While nearly all Muslims believe with their own understanding the Islamic scholars who claim that justice and equity are intrinsically incorporated into Islamic principles and thus the shari’ah (the laws derived from those principles), most countries that claim to be guided by the shari’ah do not reflect these laws of justice and equity, especially not–despite the claim of violent patriarchs whose version of justice and equality is anything but just or equal–when it comes to legislating gender relations and restoring and protecting the rights of women that men are inclined to attempt to revoke in a struggle for power. And men are paranoid and fearful that they will lose power. Women, after all, are capable of creating fitnah—social chaos. Which is awesome.
Employing redefined versions of impartiality—oppression in “romantic” disguise—Islamic jurisprudential texts fail to define the shari’ah in the true terms of the Qur’an and instead operate on instructions that redirect jurists’ own debauchery into legislation, relegating women to second class citizens and blasphemously placing them under the authority of men.
Subsequently the prevailing interpretations of shari’ah reflect neither the values nor the principles that are harbored in the core of Islam, and as long as patriarchy is vindicated and sustained in its name, there will be no justice for Muslim women.
Because shari’ah law as practiced by self-proclaimed “Islamic” governments is terrifying, most Americans don’t know what shari’ah law is. Most Americans, were they to hear a Muslim mention participating in shari’ah law in this country, would be completely alarmed. But we are. And I am. I am participating in it when I don’t drink, when I don’t gamble, when I don’t engage in other Islamically illegal activities, when I fast, when I give the designated charity, and when I behave appropriately. It was never meant to be a political system, only a very personal and religious one. It is meant for things like governing marriages through contracts, and these contracts have in fact saved women’s lives when Western law would have failed them.
And when people rage sightlessly against shari’ah law it is frightening for more than just the presence of Islamophobia. It is frightening because they have no idea what they’re talking about, they have no idea they could be taking something away that may help save lives because they have never seen it that way, and how would they react if they knew a contract drafted under it had been enforced at some point in the US? (Their greatest fears confirmed!) Would they even care to know how it happened, or why, or what exactly took place, or the whole story at all? They know “foreign” words, and they think they know what these words mean, but they don’t.
What is essential and urgent, and what I am hoping has begun to ensue, is a dialogue between Islamic law and the feminist interpretations under which it was originally forged when first drafted by the Prophet’s wife before stolen for the conveniences of men. The terms of references must be altered, restoring women as the rightful drafters of regulating women’s rights, and they must be altered from within, by Muslim feminists—the revivalist voices to act as a catalyst for renewal. Islam’s legal vision has been unlawfully monopolized, and until it is returned to women through democratization and through incorporation and examination of the Qur’an before ahadith and of the Qur’an as it is meant to be read with the preoccupation of restoring women’s rights and protecting justice and equity as was its purpose, Muslim women’s pursuit for equal rights will be held captive in the midst of both the external and internal conflicts of men.
The distinction between shari’ah and fiqh then, is that shari’ah is the entirety of God’s will as revealed to the Prophet, and it is the law that is The Way; fiqh is the science of jurisprudence and understanding and retrieving that law from religious texts—this extraction is subjective, a process of human endeavor, and therefore methodologically questionable and imperfect. While shari’ah law is comprehensive and sanctified and eternal, fiqh—like all things human—is subject to variation and adjustment and is entirely fallible. Unfortunately, and deliberately, the two are often conflated and collapsed, both in academic discourses and by politicians and legal specialists; this is because Islam has been weaponized to appeal to patriarchal ideologies and validate male desires. What many patriarchal interpreters render shari’ah (divine) is really the consequence of faulty fiqh (human) and these fiqh texts, which are always patriarchal in both word and spirit, are habitually implored as God’s law and frustrate Muslim women’s investigation for legal justice and equality, opportunely silencing us.
Thus this distinction is essential to emphasize and remember; when women are the scholars engaging in the science of fiqh we are in positions of incredible power which we can then employ to restore to ourselves our God-given rights. And this distinction between shari’ah and fiqh, similar to the distinction between organized religion and faith, is crucial to drawing attention to the epistemological and political ramifications of interpreting shari’ah law correctly or incorrectly because patriarchal interpretations must be disputed and contested at the level of fiqh—human fallibility. By conflating the two, men have successfully fashioned an illusion materialized through a structure of rhetorical deceits. Organized religion and religious faith are interconnected, but they are not the same. It is only in modern times that this has been distorted, and to question it is truly traditional, the tradition of the greatest scholars in the past. Shari’ah is the transcendental ideal that exemplifies the integrity of Islam and the essence of the Qur’an and its laws and revelations, and it is an ideal that condemns all injustices including that of mistreatment and supremacy, and thus it underpins Muslim women’s expedition and evaluation of patriarchal gender constructions.