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I have been reading a book about Muhammad (pbuh) and have learnt, I am sure only a little, about Islam and the culture and times back then. It seems to an unlearned man like myself that the laws were highly relevant given the nature of society and culture of the day.

My question is, are the laws still relevant in the culture and society of the modern day, and as I can only talk for UK I will direct it with this culture and society in mind.

I am aware of the obvious cultural/tradition heritage of the Middle-east versus the UK but that aside please could someone elaborate or at least ask some further questions so that I can refine this question further into the format required for this forum.

The specific laws that for me personally are hard to grapple with are those of corporal punishment etc.

Update: Both cultural and Islamic claims are played to win over whether a law is to be adhered to or not, that is partly why I asked the question. On the face of it this question can seem obvious to answer, but on a closer consideration there are complications that arise, especially for people that do not have a great knowledge on the subject and the answers are found only through further research.

My problem is laws have been and can be determined by interpretation through the lens of culture and some are considered truly universal but how can you know and if knowledge is there to aid discernment, how can it be distilled from scripture that has been written possibly for a different audience in a different era and being no scholar on Arabic how can one be sure the meaning in the language still has the same meaning today, I am sure it is not only English that suffers from loss of meaning through language evolution?

Actually, on second thought, justice is justice and that is universal, but the prescription for certain crimes such as theft where the offender loses limbs seem unnecessary, I am not saying they are wrong although to me that kind of punishment seems to me to be unnecessary for the culture I live in but in that case I would be using my own culture as a means to interpret the rewards for such crimes.

I think my question is difficult to answer when attempting to discern what are cultural and what are Islamic precepts, so I will ask another question more specific to certain laws that have already been suggested in answers to this question.

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What do you think about someone making a mistake while crossing a road and being hit by a car? He may turn to become blind for the rest of his life, he may find his arms broken, he may loose even his life, all due to that simple mistake, and of course God can stop him making the mistake, and can prevent the crash happening, and can prevent the man becoming blind or disabled or killed, but once you read a newspaper there are lots of such crashes happening and all those disasters that you may know better, then you would think God (God of Christians, God of Jews, and God of Muslims) is unjust or rules of this life are unjust or what? We only say there are reasons and wisdoms before any happening and behind any rule of God in His religion, we should obey it just after we understood that there is a God and that this rule is certainly due to his command, however we can always try to understand the background wisdoms as well so that we can obey God more easily.

Actually, we have the verse [2:216] which reads:

Fighting is prescribed for you [whenever its conditions are met], and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.

and the verses [5:45] and [2:179] which read:

We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.

In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.

If you have a specific question about a specific rule then you can ask your question and hopefully you would be answered by those who know the wisdoms behind such rules of Allah. but only to say short, yes, the laws in Quran are universal and for all the times before resurrection, although during each era some secondary rules can be added to its collection of rules as temporary by the God's vicegerent of the time.

UPDATE.

About your first added question, that you compared Arabic with English it is a very good point to think why Quran has been inspired in this language, and you know that none of the previous divine books were in Arabic, although God being the same! Arabic is not my first language but as much as I study it I find it more and more remarkable. The words in Arabic are highly structured, the words in Arabic have intrinsic relation with other words through their roots, this intrinsic relation is usually more fundamental than you can find in any other language. For example two of the oldest words common to many languages are Adam or Aadam (آدم) and Noah or Nuh (نوح), peace be upon them, they are among the oldest words as they are the name of our first fathers, at their times all the people were together in one place so the language was unique! Adam was attributed to him due to his creation which was from dust, in English you may see no relation between Adam and dust but the relation in Arabic is quite clear as Adam has created from Adeem (ادیم), the upper layer of the Earth's surface. The same is also true for Noah, this is not actually a name but rather only an attribute, and comes from the Arabic world Nohe (نوحه = monody) and Noah was called Nuh (نوح) because he was very much a monodist during his loneliness. These are only examples to show you an Arabic text is much more talent for be survived than any other language. It is less possible in Arabic that you can interpret Quran based on culture, and for this claim I should first distinguish Quran from any other text in Arabic, as there is very tangled relationship between different words and verses in Quran, it is by no means a "local text", that is, you cannot always understand meaning of a part, or a verse, by only reading itself, rather you would like to read the whole book and then judge what that part or verse may imply! Being Arabic on one hand and being such tangled on the other hand and being a word of god with no mistake in it (in producing the tangled web) makes it impossible for the book to become mis-understandable through the passage of time, although there are always people who try to interpret it with their own perspectives and so there are many disagreements between different sects in Islam, however, these disagreements can be resolved by Quran itself if people would care. Then you will find a unique Arabic text with a unique interpretation of it among all the Muslims, and this is what all Muslims dream about, a united Ummah.

But about your second added question. You have been grown in another country compared to me, you have been taught different values and a different collection of rights and wrongs. If I do something, you may judge me based on your "learned collection of values" and would say, "you did right" or "you did wrong". This is quite natural to judge people based on our own learned values. But then, among us the Muslims, we see a man who has happend to be the holy prophet --peace be upon him--, if he dose something we have no other choice than to say "he is right", both in his deeds and speeches. This is what Allah has ordered us to say and to judge about him as the holy prophet --peace be upon him-- is introduced to us a good pattern in every respect:

Say: "I tell you not that with me are the treasures of Allah, nor do I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me." Say: "can the blind be held equal to the seeing?" Will ye then consider not? [6:50]

Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. / Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. [53:2,3]

Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. [33:21]

so that his deeds and speeches are reasons for us to conclude if something is prescribed or forbidden, encouraged or discouraged or simply only allowed. If from my own cultural perspective any of his deeds seems to be strange then the reasonable conclusion would be this: "my collection of values is deviated and I should modify it a bit, or maybe even rebuild it from the beginning". Of course, this is not acceptable by non-Muslims because the holy prophet is not considered to be a pattern for them, but if they become Muslims the same thing also apply to them. Dealing with someone who is approved not to be astray, nor misled, nor talks on his own desire, nor follow but the God's inspiration, should of course be different than dealing with someone like me that behaves based on his culture and family traditions and etc. The punishment rules in Quran are also a must for Muslims to be accepted as authentic and wise, if some of these rules seem strange to me that's because my values are wrong, religion itself is the touchstone, it should not be analyzed by personal touchstones, everyone should obtain his collection of values from religion and of course this is partly why religions are set forward.

Quran very much addresses us to seek for the source of our own beliefs, have we got them from a confident source? My own system of beliefs for example was build in my family, in relation with cousins and later friends and then in thinking about our own and other cultures, all the times in past I was trying to make my system of beliefs less self-inconsistent, always modifying it based on different ideas and theories, mine or others', so that such an evolving system can never be claimed to be rigorous based on a solid ground, always one could ask a why so that I will have no answer in return, but then I came across the religion, after God was proved to me both intellectually and through my hearth I read Quran, which was claimed to be God's book, and found it from no one but God, then I had no other accuse not to accept the God's preferentials over mine, after all it is from the one who knows best, in any conflict between His ideas and mine certainly He knows what I don't know, and this is first trusting and then submitting to Allah, and Submission to Allah is the very meaning of Islam:

When it is said to them: "Come to what Allah hath revealed; come to the Messenger": They say: "Enough for us are the ways we found our fathers following." what! even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance? [5:104]

So that now if someone tells me I just can't understand that rule in Islam because that's strange and I just cannot accept it, I answer then maybe your idea is wrong, they may simply laugh like them being wrong is even more strange(!) but that's what I have experienced for myself, so I still encourage them to think more deeply, that being I doesn't mean being right always.

Anyway, that was my perspective.

Godspeed

  • Thanks for your answer, it occurred to me that it is not the judgement that I would have difficulty with it is more the punishment that would be prescribed. I have updated my question thanks. – Mr. Mr. Oct 17 '12 at 20:03
  • Thank you for your comprehensive response I would like to award more +1's for the explanation. – Mr. Mr. Oct 17 '12 at 21:27
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I am going to assume that your question is about Islam, and not about the Qur'an, because much of the body of texts that dictate specifics about laws exist in hadith literature (narrations of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions).

In general, everything in Islam is universal. The Qur'an says:

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Translation: And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Surah al-Anbiyaa, verse 107)

This verse pretty much clearly indicates the universality of Islam -- it was revealed in the desert of Arabia 1400 years ago, and Allah designed and intended the message to spread throughout and across the globe. This is why we see, in the first 30 years of Islam, rapid expansion far beyond the confines of the Arabian peninsula.

By direct implication, all of the laws of Islam apply equally and universally to all nations. While we may see certain Muslim countries choose to apply some laws and ignore others, Islam necessitates all of its laws to be implemented in every country and nation that rules by Islam. This includes, as you mentioned, hudood (capital punishment).

However, there is a minor question of culture. Islam does not stipulate what your culture should be; rather, it forms around and within different cultures of different nations, regions, and peoples. The best example of this is the famous incident of the Prophet, peace be upon him, being offered lizard.

I will summarize; the entire hadith is recorded in Saheeh Muslim.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was offered a roasted lizard, which was a common food in some cultures at that time. He did not eat it. When his companions asked, "is this haram?" There question means: is this forbidden under Islamic law to consume? He replied, no, but it is not food from my culture and I don't like it.

We also see narrations, like this one:

He is not one of us who does not have mercy upon our young, nor knows the honor of our elders.. (Tirmidhi)

The hadith commands respect and kindness. But what do these mean from an Islamic law perspective? The answer is, it depends on your culture. In some cultures, you kiss the head of your grandparents when they visit. In others, you don't.

So we see two groups of laws in Islam: those that apply, directly, and the same way, in every nation and culture; and those that change from culture to culture.

  • 1
    a complication is knowing whether any given law is "Islamic" or "cultural', and in many cases there will be imams and other leaders professing both sides... – Marc Gravell Oct 17 '12 at 17:36
  • @MarcGravell most of the laws are Islamic. Cultural comes into play in softer issues, like manners and etiquettes. Although groups can always claim that a law is "cultural" because they don't like it. – ashes999 Oct 17 '12 at 18:10
  • Or indeed claim, to their listeners, that something is "Islamic" for the same reasons. It can get complicated, but I don't think we can hope to solve it here. – Marc Gravell Oct 17 '12 at 18:47
  • This is the reason I wrote the question because there can be two camps claiming cultural or Islamic reasoning. – Mr. Mr. Oct 17 '12 at 20:05
  • @Monkieboy that's a different question entirely -- "how do I know if X is a cultural or Islamic practice?" – ashes999 Oct 17 '12 at 20:17
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' but the prescription for certain crimes such as theft where the offender loses limbs seem unnecessary,'

You are right that theft of a $100 can not be compared to robbing someone of their life's savings and throwing them on the street.

That is why Quran (the only relevant book when it comes to learning what Islam actually is) provides a range of punishments in the case of someone who not only commits crime but insists on spreading corruption in the land. But if they repent, regret and try to reform then they are not allowed to be punished.

5-32 Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.

5-33 Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and STRIVE UPON EARTH [TO CAUSE] CORRUPTION is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, 5:34 EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO RETURN [REPENTING] BEFORE YOU APPREHEND THEM. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

5:38 [As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah . And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. 5:39 BUT WHOEVER REPENTS AFTER HIS WRONGDOING AND REFORMS, Indeed, Allah will turn to him in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

Hope this helps.

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