Opinion: "Ijtihad in South Africa" by Tamara Sonn

April 5, 2006

Source: Monsters and Critics

Wire Service: UPI


On April 5, 2006 United Press International ran an opinion piece by Tamara Sonn, Kenan Professor of Religion and Humanities at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Sonn writes, "One of the most challenging issues in contemporary Islam concerns the question of pluralism, particularly as it pertains to the rights of Muslim minorities. Islamic law was originally formulated to govern the lives of Muslim majorities, living under Islamic law. Today, however, as many as one-third of the world's Muslims live as minorities under secular law. Most Muslims living as minorities in the West know they can practice their religion freely in the private sphere. But what about the public sphere? Can Muslims bring their principles of justice and human dignity to bear in a public sphere? This question confronted Muslim minorities in Apartheid South Africa in important ways, and their ijtihad on the issue is very revealing. Ijtihad is a methodology for accommodating changing circumstances while maintaining fidelity to Islam`s eternal principles. It is a major theme of modern Islam because circumstances have changed so drastically over the past century or so. In Apartheid South Africa, Muslims used ijtihad to apply Islamic principles of justice and human rights to the national struggle against Apartheid."