Tariq Ramadan has published an important new book as a culmination of all the work that he has been doing in a series of books including "In the footsteps of the Prophet", "Western Muslims and the future of Islam", "To be a European Muslim" and "Islam, the West and the challenges of modernity".
Each of these books has been quite important but none more so than this one, which calls for a basic reform in the way in which Islamic law is formulated.
"Radical Reform" calls for a new approach to the formulation of Islamic law based on the spiritual and ethical dimensions of the faith and by taking greater cognisance of the environment in which the law is to be implemented. He bases this call on his interpretation of the history of the original formulation of the body of Islamic laws (Fiqh) by each of the major Muslim scholars that developed their own schools of jurisprudence in the centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).
Unlike a number of Western commentators who have called for fundamental reformation of Islam itself, Ramadan's approach is based on his impressive knowledge of the Holy Quran, the sayings of the Prophet (Hadith) and in depth history of scholarship in the complex science of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). But that of course does not mean that all Muslims will agree or embrace his proposals.
The book is divided into 4 parts - a description of the reform process within Islam, an analysis of the classical approaches to the fundamentals of Islamic law and jurisprudence, his proposal for a new approach to the sources of law and finally, case studies of subjects as diverse as medical practice, culture and the arts, the role of women, ecology, economy, education and ethics.
He of course, does not or could not attempt to provide answers to all of the myriad of questions and challenges faced by Muslim societies in addressing each of these issues in the modern world. But rather he has provided a tremendous effort to considering the fundamental ways in which the formulation of Islamic law has been historically carried out and could be developed much further in the future.
As one example, he mentions the way in which Fiqh councils regularly consult medical experts before they issue fatwas on anything to do with medical practise such as organ donation, abortion etc. This is because the legal scholars that sit on such councils around the world realise that they do not have the technical medical knowledge to be able properly decide what is the best ruling on any such issues despite their in depth knowledge of Islamic ethics, principles and historical approaches to the law. And yet Fiqh Councils do not regularly consult experts in other fields such ecology, economics and science when they make pronouncements on other areas that are beyond their field of specialisation.
He calls for much greater consideration of the natural world and the environment in the determination of law and bases this call on the ways in which the great pioneers of the major Islamic schools of law (Madhab) developed their own approaches.
As he states on p252, "The aim of this book is reform and coherence: reform in the name of coherence. One should know what one wants. If we aim to return to scriptural sources and extract higher objectives and ethical goals, we should then equip ourselves with the means to respect them across history and the diversity of societies. In a time of complex globalization where all the fields of human activity interact and have multidimensional consequences, there can be no question of having an isolated, partial or formalist approach.
Twofold action is necessary in the light of the ethical goals to which we strive to remain faithful: on the one hand we must redefine - for our time - the way, the vision, in terms of the Islamic conception of life (ad-din) and of the common good and interest of humankind (al-maslahah), generally but also for the different areas of human activity (the sciences, education, economy). One the other hand, more detailed specialized studies should be undertaken to get up-to-the-minute knowledge about new developments and of their relations and actual interactions, and thus determine the most realistic and efficient way of acting on the world in the name of ethics and reform for the better."
He hopes to start a global debate amongst Muslim scholars on the need for such a major reform and for a concerted effort to be started on this important undertaking.
It is a bold vision which should lead to some very interesting discussions.