other needs of life has been transformed. With all this transformation, should we still stick to the system which came into existence and was completed 1400 years back? Is Islam capable of addressing the needs of this age, or for that matter, the needs of every age? The answer to these questions lies in understanding the fundamental nature of human beings and the nature of Islamic laws, which we will discuss in this article.

There are two types of laws which govern our lives: firstly, the permanent laws which do not change with the change in time, and secondly, the variable laws which undergo a transformation with the change in time. There are uncountable phenomena based on permanent nature which take place daily in our lives. Do we argue about millions of years old laws like 2 + 2 = 4? Or do we challenge the notion that man is by nature a social being? Or do we say that the law of gravity is very old and should now be replaced with something new? We observe that all of these laws are based on the system of creation of the universe, and so these laws are not changeable, because the system of creation or the way nature works remains the same, and change of time does not affect it.

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “Then set your face upright for religion in the right state – the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know.” (30:30)

Islam is the system which is based upon the system of creation of universe and which is in conformity with human nature. The Islamic laws are in complete harmony with the human nature, and we are aware with the fact that human nature is unchangeable and will be the same as long as human life exists on this earth, so a system which is based on such instincts and whose laws have been coined by the Creator of human beings Himself cannot change with the change in time.

The laws of Islam may or may not be according to the wishes of an individual. It is up to the people to follow the right course set for them by their Creator and shun the path of deviation:

“And the soul and Him Who made it perfect, then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it; He will indeed be successful who purifies it,and he will indeed fail who corrupts it” (91:7-10)

This guidance is intrinsic to man. It is in his genes and nature. It is part of his creation.

“He said: our Lord is He Who gave to everything its creation, then guided it (to its goal).” (20:50)

The rejecters of divine laws argue that as the structure of a society gets complicated and tools of production progress, the human nature also evolves, and so should the laws governing our lives. In their point of view, can we apply the laws followed in a society when man used to travel on horseback and fight with clubs and spears to a man living in very complex societies of today where he travels in advanced aircraft and fights with sophisticated automated weapons? According to them, change in practical values necessitates the revision in moral values, as morality is nothing more than a series of psychological habits that have become staple due to repeated practice. What they mean is that human societies in every age desire law and morality to be according to the temper of that age.

Allama Tabatabai poses a few questions to answer this objection:

“Nevertheless, are there not any constant factors in the varying patterns of human needs which change with the march of civilization? Aren’t there any common factors among human societies that have existed in various epochs of history? Has the basic substratum of humanness, to which a series of natural needs of life are related, undergone an irreversible, though gradual, change? Have our human ancestors of distant past been physiologically different from us? Did incidents such as war and bloodshed, or times of peace and harmony, have any significance other than what they mean to us today? Did the effect of wine and nature of intoxication in the past have a quality different from what they are today? Did the musical compositions of the past impart different types of pleasure than they give today? In short, was the external and internal structure of the human beings of the past different from that of present-day mankind? Obviously, the answers to all these questions are in the negative.

“We cannot say that humanity has gradually metamorphosed into something other than what it was in the past. We also cannot say that the essence of humanness – which is the common factor between the white race and the black, between the wise as well as the fools, between the young and the old, between the people living in the tropics and those living in the polar zones, and between the peoples of the past and the present – has changed with respect to the pattern of common needs.

There are definitely certain needs which require a series of fixed and permanent rules and regulations that have nothing to do with the rules that are subject to alteration and change.”

What this implies is that there are two types of laws which govern our societies: firstly, fixed or permanent ones, and secondly, the variable or changeable ones.

The fixed laws are the ones which pertain to vital human interests, the examples of which could be the general laws related to the general aspects of human life, such as food, housing, marriage, self-defense, etc., which are a permanent feature of man’s social existence.

The variable laws are the ones which are related to temporal, regional, or some other special aspects of human life. The examples of such laws could be traffic rules or other such laws which may require a revision with the advancement of society.

We quote Allama Tabatabai again to conclude the discussion:

“The fixed laws are such as having been formulated with a view to human nature, i.e. the universal human nature, which is common to civilized or uncivilized, white or black, sturdy or weak, persons of every region, and every age. Since all human beings are created with the same human structure, with similar types of internal and external faculties and organs, whenever two or more human beings come in contact with one another and try to cooperate with one another to form a companionship to be distinguished as a social entity, and since they inevitably face the same kinds of problems when they try to solve them with their joint efforts, this commonness of various factors in their makeup and needs necessitates a series of uniform regulations applicable to all individuals in the group.

“This class of laws is named ‘Islamic Shari’ah’. They guide humanity towards the goal of its highest felicity: ‘So set thy face with sincerity to the Religion – God’s nature upon which He originated mankind. There is no changing God’s creation. That is the right religion.’ (30:30)

“It should be noted that determination of the second class of laws, which are alterable and can be modulated according to the changing conditions of place and time, has been assigned to the institution of Al-Wilayah Al-Ammah (general guardianship) and are subject to the opinion of the Prophet of Islam, his successors, and those appointed by him. These laws and regulations are formulated by Al-Wilayah, in the light of the permanent religious laws, in accordance with spatial and temporal requirements, and counted as part of the Divine law, the Shari’ah, and are not considered a part of al-Deen:

“‘O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.’ (4:59)”

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