August 22, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10764

College Professor And Member Of Qatar-Funded International Union For Muslim Scholars (IUMS) Mutaz Al-Khatib: There Is No Need For Special Jurisprudence For Muslims Living In The West

August 22, 2023
Qatar | Special Dispatch No. 10764

Mutaz Al-Khatib, a Syrian-born professor of Methodology and Ethics at the College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar, and a member of the Qatar-funded International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), recently published three articles posted on the IUMS Arabic-language website. In these articles, he argues against what is commonly known as the Jurisprudence of Muslim minorities living in the West. Al-Khatib contends that the term "jurisprudence of Muslim minorities" lacks relevance since its sources and foundations are no different from mainstream Islamic jurisprudence.

According to Al-Khatib, suggesting that the mere presence of Muslim minorities in the West justifies the creation of a distinct jurisprudence tailored to them raises several issues. Firstly, he maintains that the principles of jurisprudence to be considered before issuing religious edicts remain consistent, regardless of whether the matter involves a minority or a majority. Secondly, he highlights that advocates of the Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities have not adequately explained why they believe the broader guidelines of Islamic jurisprudence are insufficient to address the challenges faced by Muslim minorities. Thirdly, even if one assumes that "religious rulings are linked to the circumstances of the community and the place where they reside," Al-Khatib argues that this does not warrant the establishment of new principles of jurisprudence. He underscores that the scope of jurisprudential principles is confined to general evidence and how it indicates the intentions of the legislator (i.e., the rulings) for accountable individuals.

This report will present selected excerpts from Al-Khatib's articles and the arguments he made against the need for a specialized and separate Islamic jurisprudence for Muslim minorities in the West.

In his first article,[1] published on July 30, 2023, he mentioned that due to the interests expressed by individuals who had attended his speeches on the issue – delivered in at least three events in Europe, including the cities of Frankfurt and Manchester – he decided to write these three articles.

Al-Khatib observes that the discourse surrounding the phrase "Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities" is primarily centered on "terminology and nomenclature, in an effort to justify and clarify its linguistic and terminological basis from both linguistic and terminological perspectives." However, the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), which is a sister organization to IUMS, both connected to the late Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, later affirmed the "validity" of using the phrase. Al-Khatib notes that writers addressing Muslim issues in Europe have embraced the phrase, and that the ECFR has evolved into an entity resembling a jurisprudential authority, aiming to address questions relevant to Muslims, particularly from the perspective of this specific jurisprudence.

Listing three arguments for why the phrase is problematic, Al-Khatib wrote:

"Firstly, we are not dealing here with a linguistic dilemma to investigate the correctness of the terminology based on linguistic and practical usage, in the style of Ibn Biyah. Instead, it is a conceptual and terminological predicament, which will become clear later.

"Secondly, while dividing jurisprudence according to topics or chapters is a common practice, as Al-Qaradawi has stated, dividing it based on groups or geographical locations differs significantly from a methodological standpoint. Consequently, the argument Al-Qaradawi attempted to present here to justify the terminology does not hold. Moreover, the designations 'Jurisprudence of Women' or 'Rulings for Women' fall within the realm of general jurisprudence that revolves around women in all places and times, addressing their specific issues linked to their defined characteristics as women. This is not an independent type of jurisprudence that distinguishes itself with distinctiveness, uniqueness, or a foundational principle, contrary to what is claimed in the so-called 'Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities.'

"Thirdly, my intention is to convey, based on the preceding points, that the term 'Jurisprudence of Minorities' reflects a problematic perspective that has not been critically examined by the proponents of this specialized jurisprudence. It assumes particularity for certain groups of Muslims residing in Europe specifically or the West in general. This assumption almost encapsulates the discourse of 'Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities' and illuminates the concerns of those who advocate it, as well as their approach towards expanding the scope for Western Muslims at times and restricting it at other times, despite the ample scope that traditional Islamic jurisprudence encompasses in the areas they have narrowed down. However, this presumed particularity has imposed a series of ritualistic considerations linked to an identity intended to be formulated for the Muslim community in the West, as seen in matters such as halal food, for instance."

Al-Khatib then disputed the assumption of the particularity of Muslim minorities living in the West, as argued by advocates of the phrase, such as the late Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Mauritanian scholar Abdullah bin Bayyah, and Tunisian Islamic thinker Abdul Majid Al-Najjar. Addressing this assumption in five points, he wrote:

"First Point: The particularity assumption is based on four presuppositions that are subject to dispute, whether in terms of reality or jurisprudence. According to the collective statements of the proponents of the jurisprudence of minorities, especially scholars like Al-Qaradawi, Bin Bayyah, and Al-Najjar:

  • "The particularity of the "cultural submissiveness" that characterizes the relationship between Muslims and the West.

  • "The particularity of legal compulsion, as Muslim minorities are compelled to operate within the societal systems and laws.

  • "The particularity of psychological weakness and cultural pressure.

  • "The particularity of promoting the message and culture of Islam, as specifically expressed by Al-Najjar.

"Second Point: The conflicts in these presumed particularities boil down to their reliance on an ideological perspective that confuses between the Muslim community and the Islamic group. This can be demonstrated in the following ways:

"Firstly, this particularity imposes a constraint on the Islamic presence in the West, limiting the Muslims' interaction with the West (cultural submissiveness, as put by Abdul Majid Al-Najjar), despite the continuous increase in Western Muslims' numbers. They do not fit the criterion of 'migration' [hijra] used in the jurisprudence of minorities, as even the descendants of immigrants have become Western citizens in terms of culture, education, and lifestyle. Therefore, they are not merely immigrants anymore, although their ancestors might have been.

"Secondly, the particularity of Muslim minorities implies an inherent conflict between Western laws and Islamic Sharia, which is a branch of the concept of implementing shari'a in a legal sense, as seen in some 'political Islam' groups.

"Thirdly, the particularity of Muslim minorities mixes religious and cultural aspects, even though Islam has integrated with various cultures throughout history (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, etc.), giving rise to diverse expressions of religiosity influenced by these cultures while maintaining its core essence. Culture, as known, is a component of identity, which complicates discussing a single, fixed identity here. The logic of 'minority' thinking, for instance, hinders Muslims themselves from shaping the new identities of their host countries, where they have become citizens or part of, while also adhering to Islam. Westerners who convert to Islam belong to the same culture, rendering them immune to these religious-cultural tensions. These tensions originate from the habits of the immigrants' home countries and have little to do with the Islamic faith. This raises a new question regarding 'custom' in the European context, which holds significance in Islamic jurisprudence, whether in social interactions or financial transactions. Who defines custom? And what constitutes custom in the European context? This topic requires a separate discussion beyond the scope here.

"Fourthly, the particularity of promoting the culture and the message of Islam assumes the existence of the 'Islamic group' in a political sense, representing the 'Islamic nation.' This places undue burdens on Western Muslims, burdens that are not obligatory and that not all can bear.

"Third Point: I fail to understand how to reconcile the particularity of psychological weakness, cultural pressure, and cultural submissiveness on one hand, with the particularity of promoting the culture and message of Islam on the other, a combination that Abdul Majid Al-Najjar attempted to unify.

"Fourth Point: The particularity assumption creates a situation in which Muslim groups across Europe, despite their varied situations, conditions, cultures, and European laws, are deemed necessary. All members are perceived to be under the same constraints, deserving of a distinct jurisprudence. This places them all under the category of those with valid excuses, meriting a special jurisprudence. This presumes that their situation is not natural, but rather one of emergencies. Hence, the particularity assumption becomes the foundation for exceptional jurisprudence. However, Muslims in the West are part of their Western countries, living within the time and place, while adhering to their faith and sharia. The Western Muslims do not contradict their faith or sharia at the very least, and in Islamic jurisprudence, there is ample flexibility to accommodate various situations and times.

"Fifth Point: The particularity assumption has been amplified to construct the central idea of the Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities, which claims that the situation of these Muslim communities in the West is one of 'general necessity.' This implies that necessity here encompasses both necessity and general need, as understood in the terminology of jurists. This approach sets the stage for developing exceptional jurisprudence based on the general jurisprudence and the general conditions of individuals. This means that the 'particularity of existence' of a Muslim in the Western context specifically leads to the particularity of 'juridical rulings' provided by this special jurisprudence. However, necessity itself is not jurisprudence. If one is faced with a necessity, they have no alternative but to comply with it, without needing a fatwa or searching for a rationale, or justification. Necessity is clear in itself and derives its legitimacy from being a necessity, quantified to its extent, and its assessment is left to individuals and their integrity."

Al-Khatib also disputed the assumptions expressed by some advocates that Muslim minorities in the West have a special identity that should be preserved. He wrote: "It is part of the Identity discourse that was dominant in the 1980s in the face of Arab regimes (post-colonial regimes), and in opposition to colonial and cultural Western powers. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, for example, links the emergence of this jurisprudence to the Muslims in Europe feeling their own identity, the spread of Islamic awakening, and the resolution of resulting challenges. This makes it essential to preserve their 'entity,' 'Islamic affiliation,' 'Islamic identity,' and 'religious identity,' along with their corresponding requisites."

Arguing that the identity in this context has not been clearly defined, Al-Khatib added: "Is religion or religious affiliation synonymous with identity? What is the impact of cultural, social, and customary components on shaping the identity of an individual or a group? The complexity deepens when we consider the diverse backgrounds and cultures of Muslims who have migrated to Europe. This is particularly true if we do not take into account European Muslims or those who were born and raised in Europe, learning and forming their culture and identity within it. Their attachment to the land, its history, and its culture becomes a significant factor that necessitates redefining the concept of identity, freeing it from the legacies of 'the land of disbelief,' within the perspective of minority jurisprudence thinkers, even though many of them have seemingly surpassed that term."

In the second article,[2] published on August 8, 2023, Al-Khatib further argued that the sources of the Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities align with the sources of general Islamic jurisprudence. Based on that, he concluded that "it has no uniqueness other than being based on 'selection,' choosing what it deems suitable for the European context, or emphasizing parts of general jurisprudence that seem more appropriate for minorities. This is a continuation of what has been termed 'selective interpretation.'"

Al-Khatib then emphasized that proponents of the Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities fundamentally base it on the Islamic concept that divides the world into the abode of Islam and the abode of unbelief. According to Al-Khatib, even though Muslim scholars differ on whether religious rulings change according to these divisions, "there is a consensus that religious obligations apply to individual Muslims, regardless of their potential variations based on places and times, according to the general principle."

Furthermore, Al-Khatib noted that the selectivity used by the term's advocates has led some of them to contradict themselves, asking, "how can we build upon the jurisprudential division of the world and its implications, yet not acknowledge the validity of the division at the same time?"

Elaborating on this point, he wrote: "For whoever says that the division of the world is a historical division that is no longer valid or applicable, they cannot utilize it to construct a distinct form of jurisprudence. Just as it is impossible to isolate a part of jurisprudence from its established framework, the established institution, the network of surrounding concepts, the principles, branches, and rules in the language of jurisprudence scholars. This is evident in the division of the world here and in matters like migration, jihad, leadership, authority, and others that violent groups have reclaimed when they applied them to the nation-state in the Arab world, leading to the excommunication of both systems and societies."

"We can understand the advocacy motives within the context of what is called 'Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities' in terms of preserving religious life and the necessity to strengthen the Islamic presence in the West, among other reasons. However, this critical assessment we present here addresses the 'theorization' of the jurisprudence of Muslim minorities to highlight its shortcomings and challenges. This is because the theoretical effort put into the jurisprudence of minorities is fragile, and it has surpassed the limits of its advocational role to delve into the realms of jurisprudential knowledge and principles of jurisprudence."

In the third article, published on August 16, 2023, Al-Khatib noted that there is actually no real need for a Jurisprudence of Muslim Minorities and that "the condition of the minority does not differ from the condition of the majority in the modern context, even though some details may vary that do not warrant establishing a distinct branch of jurisprudence."

He also proposed that on complex political and social issues, Muslims should "resort to applying the concept of choosing the best option and avoiding the worst option due to the absence of pure good. Often, the available choices for an individual can be perplexing."

Al-Khatib concluded by suggesting that Muslims should always seek "common overarching values, encompassing contemporary issues (not just minorities), while clarifying the differences and rationalizing them."[3]


[1], July 30, 2023.

[2], August 8, 2023.

[3], August 16, 2023.

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