Scholar of Islamic law, Fatima Barkatulla shares her thoughts on what constitutes as “normative Islam”.
Islam means “Surrender to the will of God”. It is the message sent down to humanity as guidance from the Creator of the universe so that they may fulfil the purpose of their creation. It was the religion of the first human beings: Adam and Eve and of every prophet of God after them, whether Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and countless others – they, and their sincere followers were all those who surrendered to God alone, without any partners. In Arabic, the word for a person who surrenders to the will of God is: ‘Muslim’ therefore, all of these prophets and their followers were Muslims.
We love the Prophets (peace be upon them all) equally and we revere them and invite people to follow their true message. We believe that God sent great scriptures for the guidance of humanity. Some of them are: the Torah of Moses, the Injil of Jesus, the Zabur of David, but they no long exist in their original form. Therefore God sent His final message to us- the Qur’an – the final scripture to be revealed to humans, revealed to the final Prophet and messenger of God: Muhammad ﷺ, who was a mercy to the world.
Islam was revealed as the religion of God and has the miraculous flexibility and capacity to apply and be relevant to human beings of every culture and every land and time on earth until the end of time. God’s guidance is full of wisdom and goodness for human beings whether they can always see the wisdom and goodness or not – since He created us, he ordains only what is best for us. Our ultimate goal is to live lives that are pleasing to God, in obedience to Him. And to worship God on His terms so that we may avoid His wrath and be entered into Paradise in the life hereafter. We compassionately invite all human beings to this way of life without any coercion.
Although the Qur’an remains preserved in its original form, the Prophet ﷺ informed us that there would be those who would misuse it and that deviant sects would appear as time went by. However, he also informed us that the main body of Muslims would continue to carry the torch of truth until the end of time and gave Muslims the formula with which to ascertain that they would be guided aright. Certain differences of opinions are valid and a mercy for the Muslims and part of the flexibility of the religion. However other differences are heretical and take a person outside of the pale of Islam.
The Prophet ﷺ advised us that when there is no unified community of Muslims under one leader, we are to stay away from sectarianism and strife and to do our best to follow the teachings of the Qur’an and his authentic Sunnah (the traditions and sayings of Muhammad).
To correctly interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah, he instructed us to hold on to the methodology and understanding of Islam of the Rightly guided Caliphs who were his closest disciples: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali and of the earliest generations after them. He informed us that the Scholars of Islam are the heirs and deputies of the Prophet with unbroken chains of knowledge going back to him and that in his absence; their consensus is binding upon the Muslims.
Therefore, all of the beliefs and teachings that the scholars of Islam of each generation have agreed upon unanimously (therefore establishing Ijma’ or consensus upon) is encompassed under the category of normative Islam.
May God guide and forgive us, for He knows best.
Fatima Barkatulla studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Egypt at prominent institutes such as Al Fajr Center, Qortoba Institute and a college of Al Azhar University, and is an Islamic scholar. She has been an important contributor to the discourse surrounding Muslim women in the West. Fatima has contributed to the Westminster Faith Debates, documentaries and live shows which have been broadcast on BBC Radio, the World Service, as well as BBC Television, Channel 4 and Islam Channel. Additionally, she has also written for The Times, and contributed to The Times Online’s Faith section on topics promoting the understanding of Islam. Currently Fatima is Director of “Seeds of Change” – the biggest Muslim women’s conference in Europe.
You can follow Fatima on Twitter @FatimaBarkatula