Revivalism or Reformation The Reinterpretation of Islamic Law in Modern Times

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Liyakat Takim

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Abstract

Since the events of 9/11, there has been much debate in Muslim circles regarding the question of reformation. More specifically, among questions that have been posed are: how can a religion believed to be immutable and constant regulate and serve the needs of a changing community? How can a legal system formulated in the eighth and ninth centuries respond to the requirements of twenty-first century Muslims? Is there a need for reformation in Islam? If so, where should it begin and in which direction should it proceed? These are some of the most challenging questions facing contemporary scholars of Islam. Some scholars suggest that reformation should be interwoven with the reexamination of the authenticity and pivotal roles of the sunnah and the hadith,2 while others want to revisit Islamic law as it was formulated in the classical period and reexamine the traditional exegetical literature. This implies that the proposed reformation should be based not only on changing institutions, but also on a reevaluation of traditional sources and hermeneutics. The recently published Progressive Muslims seeks to provide alternative interpretations of Islam and to refute the views of those who present a static and monolithic Islam.3 In order to examine the issue of reformation, it is essential, at the outset, to discuss Islamic law’s development and evolution during the classical period (the seventh to tenth centuries). Thus, I begin with a brief overview of its classical exposition, the various factors that shaped its formulation, and then explore some of the possible venues in which reformation can take place.

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