This section introduces the book: its approach, and its context. It also outlines the significance of six themes covered in the book. It explains how the Research Handbook on Islamic Law and Society involves a dynamic interpretation and also responses to the challenges faced by Muslim societies.
This chapter provides an example of how Muslim scholars are responding to the issue of modernity. It evaluates collective ijtihad in the Muslim world as a group effort to find answers. This is different to the early formation of Islamic schools of thought (maddhab) when individual scholars interpreted the Holy Books. The chapter provides examples of Indonesian collective fatwa on health issues such as organ transplant, vasectomy and IUDs (Intra-Uterine Devices). It can safely be stated that the institution of collective ijtihad is a viable tool through which a society can adjust itself to internal and external social, political, and economic change.
Edited by Nadirsyah Hosen
Debates over the interpretation and application of Islamic law illustrate central issues in natural law theory about the interaction between timeless principles and contemporary social norms. On the one hand, Nadirsyah Hosen notes, the Qur’an and the Hadith are considered immutable and timeless. In this sense, Muslim societies may change, but Islam never changes. On the other hand, Islamic teaching depends on human interpretation of divine sources. Those interpretations may evolve over time, reflecting shifts in human understanding. Different Islamic schools take different views of the extent to which interpretations of the Holy Books can and should change over time. The centrality of ijtihad or interpretation in Islamic law, for Hosen, illustrates the importance of reason, tradition and consensus as tools of understanding. Concepts such as istislah or public interest may also have a role to play. As a consequence, Islamic jurists and ordinary Muslims hold diverse opinions about how Islamic teaching applies in the modern world. Hosen argues for a balanced approach where scholars develop new interpretations of original sources while studying and learning from historical scholarship. In this way, contemporary interpreters can help advance human knowledge of what natural law entails today.