Vicegerency and Gender Justice in Islam

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This chapter summarizes Islamic view of life as a system and analyzes some implications of this system for family and male-female relationships. It is necessary, therefore, to replace the conceived notion that Islam is a religion limited to the ritual acts of worship (the five pillars) with the affirmation that Islam is a system designed for a purpose, and that this system is either accepted as a whole, understood within its ontological worldview, and acted upon within its components, or its practice may not be total. It is as important to understand that one cannot be operating partially within this system and still claim it as the base of operation. That is because whenever something is not accomplished according to what the system was designed to achieve one cannot discredit the system for not fulfilling its goals. One might understand the reason(s) that have lead to the unexpected results, rather, by exploring the steps that may have been missed during the application.

I am proposing that Islam as a system or an ideology has a central concept (or an essence) around which certain principles (or secondary and tertiary concepts) are built. These principles vary in their priority depending on their closeness to objectifying the central concept. The closer they are, the higher value they should be given and the more consideration they should receive in application of the system. Then on the outer circle (of the imaginary diagram) there are the auxiliary hypotheses (or the manifestations) which, if were appropriated within the framework of the central concept and with the essence of the principles as the base, will achieve the intended results (or the outcome) of the system.

The focus of this paper is on the Islamic principle of al-Khilafah (vicegerency of human beings to Allah as the Only God and the Supreme Guide), its social implications for the family, and where and how its manifestations may have been mistaken for its essence. Al-Khilafah is the purpose of the Islamic system, that is, fulfilling the purpose of creation and the will of Allah through human morality. The first part of the argument is that the principle of al-khilafah has been generally understood by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and has been practiced by the majority of Muslims on its manifestation level and not at the essence level of the principle. Furthermore, the perception (conception and practice) of this principle has been generally outside the Islamic ontological view and without consideration of the central concept of Islam, Tawhid (the Oneness of God and humanity).

The second part of the argument will be stated as follows. Unless scholars, Muslims or non-Muslims, who are concerned with the study of Islamic family realize the different conceptual levels of the Islamic system, understand the variation in the implications of the different conceptualizations, and use the central concept as the epistemological base, their attempt to understand or prescribe solutions to injustice in male-female relations in the Muslim family will fail. Also, as long as Muslims are practicing the principle of al Khilafah and its social and political implications on the manifestation level only, they will not fulfill that principle nor the central concept of Islam, Tawhid.

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Copyright 1996, University Press of Florida. This is a pre-copyedited version of an article accepted for publication in the edited book Islamic Identity and the Struggle for Justice following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available through the University Press of Florida: See also:


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University Press of Florida


Islamic view of life as a system; Male-female relations; Islam's central concept; Khilafa (vicegerency); Gender justice


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In Islamic Identity and the Struggle for Justice. Edited by Nimat Hafez Barazangi, M. Raquibuz Zaman, and Omar Afzal. University Press of Florida (1996): 77-94

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