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"American Fiqh" Tries to Make
Sirat ul-Mustaqim the Path of Least Resistance

Ummah's Report on the Conference on Islamic Jurisprudence
Hosted by the Sharia Scholars Association of North America, Nov. 19-22
They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and monks and made them lords other than Allah (by obeying them in things that they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires, and not by what Allah commanded), and did the same with the Messiah, the son of Mary. But they were commanded to worship one God only...
         --TMQ: Tauba, 31. 

On a weekend late last month, 75 to 100 professional Islamic scholars and Islamic center leaders met near Metro Airport, in the Double Tree Hotel's grand ballroom, for a conference on fiqh. The Ummah at large was not there; registration fees as high as $225 made sure of that. That left professional ulema talking among themselves, rehashing Shari'ah issues that never go away: mortgage, divorce, participation in the U.S. political process, and, of course, the sighting of the moon.
In reality, these problems are just the chickens coming home to roost. Back in the 1920's, our defeated ancestors let the Khilafah fall when Mustafa Kamal Pasha pushed it over the ledge in Islambul. No one remembered the warning Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) once gave:
The knots of Islam will be undone one by one until every one of them is undone. And the first one to be undone is the Ruling, and the last one is the Prayer. (Imam Ahmad, Musnad) 
Without the Khilafah's central authority, nothing protects the people from banks and mega-corporations, and no one preserves the right of the Weak against the Strong. It is even hard to say whether today is the 30th of Sha'ban or the 1st of Ramadan!
Since 1923, the ulema should have  helped retie the broken knot of Khilafah. Instead, they tried to teach the rest of the Ummah how to live without it.
They failed; and made themselves look like somebody on a riverbank encouraging a drowning man by shouting, "Don't worry, I'll show you how to grow gills!" Islamic banks helped too little, too late; and they are about to evolve into a sideline   for the same

capitalist institutions we tried to avoid. Another Great Idea in the 1960's and 70's was the establishment of separate communities in the USA and elsewhere, where Muslims could live and work within a pseudo-Khilafah. That has not worked out on a large scale either. In the wake of such developments, the attendees of the Shari'ah Scholars Association came to hear  five panels of specialists make their case for a different idea: American Fiqh.
Well, nobody said "American Fiqh" out loud, but that was the item for sale.

upper middle class professionals who might not completely understand what they are supporting. 300 of these were let into the Saturday night fund-raiser at $40 per head. There, they basked in the barakah of Great Shaykhs and left $200,000 in pledges. So far, there is no American Fiqh Society, though the people wanting it  turn up in bodies like SSANA itself and the American Muslim Council (AMC). They have an important ally in  Dr. Yusuf ul-Qaradawi, the (honorary) president of the conference.
Issues of banking and interest, particularly home mortgages, have special importance to the advocates of American Fiqh, as the Saturday morning panel made clear. The speakers justified home mortgages for Muslims in this way: Shelter is a human necessity like food and clothing. In North America, local custom requires seekers of shelter to borrow money on interest, then buy a house. It
is possible to rent, but there are "many problems" with this. Sticking with the traditional, classical prohibition of riba causes great difficulty for Muslims in this country, and goes against the intent of the Shari'ah, which is the removal of difficulty. Therefore, mortgages within the special context of North America can be permitted through necessity.
But some people  would not stop there! At lunch, this reporter sat next to an imam who is high in ISNA circles, hearing him wonder out loud whether one can even apply the  Shari'ah rules against riba to currencies like dollars and pounds that steadily lose value to inflation. Later that evening, Dr. al-Qaradawi gave his enthusiastic thumb-up for student loans ("Muslims cannot remain ignorant in this country!")
Other sessions, combined with a little

Defined in the February 1988 issue of Islamic Horizons magazine, American Fiqh begins with the assumption (an incorrect one, but we'll discuss that later) that life in North America is very different from that of the "Islamic world" overseas. In the West, Muslims  face issues not known to the imams of the past. Their books cannot guide us now. Therefore, the Ummah of North America--the ulema, of course, not the laymen--must start anew, understand these problems and redefine Islamic rules that "work" here and now.
Ironically, American Fiqh remains of the elite, and for the elite of Muslim North America. It has been linked to "Young Turk" Ph.D.'s raised in the USA. Its ranks also include elderly modernist Ph.D.'s, who declare modern "Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization" the greatest development since Harun ur-Rashid. They get help from thousands of

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