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Practicing Islam Today: Embracing Modern Relevance

The ancients said, “Words fly away, writing remains.” I have expressed my views. I have explained clearly what my understanding of Islam and its jurisprudence is on my YouTube channel. Now, I want to express it in writing, concisely and in a straightforward manner, in bullet points. Although I previously touched upon the same topics in an article on Quranic Islam and exegesis, let me write it once more to leave a mark on history.

  1. Religion, Sharia, and Jurisprudence are distinct. Religion is the set of teachings, principles, values, commands, and prohibitions reflecting Allah’s intent and purpose. This comprehensive system governs faith/creed, worship/ritual, morality, and social life. The first three are unchangeable constants, while the fourth can change based on context, social background, and conditions.
  2. There can be no religion without the Quran. Since this is a point of consensus among different schools of thought, there’s no need to elaborate further.
  3. There can be no religion without the Prophet. Islam cannot exist without the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). At the center of Islam, along with the Quran, is the Prophet. The Quran is a compilation of teachings, values, commands, and prohibitions organized around the 23-year life of the Prophet. He was not merely a messenger delivering a message and then stepping aside. To understand the Quran in its original meaning, we must know the Prophet and the period he lived in. Otherwise, we risk interpreting many verses based solely on their literal meaning, which could lead us to speak on behalf of Allah improperly, akin to some esoteric interpretations.
  4. We have a 14-century-long history as Muslims. We have history, civilization, states, customs, libraries full of books, art, music, sports, tales, stories, novels, and poems. In the broadest sense, we have historical experiences. If we call this tradition, then we have a tradition. A religion or Islam that excludes this tradition is not feasible.
  5. A religion that disregards reason, loses its way through time, does not allow Muslims to live in the present, or guide them towards the future, is not feasible. Just as our ancestors lived their times as children of their era, we are children of today. We must understand, interpret, and live our religion in today’s conditions. Apart from unchangeable constants like faith, worship, and rituals, this involves seeking Allah’s intent in contemporary issues by prioritizing our well-being, a process known as ijtihad (Ijtihad is an Islamic legal term referring to the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith (the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad). This process is used to address new issues and situations that are not explicitly covered by the primary sources of Islamic law).

Regarding ijtihad, as mentioned in point 4, within our tradition, ijtihad comprises:

  1. Responding to existing problems: If traditional ijtihads provide answers and solutions to our issues, new ijtihads are unnecessary. This would be mere verbosity and self-promotion. Consider ijtihads on how a latecomer joins the congregation in prayer as an example.
  2. When different ijtihads exist: A choice ijtihad can be made, where the strength of evidence and public interest are the primary criteria. This practice of scholars throughout history is known as “Müfta bihi,” meaning the most suitable fatwa.
  3. Preference for ease over hardship: In matters requiring new ijtihad or choosing between “Müfta bih” views, I prefer ease over difficulty. Religion is ease. Allah did not send this religion to burden believers or impose tasks beyond their capacity, as affirmed in many verses. The Prophet’s sayings and practices also align with this.
  4. Using concessions cautiously: Concessions (rukhsat) are legitimate within religion. The necessity to use these concessions is a fact, and they are unavoidable realities of life. Using these concessions ensures the practice of religion continues. Remember, concessions are not to be used after death or in the afterlife.

Having summarized my stance on Islam and its jurisprudence, let me add:

  1. The most crucial feature of Islamic jurisprudence is its practical engagement with life and solving contemporary issues without contradicting the fundamental principles of religion. This practice was vibrant in the first five centuries but has not achieved the same success since then.
  2. Distinguishing between purpose and means: For a Muslim, the ultimate goal is the pleasure of Allah and living life accordingly. In this context, all our actions, including our worship, are means. Unfortunately, sometimes these means are mistaken for ends.

My final word to those whose motivations, whether religious sensitivity, trolling, or personal jealousy, I cannot discern but who criticize at every opportunity: Live in the present, not the past, and embrace the future. Integrate religion with life and life with religion. Otherwise, you risk serving irreligion in the name of religion and alienating people from faith.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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