Bearing in mind that society undergoes perpetual change, how can one cling to fixed laws administering human life successfully? Is it rationally possible to have Islamic systems in this sense?
To answer this question in detail requires a lengthy discussion that goes beyond the limits of this paper. Nevertheless, we can note some relevant general points here. Paying attention to the following facts will illustrate that having Islamic systems is not only possible but indispensable also should we think of Islam as a religion with a special vision for mankind.
Saying that Islam has a particular universal unalterable economic system amounts to saying that Islam tries to institutionalize a set of values and execute a set of norms and see that a set of beliefs flourishes so that the objectives Islam seeks are realized. Consequently, changes in the system are allowed so far as they remain within the boundaries set by Islamic beliefs, norms, and objectives. Any change, however, that breaches the limit is refused. Being unalterable and universal means that Islamic economic system blocks some changes and tries to put the alterations in line with the general direction it dictates so that Islamic values and objectives remain always in sight.
It is senseless to speak about a change in fundamental beliefs, values, or objectives. We may allow evolution in our understanding beliefs, values, and objectives. This is possible but harmless. For instance, belief in monotheism is fundamental but may be interpreted in different ways. As human knowledge develops, his understanding of monotheism also enhances. But different understanding does not entail change of the basis. As our understanding of Islamic beliefs, values, and objectives grows more sophisticated, we can understand universal unalterable Islamic economic system which is based on them better. We may come to see some aspects hitherto hidden. Change in the Islamic beliefs or values or objectives means that we move from belief in monotheism to belief in polytheism. This is obviously absurd.
What kind of alteration may be conceived in the behavioral patterns objectifying relations connecting participants to each other and to resources?
By technological advancement, new resources are discovered and new instruments are invented for the utilization of these resources thereby multiplying human capability for exploitation of natural wealth. In the meantime, communication technology and transaction means and transportation facilities develop. While transactions were once carried out by means of gold and silver coins, bills replaced them some day and are going to give their place to credit cards. These changes go on no doubt but do they mean a change in economic relations or behavioral patterns?
The answer seems to be negative. One piece of evidence to support this claim is that capitalist system has undergone drastic changes of this type during the last decade yet its fundamental principles and behavioral patterns and economic relations have by and large remained intact. Focus on consumption pattern in capitalism for instance. Consumers’ motives, behavioral norms and limits constitute this pattern. The consummation drive is to maximize utility and pleasure. Behavioral norms dictate preferring more consumption to less consumption. The limit is an individual’s income. What changes in this pattern are seen to have taken place in the past one hundred years?
Hardly can anyone doubt that capitalism is not only functioning along the same general outlines but also tries to globalize them. The same thing applies to capitalistic patterns of investment, saving and production. Advanced techniques of production, transaction, and transfer of information need not necessarily bring about changes in behavior al patterns and economic relations. It is the role of economic schools whether divine or otherwise to guide the system towards the ideals set. In Islam, these ideals are sublime. The patterns introduced in the Islamic economic system guide behavioral patterns in a manner conducive to both economic objectives such as growth, justice, independence, and general welfare, and conducive to spiritual ends of perfection and proximity to God. For this reason, any changes in these patterns will jeopardize the progress of human society towards perfection. Therefore, no change is allowed.
Islamic laws are so legislated by God to be flexible towards some changes. Since Sharia law is meant to manage human life, it is designed in a way that leads to a particular set of behavior patterns applicable in a variety of economic circumstances. They are true main features in Sharia laws that accommodates for the said flexibility. 1- Legislation of Sharia law is done through conditional statements, i.e. the consequence of these conditional statements is true of all instances of the antecedent. Consequently, when it is said, for example, that “God permits transactions”, what you understand from it is that all different kinds of transactions including those existing in the time of revelation and those which will emerge in the future as the result of technological advancement and scientific progress are permitted by God.In the same way, when the Koran says, “God prohibits usury”, we understand that all instances of usury including the interest involved in modern banking system are prohibited. 2- The subject matter of some of the Sharia laws is a concept of a wider semantic scope that covers concepts of smaller scope such as sale, rent, and sharing. The Koranic verse saying “O believers! Remain committed to promises,” is an example. The majority of Muslim jurists understand from this verse of the Koran that whatever rational transactions that societies acknowledge are considered as promises which are religiously binding. Such general principles in Sharia law pavethe way for the necessary flexibility of the regulations to cope with the altering situations in human life.
A methodological analysis of the process of legislation of Islamic rules can reveal other characteristic features guaranteeing sufficient flexibility in Sharia. So long as the objectives, the fundamental principles, and the general direction are not lost, the changes in actual circumstances of life are covered and tolerated.