بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Sunday 5 August 2007.
By Mahgoub El-Tigani
In this paper, attention is paid to Pope Benedict XVI lecture, which touched upon Muslim thought at a meeting with the representatives of science on faith, reason and the university memories and reflections.
The Pope opened his speech with emphasis on the fact that “the freedom of thought allows discussion of God’s existence with human reason.” Related to a medieval critique of Muslim faith by a Christian emperor, the Pope discussed theological approaches on “the structures of faith, especially with the image of God and of man” that criticized issues of reason and faith in Islam and challenges of the day.
Christian theology and Islamic Jurisprudence are both extremely complex with outstanding divergences in philosophy and epistemology. Still, interesting convergences may be possibly detected, and then further developed with some "consensual" methodologies on the basis of comparative thinking and acceptable deductions.
The emphasis on the need to tackle issues of thought with patience and openness - in good faith and critical thinking - is essentially required. It is a legacy of the spiritual prophets and messengers of different religions, as well as many objective secularists, that should be positively encouraged.
The Pope’s lecture provided an interesting treatise on Christian faith and reason with a compelling focus on Islam. This paper makes a brief sociological attempt to clarify the philosophy and schools of Islamic thought, exploring sociological comparisons between the two religions, and concluding in a few findings.
THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media an regardless of frontiers” (Article 19).
The freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Article 18 is further guaranteed by Article 19 on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In the case of a conflict between the freedom of religion and the freedom of opinion, as occurred in the case of cartoons by Danish artists deemed insulting by Muslims all over the world, other articles in the Declaration must be immediately recalled.
Article 29 states: “1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible; 2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”
INTERNATIONAL LIMITATIONS OF FREEDOMS
According to Article 29 of the UDHR, the limitations should be: 1) determined by law; 2) solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others; and 3) meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” At this point, it is important to mention the Danish cartoons that created a hostile dispute with Muslims all over the globe in a short while before the Pope’s speech.
“The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy began after twelve editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 2005-09-30. The newspaper explained that this publication was a contribution to debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. In response, Danish Muslim organizations held public protests and spread knowledge of Jyllands-Posten’s publication. As the controversy grew, examples of the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries, which led to violent as well as peaceful protests, including rioting particularly in the Muslim world.”
“Supporters of the cartoons claim they illustrate an important issue in a period of Islamic extremist terrorism and that their publication is a legitimate exercise of the right of free speech. They also claim that similar cartoons about other religions are frequently printed, arguing that the followers of Islam were not targeted in a discriminatory way. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark’s worst international crisis since World War II.” All in all, the insulting cartoons fueled an ongoing crisis of communication and lack of understanding between the largely Christian West and the Muslim world population.
As the UDHR stipulates, the national laws should secure due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and meet the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. The extent to which the Danish cartoonists recognized the right of Danish Muslims to preserve the dignity and respect of the most holy personality in their daily life, namely Prophet Muhammad, remains open. Equally importantly, the cartoonist’s obligation to the “just requirements of morality” with respect to their Muslim counterparts in “a democratic society” posits another critical problem.
21ST CENTURY’S MEDIEVAL PANORAMA
The modes, methods, and legitimacy of synthesizing interpretations of the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam, with social science theories and philosophical doctrines, including philosophers and/or jurists, are genuinely different from Christian theology. This is a fundamental fact that is strongly stressed to advance the analysis of this paper, as well as the ongoing inter-faith dialogues between Islam and Christianity, as well as the other religions and belief systems all over the world.
Pope Benedict’s professorial address received different responses from concerned parties and interested individuals that discussed its theological content, scholarly meanings, and policy implications. His treatise, with its high level of significance, has necessarily invited greater attention by readers and analysts, especially those whose faith has been directly addressed by it.
In his mention of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus debate with his Muslim interlocutor, the Pope said the emperor’s question was turned “somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Strictly speaking, the Muslim belief in the words of the Qur’an, the pure words of God that had been revealed from Him unto Muhammad who taught the Muslims about them word by word until his death, is a lifetime obligation for all Muslims. The citation of the emperor’s opinion aroused Muslim protest similar to the escalated counter of the Danish cartoons. The protesting Muslims recalled the“critics of the cartoons [who] describe them as Islamophobic and/or argue that they are blasphemous to people of the Muslim faith, intended to humiliate a marginalized Danish minority, and that they are a manifestation of ignorance about the history of western imperialism, from colonialism to the current conflicts in the Middle East.”
Christian commentators criticized the Muslim massive rejection of the Pope’s citation of the emperor’s attack on Muhammad, for example Soenke Franzen’s comment: “Muslim Leaders, obviously incapable to grasp the context of even this small part of the Pope’s lecture call for him to ask for their pardon and whip up their illiterate followers to burn churches and slay Christians.”
On the contrary, James Carroll affirmed “The patently false characterization of Mohammed’s teaching, displaying an ignorance of the Koran [Qur’an], of the magnificence of Islamic devotion, and of history was offered almost as an aside in the pope’s otherwise esoteric lecture about reason and faith. After Muslim uproar, the pope, while not really apologizing, insisted he had meant no harm.”
Uri Avnery asserted that “the Pope describes what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God’s actions, Muslims deny there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.”
Some questioned the Pope’s intention. Referring to The Guardian, Carl Olson wrote: “Pope Benedict XVI’s short papacy has marked a significant departure from the previous pope’s stance on interreligious dialogue… John Paul addressed himself to the ancient enmity between Muslims and Catholics; he apologised for the Crusades and was the first Pope to visit a mosque during a visit to Syria in 2001.” Other commentators noted the Pope’s speech on Islam entailed “opposite statements… Did he have other purposes?”
Despite repeated statements that his intent was not aimed to support the emperor’s words but to tackle the issue of “jihad” as part of the speech, the citation of the emperor’s statement, however, was seen as an offensive against the Muslim ultimate veneration of Prophet Muhammad in the first place.
The emperor’s words on Islam were harsh; still refutable by Muslim thought, as well as historical evidence. Abdi Noyan Ozkaya criticized “the Turkish press focuses on the controversial part of the Pope’s speech and presents the quotations as if they were the words of the Pope. This leads to misunderstanding… However, the Pope’s example (i.e., the emperor’s view on Muhammad] is extremely irrelevant for a speech calling for intercultural dialogues.”
Mustapha Cherif, an expert on Islam at the University of Algiers, told the Pope: “We are convinced that Your Holiness will say what is right in regard to the problems of the world so that injustices and racism will recede. He shared fully the idea that we have need of objective critical thought and messages of fraternity." Cherif said he expressed his vision of Islam and "the Pope listened to me with kindness. In regard to violence, I explained that Islam asks each one of its believers to forgive in the face of adversity, to be patient and merciful. Islam codifies in a strict manner recourse to the ’just war’ - which the Prophet described as ’little’ jihad - as legitimate defense.”
These points were elucidating: “The principle of the "just war" and not of the "holy war" implies "never being the aggressor, protecting civilians - and in particular Christian monks, the weak - the environment and always being Equitable … St. Augustine did not propose something different. He assented with a smile … The great jihad is the effort for self-control, toward spiritual elevation, toward beautiful works. This definition seemed to him to be a salutary illumination, which should be known."
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS
The Pope lamented, with reference to the emperor that, “the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. … Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat].” Also, the Pope noted that, “naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.”
The Muslim interpretations of verse 256 in Sura 2 al-Baqara, however, differentiate between: 1) the intent and meaning of the revelation and 2) the political status of Muhammad at the time of that revelation. Moreover, there is a clear problem with theorizing the Qur’an as verses “developed and recorded.” As previously emphasized, the Muslim faith in the Qur’an and what it contains is not a matter of “developed instructions, developed, and later recorded in it.”
The sensitive difference between the Pope’s statement and the Muslim understanding of verse 256 indicates clearly a major fact: The West and the Muslim World are two different entities with different modes of thought, faith, ideology, and cultural values. Although common concerns tied up the two worlds in past or present times with respect to humanitarian affairs, political interests, and educational exchanges among other interactions, there is a documented history of wars, hostilities, and prejudices between them.
The differences between Muslim and Western societies are genuine with respect to socio-legal and judicial systems, criminal justice, politics, family relations, ideologies and world outlooks. Batteries of intellectual projects are obviously needed to close the existing gap between the concerns of Muslim societies with justice, according to Islam on the one hand, and the stress of Western societies on positivist empiricism, including continuous attempts to synthesize theology with empirical experimentation in issues of the social life, justice, politics, and economics, even spiritualities and cultural particularities.
Islam is a self-contained cosmological system with unique teachings that provide for the Muslim believer an open-ended vision about the whole universe, world affairs and the other world with which to run their own lives, exchange transactions and thought, promote intra-and-inter relations with all humans, and appreciate both agreements and disagreements as well as similarities and differences between Muslims and the non-Muslim individuals or groups, communities, societies, governments, or nations.
It is extremely important to recognize the huge heritage of this Islamic universe and the complex dimensions of its intellectual and practical fields of implementation of which the al-fiqh [jurisprudence] accommodated over time a massive volume of scholarly work, in addition to a great pool of intellectual contributions on all aspects of life by Muslims throughout the globe since the early times of the Prophet’s city-state, al-Medina, up to the present day.
Many non-Muslim scholars have added enlightening research to the Muslim heritage on Islamic jurisprudence and schools of thought over succeeding ages of Muslim rule or educational contacts. And yet in recent times, as occurred in past times, many politicians, media analysts, and other writers depicted Islam with false names or endorsed distorting campaigns based on ignorance with meager knowledge on the real tenets and the peoples of Islam.
In old times, Muslims contributed marvelously with a wealth of knowledge to the human heritage of reasoning, epistemology, and philosophy, as well as the arts and sciences that were further recognized, spontaneously utilized, and excessively developed by the civilizations and cultures of the indigenous populations of Africa, Europe, India, and Middle East nations. The Muslim generations of today are descendants of these former generations of Muslim intellectuals, including new scholars of the caliber of Rodwan El-Sayed, Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, and Omid Safi.
The Muslim-Western flourishing relations have been horridly deteriorated by Western wars and colonization motivated in many instances by religious and/or political motives and then escalated to unprecedented levels of hate and perpetuated prejudices, especially in the contemporary centuries of economic mercantilism, political colonialism, and cultural hegemony. Little wonder, the precipitating results have inevitably ensued in uncivilized forms of power relations, rather than a symmetrical co-existence of equalitarian relations.
These facts have been consistently expressed by Muslim scholars. Abou Al-Fadl (2003:35) held that: “There is no doubt that Islam and Europe have had a long and unpleasant tradition of mutual verification and demonization, but these processes of the past were materially different from the present. In my view, the Western attempts to vilify Islam in the past were inspired by fear and respect, and Western perceptions of Muslims were not based on any realistic understanding of Muslim socio-political circumstances. Most of the vilifications were nothing more than the anxieties, fears, and aspirations of Westerners projected onto the dominant force at the time without any foundation in reality.”
Muslim scholars exhibit subtle stands in response to the Western views on Islam. On one side, many Muslims criticized the West ignorance of the ethos of Islam and the personality of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.: “Ignorance undoubtedly is one of the most complex perplexities behind the West dogmatic and prejudiced views in this regard,” emphasized Mohamed Hussain Haykel.
Haykel further stated that Western political encountering and desires to triumph over non-Western societies was a consequence rather than a result of politics: “The real reason is that the values of Christianity that cherish austerity, unworldly affairs, forgiveness, and noble virtues of the self did not adapt well unto the Nature of the West, which lived for thousands of years on polytheism and had been tempered by its geographical position to a norm of striving against coldness, poverty, and want.”
On the other extreme, a few Muslim scholars either linked the United States of America to biased hostile anti-terrorism campaigns to the Muslim nations or anticipated that the United States would act in a friendly way towards Muslim societies: “The most important reason why the United States should come to understand Islam is that it is in a position to interact with the Islamic world neutrally and fairly. It does not have the cultural and imperial baggage that Muslims often associate with European powers.”
In its ideal form, Islamic thought is oriented by the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: For the Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path” (The Holy Qur’an, Sura. XVI, Al-Nahl: 125).
Muhammad, who implemented with perfection the teachings of the Qur’an by “wisdom and beautiful preaching,” utilized his merciful nature and lovely manners to urge his disciples to follow suit, even in armed conflicts when Muslims were destined to defend their existence against unrelenting attacks by their enemies. Islam requires Muslims to believe in and to respect all Messengers of God to complete their faith. Moreover, Muslims are instructed to maintain equal respect to all humans, irrespective of faith: “To you be your Way and to me mine” (Sura CIX, al-Kafiroun: 6).
The Pope stated that “Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message.”
By analogy, Muhammad’s Path was “Rahma lil ‘alameen,” [“a Mercy for all creatures” by the Qur’anic expression (Sura XXI: Anbiyaa: 107), which reminds with the words of God about Jesus in the Qur’an as “rahma min-na” [a Mercy from Us] (Sura XIX: Maryam: 21)]. Muhammad’s beautiful pattern of conduct had been fully recognized before and after the revelation by all his community, which was composed of believers, People of the Book, and non-believers. A Muslim’s faith is completed only with her/his belief in “God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles” (Sura II: Baqara: 285).
A few Westerner sociologists, anthropologists, historians and other scholars made an appreciative effort to command fair learning about Islam and the Muslim communities and cultures. These works included factual reports by human rights and democracy groups stressing the suffering non-Muslims complain about with respect to governments suppressing both Muslim and non-Muslim populations .
Muslim intellectuals are further required to apply indiscriminate principles of Islam on all citizens, regard of religion, race, social status, or political stand by the Qur’an and the Hadith. These principles had been clearly realized by the Islamic jurists who were highly knowledgeable, broad-minded, and morally committed to the cause of good governance and social justice, for example Abu Hanifa al-No’man who approved the right of non-Muslims to use wine, according to their own beliefs, although wine-brewing or drinking is strictly prohibited for Muslims.
Most recently, Islamic Shari’a Law, the gate-keeping heritage of Muslim jurisprudence, has been repeatedly attacked by non-Muslims, as well as a few Muslim groups that aimed to achieve harmonious contemporaneous co-existence between Islam and international human rights norms, even if the former would have to give way to the latter. Still, the bulk of Muslims adhere closely to Islamic Shari’a, which is the determining factor of the daily affairs of the social life.
Sociologist of law Steven Vago described succinctly the legal uniqueness of Shari’a as a system of law: “Islamic law… is not an independent branch of knowledge. Law is integral to Islamic religion, which defines the character of the social order of the faithful who create laws in the name of God… Islamic law mandates rules of behavior in the areas of social conduct, family relations, inheritance, and religious ritual and defines punishments for heinous crimes, including adultery, false accusation of adultery, intoxication, theft, and robbery.”
“Unlike other systems of law based on judicial decisions, precedents, and legislation, Islamic law is derived from four principal sources. They include the Koran [i.e., the Qur’an], the word of God as given to the prophet. This is the principal source of Islamic law... the Sunna… judicial consensus… and analogical reasoning in circumstances not provided for in the Koran or other sources.”
REASON AND FAITH IN ISLAM
Muslims, regardless of any political doctrine, economic status, or educational level believe in the Shihada, that there is no God but the Only God, Allah, whose Messenger is Muhammad. God’s revelation, the Holy Qur’an, and Muhammad’s Hadith (sayings and deeds) are the most authenticated sources of Islam. All other sources, i.e. Madhahib (scholarly interpretations or schools of thought) are derived from the Qur’an and/or the Hadith. They are changeable secondary sources, by refutation or approval, as time goes on and on.
There is no obvious conflict among Muslims about the worshipping practices of Islam, in general. All Muslims agree that saying the Shihada, performing the five proscribed prayers per day, alms’ giving, fasting Ramadan, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca constitute the major pillars of Islam. With slight differences in the style of performing these duties, Muslims virtually exercise the same religious commitments every day all over the world.
Many differences, however, are evident about the transactions of Islam, i.e., the worldly affairs of the daily life. These transactions necessarily embrace legal, economic, familial, cultural, political, and many other domains. Because these issues are closely related to the daily disputes of the social life, there is room place for conflicts of interests, as well as conflict resolution, as applies to all other human societies.
By the very nature of societal events, Muslim societies have interacted largely with non-Muslims throughout the long history of Islam (which is dated more than 1,400 years ago since the establishment of the Muslim State by the Prophet of Islam in Medina). In the course of time, however, state bureaucratization in conjunction with complex cultural and political interactions of the Muslim societies and administrations on one side, besides the forces of colonialism, urbanization, modern technology, and industrialization on the other side influenced the thinking and practical dealings of Muslims in all aspects of life.
Islam holy sources continue unchanged with the same worshipping practices in the minds, souls, and socio-cultural systems of more than one billion Muslims all over the world despite of the legal, economic, and political transformations of Muslim communities or states.
The freedom of thought opened the Pope’s former university to “inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole … even in the face of such radical scepticism [skepticism] it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.”
The freedom of thought, inquiry, and criticism has been fully granted by the Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam, as well as the Muslims who adhered to the teachings of Islam in this respect over the centuries. Al-Miqrizi, a famous Muslim historian in medieval Egypt, documented in his four volumes Al-Khitat Al-Miqriziya sophisticated debates by Muslims on the refined constructs of faith and reason and the economic, political, and ideological models of the daily life, as well as over-simplistic configurations depicting God as a huge image of man.
Hundreds of thinkers established a plethora of theories to determine the linkages of reason and faith, according to Maqrizi, emulating Shiite and Sunni thought based on the same sources of Islamic religion. Claiming that all forms of knowledge were based on reason, the al-Mutazila symbolized a philosophy negating any attempt to see God in terms of human features or manners. Al-Mushtabiha, on the other extreme, believed that God was light, right, and might, besides many other qualities. The Jomiyah, another philosophical school of faith, disallowed al-Mushtabiha, and so many others with deep philosophical disputes.
The disciples of Muhammad, however, never asked him about features of God. The philosophers, affirmed Maqrize, were most blamed because they questioned the spirital premises of faith with worldly logic. Al’Ash’ariya, ascertained Al-Maqrizi, called on belief in God “as He told His servants about Himself.
CONSENSUS AND CONFLICT
Muslims in Africa, the Middle East, or the other parts of the world have practiced Islam for long centuries as a daily tradition, an organic part of the workaday life. The strength and the strategic significance of transactions in Islam are intimately related to the philosophy and the meanings of worshipping. These two aspects of Islam are often seen by a vast majority of ordinary Muslims as two faces of the one coin.
Worshipping is fully directed to the Most Supreme Lord, Allah, Who, and only He, is the Almighty Creator. More worldly oriented, transactions are a function of the workaday struggles although, in the core matters of social justice, human rights, and public freedoms, they are primarily guided by the same holy sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadith. The holy sources of Islam have consistently allowed a broad margin of ijtihad, i.e., flexibility in interpretation, rule making, and scholarly variation in assessment and implementation by Muslim scholars or jurists, as well as the general practitioners of Islam (believers or thinkers).
A philosophical differentiation between worshipping and transactions have largely explained the diversity of Madhahib amongst the Muslim scholars, who exercise the ijtihad tradition, while the bulk of Muslims continue to enjoy one authentic, permanent source for worshipping Allah through the workaday prayers, the fasting of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca with virtually no differences between these practicing methods.
Transactions in Islam, rather than worshipping practices, have been subjected to social change dynamics. The transactions became part of the universal struggle to establish a common understanding between all societies, religions, governments, and popular organizations of the world today. The best medium to initiate and to develop such endeavor is the International Human Rights Norms, which comprise the most internationally recognized principles of peace, democracy, and cooperation between individuals, communities, and States.
Contacts with western thought and systems of constitutional rule, for example, have already influenced many aspects of State structures and functioning in many Muslim societies. Equally importantly, the Muslim national legislations have increasingly interacted with international human rights norms, as well as inherited legacies of the western colonial and/or contemporary academic thought, to produce acceptable principles for law making processes.
Still, genuine differences never ceased to exist between Muslim law (the Shari’a heritage) that is primarily based on the holy sources of Islam (the Qur’an and the Hadith), western secular thought, and international human rights norms (which have been generally rectified by a large number of States in the Muslim world). A wide range of laws is included in this formula: family law, criminal law, penal law, security law, etc. Muslim governments, legislators, judiciary, and law-enforcement officials have occasionally executed many programs, workshops, or other structural establishments to harmonize State Laws in light of the diverse resources of legislation, expertise, and actual application of law.
Nonetheless, many difficulties arise with respect to abrupt political changes, shifts between Muslim-oriented state managers and the secular scholars who emphasize western constitutional law, in addition to an increasing firm pressure by modern human rights groups to motivate Muslim governments to incorporate international norms in the national legislation. The multiplicity of conflicting legal sources, religious schools of thought, and public pressure for democracy and social change have been ensuing in both political and intellectual tensions, a crisis of governance in political, administrative, and intellectual terms that has been clearly noted by Muslim as well as western thinkers and policy makers.
Earlier, the words of Fichte (1800) echoed the crisis of man today as it existed in the past: “… it is not Nature, it is Freedom itself, by which the greatest and most terrible disorders incident to our race, are produced; man is the cruelest enemy of man … Equipped with the mightiest inventions of the human intellect, hostile fleets plow their way through the ocean …they meet and defy the fury of the elements that they may destroy each other with their own hands. Even in the interior of states, where men seem to be united in equality under the law, it is still for the most part only force and fraud which rule under that vulnerable name; and here the warfare is so much the more shameful that it is not openly declared to be war, and the party attacked is even deprived of the privilege of defending itself against unjust oppression.”
There are many consequences of the situation in question. One obvious consequence of the conflict in question is the emergence and growth of extremism in Muslim national legislations since each religious or intellectual group struggles to monopolize the legislature in accordance with its own contention. The same conflict has been steeply articulated between Islamic Shari’a Law and western secularism. The third dimension, the international human rights norms being newly introduced as a public domain into the social life of many Muslim societies, has also penetrated the political arena through the efforts of human rights and democracy groups.
Pressing for deep legislative, executive, and judicial changes in conformity with modern governance by democratic rule, while the Shari’a/secularist approaches tended to polarize the conflict between governments vis-à-vis the civil society supporting groups, the role that international human rights norms might have relatively managed to play by comparative research to enhance the possibilities of a mutual understanding between Shari’a transactions and western secularist thought, has been largely ignored or often suppressed for several reasons.
First, most human rights groups have been basically concerned with the task of monitoring human rights violations in track of western human rights traditions. Second, most organizations aimed to insure immediate protection of the victims of authority abuses. Apparently, little or no scholarly effort was elaborately exerted by human rights activists to investigate the root causes of human rights violations in Muslim societies, a task urgently needed to comprehend the organic relationships that tie up the Shari’a heritage with secularist thought and international human rights norms in State legislation as a strategic procedure to improve the human rights situation in Muslim States and societies.
Moreover, global changes have recently added serious concerns about the conflict under consideration in the light of the terrorist attacks launched on the United States and many other countries worldwide that have been closely related to activities by extremist Muslims, those most likely emphasizing Shari’a heritage as the only authoritative source of religious and political behavior versus all secularist thinkers or human rights’ advocates.
To resolve this compounded conflict, including the erupting acts of mutual terrorism or intimidation between Muslims and non-Muslims in different parts of the world, the Shari’a heritage must be carefully studied with a view to ascertain the common principles that the Shari’a philosophy and law (being a very influential public domain in Muslim governance and societal activities) shares with both secularist and international human rights norms to which all humans are equally obligated.
Because Pope Benedict’s Treatise on Islam relied heavily on the Muslim jurist Ibn Hazm, it is imperative to shed light on Islamic schools of jurisprudence to assess the relevancy of the Emperor’s argument about Islam, as mentioned in the Pope’s address. The Pope reference to the Emperor’s dispute about the truth of faith in Christianity and Islam seemed to have been influenced by the Pope’s mention of the Ibn Hazm doctrine that God is transcendent, beyond all human reach and is capable of doing whatever He wishes apart from all human thinking or reason.
The Pope stated that, “God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions … The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature … But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”
In the opinion of Tarifi Khalidi & Muhammad Ali Khalidid “the Pope should also be aware that many thinkers within Islam did indeed differ with Ibn Hazm on this point. One of his illustrious successors in Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd (also known as Averroes), rejected Ibn Hazm’s position and insisted that God could not defy logic and "conjoin contraries," for example by making something that was both round and square. Is it more reasonable to believe, with Ibn Hazm, that God can contravene the laws of logic if he so chooses, or with Ibn Rushd that even God’s will is incapable of doing so? The first takes God’s omnipotence to its logical conclusion, while the latter considers that there are certain limits even to God’s will and power.”
Khalidi & Khalidi made the point that, “Indeed, within the Islamic tradition there is yet a third position. The theologian and philosopher al-Ghazali held, with Ibn Hazm, that God could bend the laws of nature but agreed with Ibn Rushd that he could not violate the laws of logic. In Ghazali’s view, God can create a fire that does not burn, but he cannot make something both round and square at the same time. Which, if any, of these positions is the rational one? All have strong philosophical arguments to back them, and each is derived from reasonable premises. What seems most reasonable is to allow such debates to flourish and to permit philosophers to argue all sides of the case. Unfortunately, that is made difficult when one philosophical position is equated with the voice of reason.”
The sources of Islamic jurisprudence are firmly based on the sacredness of the Book of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, and the Sunna, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet that translated the word of the Qur’an to workaday obligations on all Muslims. The philosophy of these sources is fairly elaborated in theories of social justice and criminal law by many madhahib (doctrines) or scholars that provided the Muslim thought and action with workable teachings since the death of the Prophet. Interesting debates have been encountered between these scholars that (in the issues of interpreting the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith in contemporary life) reveal vivid intellectuality and a genuine concern with objectivity versus subjectivity, rationality versus emotionality and other significant dualisms.
Few westerners, known as the orientalists, have paid attention to these important debates that continue to comprise a key intellectual source to the Muslim intelligentsia. This is the hardest part of the Encyclopedia volumes that is largely discredited or rather ignored by secularists and westerners alike, without deep analysis, although it resembles the real biblical foundation of Islamic thought and is virtually the most influential part of the Muslim mentality over the centuries. It took two years of intensive research by the Principal Researcher to gather together an up-dated volume on the past and present whereabouts of the sources and philosophy of Islamic jurisprudence, which embraces criminal as well as all other social, religious, and mental activities.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL TENETS OF IBN HAZM
Was the Pope’s statement, “… those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness” true about Ibn Hazm.?
The relationship between Ibn Hazm and the issues under investigation placed Ibn Hazm Doctrine under undesirable understanding of Christian faith that stresses love of God and the logos of it versus the power and absoluteness of God. Was the Emperor’s brusque judgment necessary, then; or could it have been more appealing had the Ibn Hazm Doctrine been elaborated in comparison with similar doctrines by Hebrew and/or Christian theologians?
The methodology of Ibn Hazm of Andalusia (384-456 AH) is based on the al-Fiqh al-Manqul of the Zahiriya school of Islamic jurisprudence, which accepts only what a religious text says in its apparent meaning and rejects contextual interpretations of the text. For example, based on what God told about His names in the Holy Qur’an, “the hands” of God exist as “hands” although they are not like human hands and so on and so forth. Ibn Hazm referred to “reason” only to prove the mission of Islam in accordance with the guidelines God revealed to the Prophet in the Qur’an. To investigate beyond that is not acceptable.
For Ibn Hazm, the text of the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the ulama consensus constituted the only authenticated references in Islamic jurisprudence. The Sunna, i.e., the deeds and sayings of the Prophet, is seen in the same way: reading and understanding Hadith should not extend beyond the direct meaning of the Hadith. Ibn Hazm prohibited the tradition of ijtihad [scholarly interpretation of the Qur’an or the Hadith] whether by qiyas [analogy] or the jurisprudential techniques the other jurists Ibn Hanifa, al-Shafi’ee, among many others applied.
Abu Zahra stated that Ibn Hazm rejected a hadith in which the Prophet asked Mua’z ibn Jebel to “resort to his own thought” if Mu’az would not find a clear guidance in the Qur’an or the Sunna to resolve a problem in question (Ibid: 568-582). Islamic thought, including jurisprudence, however, is much deeper and broader than Ibn Hazm’s restrictive Zahiriya , which is only one of tens of other schools of Islamic thought that adopted different interpretations in varying degrees.
We will now discuss aspects of Christian theology and Muslim Taoheed in light of the Pope’s treatise and a few Islamic doctrines. Aiming to allow reason and theology to interact harmoniously in the social life by free thought and faith, the subsequent section examines the Pope’s belief that “acting unreasonably contradicts God’s Nature” vis-à-vis the Muslim faith that “There is none like unto Him.”
EXPLORATORY SOCIOLOGY ON MUSLIM PHILOSOPHY
Alan Sica (2005: 119) noted that Schleiermacher, a pastor and professor of Christian theology “Skillfully shows the connection between rationality and religious belief, and illustrates that religious sentiment is best thought of in terms of feeling …, or what today might be called “the rationality of emotion … religious affiliation serves an essential function in helping societies cohere over time and changing circumstances.”
Schleiermacher (1893) asserted: “If the ideas and principles are not from reflection on a man’s own feeling, they must be learned by rote and utterly void. Make sure of this, that no man is pious, however perfectly he understands these principles and conceptions, however much he believes he possesses them in clearest consciousness, who cannot show that they have originated in himself and, being the outcome of his own feeling, are peculiar to himself.”
It is true the concept of “spiritual sociability” distinguishes mankind from all of the other living species on earth. It is “a rationality of emotion” that is both rational and emotional; thus it constitutes the comprehended societal and cultural practice of religion. The possible agreement on the spiritual sociability of religion, however, does not necessarily specify its origin or agree on its ultimate authentic reference in all cases.
Here, it is imperative to note the conceptual potential of sociological concepts to reconcile the fundamental differences, as previously explained in thought and practical terms, between the Muslim faith and Western thought, which further suggests that sociological concepts have a bridging role to play as broad accommodative intellectual tools for the irreconcilable differences in the Christian and Muslim thought. It is further suggested in this paper that a number of Muslim jurisprudential concepts should be used inasmuch as they have the potential to explain religious behavior or its underlying thought.
From its part, the Muslim faith draws heavily upon the Qur’an, its highest authentic logos, to designate the codes of mannerism, stipulate value-systems, and perpetuate traditions of the good life. Since Muslim faith rules out possibilities of change to the words of God, the nearest Islamic approach to “understanding faith” is perhaps the notion of al-Fitra [the pure nature of humans] – a concept that may well act as a synonym to the Christian “Nature of God.”
The suggested build-up of sociological concepts is not a new tradition in Muslim thought. Earlier, Ibn Khaldun pursued the rigorous task of scrutinizing the actual occurrence of social events with a view to authenticate the valid documentation of history. This intellectual ordeal took him to establish Al-Imran, a whole new science on social behavior and social change, which was nothing but a science of modern sociology. Similarly in the area of fiqh, the Muslim jurist Al-Shafyi’ refined the Muslim sciences of al-Taoheed and Hadith by a battery of concepts and theoretical statements that was further manipulated as techniques of philosophical interpretations.
These and other jurisprudential projects culminated in voluminous intellectual works over succeeding ages that never changed a single letter of the Qur’an or challenged the authentic Hadith; but they opened the path for a brilliant movement of Ijtihad up to the era of the European colonization of Muslim nations that struggled to expand Western positivist thought and governance with respect to political conservatism and religious evangelism at the expense of the ongoing need to improve mutual understanding and appreciation of the different societies, religions, and value systems.
In the Christian side, Pope Benedict highlighted the existence of conflicting trends in theology, “which would sunder [the] synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.”
Disapprovingly: "This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV).”
How did the Muslim philosophers treat this dilemma? Based on Ilm al-Kalam, the Islamic science of Taoheed [monotheism] that is firmly founded in conformity with the Qur’an and the Hadith, Islamic jurists have been largely guided by the parables of the holy sources of Islam to overcome the agony of the striving self to obtain the complete faith and master the recurring conflicts of life.
An illuminating example of this practice is embodied in Sura XVII, al-Kahf [the Cave]. This Sura taught about the Lord’s omnipotent wisdom behind an act causing a partial damage to a ship that contradicted the normative reasoning of maintaining property. The ship, however, was damaged by “a Knowledgeable Servant of God” who had already known from Him that the partial damage of the ship would protect the vessel and sailors from total destruction by a pirate king on his way to attacking it.
The Muslim Faith and Greek Philosophy are two diverging extremes: Islamic philosophy, however, identified the general motives of theological philosophy as inquiry of worldly knowledge in connection with Heavenly revelations. Heavily drawn on the teachings of the Qur’an, the highest logos on the incomparableness of God with His creatures, Muslim philosophy endeavors to explicate both worldly and metaphysical messages of God, “the One and Only One; the Eternal Absolute, He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him” (Sura CXII, Ikhlas), “the Doer (without let) of all He intends” (Sura LXXXV, Buruj: 16).
Islamic philosophy follows “its own Way” for it interprets obvious meanings of the Qur’an, like all Zahiriya [including Ibn Hazm], and then explores the availability of Sufi spiritual signs beyond the zahir [formal] meanings of the text. Contemporary studies by Muslim philosophers indicated that Ibn ‘Arabi, a great Sufi philosopher, was not a pantheist.
The Pope asked, “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: In the beginning was the λόγoς. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”
“Certainly, love transcends knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is λογικὴ λατρεία - worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1). This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history – it is an event which concerns us even today.”
Conservatism, up to a level of negating the science of philosophy all together, was strongly evident in Christian thought. Joseph De Maistre (1953-1821), “a devout Catholic… fully in tune with Church doctrine,” held that “In all political or religious works, whatever their aim or importance, it is a general rule that there is never any proportion between cause and effect.”
“The effect is always immense in relation to the cause, so that man may know that he is only an instrument and that alone he can create nothing … The more human reason results in itself and tries to rely on its own resources, the most absurd it is and the more it reveals its lack of power. This is why the world’s greatest scourge has always been, in every age, what is called philosophy, for philosophy is nothing but the human reason acting alone, and the human reason reduced to its own resources is nothing but a brute whose power is restricted to destroying.”
From his part, Pope Benedict explores a higher level of co-existence between Christian conservatism and scientific positivism: “Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.” These strong affirmations will not immediately resolve the dilemma in question. Positivist thought adamantly rejects faith as science since faith doesn’t yield to empirical evidence for faith is personal before all possible considerations. The subsequent section will briefly deal with these contradictions.
FAITH GALAXY: REASON AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Despite the possibilities of essential divergence between the Muslim and Christian ways of interpreting the Holy Books, there is substantial convergence in the Christian and Islamic generalizations of faith: both believe God is Most Merciful and Benevolent; God loves His creatures; and God is Oft-Forgiving. The 99 Names of God in Islam indicate His absoluteness, mightiness, and generosity in every particle of His universes above all human reason or measures: “the Doer (without let) of all He intends.” This is a core reason why God in Islam is loved and feared at the same time God in Christianity is only loveable.
On the dehellenization of Christianity, the Pope ascertained, “Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word.”
Islamic philosophy has also known times of great interest in Greek philosophy by al-Mu’tazila philosophers who established doctrines on the role of reason in faith during the reign of Caliph al-Mamoun whose mother was Greek, followed by a strong counter intellectual movement by al-Imam al-Ghazali who developed spiritual traditions, rather than pure reasoning, to enhance the faith relations of the Muslim individuals with the Only One Most High God.
In search of acceptable modern academic approaches on reason, Pope Benedict supported the idea of incorporating positivist empirical thought into theology, similar to the interplay of math and logos, to synthesize a scientific approach of faith. He stressed the interplay of math and logos as a legitimate opening to appreciate the interplay of faith and reason. Cautioning from the exclusion by science of this “advanced thinking,” which is rooted in Christian faith and Greek philosophy, the Pope noted:
“First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity … this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.”
The reductionist subjectivity of the objective questions raised by religion and ethics is further criticized: “It is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason, which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology end up being simply inadequate … The scientific ethos … is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.”
The notions of “objectivity” and “the scientific ethos” deserve a special attention: Based on the empirical research of the well-celebrated thinker Max Weber, Zeitlin (2001: 251) states that “Objectivity, for Weber, entails a moral commitment to the pursuit of truth and knowledge.” To illustrate, “Weber’s own deliberately one-sided study of the “economic relevance” of the post-Calvinist, ascetic Protestant sects also yielded many valid insights into the elective affinity between protestant ethic and the spirit (or ethos) of capitalism … conducted research with a scientific-scholarly attitude … subject to confirmation or disconfirmation on the basis of evidence.”
Recalling Schleiermacher’s “emotional rationality,” studies on faith are endowed with a potential liability to theoretical testability, which even in the positivist sense of empiricism and objectivity contains a substantive material of the scientific ethos. As the Pope ascertained, faith will not be jeopardized by the call on conscience as the sole arbiter of what is ethical once a synthesis of intrinsic relations between reason, ethics, and positivist thinking is cherished. The fusion of faith and reason is expressed in terms of: 1) single rationality with its various aspects; 2) part of the whole of the universitas scientiarum; and 3) with or without Christian faith (one correlated with reason as a whole).
Earlier mentioned in this paper, Muslim theoretical formulations in philosophy and scientific empiricism have been repeatedly illustrated. Some of these formulations fall nicely within the modern structures of social thought, irrespective of the particularities of faith. Examples include El-Shafi’ee creative science of Usul al-Fiqh [principles of jurisprudence], which established operational concepts, definitions, and hierarchically arranged axiomatic formats, as has been lately developed by modern social theories, to scrutinize the Hadith heritage. According to Abu Zahara, Ususl al-Fiqh set the tradition and facilitated further the application of objective rules on the changing conditions of life within the universal scope of the Shari’a.
Focusing on the Pope’s treatise on one hand, and the Muslim jurisprudential heritage on the other, it becomes clear that regardless of methodological and spiritual divergences, both Christian theology and Muslim thought shared significant commonness in the scientific ethos, the concern for objectivity and emotional rationality, as inevitable conditions of the human sciences of which they constituted a principal core.
Pope Benedict concluded in the following words: “This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age.” This statement implied the Pope’s reference to the emperor’s dispute with the Muslim educator a matter of scholastic exampling rather than intentionally centered citation. Is there a correlation, however, between the emperor and the gist of the lecture on faith and reason?
Careful sociological analysis of the Pope’s professorial address suggests intriguing leads to a promising fusion of theology and faith, not only in the Christian sphere but equally true for the other world systems, especially Islam. Criticizing acculturation, Pope Benedict endorsed a significant policy issue in inter-faith relations: “There are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures.” He further talked about the infusion of cultures, “which ought not to be binding on other cultures.” This intellectual position lend a promising support to the international norms on cultural rights that guarantee the right to each culture to survive and develop in its own way.
The Pope suggested an intriguing methodology to overcome the “dangers arising from the new possibilities open to humanity … We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.”
This is another promising direction that predicts an open-ended era of free thought based on scientific ethos. How much of this global attitude is made available in the national and international arenas with due respect to democratization and peaceful reconciliation is almost nil, except for the appreciative attempts of the late Pope Paul, Prince El-Hassan of Jordon, and a few other world inter-faith leaders. It is true, much of the dialogue need to be promoted in universities. How much of this would be pursued in academic circles following the Pope’s speech remains to be seen.
The Holy Father sent a strong call on faith and reason by free dialogue: “In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions … For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.”
Al- Maqrizi, Ghazali, Ibn Khadlun, Ibn Rushd, Ibn ‘Arabi, and many other medieval and contemporary thinkers contributed with deep studies to develop specialized sciences of Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence. Is it possible to convene an international inter-faith conference on Faith and Reason inviting Muslim thinkers and those of other religions with the Pope?!
Would the Pope study the lengthy elaborations of Ibn Hazm and the other sophisticated Muslim scholars on the shared intellectual agenda for a better understanding of Islam, Muhammad, the ethos of Islam, and the doctrines of Muslim thinking (that hardly overlaps with Christian theology or the Greek philosophy)?
For all reasons, yes; he would. His call on reason, his critique of Ibn Hazm, and his intention to open up the century for a free dialogue on the issues deserves a generous welcome from all Positivists or Conservatives, regardless of their faith, to be engaged in a democratic dialogue that should necessarily experience symmetry, reason, and love as it proceeds on and on with more exposure to the truths or the one truth of human existence.
It is said in a footnote by the Vatican publisher of the Pope address that (“The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional”.) Judged by the debatable spirit of the Pope’s presentation, it is the opinion of this writer that a subsequent version of the Pope’s text might carry with it more clarification of the issues in question.
This paper suggests that the thrust of the Pope’s emphasis on reason and faith may well stimulate intellectual exchanges on Christian theology and Muslim faith by sociological theorization, as well as theological approaches.
Our study reveals that Islamic thought and Christian theology share some common principles. Still, there are fundamental differences between the two in the context of faith and the methodologies of reason. Continuous learning is required by both Christian and Muslim scholars to increase scientific research on the established commonness and appreciate differences.
A magnitude of the sort will manifest itself only “in peace and love,” “wisdom and good preaching.”
* The author is is a sociologist at the Department of Social Work & Sociology in Tennessee State University, Nashville TN, USA. He can be reacher at email@example.com
This article first appeared in the Sudan Tribune