In the context of Islamic history, liberty has always been in a contradictory position with the sharia (islamic law). Every living muslim person will definitely see sharia as the ultimate guidance that must be implemented in their life. But the question is whether it is necessary to formalized sharia as a kind of public regulation to be implemented at societal level or not. Any person who would wish to see sharia law implemented as social norm must consider the consequences that follow from such implementation. For one, it could greatly affect individual freedom to study and practicing a certain mazhab (school of thought). As Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim (1990) has noted, sharia is basically not the entirety of Islam itself. Sharia is but one out of many interpretations of the sacred text (The Koran) in a certain historical context and condition.
An-Naim argues that sharia as we understand today is a product of ijtihad (intellectual effort) by pioneering jurists in antiquity. Therefore, we can always reconstruct sharia in order to make it more compatible with our own historical context and condition. Sharia is, in fact, dynamic, not static.
This deconstruction and reconstruction of sharia is an effort to harmonize sharia with modern world liberty. It is necessary to understand that the idea of liberty cannot be dismissed from the initial development of Islamic teaching to this day.
Among philosophers in classical Islamic tradition, Ibn Rushyd (Averroes) is the leading philosopher who had attempted to rationalize sharia. Among teologians, the Mu’tazila have been known to be the most fervent group in emphasizing the role of reason in order to protect individual liberty. However, in modern world, liberty has become a complicated matter for the majority of muslims all over the world. A report published by Freedom House (2015) shows how there is almost no guarantee of freedom in most muslim countries.
Tunisia is the only country in the arabic world that has a somewhat passable freedom index, especially after they held a democratic election under a new constitution. Other muslim countries, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, are still struggling with various unfortunate events of violation of liberty. For these countries, liberty seems to be a hard thing to achieve.
This book has successfully captured in sociological context what have to be the main obstacles for these countries to achieve true liberty. The essays collected in this book are authored by scholars from many countries such as Morocco, Pakistan, and the United States. As the consequence, this book contains rich perspectives that we can adopt to study the reality in Islamic world, from the classical to the most contemporary. I think the discussion of economic freedom in this book is the most interesting part, because it is shown in the book that economic freedom may help initiate women emancipation in the Middle East and Northern Africa countries. For a patriarchal society as in those countries, this is indeed an exciting promise.
In this regard, we can refer to Khadija (the first wife of Prophet Muhammad) as an ideal example. Khadija was an independent and hardworking woman who was able to hire Muhammad as her employee and later married him. Khadija is a perfect example of how contradictory sharia law is with the life of Prophet Muhammad by denying economic freedom for women in the name of Islamic Law.
Reviewer: Dida Darul Ulum, researcher at the Megawati Institute