Islamic Jurisprudence: Challenge and Response
A Review Article
by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
The Year 2005 witnessed a remarkable challenge to the integrity of divine revelation. The challenge most Muslims have noticed comes from within Islam in the form of Professor Amina Wadud’s substitution of absolutist freedom for normative justice in gender equity and in Dr. Tariq Ramadhan’s one-man campaign calling for a moratorium on the criminal penalties of the hudud.
Dr. Wadud is to be praised if her objective is to apply the Islamic jurisprudential principle of haqq al karama, the duty to respect human dignity, which includes gender justice. But, this maqsud, one of several in the classical Islamic code of human rights known as the maqasid al shari’ah, like all the others, is part of an interdependent whole, which Professor Muna Abu Fadl calls the tawhidian episteme of Islamic thought. The first of these several universal principles, known also as kulliyat and as essentials or dururiyat, is haqq al din, which is the duty to respect divine revelation as expressed in the Qur’an, hadith, and sunna. Professor Wadud’s apparent projection of men as the moral model for women seems to be the motivating factor behind her demand that women may serve as imams or prayer leaders for Muslim canonical prayer. This presents a challenge to the integrity of divine revelation not because of any legal arguments pro and con but because she appears to be adopting a paradigm derived from a secular culture and imposing its baggage with an attitude of take it or leave it. This “liberal” or “progressive” attitude can amount to adoption of the radical doctrine of “abrogation,” according to which Surah Baqara 2:106 (“None of our ayat do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better”) refers not only to the Torah and Gospels but to the Qur’an. (1)
A more serious challenge to divine revelation is apparent in Dr. Tariq Ramadhan’s call for a moratorium on the harsh hudud penalties that clearly are spelled out in the Qur’an. (2) This seems to ignore the normative nature of Islamic law as a system of education, as distinct from the Western system of positivist and prescriptive law, whereby the law exists only to the extent that it is enforced to the letter. Although Dr. Ramadhan did not explicitly call for formal naskh or the abrogation of the hudud, his public call for a moratorium could be and has been construed to amount to the same thing. The purpose of the maqasid al shari’ah, as developed by the greatest Islamic scholars over a period of many centuries until their de facto abolition in Sunni Islam six centuries ago, is to provide wise guidance on applying the fiqh or legal regulations in the context of changing times and conditions. A moratorium therefore could be viewed as a call to abrogate not merely the hudud but the entire body of the maqasid al shari’ah.
An opposite challenge to divine revelation is use of abrogation by ultra-conservatives to delete those portions of the Qur’an that they consider to be liberal. The extreme stresses on the Muslim umma, perhaps now greater than at any time since Ghenghis Khan, is producing a polarization everywhere in the Muslim world between absolutists in support of relativism and absolutists in support of a universal philosophy of alienation, hatred, confrontation, and violence.
This polarization is vulnerable to manipulation by the enemies of Islam who have a stated policy of destroying the violent extremists but may be equally or even more interested in reducing the role of Islam as a religion in the world. This threat to the integrity of divine revelation was spelled out in the recent comprehensive report on U.S. governmental strategy to “reform Islam” from within. (3)
The greatest challenge, however, does not come from within the Muslim umma but from outsiders with a hostile agenda. By far the most serious threat comes not from tabloid horror stories and radio talk-show hosts or fundamentalist Christian preachers, who may stoke the prejudices of the wider populace. The most serious threat comes from elite opinion leaders who man the think-tanks that set the agenda in government and thereby control policy.
Recently, a powerful alliance of four disparate movements has come together in America to form a unified foreign policy in response to the new world disorder that emerged following the relative stability of the half-century-long Cold War. This quadruple alliance consists first of two trends that have originated during the past century. These may be designated as the permanent foreign policy establishment, a rationalistic trend that seeks stability through a balance of power, and the semi-rationalistic movement known as neo-conservatism, which originated in 1957 to project America’s power to build a better world. (4)
The other two movements may be called anti-rationalistic in the sense that a closed ideology trumps objective reason in understanding and dealing with the complex forces of the world. The origins of these two date back more than a century. They are the movement known as Evangelical or apocalyptic millenarianism, and the movement that one might call simply secular Zionism, as distinct from the older mainline Jewish concept of spiritual Zionism.
These four movements or trends differ in their understanding of Islam. They range in descending degrees of openness from the permanent foreign policy establishment, perhaps best typified by Henry Kissinger, to the secular Zionists. They range from those who are mildly optimistic about the chance that Islam properly manipulated might become useful in countering political radicalism to those who assume that Islam is incapable of any constructive role in orchestrating the global future.
By far the most dangerous, at least at the beginning of the 21st century leading up to the war on Iraq and preparations for war on Iran, are the Neo-Conservatives. One of the most articulate of such leaders is Michael Novak, who has a half-million-dollar salary as one of the top intellectuals in America’s first policy think-tank, The American Enterprise Institute.
In ideological support for the Neo-Cons’ first attempt at major expansion, Novak published a seminal article in the April 2003 issue of America’s leading journal on religion in public life. This journal, First Things, was founded in 1984 by Bishop Richard John Neuhaus, a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, shortly after he changed the environment in Washington by his enormously influential book, The Naked Public Square. This not only introduced the popular term “the public square” but used this to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of American society and later of the entire world. This first introduced the religious element into the Neo-Con movement and prepared the way a decade later for an alliance with the so-called Christian Right. This journal and its elite pundits are today the world’s most influential force in shaping policy toward the role of religion, including Islam.
Michael Novak’s seminal article, entitled “The Faith of the Founding,” represents an entirely new approach to Islam, because it is based not on generalizing from the action of extremist Muslims but on denial of the basic fundamentals of Islam as a religion. The newest strategy is to single out the essential truths of Islam, deny that they exist, and assert that their absence constitutes the Islamic threat. This sophisticated strategy may be more effective over the long run than are the simplistic claims of Pat Robertson and Franklyn Graham that Muslims are bandits and are programmed by their vicious cult to kill the infidels, meaning anyone who opposes their plans of global conquest.
In this lead article of the April 2003 issue, Novak writes that all of America’s founding documents “depend for their intelligibility and their credibility upon a distinctively Jewish and Christian view of man’s relation to God that each individual conscience stands in the presence of its Creator by virtue of having been created from nothing. This particular view is held by only two religions. It is not found in Buddhism nor in Hinduism … and not even in that one other religion which also recognized a Creator separate from the created world, Islam. These other world religions are satisfied by outward obeisance. … By contrast, Jews and Christians trembled if asked to make outward obeisance to idols, for they recognized in that act a terrible sin of idolatry.”
His one, two, three punch then follows: “Only Judaism and Christianity among all world religions developed, and still nourish and celebrate, the three central concepts necessary to the American conception of rights. Only they hold to the doctrine that there is a Creator (and Governor of the universe); that each individual owes a personal accounting at the time of Judgment to this Creator, a Judgment that is prior to all claims of civil society or state; and that this inalienable relation between each individual and his Creator occurs in the depths of conscience and reason, and is not reached merely by external bows, bended knees, pilgrimages, or other ritual observances.
“Only Judaism and Christianity,” writes Novak, “have a doctrine of God as Spirit and Truth, Who created the world in order to invite these creatures endowed with intelligence and conscience to enter into friendship with Him. Only the Jewish and Christian God made human beings free, halts the power of Caesar at the boundaries of the human soul, and has commissioned human beings to build civilizations worthy of the liberty He has endowed in them.”
Novak contends that even though some Muslims may be good, Islam is inherently bad because it does not recognize a direct relationship of the person with God and therefore can have no conception of human rights or of government limited by recognition of the sovereignty of God. He brilliantly portrays these as the essential teachings of the traditionalist movement, led originally by the leader of the minority party in the English parliament, Edmund Burke, which led to the founding of the Great American Experiment. And he equally brilliantly rejects as a fraud precisely all that Muslims have always said are the central teachings of their faith. By portraying Islam thus as inimical to the very foundation of America, this scion of the Neo-Con intellectual elite casts Islam as a mortal threat to everything good in the world.
The essence of evil according to the classical Islamic scholars consists of reversing truth and falsehood, which is the definition of the Messiah al Dajjal or Anti-Christ. The challenge to Islamic jurisprudence as a paradigm of thought is to respond to this Neo-Con strategy by turning it on its head in order to change falsehood back to truth. This task requires a much greater sophistication than most Muslims have brought to bear in their own self-defense. The best defense, as every strategist knows, is to mount a good offense by portraying the truth at the same level of sophistication as that used by the opponent.
In the long run, this would require a Muslim university, as recommended in the online journal, The American Muslim, with a budget of $100,000,000 merely to start the first Freshman class and a budget ten times that to start the first graduate schools. (5) This is important because academia feeds new paradigms and expertise into policy think-tanks, which function to shape the political agenda. Whoever controls the agenda controls policy. As yet there are no Muslim think-tanks worthy of the name, and no consideration even about forming any.
In the meantime, Muslim scholars have the task of bringing themselves up to snuff in dealing with the sophisticated non-Muslim thinkers, such as Michael Novak, who provide the supporting rationales for policies that fail to address the real problems of the world. One way to start doing this is simply to digest what non-Muslims themselves are writing to bring reality back into focus.
Pro-Active Support of Pluralism
Since a principal fear of Muslims, especially in America, is that they are the target of growing intolerance, one way to address this issue is to gain perspective on the history of intolerance in America, so that they can more effectively join in the great American effort over the past two centuries to overcome intolerance and replace it with something better.
The best book on this subject, published in 2003 by Yale University Press, is William R. Hutchison’s Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal. The well-known scholar, David Hollinger of U.C. Berkeley, writes that, “This is the most ambitious book yet from the dean of historians of religion in the United States: a wonderfully discerning exploration of how Americans have variously confronted and tried to evade the challenge of religious diversity.” Nathan Glazer of Harvard, perhaps with tongue in cheek, writes, “Hutchison has written a fascinating account of how religious pluralism – a pluralism that now accepts the most distant stretches of religious diversity – has become institutionalized in the United States.”
In fact, the entire thesis of Hutchison’s book is that such pluralism has never been institutionalized in America, much as Americans like to pride themselves on being a model of religious freedom. In a single sentence, this book can be summarized in the assertion that America leads the world in naivete about its own superiority as a pluralistic society.
Like all seminal writers, Hutchison presents his thesis in the form of a new paradigm for analysis. This paradigm is a spectrum that runs from basic tolerance, which means, in effect, “I won’t kill you yet,” to diversity, which means “I can’t stand you, but you are here so I can’t do much about it,” to pluralism, which means “we have so much to learn from each other, because we each have so much to offer.”
Hutchison notes that the growing trend among religious historians is to work “feverishly to chronicle diversities that we and our predecessors ignored or slighted” with the result that they cannot envision an American religious history but only “a great agglomeration of sub-cultural histories” basically unrelated to any coherent story of the past or to any informing vision. Those who object to the “main-line Protestant” story of America try to compensate by leaving out most of the story. He cites William James’ repeated urgings that we need organizing propositions, however, tentative, if we are to get around intellectually in a messy world of particulars.
Calling for “new models for understanding,” Hutchison prefers to balance the popular emphasis on race, class, and gender in examining American history by focusing instead more on the role of religion in general. This permits him to distinguish “between a fact or condition called diversity and an ideal or impulse for which the best term is pluralism.” Diversity is what happened to American religion in the first half of the nineteenth century, and “radical diversification” started to occur only in the last half of the twentieth century. The term pluralism was coined in the 1920s to denote “a state of society in which the members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.” This reflected awareness of a new state of society and of the world or new awareness of an old state, just as other terms have, witness imperialism in the 1850s, liberalism in the 1820s, and racism in the 1930s.
The modern definition of pluralism as signifying an actual welcoming of diversity is a modern concept, which modern historians like to project back, without evidence, into American history. Hutchison writes in his introduction, “Quite obviously, many diversified societies, throughout history, have either lacked pluralist ideals entirely, or have trumpeted such ideals and failed to make good on them. But surely the United States, the champion of religious freedom and scorner of establishments, was famously not that kind of society.” Hutchison’s latest book answers this question decisively, and in the negative.
He observes that the very ideas of religious freedom and pluralism have evolved throughout American history in stages, of which the major ones in this “quietly persistent process of redefinition” are “pluralism as toleration, pluralism as inclusion, and pluralism as participation.”
Hutchison does not dwell on the colonial history of America, which was marked by people who fled the intolerance of Europe only to impose their even worse intolerance in the New World. Summing up the first century of the American Republic, he writes, “Through much of the nineteenth century, a positive response to diversity entailed legal tolerance and social tolerance – each of which could sometimes be little more than an absence of persecution. According to this definition of acceptance, a deviant person or group should be accorded the right to exist and even to thrive, but in general to do so only as an outsider to the dominant religion and culture.” He concluded that the ‘inclusionist” ideology developing during the 19th century “clearly was a move forward in any pluralist perspective,” but “rarely granted to the newly included an equal or proportional right to share in the exercise of cultural authority.” In the field of religion this meant by analogy that, “the newly included sat at the back of the bus.”
Perhaps Hutchison’s most controversial conclusion, because it results in recommendations, is that the “melting pot” ideal “operated to suppress differences far more than to respect and utilize them.” He clearly details the lack of freedom inherent in pressures for “assimilation,” which amounts to both individual and community suicide. Although he has no specific recommendations, the thrust of the entire book advocates what should be called “integration.” This term, which he does not use, means that individuals of each group in society proactively bring the wisdom of their tradition to enrich the overall society in which they live. Hutchison instead uses the term “participation.” “Pluralism by participation,” he writes, “implies a mandate for individuals and groups … to share responsibility for the forming and implementing of the society’s agenda.”
His other important definitional innovation, which is always the mark of seminal thinking, involves the dynamic nature of the very concept of religious freedom. Why have Americans always prided themselves as offering a model of religious freedom, when in fact they never have. He writes, “My answer, not a startling one, is that the mills of ideological and definitional change do grind slowly and that, consequently, the Americans and America watchers of any given era could easily, using time-honored definition, refer to the United States as the showcase for religious pluralism.
When the standard was mere tolerance in the negative sense of not persecuting people who were not mainline Protestant, Americans could argue, because of their ignorance of the world outside of Europe, that they were the most tolerant in the world. Later when diversity gave rise to the concept of inclusion, he writes, “Americans could generally congratulate themselves on the society’s inclusiveness even though ‘inclusion’ involved forms of subordination that many were already viewing as patronizing and generally unacceptable.” On pages 48-49, he cites the popularity of one of the most successful “third parties,” the American Party, which won 21 percent of the popular vote in the election of 1856 on a platform that called for lengthening the naturalization process from five to twenty-five years in order to implement their demand that “Americans must rule America.” These nativists opposed assimilation and the melting pot delusion by trying to exclude everyone who came to America after they did. Yet, they perceived themselves as promoting diversity among Americans and therefore as true descendents of America’s Founders.
The Jews in America at the time labored mightily to gain acceptance and eventually they did, but only by presenting themselves as the best Americans. Hutchison writes on page 126, “In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis reminded everyone that Jews considered themselves not merely as full participants in American life but also as having been players in the drama of the nation’s origins: ‘We are unalterably opposed to political Zionism. The Jews are not a nation, but a religious community. … America is our Zion. Here, in the home of religious liberty we have aided in founding this new Zion’.”
Hutchison’s carefully researched book on America’s religious history details the vast diversity, and he highlights elements that periodically emerge and resurge. One of these is the Protestant ethos of future-mindedness embodied in the mid-19th century slogan “marching upward to Zion,” with its confidence in a secular national mission. In 1885, the Reverend Josiah Strong declared in his best-selling book, Our Country, that the “Anglo Saxon race” was about to conquer the world. “Is there room for reasonable doubt,” he declares rhetorically, “that this race, unless devitalized by alcohol or tobacco, is destined to dispossess many weaker races, assimilate others, and mold the remainder, until, in a very true and important sense, it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind?”
Lest we think this was merely quaint dementia from the past, Hutchison cites a contemporary writer in the April 2002 issue of the Neo-Conservatives’ flag publication, the Weekly Standard, who declared that “troubled lands cry out for enlightened foreign administration.” Hutchison also cites alternative visions of such a utopia, by referring to the corollary claim by Michael Novak, in his 1972 book The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics, that ethnic diversity is acceptable providing that it remains within the enlightened guidance of the designation “Protestant-Catholic-Jew.” Hutchison cites on page 194 the vision of Horace Kallen who called for ethnic diversity in a “symphony of civilization, a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind.” This was basic to the transformation of the term Judeo-Christian from the religious connotation at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 to the new concept of half a century and more later, whereby, as Hutchison expresses it on page 198, “Judeo-Christian became a shorthand term for a worldview, and a set of beliefs, that Jews and Christians held in common.” On page 209 he describes those who conceive this to be “an essentially secular religion of ‘the American Way of Life’ that was really a sociopolitical surrogate for the principal ideologies of Protestant America. … It may, indeed, best be understood as a kind of secularized Puritanism.”
Prefacing such statements from America’s religious history, Hutchison writes on page 73, that this represents the “millennial optimism that featured Americans as a chosen people … with its overwhelming sense that God’s kingdom is advancing, and that the American nation and society are special instruments of this advance. In more technical terms this was post-millennialism, the idea that Christ will not return until after the sanctifying of human society. But those called pre-millenialists, who were a growing minority by the end of the century, and who foresaw little or no earthly improvement before Christ’s return, managed to use much of the same language. According to either version triumph was inevitable.” This tension between what one might call the activists and the passivists has been decisively resolved in the twenty-first century in favor of the activists who themselves must bring the Kingdom of God on earth.
Each generation of Americans has had its own dominant concept of the role of religion, and especially of its own particular brand. Each generation therefore had a different self-righteous understanding of the Declaration of Independence. The participants nowadays in the great upsurge of ecumenical understanding and even cooperation in the early twenty-first century consider that this was advocated by America’s Founders, when, in fact, the latest definition of pluralism as welcoming pro-active integration even of people as “different” as Muslims to improve the overall nation was never contemplated. Indeed, the growing anti-Muslim frenzy of the early twenty-first century is not something new, but merely the continuation of the “always was.”
Hutchison devotes considerable space to the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, in which an official of the U.S. Department of State, an American Muslim convert, Alexander Russell Webb, starred, as an ecumenical breakthrough beyond the Christian denominations. He concludes on page 181, “The Parliament stood for a form of pluralism that went beyond mere toleration, that welcomed and respected difference, but that was also triumphalist and ultimately assimilative. In the worldwide melting pot of religions and cultures, as in the domestic melting pot of which Americans were so proud, difference and strangeness were valued. But there was an implicit, quite crucial condition: You must, eventually at least, become less different, less strange, more ‘like us’.”
Hutchison’s message to Americans is to be more honest with themselves and more modest in their global pretensions, as well as more realistic in their hopes for the future. He says, “The time has not come, if it ever will, for another round of triumphalism – pluralist triumphalism this time – in historical interpretation. Having recognized that religious pluralism over the American centuries has been a work in progress, we must also accept that it still is. … The perennial, indeed primordial, tension between the One and the Many assumes new forms but does not disappear. … Insofar as pluralism now stands for equal participation, nativist concerns about what ‘they’ are doing to ‘our America’ will not disappear, and may intensify” … in response to what “they perceive as a balkanization of American society and the enfeeblement of its religious and moral structures.”
The major deficiency of this book, in the present reviewer’s opinion, is that he does not seem to view the immigration of religiously informed and motivated people from abroad, regardless of their particular tradition, as contributing to the recovery of religion from the oppressive secularization of America’s governing institutions. He does cite on page 33 the example of Thomas Jefferson who in everything but name was a Muslim but managed to gain acceptance and even become one of America’s greatest presidents because he “professed to be saving true religion rather than destroying it.” But Hutchison does not see the increased diversity from the rapidly growing Muslim community as a positive factor in maintaining pluralist balance, nor does he appreciate its potential role in working with Christians to recover all traditionalist religion from those who would hijack it. This suggests that he has not internalized his own paradigm of progress from tolerance to diversity to true pluralism.
The response required of Muslims to the challenge of sophisticated disinformation about both the religion Islam and its Muslim practitioners is to internalize Hutchison’s concept of progress from mere negative tolerance to positive pluralism so that they can move from the present dominant Muslim culture of isolationism and rejectionism toward a culture of ecumenical outreach, understanding, and cooperation.
The older generation of immigrants is probably hopelessly locked into a ghetto mentality that is even less tolerant of non-Muslims than any non-Muslims are of them. A few of the first generation Muslims hve sought to assimilate into popular American culture. But, both of these options amount to suicide.
The outlook is much more promising for their children, in sha’a Allah. The generation gap may accelerate the recidivist rate of drop-outs among their children, and probably will for the majority of them. But, on the other hand, through cooperation with indigenous converts, who have a long history in America, this independence among the younger generation may actually help the second-generation children and third-generation grandchildren move ahead on their own to integrate the best of Islam into America so that together all Americans can complete the American Revolution.
Promoting the Paradigm of Normative Law
The essence of the culture war that is now being waged in America and by extension throughout the world is the paradigmatic confrontation between three forces. These are the positivists, who believe that rationalist man is the source of truth and the measure of everything, the scriptural fundamentalists who believe that revelation without rational thought is all that matters, and the traditionalists, who believe that both reason and revelation in combination are the best source of the wisdom needed to build a society of order, justice, and freedom.
The Muslims of the classical era waged this same culture war, as represented by the Mutazillites, who claimed that reason trumps revelation, the Mutakallimun, who insisted that revelation does not require reason, and the traditionalists, like Abu Hamid al Ghazali, who contended that both are wrong because revelation and reason require each other.
Classical Islamic scholars taught that there are three sources of truth. The first is haqq al yaqin, which consists of divine revelation through prophets for humankind in public community, known as wahy, supplemented by inspiration or ilham strictly for each individual’s own private guidance. The second is haqq al ‘ain, which is natural law evident through the study of the physical universe, including one’s own human nature. The third, haqq al ‘ilm, which consists of both deductive reasoning from revelation and inductive reasoning from scientific study of the signs or ayat of the universe, is not strictly a source of truth but is required to understand the two primary sources.
This classical Islamic understanding is beautifully spelled out in another seminal book that can help Muslims understand the dynamics of Western culture so that they can better bring to it the wisdom of their tradition. This book is Russell Hittinger’s The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World, published in 2003 by ISI Books in Wilmington, Delaware.
This 334-page book is part of the resurgence of natural law theory in America during the past two decades, led more than anyone else by Hittinger himself, who is a preeminent Catholic traditionalist. Steven Long of the University of St. Thomas says, “This is one of the two or three books written in the past hundred years that every person interested in natural law - theologians, philosophers, jurisprudes, moralists - should read.” David Novak of the University of Toronto writes, “Through his great learning and philosophical perspicacity, Hittinger shows how Catholics have the most to contribute to democratic discourse when they are most faithful to their own intellectual tradition. By analogy, members of other religions, who have their own versions of natural law, can be well instructed by both the content and the logic of this excellent book.”
The importance of natural law theory is more important in Western civilization than in any others because arguably the “West” has perpetrated greater evil than any other civilization in human history. From the meta-historical perspective this has raised an almost ontological issue, “Who are we?” The repeated cataclysms of evil since the beginning of the modern era in the French Revolution have originated from the pursuit of materialist utopias, sometimes cast in the garb of religion. This is perhaps inherent in the underlying nature of the West’s three monotheistic and teleological religions, which differ from the cyclical religions of the East by foreseeing an eventual utopia on earth in the “end times.”
The question arises in Western civilization, including Islam, what happens when one abolishes belief in the transcendent as the ultimate source of normative law, whether de jure as in post-modern thought, or only de facto in the politicalization of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity as a cover for alienated individuals to express their hatred through nihilistic violence. In Western culture one is left with the belief that utopia on earth can and must come now.
Furthermore, it is will not come at the behest of God but through the free will of man embodied in a leader or elite group who claim to know the laws of history or promise to create them through their own unlimited power. The purpose of man in the new secular dispensation is to conquer the world through man’s intellect in order to bring forth heaven on earth. This is the ultimate polytheism, because it amounts to the worship not only of oneself but of the human species as God.
Evil, defined as deliberate reversal of truth and falsehood, has been endemic in Western civilization and therefore has challenged philosophers and moral theologians to address the question of our very identity. The self-centered or solipsistic and even autistic perspective is expressed benignly in John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian view that the measure of the good is increase in pleasure and decrease in pain, which was buttressed b the coeval theories of Darwin. This approach was expressed malignantly by Hobbes who claimed that man is a brute who can prosper and even survive only if controlled through an elitist institutionalization of tyranny.
The opposite perspective, taught by all the world’s religions, is that by nature every person is philanthropic, based on the Greek words philos (loving) and anthropos (man), because every person was created to know God, Who loves every person. In other words, a person does not care about and help others simply because this makes him happy, but because this is everyone’s nature, and one can be happy only when one is true to one’s own nature and purpose created by God. This approach is reflected in the Islamic concept of infaq, which is the natural inclination to give rather than take in life and is the basis of charity (sadaqa and zakah). The concepts of aqape or love in Christian moral theology and of infaq in Islam thus are meta-values, basic to all the others. Saint Augustine even argued that no-one can deliberately choose evil without justifying it by some principle in order to make it appear good.
If man is more than a brute and seeks good, can he follow his own nature without guidance from a source beyond himself? The secularists may say, like Jean Jacques Rousseau, that none is necessary because man is primordially good, or simply that none is available since there is no God, or, like the deists, that God created but does not sustain the universe. The essence of all religions, however, including that of the theists who oppose religion in organized forms, is that God is merciful and therefore does provide guidance, because otherwise it would be cruel to hold man accountable for his errors.
The question then becomes in what forms does this guidance come. The simple answer is “natural law.” The classical Islamic term for this is the sunnatu Allahi. Saint Augustine called it in classical Latin the lex aeterna. But, what is and how do access natural law? Is divine revelation natural law, or does science reveal natural law, or does man produce natural law from these first two sources. These are precisely the questions that are answered in the classical Islamical teachings on haqq al yaqin, haqq al ‘ain, and haqq al ‘ilm.
The beauty of Russell Hittinger’s new book, The First Grace, is that unknowingly he spells out the Islamic doctrines for people of all religions in an era when secularists have been downgrading the very concept of natural law to an atavistic and quaint survival from man’s irrelevant past.
The purpose of natural law theory, writes Hittinger, is to discover or assert the prior premises of human law. These coalesce around three foci: order in the divine mind, order in nature, and order in the human mind. Hittinger explains how “the great tradition of natural law allowed each of these foci to have its own salience, depending on the problem at hand.”
This framework gives guidance to the judiciary which is tasked with carrying out the intent of the legislators, who, in turn, are to be guided by a higher law than themselves. Recognition of this higher law is what qualifies representative government as a republic, as distinct from a democracy, which in its radical majoritarian form is nothing more then the tyranny of the mob.
Saint Augustine places natural law within the teleological framework of monotheistic thought, whereby everything in existence functions toward a divine end. Hittinger quotes Saint Augustine on page xxi: “Law denotes a kind of plan (ratio) directing acts toward an end.” This is a perfect summary of the great structure of purposes in Islamic normative law known as the maqasid al shari’ah, the rationale of which derives from the Qur’anic ayah, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice” (wa tamaat kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ‘adlan). In Deuteronomy, the ancient Jews were commanded, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.” Justice is none other than the Will of God for the universe.
Over the course of many centuries, building on the didactic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, the classical Islamic scholars expressed this Will in an elaborate three-tiered architectonics or code of human responsibilities and rights, which both derives from and expresses the divine mind in the transcendent order of reality, the coherent order in the apparent chaos of created nature, and human genius in perceiving the relation between the two.
The task of Muslims in America, as well as generally throughout the world, is to recover their classical heritage of human rights in the normative system of law known as the maqasid al shari’ah. This systemization of what in Christianity is known as moral theology and among secularists as ethics is considered to be law in Islam, because the very definition of Islamic law is justice and the primary function of this law is to educate and guide.
Unfortunately this framework of juristic thought has been essentially dead for six hundred years in the Sunni world, though it has survived among the Shi’a in whose credo or ‘aqida justice comes immediately after awareness of God and before even recognition of prophethood. The challenge to Muslims is to revive their classical jurisprudence of the third through sixth Muslim centuries because this is the only adequate response to those who claim that Muslims are inherently unjust because in Islam as a religion love and justice do not exist.
Success in this venture would show the commonalities and even the identity of informed and enlightened Muslims with the founders of the Great American Experiment so that together traditionalist Americans of all faiths can launch what President Ronald Reagan called a Second American Revolution to perfect the first one.
2 SHARIAH: “ Tariq Ramadan Calls for a Moratorium on Corporal Punishment,” The American Muslim, April, 2005
3 “Hearts, Minds, and Dollars (In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions…To Change the Very Face of Islam),” David E. Kaplan, U.S. News and World Report, April 25, 2005
4 “The Neo-Conservative Alliance: A Constellation of Competing Paradigms,” , Dr. Robert D. Crane, The American Muslim, no 21, May/June 2003, “Policy Paradigms: Key to American Foreign Policy,” ibid., and “The New Pagan Empire: An Ideological Challenge to America and the World,” The American Muslim, no. 20, Mar/Apr 2003,