Some intellectuals opine that some Islamic commandments are time/situation specific. They take clue form Hazrat Omar’s (r.a) act whereby he (r.a) suspended punishment/ ‘hadd’ for theft during period of famine. From this fact, they plead that some Islamic commandments are subject to be modified according to imperatives of time/situation. Let us examine this view/logic in the following lines. Before starting the analysis, it is pertinent to define what is time/ situation specific act in Islam. If at the time of enforcement of an Act, any situation is not provided for regarding the Act, and, if due to occurrence of such situation, that Act does not remain enforceable in its original form, such Act is called time specific.
Before analyzing the logic mentioned above, it is pertinent to describe briefly what is the writer’s view about Islam and Islamic thinking. We have already seen there is difference between Islam and Islamic thinking. Islam is what has been revealed in words or Ideas to our Nabi ﷺ. We know Quran was revealed to our Nabi ﷺ in the form of Allah’s Words; and Hadith is what has been revealed to our Nabi ﷺ in the form of Allah’s Ideas expressed in words by our Nabi ﷺ or by Gabriel (a.s) (for details pls see https://secondriseofislam.blogspot.com/2011/09/wahi-and-intuition.html). In other words, Islam is what has reached us through Quran and Hadith; Quran and Hadith are sources of Islam, and Quran and Hadith are Islam.
Islamic thinking is an approach developed through mental exertions by the Muslims of a certain age to solve the problems and issues to be faced by Muslims in that age. It means Islamic thinking is always age specific. Islamic thinking is always based on Islam i.e. Quran and Hadith. Islam is unchangeable but Islamic thinking, being age specific, is changeable. Through Islamic thinking, Islam is neither redefined nor reshaped; rather, through Islamic thinking, solutions of problems and issues pertaining to the present age are sought by the people, on the basis of the principles contained in Islam i.e. Quran and Hadith. Islamic thinking is product of mental exertions of people which apply Islamic principles for seeking solutions of their age/period; but Islam is outcome of wahi . But it does not mean that principles contained in Islam i.e. Quran and Hadith may be understood or discovered without intellectual exertions. In case of Islam, intellectual exertions aim at discovering principles already contained in Islam; but in case of Islamic thinking, intellectual exertions are made to invent or discover solutions of problems/issues pertaining to the present age through application of principles already contained in and discovered in Islam.
Now we turn to above mentioned logic/view presented in favor of time /situation specificity of some Islamic commandments. This view states that not only Islamic thinking but also some commandments of Islam itself are time specific; as mentioned above, they present the example of Hazrat Omar (r.a) who suspended punishment/ ‘hadd’ for theft during period of famine.
In this regard it may be appreciated that Quranic commandments may be broadly divided into two categories i.e. legal and non-legal. Theft has been categorized as a crime for which a specific punishment/ ‘hadd’ has been imposed by Quran. What is needed to be appreciated is that, like every crime, theft is also a crime which has certain ingredients; the ingredients of crimes described in Quran have been stated either in Quran or in Hadith. We know the basic ingredient of every crime is element of intent. If any ingredient of a crime is missing, the crime is supposed to be not committed. In case of theft also, if element of intent is found missing, it would mean there is no crime. If a person takes another person’s property out of legal custody of that other person without the other person’s consent, such act is called theft; but if there is no intention of stealing the property, the act would not be termed as theft even though the property has been taken out of legal custody of the owner without the owner’s consent. For instance if I take someone’s pen out of his draw without his consent and without informing him and put the pen at some other place in the same room, such taking away of pen does not constitute theft, because my intention was not to steal the pen. We also know we are allowed to commit forbidden act for purpose of saving life of himself or someone else. Therefore, when a person takes away someone’s property out of his legal custody without his consent, for saving life of his own or someone else, the intention behind such taking away of property is survival of life, not stealing of property. In other words, if, during period of famine, people are likely to take away other people’s properties for survival of life, such taking away of properties is not supposed to be stealing because element of intention of stealing is not supposed to be present in such cases. In such cases, even if the act of taking away of property is considered to be Theft, such Theft will not be punished because the intention behind such theft is a purpose/motive which allows to commit a forbidden act. It means fair intention behind apparently bad act protects the doer from the punishment of such bad act or turns a bad act no more a bad act ( provided the fair intention must be defined by Islam i.e. Quran and Sunnah). That is why Hazrat Omar (r.a) suspended punishment/ ‘hadd’ of theft during period of famine.
In other words, if hazrat Omar (r.a) suspended ‘hadd’ of theft during period of famine, it was not because the Quranic commandment about the ‘hadd’ was time/ situation specific- as conditions for application of 'hadd' were already provided at the time of enforcement of the 'hadd', the Act does not come under the definition of time specific Act - rather it was because element of intention of stealing was supposedly missing in the alleged acts of theft done during period of famine, or because it was a situation in which stealing was not to be punished. The ‘hadd’ for all crimes including theft cannot be imposed until all ingredients of the crime are present, and these ingredients have been described in Quran and Hadith. Similarly in case of ‘qatl e khata’, there is no element of intention; that is why ‘hadd’/ punishment of murder is not applicable in that case.
From the foregoing we can conclude that Islamic commandments/ principles contained in Quran and Hadith are not time/ situation specific; they are unchangeable. However, as the writer has explained it many times before, if our Nabi ﷺ has adopted contradictory sayings and acts regarding the same issue at various time periods, only such sayings/ acts may be termed as time specific because the contradiction found in such sayings/acts means that such sayings/acts are time specific; and nature of time/situation specificity of such sayings/acts is also unchangeable.