Month: June 2017

What is Muslim Personal Law and why Muslims need it.


The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board is a representative body of all the important religious, political and cultural organizations of the Indian Muslims. Being a non-political organization it also enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority of the representatives of Muslims in various national political parties, Muslim legislators, scholars, lawyers etc., and thus it is the only organization that can authoritatively speak for all the Indian Muslims, belonging to all sects and schools, barring, of course, a few individuals who have no following whatsoever among the Muslim masses. The Board has no apologies, no excuses to offer, nor to explain away or make acceptable to others what has been laid down by the Quran and the Prophet in regard to Muslim Personal Law and what has been so consistently accepted and adhered to by the Muslims. Its stand is clear and unequivocal: No change in the Personal Law of Muslims. The Presidential address delivered by Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi at the conference of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board held at Calcutta on April 6 and 7, 1985, candidly explains the Muslims’ point of view in this regard. It gives the reasons why Muslims cannot agree to any change in their Personal Law, the background as well as the reasons for not appreciating the Muslim view-point, the fine distinction between the concept of revealed law and modern legal philosophy and the unreasonableness of the demand for an uniform civil code in a way which would not only be found instructive by the Muslims but would also be appreciated by broadminded non-Muslims who want to understand the reason for reluctance of the Muslims to any change in their Personal Law.

What are the objections of non-muslims and Shariah ignorant muslims

There are many people who hold the view that the Muslim Personal Law is stagnant, it was glorious for its own time, but is a handicap for our own times and purposes, and hence it must be changed/discarded/invalidated like other laws. Their argument is that due to changes in human understanding, progress in standards of civilization and lifestyle, which is considered to be linear in time, and advances in technology are all very genuine pressures on the Shariah to change or to give up those parts which do not seem to rhyme with the changing time.

Have humans really changed?

The fundamental question we need to analyze is that whether humans really have changed with passage of time? Essential human nature, its motives and drives, its emotions and desires have remained virtually unchanged throughout the ages. Technology has certainly advanced and some ways of looking at the world have altered but no new definitions and concepts like ‘cruelty’, ’civilized’, ‘justice’, ‘equality’, have emerged which can command universal acceptance. Man’s lusts and fears, hopes and anxieties, loves and hates, aspirations, yearnings and longings remain what they have always been and they would remain as such till last breath of humans on earth.

Similarly, the idea that something which evolves later in time is necessarily superior to that which preceded it is also untenable. The only absolute everlasting and universal criteria can be those given by God, the All-­knowing, whose words are above any change.

Experience has shown that the conflicting demands of law—stability and change—have never been reconciled. The law that is based purely on reason carries the seeds of its own destruction, for human reason is fallible and erring actually, the tension caused by the demands of stability and change calls for balance and harmony which are conspicuous by their absence in the modern laws of the West. They lack balance and stability since they have to serve the interest of an ever-changing society.

Divine law is distinct from human made laws which are continuously subjected to change and correction. Divine laws have their own method and ethical norms of good and bad which serve to keep social change itself within bounds. Divine laws control the society and are not controlled by it. Undoubtedly it is eternal and immutable for the simple reason that it has to exercise its controlling force on the society. It has, as a matter of fact, kept the social fabric of Islamic society compact and secure throughout the last fourteen hundred years. Its objective is to give rise and guide a ‘moral-spiritual society. It has accordingly established, in the words of Hamilton A. R- Gibb, ” norms for all Muslim institutions and societies, which have ever since remained the sheet- anchor of Muslim culture through the many and terrible vicissitudes of later centuries; it expressed and went far to creating a united Muslim community, in spite of political fragmentation and conflict; and it is still, not­withstanding all the criticisms of Muslim modernists and reformers, the sole embodiment of what would otherwise be merely formal unity of faith among all Muslims.”1

Divine laws handle changing circumstances

Such a law has necessarily to be immutable yet it contains broad principles that admit of interpretation which can accommodate changes in life. Such is its capacity to reconcile stability with changing need of life that the Branch of Oriental Statutes of the International Congress of Comparative Law held in Paris on the 7th of July, 1951, and attended by eminent scholars and professors of law from both the East and the West, adopted the following resolution

“The delegates, being interested in the problems brought about during the ‘Week of Islamic Law’ and in the discussions which demonstrated the indisputable value of the principles of Islamic Law, and the fact that the variety of schools within this great juridical system implies a value of juridical elements and remarkable techniques, allowing this law to respond to all needs of adaptation required by modern life.”2

But, let it be understood clearly that the overall scheme of the Shari’ah and its various specific provisions for meeting the changing needs of life are determined by the way Islam resolves the perennial question of tension between the individual and society, in accordance with its own objectives and within its own framework. It needs no outside interference whatsoever.

1.Hamilton A. R. Gibb. Studies on the Civilization of Islam. London. 1962, p. 200.
2.Islamic Studies Quaterly. Vol. XXIII, No. 4 (Islamabad, 1984), P- 387 (cited from Law and the Problems of Stability and Change by Dr. M. Muslehuddin).

P.S. The above article has been created from the speech of Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali Miyan) as the President of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Conference at Calcutta on 6-7 April, 1985.