This bi-annual award to IIU scholars who produce outstanding, excellent and exemplary academic work was established in honour of the memory of al-marhum Professor Ismail Raji al-Faruqi who, during his lifetime, had made profound and invaluable contributions not only to Islamic scholarship but to learning as a whole.
Indeed, I was most privileged to have been given the opportunity of knowing him personally, as a leading scholar of his generation and as a friend. To be sure, he exacted uncompromising intellectual standards and lived by a strict regiment of academic discipline. But, at the same time, he was never lost in mere philosophical abstractions. He was acutely conscious of the realities of the time and the condition of the contemporary ummah. In this regard, he exemplified the conjunction between theoretical learning, ilm, and the righteous deeds, amal salih. He devoted the best years of his life, before his death under tragic circumstances, to the upliftment of the ummah, in inspiring and guiding its youth especially.
Perhaps his greatest legacy is the establishment of the International Institute of Islamic Thought. It was born out of his concern to revive the culture of learning in the hearts and the minds of the ummah. Through this institution he had enabled the mobilization of the intellectual resources of Muslims worldwide, bringing together scholars who had had Western education and those who had undergone the traditional Islamic disciplines.
In conferring these awards, we are recognizing scholars who have contributed towards the realization of al-marhum al-Faruqi’s vision.
It is our conviction that the continuing crisis of the ummah cannot be resolved without a genuine revitalization of the culture of learning at all levels. Most of the problems afflicting Muslim societies in this day and age can be attributed to illiteracy, ignorance and narrow-mindedness. For instance, the highest rates of illiteracy in the world are in Muslim societies. So is the incidence of gender discrimination and denial of the opportunity of women to receive an education. In fact, one can go on reciting a litany of the ills of the ummah, all of which would have prevented had we lived up to the imperatives of the Quran and Sunnah to acquire and disseminate knowledge.
However, the mere acquisition of knowledge without exercising discernment and the exertion of one’s intellectual faculties can sometimes be even more dangerous than plain ignorance. In this connection, there is a general misconception among Muslims, be they laymen or jurists, that the application of the Shariah is a very simple and straightforward matter: all we need to do is to look at the established or classical texts on Islamic fiqh and the answers are to be found there. There is no need to really exert one’s intellectual faculties in order to derive the fiqh as regards the diverse problems we encounter daily in our contemporary situation. In other words, according to this thinking, present-day Muslims need only to consult the voluminous compendiums of legal rules established centuries ago during the classical period of the great jurists. Such a thinking also implies that anyone who does not apply, or finds difficulty in actually applying those existing rules, can only be either ignorant of them, or worse, perverse and impious.
As we know surely, this conception of Islamic law is not only myopic but wholly untenable. The very fact of the growth and establishment of the four major sunni schools of law testifies to the dynamism of the Shariah via the doctrine of ijtihad.
Unfortunately after the crystallization of the Madhahib, intellectual inertia set in which finally led to the closing of the door of ijtihad and it is no exaggeration to say that this condition of juristic malaise has persisted till today, give and take the occasional attempts by more forward- looking scholars and jurists to advocate the revival of Islamic juristic rethinking.
This basic misconception together with this taqlid predisposition has also given rise to a literalist, legalistic and narrow approach to the application of the Shariah rules as expounded by the classical jurist themselves. In the process, there is a preoccupation more with the rules of the Shariah per se rather than its objectives or maqasid, such as the general establishment of peace and security, the promotion of societal welfare, the eradication of poverty, basically the establishment of a civil society. In the process, we have missed the forest for the trees.
In the context of Malaysia today, this misconception is further compounded by the problem posed by those who, in their desire to gain political mileage, have called for the implementation of the hudud. It did not matter that the hudud laws they have drafted were not based strictly on established methodology of Islamic jurisprudence. Naturally the resultant Bill that was drafted contains serious contradictions and glaring defects in respect of such crucial matters as the scope of the crime, the nature of the evidence required as well as the punishment to be meted out. And worst, they have completely disregarded the paramount objectives of the Shariah itself. This is indeed a most retrograde move.
Fortunately enough, recent developments in the Muslim world indicate a trend to refer to the intellectual tradition of the classical period of the great jurists. Although this is still more the exception than the rule, some ulama and writers of modern works alike are now attempting to relate the classical formulations of usul al-fiqh to modern socio-legal conditions. The chasm between theory and practice has developed a rather alarming degree. Perhaps this is what prompted Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam to call for the transfer of the power of ijtihad from individuals to a duly constituted collective body with the power to legislate. It is noteworthy that the late Shaykh al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut went even further by placing greater emphasis on the maslahah (policy based on public or common interest) advocating that, since the maslahah is bound to vary according to circumstances, jurists should be able to take into consideration changed circumstances and review previous consensus in order to realise the maslahah.
The award recipient, Prof. Hashim Kamali, is one of the few contemporary scholars who have advocated an approach towards Islamic jurisprudence departing from the purely legalistic and literalist position. I believe he has taken the stand that the scope for the reinterpretation of the Shariah principles is wide and ever-expanding. He has called for a comprehensive and well-defined programme for prospective mujtahids which would combine training in both the traditional and modern legal disciplines. And in this regard, I must says that the International Islamic University should be well-poised to take up such a challenge.
Speech by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim at The Ismail Faruqi Award Presentation Ceremony, International Islamic University Malaysia on the 28th of February 1995