The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: A Missing Dimension of Religion in the Public Square

Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

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The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: A Missing Dimension of Religion in the Public Square

by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

Founding Chairman of the Center for Understanding Islam

Camp Springs, Maryland
February 28th, 2010

  Thank you for inviting me here this Sunday afternoon to summarize for you my new book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: An Islamic Perspective, and to join The Reverend Bruce Marshall of the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in a two-person religious exchange on the missing dimension of religion in the public square, specifically in American foreign policy. 

  As a full-time Muslim student of Islamic law for more than a quarter century and of all the world’s legal systems for more than a quarter century before that, I found most pertinent to today’s discussion the full page in yesterday’s Washington Post, entitled “Should U.S. foreign policy get religion?”  This was in response to public release on Tuesday, February 23, 2010, of the two-year-long study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which recommends that President Obama and the National Security Council make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy”.

  The first panelist in this three-person exchange on integrating religion into U.S. foreign policy, Feisal Abdul Rauf, says “yes”, that the U.S. government should fill the missing dimension of American foreign policy.  It should invoke the constructive wisdom of all the world’s religions in setting a framework for long-range global forecasting and planning.  The Jewish atheist Herb Silverman, head of the Secular Coalition for America says “no”, and Welton Gaddy, leader of the Interfaith Alliance, says “Maybe”.

  Where do these two stark differences of opinion, as well as the waffling, come from.  In all my published writings over the past half century, I have always emphasized that the missing dimension in most policy debates is the role of the participants’ differing premises of thought.  Most of these premises are unknown or at least unarticulated even by the participants themselves, though sometimes they are deliberately hidden for tactical reasons. 

  The underlying difference among premises in current debates about religion in the public square comes from the conviction that “religion” is inherently self-serving and aggressive and therefore should be dropped in favor of the “Golden Rule”.  This conflicts with the conviction that religion at its highest ethical level informed by love of God and neighbor is precisely the most powerful embodiment and expression of the Golden Rule. 

  A good question is whether there is any possible common ground in the premise of natural law, since it has been gaining ground in recent years in all of the world religions as a new paradigm.  Unfortunately, the subject of natural law itself has been a subject of bitter confrontation in America because the Great American Experiment was founded upon it.  Unfortunately, both religious extremists and humanistic extremists have railed against it, allegedly as a covert threat from the Vatican, simply because Roman Catholic scholars over the centuries have been the most sophisticated developers in Europe of natural law theory.

  Actually the most sophisticated concept of natural law was developed jointly by Islamic, Jewish, and Christian scholars in what is known as Andalus or Muslim Spain during and after the Crusades.  It was developed primarily by the great jurisprudents, Maimonides and Al Shatibi, by the great philosophers, Ibn Sina and his student Saint Thomas Aquinas, and by the great mystics, Shaykh Abu’l Hassan al Shadhili of North Africa and his student Saint John of the Cross. 

  Revival of this great flowering of interfaith cooperation has the potential to set the framework today for reaching a consensus on the role of natural law not as a product of revelation, nor of scientific observation, nor even of human reason in interpreting the first two sources, but of all three of them together based on the belief that if anyone sees any contradiction between divine revelation and scientific observation of the universe, including human nature, then one has obviously misunderstood at least one of them.  The study of all three sources of knowledge, which Muslims term, respectively, haqq al yaqin, ‘ain al yaqin, and ‘ilm al yaqin, is the task of what Christians call “moral theology” and Muslims call the maqasid al shari’ah or normative jurisprudence.

  The current revival of natural law in both practice and theory is being led among Christians in America at two levels.  At the level of applied issue analysis the principal leader is perhaps the Evangelical, Jim Wallis, author of the book entitled The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.  At the level of jurisprudential, philosophical, and spiritual theory, this great awakening is being led by the Roman Catholic, Russell Hittinger, especially through his book, The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World.  My review of this book, along with several other recent books, is available in my article, “Taproot to Terrorism: The Loss of Transcendent Law in America and the Muslim World,” published in The Muslim World Book Review, Summer 2005.

  The purpose of natural law theory, writes Hittinger, is to discover or assert the prior premises of law.  These coalesce around three foci: order in the divine mind (metaphorically speaking), 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 is exactly what the greatest Islamic scholars have been saying for untold centuries, which may be why almost all of them were imprisoned, even for decades, by the local tyrants of their time.

  Since we humans link all three sources of knowledge in our own nature, the most basic premise of Islamic thought is that everyone’s nature is to seek truth and love, which in Qur’anic terms is called infaq.  This is the inclination to give rather than take in life, which is the opposite of the dogma known as original sin.  This explains the nature of all law, but especially of Islamic law or shari’ah, which is designed primarily to educate not to be enforced.  When specific rules have to be enforced, the law itself has failed.  The greatest and last classical scholar in Islamic normative law, Al Shatibi, taught six hundred years ago that if any rule of law is applied without reference to its higher purpose or maqsad and within a prioritized framework of the eight or so irreducible highest purposes, known as the maqasid al shari’ah, this law is illegitimate and un-Islamic.

  The single highest purpose and principle of natural law is justice, which has gone out of style in modern America.  President George W. Bush confused justice with simple revenge.  Moral theology and the maqasid are all about justice.  This is nothing more than an expression of truth.  Therefore, justice can be seen as merely another name for truth, which, in turn, reflects the Being and Will of God. 

  In the Shi’a statement of belief, the search for justice comes in priority immediately after and as a response to taqwa or loving awe of God.  Justice comes even before recognition and respect for the third element of Shi’a belief, namely, nubuwah or respect for divine revelation through prophets, because prophetic religion is merely a means to come closer to the presence of God and to both truth and justice. 

  In Sunni Islam, to my regret as a generic Muslim, namely, neither Shi’a nor Sunni, the concept of justice got lost in the shuffle over the centuries, because it threatened the imperialist practice of injustice, so that Islam as a religion had to be reoriented more as a political tool.  Religion in much of the Muslim world was un-Islamic, because it had become little more than an invention of man, rather than revered as a system of guidance available as a gift from a merciful God to those persons who accepted the responsibility to use their brains in understanding and applying this guidance in their personal and social lives.

  A wise balance or misan between the two extremes of brain-dead atheism and brain-dead religiosity was struck in the evaluation of the Chicago Council’s study by the first commentator, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who, together with his wife, Daisy, is among the world’s leading Sufis.  Shaykh Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, which is named after the convivencia or Abrahamic trialogue that flourished in Andalucia or Spain during and after the Crusades many centuries ago.  He is author of the recent book, “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America”.  This was published by the organization with which I have been associated on and off for more than a quarter century, The International Institute of Islamic Thought. 

  This IIIT is leading the way within the Muslim world with its library of new books on the role of natural law in combating extremism among Muslims.  It financed my most recent book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: An Islamic Perspective.  This, God-willing, will be followed by two more books, namely, Rehabilitating the Role of Religion in the World: Laying a New Foundation, now nearing completion, and another book on which I have been working as a former Franciscan monk for many years, entitled, The Natural Law of Love and Reconciliation: A Christian Perspective.

  Imam Abdul Ra’uf writes in yesterday’s Washington Post, “Certainly history has shown that religion and politics can be dangerous things to mix.  But we believe that if the highest ethics of religion are mixed with politics rooted in justice, the combination can be positively powerful and extremely effective.”

  He concludes, “Only by reaching people at their core religious values can diplomacy build coalitions that will produce a sustained peace.  Any agreement must be built from the ground up by engaging religious organizations to provide a broad base of support and to promote reconciliation.  For that reason, we agree with the recommendation of this report that the U.S. government incorporate people with a deep knowledge of religion into the highest policy levels of foreign policy.  And we certainly applaud the conclusion that religion should be viewed as a source of creativity, inspiration, and commitment to human flourishing that can and often does provide enormous opportunities.”

  The issue at hand is challenge and response, as developed more than a decade ago in my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Tapestry Press, 1997, 159 pages.  The most urgent focus on religion in current foreign policy should be, first, on the challenges, especially the fact that during the two decades from 1980 to 2003, according to exhaustive research by Robert Pape in his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, most of the terrorism in the world was not by religiously motivated Muslims but was motivated primarily by foreign occupation.

  The second focus should be on developing a constructive response other than the resort to terroristic counter-terrorism.  The response by both Muslims and non-Muslims should be to counter the extremists in their midst by working jointly on reviving the universal principles of normative law as the best way to delegitimize the apostles of terrorism and thereby deter the ignorant, alienated, and hate-filled recruits from a life of crime against humanity.

  These principles are perhaps best illustrated by eight derived most clearly from the Qur’an.  The first universal principle or maqsad is known as haqq al din.  This requires respect for freedom of religion.  At a secondary level, known as the hajjiyat, this maqsad means that religion should be neither prescribed nor proscribed in public life, that is, neither institutionalized nor forbidden.  This hajja, as developed by the first great successor to Al Shatibi, namely, Mufti Ibn Ashur of Tunisia in 1946, is basic to every level of Islamic normative law.

  The next universal principle, haqq al nafs, requires respect for the individual person.  At the secondary level it requires respect for human life.  At the still more detailed level, known as tahsiniyyat, it teaches the limiting principles of the just war doctrine.

  The next maqsad or universal principle requires respect for the community, haqq al nasl, which is sacred because its component members derive their individual sovereignty directly from God.  This positive form of community loyalty permits authority and sovereignty to ascend from God through the human person upwards from the nuclear family to every higher level of community, including the nation and even all of humankind.

  The fourth maqsad, which has always been assumed but rarely spelled out as an irreducible principle of the Sunnat Allah is haqq al mahid (from wahada) or respect for the physical environment.

  These first four of the eight maqasid al shari’ah are what I call the transcendent or guiding principles.  These are followed by four implementing maqasid.

  Briefly the first of the four is haqq al hurriyah, which requires governmental institutions adequate to promote the self-determination of persons, communities, and nations, based on the four hajjiyat known as khilafa, shurah, ijma, and an independent judiciary.  My book, Rehabilitating the Role of Religion in the World: Laying a New Foundation, has a lengthy chapter on each of these eight universal principles of Islamic law.

  The second of the four applied maqasid is haqq al mal or economic justice.  This requires respect for the decentralization of power through institutional reform, especially in the creation of money and credit designed to promote the universal right of access to individual ownership of wealth producing assets.  The diffusion of capital ownership, while respecting the property rights of all existing owners, is key to reducing the growing wealth gap within and among nations, which is the primary cause of radicalism and has always been the primary cause of civilizational suicide.

  The final set of maqasid requires respect for human dignity (haqq al karama), especially through gender equity, and respect for knowledge (haqq al ‘ilm) through freedom of thought, speech, and assembly.

  As explained in my book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice, terrorism has arisen not merely as a response to foreign occupation, but as a reaction to the accompanying onslaught of a culture that is not based on justice.  The newest existential threat to civilization has arisen because the “terrorists” know that all the dominant paradigms of the twentieth century are bankrupt.  In their hopeless rage, the religious extremists pervert the classical paradigm of religion into a new secular religion so that they can embark on their own rampage of destruction.  What they do not know is that they are creatures of this bankruptcy.  They are part of the problem, not of the solution.  Terrorists are products of Western cultural disintegration, even though they will die for the illusion that they are not.

  The roots of terrorism predate the so-called “Islamic” phenomenon.  This is brilliantly explained in Abdul Hakim Murad’s article, “Bombing without Moonlight: The Origins of Suicidal Terrorism”, in the Spring 2005 issue of Islamica, published in Jordan.  In a companion article, entitled “The Mechanics of Terror”, Jibril Hambel writes, “The actual root cause is the real or imagined failure of a code of beliefs or a set of social conditions [which has produced] a moral/ethical/philosophical vacuum that self-styled reformers and modern-day prophets feel compelled to redress.”

  This phenomenon can be observed during the last hundred years in a succession of failed ideologies, ranging from Communism, to Nazism, to Wahhabi and Neo-Conservative tribalism, all the way to polytheistic “statism” best illustrated by exclusivist and apocalyptic Zionism, as well as by its older counterpart of Christian Zionism in America and by its counterpart in the mad vision of a global political caliphate popularized by Syed Qutb and his acolytes in the proverbial caves of Afgthanistan.  Even, or perhaps especially, the failure of well-intentioned movements among Muslims for freedom and democracy without the higher framework of transcendent justice exposes their followers to the hollowness of their own values and to the contradictions in their own hopes.  Their disillusioned followers resort to nihilistic violence in order to show commitment to the values they lack.  Further failure only escalates the vicious cycle.

  Ignorance of the true solution in the values taught by all the Prophets is why terrorists resort to terror and why their targets resort to terroristic counter-terrorism.  They have no alternative but to destroy each other and themselves, like scorpions in a bottle.

  The best formulation of American foreign policy, though it has not yet been absorbed by many policymakers and think-tank advisers, was given by President Ronald Reagan on February 22, 1983, on Washington’s Birthday, in his first major foreign policy pronouncement, the first draft of which was prepared by John Lenczowski, with a couple of paragraphs from me.

  His basic thrust was to emphasize our “responsibility to work for constructive change, not simply to try to preserve the status quo”.  “History,” he declared, “is not a darkening path twisting inevitably toward tyranny. ... It is the growing determination of men and women of all races and conditions to gain control of their own destinies”. 

  President Reagan called American policy makers, both Republican and Democrat, to recognize, as he put it, “the central focus of politics - the minds, hearts, sympathies, fears, hopes, and aspirations not of governments, but of people - the global electorate”.  He concluded, “The American dream lives - not only in the hearts and minds of our countrymen, but in the hearts and minds of millions of the world’s people in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership.  As long as that dream lives, as long as we continue to defend it, America has a future - and all mankind has reason to hope”.