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Moral Authority in Islamic Law: A Reflection of Khaled Abou Fadel

Rifqi Nurdiansyah
PhD Student Islamic Studies of Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII).
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The discourse on religious authority in Islamic civilization has long been going on. Each Islamic scholar offers his concept of authority. Abou Fadel is no exception, a Muslim Intellectual who has been fighting the discrediting of Islam since 9/11.

Abou Fadel, born into traditionalist Sunni Islam, reconstructed the perception of Islamic law with a social context which inspired by western approach. Some studies also claim that Abou Fadel has influenced Gadamer’s hermeneutic thinking. In 2017, Abou Fadel founded the Ushuli Institute to seek beauty, reasonableness, and Godliness in Islam (Kepplinger, 2021).

Aspects of Beauty, Reasonableness, and Godliness are essential elements of Abou Fadel’s theory of moral authority. For example, Abou Fadel rejected the hadith about Wives having sujud to their Husbands because of the high degree of the Husband. Although many Scholars have used this hadith, and it has been tested that it is not problematic for either matan or sanad.

For Abou Fadel, the hadith of the Wife doing sujud to the Husband is a gender-biased misogynistic hadith. According to Abou Fadel, the hadith is opposite to the moral character of the Prophet Muhammad (Kepplinger, 2021).

Moral Authority for Abou Fadel is balancing God’s sovereignty, human determination, and morality (Fadl, 2014b). Thus, authoritarian tendencies in the practice of Islamic law can be countered with this theory. Abou Fadel believes that in Islamic culture, no one person or group of people has the right to claim the most authoritative claim in conveying Islamic law.

This opens up space for anyone who has the capacity to perform ijtihad in Islamic law. Based on the Prophet’s hadith about the reward of Mujtahid, if wrong gets one reward and, if true, gets two merits (Fadl, 2014b). Nevertheless, it is not entitled to claim that the results of his ijtihad are most authoritative. For Abou Fadel, those who have the right to claim authority are God and his Prophet only (Fadl, 2014b). Thus, it is connected between God’s sovereignty, Man’s determination, and morality.

Moral authority is also called moral persuasive, which involves normative power, which is the ability to direct human behavioral beliefs based on trust and faith. At this stage, a person will voluntarily obey without coercion (Fadl, 2014b). The concept of moral authority offered by Abou Fadel impacts the obedience of a Muslim in carrying out Islamic law to perform the character of Godliness.

Meanwhile, Hadith that contrary to the conscience of Muslims, Hadith should be reinterpreted according to the current context or leave it as Abou Fadel did. That is form of Gadamerian influenced in Abou Fadel’s thought. Especially in reinterpreting the two most authoritative texts of Muslims, the Qur’an, and Sunnah. Abou Fadel uses a hermeneutic approach by looking for social interests in shaping social authority, status, and power from a text (Slater, 2020).

The position of the Text is vital in Sharia authority. Interestingly, Abou Fadel describes Sharia as a path to welfare. From the Text, a man catches the indicator from the greatness of God’s teachings. In addition to the Text, the indicator also lies in human reason, intuition, and Human social-condition (Fadl, 2014a). Since post-prophetic times, this indicator has been a way for Muslims to implement Islamic law.

The potential diversity of Islamic law is the generality that occurs among Muslims. For example, the Qur’anic Text has a wide variety of interpretation methodologies, the methodology also inevitably produces different interpretation of ayat, and the customs of different social conditions  influences Islamic law. As Imam Shafi’I did when producing different laws when in Iraq and Egypt. Abou Fadel also quoted the words of Imam Shafi’I, who said that he believed his opinion was correct but could also be wrong (Fadl, 2014,a).

Abou Fadel’s way of thinking is the most striking when describing two different terms between Sharia and Fiqih. According to him, Sharia is an abstract ideal of divinity, and fiqh is a form of realization of these ideals. From Abou Fadel’s explanation, he invited us to focus on the core teachings of Sharia in the form of beauty, happiness, virtue, kindness, awareness, humanity, and all moral universalities. He positioned Sharia as a solution to diversity Muslims, Islamophobia, and puritanical pride Wahhabism around the world by moral ethics.

Moral Authority leads Muslims to abandon personal religious authority or groups that claim religious authority in the name of God. Moral Authority is the rationalization of God’s teachings embodied in the Sharia based on ethics. According to the author, the Moral standardization offered by Abou Fadel is still abstract. Such standards of beauty, reasonableness, and Godliness are still open for debate.

However, the debate is also a trajectory of Abou Fadl’s thinking in favour of opening the door to ijtihad in today’s modern era. The opening of the ijtihad door encourages intellectual property in Islam based on the interpretation of the Text of the Qur’an and Hadith. It is also based on the reason that serves as reasoning over Islamic law. On the other hand, human intuition also influences the interpretation of Islamic law. Meanwhile, the social condition of Muslim customs is also an influential aspect.

Description The four elements are the building of Abou Fadel’s moral authority. However, religious authority cannot be separated from Text, reason, intuition, and traditional customs. The whole interpretation is oriented towards morality which must be in line with the moral values.

As long as the orientation of Islamic law is still oriented towards morals, which in this moral concept is also still biased, then that is where Sharia lies. It also happened when Abou Fadel used the Western version of the term ‘gender’ to look at gender in Islam, which received much criticism from Islam scholars and orientalists.

References

Fadl, K. A. El. (2014a). Reasoning With God: Reclaiming Shari’ah in the Modern Age. Rowman & Littlefield. https://www.ptonline.com/articles/how-to-get-better-mfi-results

Fadl, K. A. El. (2014b). Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women. In Oneworld Publications. Oneworld Publications.

Kepplinger, E. (2021). Khaled Abou El Fadl’s Understanding of Sharia in Theory and in Practice. A Critical Analysis. Hikma, 12(2), 145–157. https://doi.org/10.13109/hikm.2021.12.2.145

Slater, A. M. (2020). RELATIONALITY and the GADAMERIAN “HORIZONTVERSCHMELZUNG”: KHALED ABOU EL FADL. ReOrient, 6(1), 47–64. https://doi.org/10.13169/REORIENT.6.1.0047

Rifqi Nurdiansyah
PhD Student Islamic Studies of Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII).
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