Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sunni Islam and the Natural Law: Natural Law Thought in Al-Qadi ʿAbd al-Jabbar, Part 1: Even the Cat is Entitled to his Rizk

AL-QADI ʿABD AL-JABBAR WAS ALMOST CERTAINLY MUTAZILITE in his theology, and this affected his jurisprudence. Believing that the good was defined, not principally by God's will, but by its intrinsic nature or reason, God willed things because they were good; things were not good merely because God willed them. In the Euthyphro dilemma, al-Jabbar did not side with the Asharite voluntarists, but with the Mutazilite rationalists.

Al-Jabbar was born into a family of limited financial resources in Asadabad. Early in his life he became a student of Islamic thought. Originally Asharite in theological view, he went to Basra in Iraq as part of his studies. At the time he studied in Basra, that city was an important cultural and educational center of the Buwayhid Empire. It purportedly had a library with thousands of volumes, a delight to any scholar's heart regardless of his doctrine. Notably, the Buwayhid Empire was Shiite and Mutazilite, and one may safely infer that al-Jabbar's stay in Basra affected his theological commitments. "Historians suggest that during his say in Basra, ʿAbd al-Jabbar abandoned his earlier Ashʿarite commitments and became a Muʿtazilite theologian. . . . certainly [he was] an important writer within the Muʿtazilite tradition." Emon, 50-51. He was an advocate of the Shafi'i school or madh'hab, one of the four main legal madh'ahab of Sunni Islam.

Relying principally on al-Jabbar's al-Mughni Professor Emon argues that al-Jabbar developed a Hard Natural Law theory that relied on certain key concepts. These concepts included the notion of sustenance (rizk or رزك), obligation (taklif or تكليف), divine assistance (lutf or لتف), legal theory (ash-sharʿiyyat or الشرعيـية), and justice (at-taʿdil wa 'l-tajwir or التعديل وألتجوير). In this posting we will focus on al-Jabbar's notion of rizq.

Al-Jabbar sees Allah as the great provider, the One who provides all men with sustenance, with rizq. Rizq is "an empirically verifiable good that sustains human life, as a matter of fact." The notion of rizq fused both fact and value because of its linkage to Allah the Provider:
Importantly, since rizq is bestowed by God, it offers a basis for fusing fact and value in nature, and the sustenance it provides. At the most primordial level of existence, rizq is normatively good and thereby 'permissible' to all, especially since ʿAbd al-Jabbar theologically held that God only does the good . ... All things in the world, including acts by human beings, are fundamentally part of God's creation. Therefore at a primordial level, they reflect God's goodness, unless source-texts [i.e, the Qur'ān and the Sunnah] indicate otherwise. . . .ʿAbd al-Jabbar fused fact and value in nature, akin to al-Jassas, by considering the primordial state of all rizq to be permissible, and thereby good.
Emon, 52. Similar to al-Jassas (whom we analyzed in a prior post), ʿAbd al-Jabbar regarded creation as necessarily being for the good of man, since it could not be futile (which would imply foolhardiness), and it could not be for God's benefit (since God is self-sufficient), but it must needs be beneficial (nafʿ or نفع) because being beneficial is part of God's nature.

The benefits of creation (rizq) are available to all men, and implied in this is an ordering of distribution. "Rizq considered in a primordial sense prior to distribution presents the initial state of nature's factual and normative good. Upon its distribution, entitlements arise by which someone can claim a certain rizq to the exclusion of others: with distribution comes a regime of obligations and prohibitions." Emon, 53.

But distribution of rizq should be a just. One particular man is not entitled to more than his share of rizq because he holds coercive force or is driven by greed. The distribution must be just, and this means it must be guided by reason. "Consequently, ʿAbd al-Jabbar embedded his conception of rizq within a teleology characterized by the term lutf." Emon, 53.
Lutf reflects the divinely created dispositions of human beings that direct humans to the good. This is not to say that all people will do the good all the time. Nonetheless, humans ought to pursue a distribution of the rizq by taking into consideration their dispositions or lutf, all of which are created by God and form the basis of a divinely created natural teleology that justifies, authorizes, and guides naturalistic reasoning.
Emon, 53.

Ottoman Miniature of a Cat

The concept of rizq or "sustenance" is important in ʿAbd al-Jabbar's judicial philosophy, and it warrants further elaboration. In fact, it is the presence of rizq wherein we can find the "normative beginnings of a legal order." Emon, 57. In ʿAbd al-Jabbar's view, God created the world in such a manner that it would sustain mankind, thus intending to benefit man and presumptively providing him that benefit for him to enjoy. Indeed, such benefits are accorded to all God's creatures, not only mankind. God is the great provider; it is one of the 99 names of Allah: الرزاق, ar-Razzāq, the Provider. As an example of the importance of rizq in the determination of what is good and right, ʿAbd al-Jabbar referred to the hadith of Al-Bukhari regarding a woman who locked up a cat, refused to feed it and not would not allow it to be released so that it could feed itself. In short, the woman refused the cat its rizq. When learning of this, Muhammad is supposed to have said that her punishment on the Day of Judgment for refusing the cat his rizq would be torture and Hell. Rizq is an important concept if denying it to a cat lands you in Hell.

This underlying purpose in nature and the concept of rizq allows nature to have both an empirical and a normative value. The world and man's desires are just not there, they are there for a purpose which should be recognized and respected. The world's benefits are for mankind, and to take advantage of the divine sustenance is good, hasan (حَسَن). This divine largess was given to all mankind generally. God did not intend to benefit some men over others, and the benefits of God were therefore without particular or individual title. Nevertheless, though the underlying general intention of God that all benefit from his benefits remains unchanged, man, being a rational animal, is expected to use rational means to distribute these natural benefits among those of his kind. Once such distribution is made, however, and private property recognized, it ought to be respected. But before such a distribution among men, the benefit (rizq) is generally intended and it continues in the background, as it were, in any system of private distribution.
The presumption of permissibility, which arises out of the theory of rizq, is the means by which ʿAbd al-Jabbar fused fact and value in his natural law theory. Presumptively, things 'are created for [humanity] to enjoy and they are sustenance for them [all] from this perspective.' Because creation is a boon for humanity from a just and willing Creator, creation embodies an affirmative normative value that entitles people to use their reason to order their affairs, based on the benefits they perceive. Permissibility here is the theoretical means by which ʿAbd al-Jabbar fused fact and value to create a naturalistic foundation for rational speculation. By rooting his approach to a purposeful creation of nature, he provides a normative, naturalistic foundation as an initial starting point for legal reasoning.
Emon, 54-55. Since the distribution and use of God's benefits must be in accord with reason, reason is the tool or vehicle by which the benefits are determined. ʿAbd al-Jabbar here adopts two general principles: a harm principle and a claim principle. ʿAbd al-Jabbar's tenth century doctrine here sounds oddly, almost anachronologically Lockean.

Reason allows us to limit the permissibility "to instances 'there is neither temporal nor eternal harm imposed on us for doing so, nor on someone else.'" Emmon, 55 (quoting al-Mughni, al-Taklif:33) In other words, at a secondary level, a cost/benefit analysis must be engaged in so that if engaging in conduct or enjoying some benefit results in excessive harm either to ourselves or to others, then such conduct or enjoyment should be avoided. ʿAbd al-Jabbar reasoned: "It is established as a matter of reason that avoiding harm in a manner that is known with certainty or probability to avoid [that harm] is obligatory." Emmon, 55 (quoting al-Mughni, al-Taklif: 43) There was no benefit without some harm, there was some "factual indeterminancy" in every benefit or good, and so it is the preponderance of benefit over harm that makes a benefit permissible. "If . . . in the preponderance of X's opinion when X undertakes some acts to obtain the rizq, [and] enjoy it while experiencing some hardship [his undertaking] is necessarily good." Emmon, 56 (quoting al-Mughni, al-Taklif: 44)

In addition to his "harm principle," ʿAbd al-Jabbar also invokes a "claim principle" in his notion of proper ordering of God's benefits among men in accordance with reason. If there is a benefit that can be enjoyed without undue harm to others, so that it is permitted to a man, and that man lays a claim to it, then he becomes the owner of it.
ʿAbd al-Jabbar used the claim principle to explain the distinction between his presumptive state of creation, where everything is permissible for everyone, and the later developments of obligations and prohibitions reflecting the incorporation of the claim and harm principles. Property law offers a jurisprudential analogy by which ʿAbd al-Jabbar illustrated how a naturalistic theory of obligation stars from a presumption of the normativity of nature, and proceeds to the determination of obligations and prohibitions that arise once a system of ownership is in place.
Emmon, 56-57.

The proper distribution of rizq requires the understanding of another principle, lutf. That concept in al-Jabbar's work will be discussed in our next posting.

No comments:

Post a Comment