Islamic Apologetics and Interfaith Cooperation

Islamic Apologetics and Interfaith Cooperation

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

      Academics, led by Christianity’s perhaps leading theologian, Hans Kung, and developed in his trio of 1,000-page books on Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, have introduced a new concept and issue termed essentialism.  The practical question is whether Islam has an essence and is transcendent beyond time and space and therefore indeed exists.  The counter-argument is that Islam or any other religion can never be more than what its adherents practice from one country to another and one century to the next. 

Contextualization is useful to explain controversial texts and to defend the ontological existence of religion and religions, but focus on contexts can serve also as grist for the mill of ideological relativists and secularist phenomenologists, who insist that Islam is what we perceive every day in the popular media and can never be more than that. 

If there is a transcendent essence of Islam, its basic nature is purposive.  This means that all questions of right or wrong may be referred to highest-level purposes (maqasid), also known as universal principles (kulliyat) and as essentials (dururiyat), and to muftis or jurisprudents as their interpreters.  Specific applications in the fiqh, including the rules and regulations about specific punishments or hudud, are the responsibility of the judges or qadis, including whether prescribed punishments from whatever source merely set upper limits and need be applied at all. 

      This system of jurisprudence is unique to Islam among all the world legal systems, though unfortunately, at least in the Sunni world, this system of maqasid al shari’ah was dead for 600 years until quite recently.  It is still viciously attacked by the Salafis who insist that literalism should always overrule any use of our rational intellect, as contrasted with the opposite extremists, the Muta’zillites, who believed that reason always trumps text. 

      The new movement of wasatiyah supports the concept of classical Roman Catholic tradition that if there appears to be any conflict between faith and reason then one’s understanding of at least one of the two must be wrong.  This new jurisprudential movement is represented in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies by the Center for Islamic Moderation and Renewal and by Tariq Ramadan’s associated Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics. 

      My own Center for the Study of Contemporary Muslim Thought and Societies, which focuses on the past, present, and possible future differences between the “is” and the “ought”, is helping to revive classical Islamic thought as what might be called the Sunnat Allah or natural law and its application in global ethics, which was the foundation of the Great American Experiment based on the Scottish Enlightenment.

      Examples of this revived traditionalist jurisprudence, found in one form or another in all the world religions today, are the following ultra-short answers to four issues raised at Dr. Muhammad Ali Chaudry’s Rutgers University class for adult education in March, 2013.  The answers below are highly condensed from the new 900-page, three-volume textbook, Islam and Muslims, prepared by the Center for Understanding Islam, which Dr. Chaudry founded immediately after 9/11 to explain Islam to Muslims so that they can explain it to others.  The issues raised are from Bob Abrahams in response to the video, “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet”.

1)  Issue:  In the video it was stated on multiple occasions that killing is abhorrent and arms should be taken up only in the cause of self-defense.  Yet there seems to be a contradiction when it is stated that killing is sanctioned when “evil ideology” comes into the world.  Evil ideology is not well defined.

Answer:  There is no mention of “evil ideology” in any of the basic sources, and certainly evil thought without action is no excuse for killing anyone.  Refer to haqq al nafs (including haqq al haya) and haqq al ‘ilm.

2)  Issue:  Mohammed’s attacks on Mecca did not seem to be in self- defense.

Answer:  Makkah had been engaged in aggressive war against Madina for a decade.  The liberation of Makkah was peaceful because the Makkans had already lost their war of aggression and had no choice but to stop fighting.  Refer to the irreducible jurisprudential principle or maqsad known as haqq al nafs or respect for the human person, and to its hajja or second order principle known as haqq al haya or right to life, and to its seven limitations or third order tahsiniyat in the just war doctrine.

3)  Issue:  Once he defeated Mecca, he did give amnesty to his kinfolk and neighbors, but when the Jews of Medina were determined - it seems without trial - to be traitors who sided with Mecca against Medina, Mohammed’s judgment was that the Jews, as an entire entity, were guilty of this crime and were treated harshly, en masse.

Answer:  There were trials of the traitorous tribes.  In the most famous of the three cases, the Jewish tribe itself was permitted to choose a judge representing its own religion.  He used Jewish law, which stipulated that the leaders among the men should be executed for treason and the entire tribe should be expelled.  Refer to haqq al din in the basic sense known as freedom of religion.

4)  Issue:  Requiring all inhabitants to sign on to the Pact of Medina did not leave room for freedom of choice or any opportunity to dissent.

Answer:  The Constitution of Madina as perhaps the world’s first formal constitution was designed to resolve irresolvable tribal conflicts.  All of the tribes or nations in Madina welcomed its provisions as the equivalent of what today would be called an Abrahamic Federation.  Its provisions forbade any of the tribes from allying with external enemies of any other tribe.  They should support each other in foreign affairs, but were free otherwise.  Some of the Jewish tribes violated this provision when they thought that the Makkans might win.  Refer to the maqsad, haqq al nasl or respect for human community.

Dr. Robert Crane, Full Professor - Center of the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies
Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University