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The Ramadan Olympics and Islam’s ‘Law of Necessity’

Al-Azhar University

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Al-Qaradawy’s focus was politics, not sport. He cited an example of the support given by the Islamist political leader Maulana Maududi to Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 presidential elections in Pakistan. Previously Maududi had declared that it was not permissible in Islam for a woman to govern (based on the teachings of Muhammad). He came, however, to regard Jinnah as the lesser of two evils, so he commanded his followers to vote for the female candidate, and against General Ayub Khan.

Understanding such balancing of necessities in Islam is important for public policy — to grasp how an identical set of religious beliefs can be used to justify war or peace, terrorism or peaceful coexistence — or any other decision, based solely on the circumstances at the time.

Balancing Necessities and Public Policy

Consider the issue of the timing of the Olympics: Was Juan Cole correct to suggest that the Olympic Games should be rescheduled so they did not fall in Ramadan?

The fact that the “Law of Necessity” allows Muslims to get around restrictions suggests that although it might certainly have been thoughtful or considerate, it would not in any way necessary to reschedule the Olympics for the sake of Muslim religious sensitivities.

The possibility of balancing necessities needs to be taken into account when organizations and governments are faced with demands that they make concessions for the sake of complying with Islamic Sharia Law. Because the Islamic “Law of Necessity” fully permits Muslims to find creative ways to adapt when Sharia law conflicts with practical life, the argument that societies are obliged to make concessions to privilege all the strict demands of Sharia Law is considerably weakened.

Non-Muslims in particular need to take balancing necessities into account. Consider Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahlawi of Egypt who accepts that it is not a sin for Muslim religious scholars to see women in the streets with unveiled faces: the need for Muslim scholars to get around in public places outweighs the prohibition against men seeing women’s unveiled faces. He boasted, all the same, that he had compelled a US consular official to wear the hijab[headscarf] when she met with him. If the U.S. official had been better informed, she might have asked that Sheikh al-Mahlawi take a more moderate, balanced approach. She might have refused to submit to the hijab, pointing out that the Sheikh copes very well with looking at the unveiled faces of women whenever he goes into the street.

Balancing Necessity and Terrorism

Al-Qaradawi concluded that although it is wrong in general for Muslims to participate in non-Islamic governments or to make alliances with non-Muslim nations, compromises may be made when such lesser evils are ‘balanced’ against the greater good of the Muslim cause.

He also made the observation that many of the conflicts between different factions working for the success of Islam exist because of different interpretations about how to “balance” the different necessities and interests in Islam. Of course, Muslims who agree on their fundamental principles of faith can have very different views on how to balance these beliefs in any given situation.

Jihadi [holy war] martyrs make use of theological balancing necessities when they justify their methods for killing enemies. In Islam, for example, it is forbidden to kill oneself, but suicide, if it can be justified in the cause of Allah or furthering Islam, is not only permissible but heroic. Jihadi clerics are more than willing to write fatwas which ensure that a would-be martyr goes to his death with a clear conscience.In Islam, it is forbidden to kill women and children, but “collateral damage” is acceptable if a greater end is in sight. It is also forbidden in Islam to lie, but it is recommended that a pious jihadi using taqiyya [dissimulation] if necessary to achieve, say, a “martyrdom operation.” The Al-Qaeda manual, for instsnce, appeals to the principle that “necessity permits the forbidden” to justify criminal acts; and the Indonesian jihad cleric Abu Bakar Bashir argued that jihadis were entitled to hack foreigner’s bank accounts to obtain funds (see The Crime-Terror Nexus, New York State Office of Homeland Security). (For a bizarre example of the extremes to which jihad fatwas can go, see this report by Raymond Ibrahim.)

About the Author: Dr. Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom.


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What distinguishes a jihadi terrorist from a more peaceful Muslim may not be any fundamental difference in belief, but, as in the West, merely in a given instance, how the religious legal principles of his faith should be applied.

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