Muslim identity and its link with the Shari’ah

In Islam we not only find religious precepts and norms of behavior for the believer, but a real vision of the world, also containing indications that have defined the Sharia legal system.


In Sura VI ( Al-An’âm ) we can identify the all-encompassing nature of the Koran: “We have not forgotten anything in the Book”. There is a holistic conception of reality: Allah is the supreme legislator, from him derives the power to legislate which is transmitted through the prophet Mohammed to the Umma, ie to the community of the faithful. The historicism inherent in revelation is concretized in an ideal model, embodied by the Medinese period of the prophet: this model is defined as polar in that religious and political authority are united in a single person, the Prophet.


With the death of the Prophet and in particular with the death of the fourth caliph Ali and the rise of the Umayad dynasty, we are witnessing an evolution of this model towards what is called the “bipolar model”: the first four caliphs had a solid religious legitimacy as companions of the Prophet, the caliphs of the Umayad dynasty subsequently transformed the caliphate into a hereditary monarchy, violating the electivity that had characterized the previous Medinese model. The caliph, in fact, governs thanks to the Bay’a , a pact of alliance between him and the Umma, and both the principle of free choice of the leader and the duty to consult the members of the Umma must be present; otherwise, the conditions are offered for revolt.


With the establishment of Al-Mihna in 833 by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma’mun and the Ismaili Caliphate in Egypt we arrive at the total subversion of the Medinese model. In the Sunni area there is an attempt to establish a sort of Caesaropapism, where the caliph imposes a model of rationalist interpretation of the sacred texts by persecuting dissident ulama.


In the Shiite area, on the other hand, one arrives at a real divine right to reign: being in some way descendant of the tribe of the prophet (the Quraysh ), that is a Sayyid , gave the Fatimids a divine legitimacy to their dominion. The attempt to impose this Islamic caesaropapism fails and the Fatimid adventure ends following a modality that distinguishes every Arab-Islamic political system up to the Ottoman Empire: the overwhelming power of military leaders from non-Arab tribes (Mamluks, Seljuk Turks) not only caused the end of the Fatimids, who were sacked by Saladin (a Kurd), but relegated the role of the caliph to a simple holder of religious authority.


This brief excursus of the Islamic state model shows how different political and religious forms have emerged since the early centuries of Islam and all have had to deal with the separation, after the death of the prophet, of two different forms of authority and legitimacy . Religious authority is purely subjective, it is based on the relationship between the religious and the faithful and finds the source of its legitimacy in religious devotion and knowledge of the texts; it therefore exercises a moral power over the community. Political authority, on the other hand, is objective, it is linked to command and to the Bay’a: it is the only holder of coercive power within the Umma. The figure of the leader is recognized as having greater importance for his political capacity than for religiosity; even Khalid ibn al-Walid and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, points of reference for the most fundamentalist fringes, agree on this point.


Islamic law schools

Law schools ( Madahib / Madhhab ) assume fundamental importance, given the lack of a commonly recognized religious authority: these schools form jurists or faqih , the only subjects able to give binding legal opinions, or Fatwa, based on the sacred texts. Well before the death of the last “orthodox” caliph Ali, three factions within Islam developed: the Sunnis made up of the companions of Muhammad, the Shiites made up of members of Muhammad’s tribe and the Karjites, literally those who separate. From these three factions developed the various juridical schools, still existing, which contemplate a different interpretation of the Koran and the sources of law and which were constituted around the eighth century AD If the sacred texts constitute the source of the shari’ah, the juridical schools represent the transmission belt between the religious sphere and the purely political sphere.


Muslim identity and the Shari’ah

At the basis of Muslim identity there is therefore the relationship that the faithful has with the sacred text, and based on the type of relationship established there will be a different series of consequences on the political and social side. The examples would be innumerable, but there are some really exemplary.


According to the theories of Sayd Qutb, who considers the relationship between the faithful and the sacred text as if it were symbiotic, Muslim identity is endangered by foreign influences, especially Western ones, which corrupt the message of the sacred text with the germ of rationalism and consequently the faithful are misled from the true message.


However, the response to contamination occurs on the social level through a literal application of every aspect of the Shari’ah and on the political level the violent overthrow of the regimes that do not apply it.


Another example is that of the so-called Shari’ah parliamentarism, which begins to take shape during the clash between Western-style constitutionalists and Islamic constitutionalists in Qajar Persia, for which the Western parliamentary model must be adopted, but with a substantial difference. : only those who are Shiites are considered Persians, as only those who are Shiites are part of the nation ( milli). In this case there is always the idea of ​​having to defend Islam from external contamination, but concepts and practices from the Western world are introduced (the parliamentary and constitutional system, the idea of ​​nation) and are Islamized. A further example is that of the supporters of “Islamic secularism” who, while identifying themselves as Muslims, through the use of free interpretation adapt the Shari’ah to the context in which it operates: the exception to the obligations of Ramadan, justified by the president Tunisian Habib Bourguiba in the name of national growth is a famous example.


In general we can identify three great models of interpretation of the Shari’ah: that of Salafism , that of Islamic modernism , and that of secular Islam .


The ‘ secular Islam provides for the implementation of some kind of Islamic jurisdictionalism: Shari’ah is recognized as a human product, and it is regarded as a source of values and free from any legal ambitions. However, the main problem with this approach, as Tariq Ramadan argues in The Radical Reform: Islam, Ethics and Liberation , is the difficulty of demonstrating that Muhammad, when acting as a legislator or political leader, was acting in an extra-religious and secular manner.


The Islamic modernism seen in the word Shari’ah of Allah, however, that efforts should be made free interpretation in social matters, refusing a formalistic Islam adhesion: in fact this is the position adopted by the adherents of Islam moderate who can merging tradition and modernity, seeking synthesis and not the clash with external cultural influences.


Finally, Salafism , from Salaf’i, ancestor, belongs to the most extremist fringes and constitutive ideological element at the base of international jihadism: the Shari’ah is fossilized, not distinguishing what, in a Muslim perspective, is mutable, that is the social relations, from what is immutable, namely belief and ritual.


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