Note: What follows is an interview of Mr Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. The interview was conducted by NaseebVibes. They very irresponsibly documented the interview and attributed to Mr Ghamidi many grave errors and then uploaded to their website without our approval. Despite many requests, they have obstinately denied to change it. We feel it necessary to provide our people with the exact version of the interview that we own.
VIBES: What is Al-Mawrid’s objective and how successful has it been?
Javed Ghamidi: The objectives of the Institute are to conduct and facilitate academic and research work on Islamic Sciences, to educate people on its basis and to publish and disseminate it through all available means. It is a long journey and we have a way to go. We would like to see a series of such centers open up around the country with similar goals.
VIBES: Does Ijtihad need to be context specific? Can Muslims in two different contexts apply Islam in opposite manners?
Javed Ghamidi: First of all, we need to appreciate that Ijtihad is not done in the religion revealed by God. In the sphere of religion, what we try to do is to understand it properly. We therefore do not conduct Ijtihad in the revealed religion.
As for other matters, we have nothing but our own sense and reason to rely on. While deciding about these matters, we definitely take into account the spirit underlying the directives revealed and the common benefit of all people. Thus, we make use of Ijtihad in such matters.
It has also to be understood that content of the divine religion is very limited. Perhaps, it covers almost 10% of the activities of human life on this planet. The rest is to be based upon Ijtihad.
VIBES: There is no formal institution (or clerical class) in Sunni Islam to conduct and enforce the correct Ijtihad. Do you think this has been hurdle in the formation and practice of Ijtihad?
Javed Ghamidi: It is very good that there is no such institution. Otherwise, there is a danger of theocracy emerging. In any case, it is a misconception that the gates of ijtihad have been closed. They have never been closed.
The very fact that Muslims have accepted democracy is an ijtihad. Muslims have always put emphasis on consensus as the way to solve issues. The West has improved the idea of consensus by evolving it into a systematic approach. Be it in the form of parliamentary democracy or other political systems. That evolution is an example of ijtihad. Muslims have accepted this. So the lack of a clerical class is not a hurdle.
VIBES: Is interest in the form used today in most countries haram?
Javed Ghamidi: Interest is a moral evil. Much like bribery is a moral wrong. The religion has only pointed out to the immorality of taking interest. The economists of today also acknowledge that it is unethical to charge interest. However, people engage in interest based transactions because they do not have an alternative system, and know not the way getting out of an economy based on interest. Though Al-Azhar and other scholars have allowed commercial interest, it doesn’t mean they no longer see it as a moral evil. It is a wrong that we have accepted temporarily because we have yet to find a viable alternative.
Just as an underpaid official accepts bribes to support his family, that doesn’t make it right. We have to create the conditions whereby those immoral activities are not perpetuated.
VIBES: Can a state define who is Muslim and who is not?
Javed Ghamidi: It seems more appropriate if the state does not interfere in the matter of deciding who is and who is not a Muslim.
VIBES: Is hijab (i.e. covering face) a mandatory Islamic requirement, and was it ever a mandatory requirement?
Javed Ghamidi: There is absolutely no foundation for this in Islam. The Holy Qur’an prescribes four directives in this regard, of which the two are for both men and women alike, and the two are related to women alone because of their special characteristics. These directives may be explained as: when men and women meet, they should restrain their gazes and cover their private parts well. The women, in addition, are required to cover their bosoms and not to display their ornaments except for those which are worn on body parts that are naturally kept uncovered.
VIBES: Are secular ideals – the state doesn’t adopt anyone’s religion as a source of laws – compatible with Islam’s view of how a government can be run?
Javed Ghamidi: The importance of secularism for the West emerged as a reaction from the theocratic environment imposed by the Christian church. Since Muslims do not have the theocratic environment, there was never a need to rebel against deen or religion in that manner. Secondly, Islam is pure democracy. The majority’s say in society has more significance. Thus if a people want religious laws, they are welcome to do so through a legislative process.
VIBES: Can a female be a head of an Islamic State?
Javed Ghamidi: Yes, it is completely legitimate for a female to be the head of an Islamic State. There is nothing in the Islamic Shari’ah that disallows women to contest as leaders of a state.
VIBES: You were one of the very few scholars to accept Amina Wadud leading mixed -gender prayers. How does it feel to be out in the left-field on this issue?
Javed Ghamidi: A female leading mixed prayer is not a matter of religious right or wrong. The Shari’ah has not forbidden women to lead mixed gender prayers. Scholars have had differing opinions on this. In ‘Bidayatul Mujtahid’, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) states that some scholars were opposed to females leading mixed gender prayers. Others only allowed female Imams to lead female congregations. Yet, there are many scholars (ex. Abu Thawr) who have gone against the majority opinion and stated that there is nothing wrong with female lead mixed gender prayers.
If Amina Wadud has done anything wrong, it is to break a tradition – not an Islamic code. She definitely has not contravened a Shari’ah directive.
VIBES: How do you respond to critics who claim you are creating bid’a and coming up with innovations in Islam?
Javed Ghamidi: I have come across people who agree with me and many who do not. All I can say is that I base my research and knowledge on the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, pbuh.
VIBES: You have said in a TV show that it is not reasonable to punish homosexuals. Is that not going against the tenets of Islam?
Javed Ghamidi: I am afraid that is not correct. I have not said it is not reasonable to punish homosexuals. What I said is that the Islamic Shari’ah has not prescribed a punishment for homosexuality. If the society decides a punishment, I have no objection to that. In addition, I should say that homosexuality is a horrible sin. The Holy Qur’an is very clear about the fact that the only way for a person to satisfy his sexual urge is to marry a member of the opposite sex.
VIBES: Many American Muslims face a dilemma in terms of their religion and their national identity. How should they reconcile the two?
Javed Ghamidi: Obviously, one should not disobey the laws of where one lives. You may leave the country where you feel restless and unsettled. It is your choice. However, the Holy Qur’an only requires you to migrate from a country when you are persecuted for acting upon the religion of God.
VIBES: On a more personal note, what inspired you? Who was your inspiration?
Javed Ghamidi: My teacher Amin Ehsan Islahi (died 1999) has been my inspiration.