Is Islam capable of introducing its own version of reform without the need for outside interference? What are the conditions that must be made available prior to the implementation of reforms?
Aljazeera.net put these and other questions to renowned Muslim scholar Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the head of the European Council on Fatwa and Research.
Qaradawi was born in Egypt and studied at the famous al-Azhar theological seminary in Cairo.
Also a poet and intellectual, his best known books include The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, The Tyrant and the Scholar, and Laws of the Obligatory Charity.
He is currently the dean of the sharia (Islamic law) college at Qatar University and appears regularly on Aljazeera television, in the highly influential debate and phone-in show, The Sharia and Life.
Aljazeera: How is reform defined in Islam?
Al-Qaradawi: Reform is turning the thing that is corrupt into something upright. It touches every aspect of society.
A person can be reformed, so can a society and even a whole nation. This is why as Muslims we welcome reforms.
“Muslims are urged to embrace reforms and to discard what is vice”
Muslims are urged to embrace reforms and to discard what is vice. In the Holy Quran, there are many narrations of God punishing nations that brought harm and vice to the world.
Aljazeera: So reform is prescribed as an antidote to corruption. Can you elaborate on this?
Al-Qaradawi: There are various kinds of corruptions which stand opposite to reform.
First there is political corruption, the deceiving of the masses to serve authority; an example would be a journalist who uses his pen to tout for a leader, or an occupier who invades a country and revamps its political structure to serve his interest.
The Quran addresses the issue
You also have economic corruption, a subject that the Quran has addressed as well. Those who misuse public funds for their own purposes while their people are undergoing extreme poverty are an illustration of this.
Moral corruption is another problem that must be confronted and reformed. It can extend to engulf an entire society turning it into a nepotistic, nihilist and morally loose one.
There are also other forms of corruption that would include environmental corruption, the destruction of the beautiful Earth that God has created, and so on.
Aljazeera: So, according to Islam, what is the individual Muslim’s duty to combat corruption?
Qaradawi: We Muslims loathe corruption. We are urged to fight vice. This is why we should be the first to embrace reform, starting with ourselves.
We cannot possibly envisage a brighter future if we do not shake off the constraints of corruption that are damaging our societies.
Aljazeera: Is there any reform mechanism that you envision?
Qaradawi: We must be clear on this; there is a crippling feeling of disunity and paralysis that overwhelms Muslim nations.
However, it should be made equally clear that a nation is responsible for reforming itself rather than having others reform it.
“There is a crippling feeling of disunity
If a nation reforms itself, it will do so while keeping its own interests in mind. That is to say, an outsider is only interested in reforms that would further his own agenda.
Aljazeera: The US government has been unyielding in its insistence on implementing reforms in what it now calls the Greater Middle East Initiative. What is your view on this?
Qaradawi: First, any genuine reform should reflect the conscience of a nation, but the nation has to have a conscience to begin with.
We must ask questions, who we are? What is the mission of our civilisation? Are we intruders in this world? Do we have a message, history and value?
If we can only realise the great responsibility that has been entrusted in us and what it takes to fulfil these responsibilities, then we will become very adamant in reforming our nations. But our medicine can only be found in our pharmacy, as prescribed by our own doctors and this, I believe, is the key.
Qaradawi: ‘US-envisaged reform
The US government wants us to reform ourselves. There is no doubt, however, that an US-envisaged reform will only serve US championed interests.
Is there any doubt that reforming according to the US way would guarantee us a role in the back of the caravan to always trail behind as a nation that is weak, ignorant and fragmented?
The US is seeking Muslims who only know how to say “yes”, obedient, unarmed and unable to fend for themselves, whether militarily, politically or culturally.
Aljazeera: But there are those in the Arab and Muslim world who find such reforms, even if US-imposed, justifiable?
Qaradawi: Some Arab and Muslim seculars are following the US government by advocating the kind of reform that will disarm the nation from its elements of strength that are holding our people together.
They want us to embrace a culture that is not ours so that you have a Muslim man who dresses in a traditional gown but underneath the gown he is no longer an Arab.
They seek a Muslim woman who dresses, walks and talks like a westerner, with no regard to her tradition or values, all under the guise of reform and modernisation.
Aljazeera: Are we here talking about limited reform, provisional reform, or an all-encompassing change?
Qaradawi: We call for the revival of Muslim nations who should fight the crippling state we are in. Renewal for us is not only a demanding necessity, it is a religious obligation.
“Renewal for us is
We are not against the revival of the nation but when we think revival we must ask ourselves in what capacity and to what end?
We can only reform the tools and strategies we use to achieve our objectives, but the objectives themselves must not be reformed.
Some of those who advocate reforms in the Muslim world want to revamp everything indiscreetly. It reminds me of a Muslim intellectual’s remark: “They want us to rebuild the Kaaba using European stones.”
We must be very clear on this: What we seek is for the nation to be renewed from within, to stand up on its own feet, to carry its own message and achieve its own objectives.
In short, our main goal of reform is to take the nation back to its soul, to feed it the values of virtue, not in a provisional kind of way but in the most fundamental sense.
Reforms shouldn’t be a painkiller for a very sick person; you either extract the causes of the ailment altogether, or you don’t.
Aljazeera: You often advocate that, in order for any reform initiative to be successful, a few prerequisites are imperative. What are some of these conditions?
Qaradawi: First, the principles of Islam, which have been and will always remain the core of any Muslim nation, must not be discarded.
The principles of Islam must be utilised to fulfil and serve the interests of Muslims everywhere, not imported principles forged without the interests of Muslims in mind.
Another condition is that the reform methodology should be inscribed by the Muslim scholars and people of knowledge, who correspond to the pain and needs of their people, not other considerations.
A third is that reform has to be implemented with the will of the people and by the people themselves, because it is them, in the final analysis, who covet reform and have to be satisfied with it once implemented and live up to its demands and responsibilities.
We want reform to start from the people, not to impose reforms on them.
The public must be educated
This is why we must educate the public about their rights, make the people more aware of their responsibilities and convince them that they and only they have the right to choose, monitor and reprimand their leaders.
A fourth condition is that, as I stated earlier, reforms must come from within, must reflect the people’s consciences and correspond to their needs.
A final condition is the need for gradualism while implementing reforms.
God has created the world in six periods. He could have done it in a moment, but he wanted to teach us a lesson of patience and gradualism. Muslims are just as capable of carrying this great message of humanity to the world.
They are equipped with the holy book, the teachings of the prophets and the urgent attention their plight demands.