In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
The fiqh of Muslim minorities cannot be regarded as an innovation. It is a necessity that Muslims [in non-Muslim countries] are in need of. Its rulings are in conformity with the criteria that scholars consider as to jurisprudence in general.
Responding to your question, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Ash-Shinqiti, Professor of Political Ethics and Religions History at Qatar University, states:
In countries where Muslims represent the minority and are, therefore, not under the rule of an Islamic government, they may face lots of problems that they have to solve in order for their life to go smoothly.
These things they face are totally unlike those that are in the Muslim countries. Here comes the role of the Shari`ah to provide solutions for their problems and to answer their needs.
Fiqh, in its very nature, is mainly concerned with finding solutions to people’s problems and making their life easy in the shade of the Shari`ah.
In no way does this mean transforming the basics of religion or changing its pillars. We cannot say, for example, that people living in a country where they represent a minority do not have to perform a certain Prayer.
Rather, they are required to observe their religious duties. However, the nature of the place, the surrounding environment, and the system may require some solutions to be produced under the general objectives of the Shari`ah, which is mainly concerned with maintaining the five basic things: life, religion, reason, lineage, and property.
Jurisprudence is different from Shari`ah in that sense: Shari`ah refers to the revealed religion as a whole, while jurisprudence refers to how the rules of the Shari`ah are to be applied from the points of view of the jurists.
Hence, there is nothing wrong in having jurisprudence that deals with the issues and conditions peculiar to the Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries.
There are many aspects of difference between the conditions of the Muslims who live as minorities in non-Muslim countries and those representing the majority of the population of the Muslim world.
With this in mind, we are to take into account also that jurisprudence always takes into consideration the difference in the elements of time and place when it comes to prescribing rulings.
Thus, the fiqh of Muslim minorities is not an innovation. The earlier books of jurisprudence have tackled many rulings peculiar to the Muslims who live in countries that do not adopt Islam. It is only the term given to such rulings, i.e. “Fiqh of Muslim minorities” that is innovated, and there is nothing wrong in changing terms.
The scholarly difference referred to in the question in hand may be, rather, considering mixing up jurisprudence with the Shari`ah in people’s minds. There is no Muslim scholar who can agree to having a Shari`ah or Islam peculiar to minorities. So, jurisprudence is not involved in the difference.
Finally, Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, ISNA President and Member of the Fiqh Council of North America, concludes:
Fiqh al-aqalliyyat has arisen in request of Muslims’ state of affairs as a minority in a non-Muslim country and not as a majority living in a Muslim country.
The needs of Muslims living in a non-Muslim country, as well as their conditions and circumstances, may differ from other countries where Muslims live as a majority. In this case, the rules of the Shari`ah that are not decisive can be adjusted in a way that suits them and never puts hardship on them.
For example, voting for political parties in Muslim countries is completely different from non-Muslim countries, because in the former case Muslims have Islamic parties as an option, whereas in the latter case they do not exist.
In this case, some Muslims might get confused that this can go under the category of taking non-Muslims as patrons in a way that is not sanctioned by Islam.
However, under fiqh al-aqalliyyat, this is understood in another sense that Muslims should vote for the party that serves their issues the best.
Globalization has played an important role in bridging the gap between people and has facilitated the means of communication. However, the daily conditions of Muslims differ from one country to another. That is why Muslims in non-Muslim countries need this kind of fiqh.
Almighty Allah knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.