Gender Ethics and Natural Law
Posted Mar 13, 2013

Gender Ethics and Natural Law

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

  The question of gender ethics can be approached by exploring whether natural law is natural and to what extent.  The natural law of gender ethics is indicated in the Qur’an and modern physics.  All sentient beings live in pairs, and these in communities, as do the smallest particles of matter (positive and negative) and the clusters of galaxies.  All function in a dialectic that produces more than the sum of the parts.  From this comes the universal tawhid in the diversity of existence that points to the Oneness of ultimate reality. 

  The polarity and mutual attraction in all physical creation is emphasized in Surah Ya Sin 36:36: “Limitless in His glory is He who has created opposites in whatever the earth produces, and in men’s own selves, and in that of which they as yet have no knowledge”.  Surah al Dhariyat 51:47-49 tells us: “And it is We who have built the universe (sama’a) with Our creative power, and verily it is We who are steadily expanding it.  And the earth We have spread out wide - and how well We have ordered it.  And in everything have we created pairs (zawjayn, (which some linguists translate as ‘opposites’) so that you might bear in mind that God is One”.  This word as an abstract noun, zawjiyah, means harmony or the mutual dependency of opposites as the foundation of the universe.

    The Qur’anic emphasis on community is evident in Surah al An’am 38, which reads, “There is no beast that walks on the earth and no bird that files on its two wings that is not a community like yourselves”.  In Surah al Hujurat 49:13, we read, “O mankind!  We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other”.  Surah al Ma’ida 5:51 teaches us: “To each among you have we prescribed a Law and an Open Way.  If God had so willed, He would have made you a single community (umma), but His plan is to test you in what He has given you, so strive as in a race in all virtues.  The goal of you all is to God”.

    Further on the subject of the naturalness of natural law, as the human intellect can best perceive it, we should consider the counter-clockwise law of physical systems, as suggested last week in “When we revolve around the Ka’aba we are orbiting in the same direction as the whole universe and all the creations of Allah from the tiniest particles, to the largest galaxies, along with the human race unite in praise of Allah.  When we go around the Ka’aba, we are travelling in the land travelled by all the prophets of Allah, from the prophet Adam (alayhi al salam) to the Prophet Muhammad, salah Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam.  The Ka’aba in Makkah is never free from circumbulators.  The Blood inside the human body begins its circulation counter-clockwise.  The electrons of an atom revolve around its nucleus in the same manner as making Tawaf, in a counter-clockwise direction.  The moon revolves around the earth counter-clockwise.  The earth rotates around its own axis in a counter-clockwise direction.  The planets of the Solar system revolve around the sun in a counter-clockwise direction.  The Sun along with its whole Solar system orbits in the galaxy in a counter-clockwise direction.  All the galaxies orbit in the space in a counter-clockwise direction.  And the Tawaf around the Ka’aba is “counter-clockwise”.

  There seems to be something natural in natural law, which may be defined as global ethics or even as an enlightened form of the maqasid al shari’ah, which is based on four premises, as developed in a number of my writings on the inherent harmony of tawhid as the basis of universal natural law, including the three-volume, 900-page textbook, Islam and Muslims, funded by the Center for Understanding Islam. 

    The first premise or characteristic is its holistic ontology, according to which the entire created order exists in unitary harmony.  The things and forces we can observe are real, but their existence comes from God.  They do not exist independently of His purpose.

  The second premise is esthetic.  The nature of transcendent reality, and of all being, is Beauty, which precedes and is independent of cognition.  The flower in the desert is beautiful even if no person sees it.  Beauty, and necessarily therefore the normative law of global ethics consists of unity, symmetry, harmony, depth of meaning, and breadth of applicability.  The greatest beauty is the initial principle of tawhid itself, because without it there could be no science and no human thought at all.  This is of controlling importance, because it means that the ideal system of law should be simple, symmetrical, deep, and comprehensive.

    The third premise is epistemological.  All knowledge is merely a derivative and an affirmation of the unitary harmony inherent in everything that comes from God.  All creation worships God because He is One.  Every person is created with a need and a corresponding intuitive capability to seek and to know transcendent reality and to submit lovingly to God in thought and action.  This epistemological premise reinforces the first two, because it indicates that Islamic jurisprudence as part of a new era of global ethics exists to give meaning to everything man can observe.  And meaning comes from God, Who gives purpose to everything He has created.

    The fourth characteristic of natural law and of everything in existence is purposefulness.  The Qur’an again and again states that everything has been created with a purpose, so our task is to find out what this is.  As Thomas Merton once said, and as every world religion teaches, “Every person’s true identity is the person God created one to be.  So seek what this is and become what one already is”.

  The highest calling for all of us in the quest for truth, love, and justice is to recognize that charity is essential in both intent and practice, but the pursuit of justice through interfaith harmony and cooperation is equally essential in order to actualize for everyone the basic human rights of peace, prosperity, and freedom.

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