Q: There is a scholarly difference nowadays as to fiqh al-aqalliyyat or the fiqh of Muslim minorities. Some scholars regard it as an innovation that manipulates Allah’s religion, and some others consider it a lawful necessity. What is your point of view on that issue with special reference to the concept of fiqh al-aqalliyyat itself? What is the nature of the scholarly difference in that regard?
A: In the first place, we’d like to note that any person with a sound intellect agrees that the Shari`ah aims at removing hardship from people and giving them solutions to their problems regardless of their places and locations. In countries where Muslims represent the minority and are, therefore, not under the rule of an Islamic government, they may face lots of problems that they have to solve in order for their life to go smoothly. These things they face are totally unlike those that are in the Muslim countries. Here comes the role of the Shari`ah to provide solutions for their problems and to answer their needs. Fiqh, in its very nature, is mainly concerned with finding solutions to people’s problems and making their life easy in the shade of the Shari`ah. In no way does this mean transforming the basics of religion or changing its pillars. We cannot say, for example, that people living in a country where they represent a minority do not have to perform a certain Prayer. Rather, they are required to observe their religious duties. However, the nature of the place, the surrounding environment, and the system may require some solutions to be produced under the general objectives of Shari`ah, which is mainly concerned with maintaining the five basic things: life, religion, reason, lineage, and property.
Thus, in quest of achieving these general objectives of the Shari`ah, the role of ijtihad appears to produce new solutions, which culminate in the new but not new fiqh of Muslim minorities. Thus, the fiqh of Muslim minorities cannot be regarded as an innovation.
The fiqh of Muslim minorities is not an innovation. The earlier books of jurisprudence have tackled many rulings peculiar to the Muslims who live in countries that do not adopt Islam.
It is a necessity that Muslims [in non-Muslim countries] are in need of. Its rulings are in conformity with the criteria that scholars consider as to jurisprudence in general. Responding to the question, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Al-Shinqiti, Director of the Islamic Center of South Plains, Lubbock, Texas, states the following: “Jurisprudence is different from Shari`ah in that sense: Shari`ah refers to the revealed religion as a whole, while jurisprudence refers to how the rules of Shari`ah are to be applied from the points of view of the jurists. Hence, there is nothing wrong in having jurisprudence that deals with the issues and conditions peculiar to the Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries. There are many aspects of difference between the conditions of the Muslims who live as minorities in non-Muslim countries and those representing the majority of the population of the Muslim world. With this in mind, we are to take into account also that jurisprudence always takes into consideration the difference in the elements of time and place when it comes to prescribing rulings. Thus, the fiqh of Muslim minorities is not an innovation. The earlier books of jurisprudence have tackled many rulings peculiar to the Muslims who live in countries that do not adopt Islam. It is only the term given to such rulings, i.e. “Fiqh of Muslim minorities” that is innovated, and there is nothing wrong in changing terms. The scholarly difference referred to in the question in hand may be, rather, considering mixing up jurisprudence with Shari`ah in people’s minds. There is no Muslim scholar who can agree to having a Shari`ah or Islam peculiar to minorities. So, jurisprudence is not involved in the difference.” Moreover, Sheikh Taha Jabir Al-`Alawani, former chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, adds: “Fiqh of minorities is not to be regarded, as it is common nowadays, as dealing with minor juristic issues. It is, rather, to be handled within the comprehensive outlook of jurisprudence that tackles all aspects of religion in the sense which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) referred to when he (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes him comprehend the religion.” Hence, it is important to consider the fiqh of minorities as a considerable branch of jurisprudence in general in order to put it in its suitable framework, and in order to deal with the issues peculiar to the Muslims living in non-Muslim countries that have not been given certain rulings in Shari`ah. To sum up, the fiqh of minorities is concerned with the legal rulings regarding the issues that concern the Muslim communities living in non-Muslim societies. Considering the different conditions of these communities, we are to bear in mind that the legal rulings applying to them are not applicable to the Muslims living in the Muslim world. Furthermore, he who deals with such branch of jurisprudence is also to have knowledge about the sciences of sociology, economics, politics, and international relations.” Finally, Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, former President of ISNA and Member of the Fiqh Council of North America, concludes: “Fiqh al-aqalliyyat has arisen in request of Muslims’ state of affairs as a minority in a non-Muslim country and not as a majority living in a Muslim country. The needs of Muslims living in a non-Muslim country, as well as their conditions and circumstances, may differ from other countries where Muslims live as a majority. In this case, the rules of Shari`ah that are not decisive can be adjusted in a way that suits them and never puts hardship on them. For example, voting for political parties in Muslim countries is completely different from non-Muslim countries, because in the former case Muslims have Islamic parties as an option, whereas in the latter case they do not exist. In this case, some Muslims might get confused that this can go under the category of taking non-Muslims as patrons in a way that is not sanctioned by Islam. However, under fiqh al-aqalliyyat, this is understood in another sense that Muslims should vote for the party that serves their issues the best. Globalization has played an important role in bridging the gap between people and has facilitated the means of communication. However, the daily conditions of Muslims differ from one country to another. That is why Muslims in non-Muslim countries need this kind of fiqh.”
Allah knows the best.
[This question was asked by Ameen from U.K. and was answered by the scholars at Islamonline.net].