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Religion Library: Islam

Vision for Society

Written by: Mohammad Fadel

Title: Masjid Nawabi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina Source: ethical duty to command the good and forbid the evil has had the effect of making questions of political order central in the Muslim experience. The Prophet Muhammad himself acted as a lawgiver for the early Muslim community after he emigrated from his hometown of Mecca to the nearby oasis town of Medina to help bring peace after a bloody civil war. In so doing, one of his first acts was to promulgate a written agreement, signed by the various tribal groups inhabiting Medina. A central provision of this agreement was that tribal loyalty could not be used to shield individuals from liability for their breaches of the peace. In the pre-Islamic Arabian context, where tribes felt no obligations to outsiders, the notion that a member of a tribe could be held liable for a wrong committed against an individual from another tribe was a revolutionary concept.

Questions of justice, and the relationship of religion to justice, subsequently became an important concern for Muslim theologians, jurists, and philosophers. At first blush, it would appear that the twin commitments to a system of ethics rooted in revelation and to the goal of manifesting that system of ethics in the world could lead to a strictly moral conception of the state. While Islamic history certainly produced instances of such Muslim states, these tended to be exceptions rather than the rule. The reason for this lies both in the nature of internal restraints within the shariah and the practical limitations of pre-modern Muslim states.   


Fundamental norms (daruri)Secondary norms (ijtihadi)
set forth explicitly in revelationbased on scholarly interpretation
include religious doctrine
(unity of God, accountability before God)
include most doctrines and ethical obligations
also include practical obligations
("Five pillars of Islam," dietary restrictions)

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