Chapter 9: Natural law in Islam from theological and legal perspectives
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.
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