by Imran H. Khan

It is interesting that in reading the Quran there is no mention of a number of things that are commonly intimately linked to Islam. There is no mention of Sharia, Caliphate, Imam or for that matter any preference of forms of governance. The core message seems to be individual responsibility for his or her actions.  Since there is no Imam or organized religion within Islam, it is difficult to talk about separation of State and Religion.  The basic message is of compassion and morals, with legislation occupying a secondary place. Of the Quran’s 6,000 verses, fewer than 700 deal with legislation and only 200 of these are directly concerned with regulation of social matters.

As I had mentioned in my previous post on trajectories where I had listed the setting of two trajectories relating to slavery and women rights,  there are many other dimensions in which God sets the trajectories in. Reinterpretation of these trajectories is called Ijtihad in Islam. Famous muslim thinker by the name of Allama Iqbal had this to say about Reinterpretation in his work “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in

Society must possess eternal principles to regulate its collective life, for the eternal gives us a foothold in the world of perpetual change. But eternal principles when they are understood to exclude all possibilities of change, which according to the Quran, is one of the greatest signs of God, tend to immobilize what is essentially mobile in its nature…What then is the principle of movement in the structure of Islam? This is known as ijtihad.

I was struck by a couple of  verses in the Quran that are unusually harsh in the treatment of some sins by modern standards and in many ways seem in dissonance with the bulk of the message of compassion and forgiveness.

As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power. Quran 5:38

The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment. Quran 24:2

It is interesting to note that these two verses are practiced literally only in Saudi Arabia under Wahabi influence and Iran under the Shia theocracy.  All other nearly fifty  Muslim countries, i.e. with Muslim majorities, do not practice this but have laws that consider theft and fornication as serious sins.  They view these as trajectories.

Another verse that stands out is forbidding of any force in converting people to Islam.

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. Quran 2:256

Compulsion is contrary to the meaning and purpose of religion, which essentially is an appeal to beings endowed with free will to affirm and worship their Creator. Intention and volition are necessary bases of all actions (including formal worship), attitudes, and thoughts for which the individual is religiously accountable. Without that basis, accountability has no meaning. According to Islam, actions are not considered religiously acceptable or valid unless they are done with the appropriate intention.

By and large the message in Quran is that of a personal religion with individual at the center. There are some verses that obligate the Muslim society to treat certain sins and infractions seriously. It is because of these verses that Quran is considered by many Muslims as a way of life.

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