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.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunni Islam and the Natural Law: Natural Law Thought in Al-Qadi ʿAbd al-Jabbar, Part 4: Conclusion

ʿABD AL-JABBAR'S THEOLOGY SUPPORTS THE USE OF REASON as a normative source of law, even as a binding source of Sharīʿa obligation, one that is taklif (تكليف). He has an interesting theory of obligation that recognizes both express (i.e., clearly positive) and implicit (i.e., derived through the application of reason) commands of, and therefore obligations from, God.
[God] want [people to do] acts which He informs them [directly (ʿarrafahum) are obligatory or recommended, or erects evidence (dallahum) of that [fact]. It is not taboo to know that [God] wants that, whether from the perspective of reason (jihat al-ʿaql) or . . . from the perspective of transmitted knowledge (jihat al-samʿ) Because of that, it is said that God most high obligates from both aspects together.
Emon, 66-67 (quoting al-Mughni, al-Taklif:299). In other words, the good may be known by both reason and revelation.

ʿAbd al-Jabbar analyzes the relationship between God and man as one between an obligee and an obligor. God is the obligee.* Man is the obligor* (mukallaf or مــكــلّــف), an obligor that is endowed with lutf (conscience) and free will, and is therefore free to either commit or not commit and act in a manner consonant with his obligations owed the obligor. This means that he has the ability to search for and choose the appropriate conduct. This requires reason, both to determine the good and the means toward it, and reason, in particular with its determination of the good, therefore becomes a source of obligation. "It may not be the only source," for al-Jabbar," but it is an important one." Emon, 67.

The role of reason became particularly important where there was no express command from the obligee to the obligor, in the interstices of express command, as we discussed in our first blog posting on the natural law in Sunni Islam. ʿAbd al-Jabbar therefore distinguished between forms of commands, namely express commands (amr or أمر) and implicit commands by indicators (al-ishara or الإشار) which are equally as binding as the express commands. To be just, however, the obligee must inform (taʿrif or تــعــرف) the obligor of the obligation in some manner.
When the commands are not express, ʿAbd al-Jabbar's Hard Naturalism assumes that a just God would nonetheless communicate His will somehow. This communicative process is what ʿAbd al-Jabbar called taʿrif, namely instructing or informing. The obligor [sic] must inform (taʿrif) the obligee [sic] of the obligation. An obligee [sic] can investigate the circumstances to determine if he has implicitly or explicitly been informed of the obligation.
Emon, 67. [*Note in this area, Emon confuses obligor and obligee, confusing the obligor as the person to whom something is owed, and the obligee as the one who owes the debt or obligation. The words are just the opposite of the manner in which Emon uses them. It is hoped that in a future edition he will correct it.]

Reason for ʿAbd al-Jabbar is not mere utilitarian or consequentialist type reasoning. In other words, reason is not simply a determinant of means. ʿAbd al-Jabbar believed that such utilitarian or consequentialist use of reason alone excluded God's intent as it was made manifest in substantive, practical reason which was normative, and not merely methodological. It ignored the plan of God in His creation, the ʿilla (عِــلَّـة) of Allah, what St. Thomas would call the ratio ordinis, the ordering of reason, in creation.
God's intent is ever-present in creation, given ʿAbd Al-Jabbar's concept of rizq, lutf, and tamkin [sic]*, which links our desires and our rational capacities to a divinely created world. For ʿAbd al-Jabbar, we do not simply investigate the factual existence of hardship and benefit in the world, and render our findings as law. Rather, obligation depends upon certain premises about God's creative power and just character. . . .

[Al-Jabbar's] concepts of rizq, lutf, and ʿilla offer a framework that recognizes the authority of reason, and accounts for our inevitable fallibility amidst a theology of a just God. . . .

For ʿAbd Al-Jabbar, reason is an essential element for constructing obligations. In some cases it operates by itself, and in other cases, it evaluates an act in conjunction with scriptural [i.e., the Qur'ān and the Sunnah] texts. The scope he granted reason for making normative evaluations was rather broad, but did not encompass all moral determinations.
Emon, 68, 70.

[*Note: I don't think Professor Emon intended to use tamkin (تــمـكـيـن) here. It is a word he had not previously introduced in the text. I'm no expert on Islam, but I believe tamkin is the religious duty of submission, especially in regard to sex, that woman owes her husband under Islamic law. I think that Professor Emon intended to use the general term for desire, ash-shahwa (الشـهو), which, along with lutf and rizq are constituted as the three prongs, along with an overriding notion of reason in creation,ʿilla, of ʿAbd al-Jabbar's Hard Natural Law theory (see Emon, 62).]

What is particularly significant is ʿAbd al-Jabba's strong notion of reason as a substantive source of norms equivalent, one might say, in dignity to that of the revealed law. The obligations imposed upon man by reason are almost a coadjutor law to the law of the revealed Shariʿa law.
Reason therefore plays a significant role in moving from an assessment of the lutf and the benefits of nature to a reasoned conclusion about right conduct and obligation. Obligations therefore are not simply contingent on express commands and prohibitions by the divine lawgiver. Yet, reason does not operate in a vacuum. The meaningfulness of Shariʿa obligations is premised on a just God who provides sufficient evidence for us to understand the obligations we must observe. ...

The need to engage in naturalistic reasoning is essential for ʿAbd al-Jabbar, and is a path to obligation that is presumed to be authoritative unless otherwise specified. Consequently, unless there are express indicators to the contrary, one can rationally investigate the circumstances of nature to establish the normative value of an act because of a natural teleology that links desires, dispositions, and the created world to the divine will.
Emon, 71.

In summary, it would seem that ʿAbd al-Jabbar did accord a certain dignity to reason to determine substantive norms, and he identifies a handful that seem to have some everyday importance such as gratitude, return of bailments, oppression, deceit without cause, and the general need to act to promote the good. In promoting this view of reason, ʿAbd al-Jabbar is clearly in the Mutazilte camp. In the Euthyphro dilemma, he has sided with those that believe good precedes the right, reason precedes will. ʿAbd al-Jabbar grants a significant concession to human reason, understood in a rich sense and not in the disembodied reason of Descartes or the "pure" reason of Kant, as a source of law. The thinking of ʿAbd al-Jabbar, therefore, allows us some rapproachment with Muslim thinkers in the area of the natural law. However, in practice, confronted with the massive area where the Shariʿa law, built upon the Qur'an and the Sunnah and the massive corpus of jurisprudential precedent and rules (fiqh), one wonders what, if any, role ʿAbd al-Jabbar's theory would have had in the daily life of the ordinary Muslim. Moreover, it would seem that it would be beyond the comprehension of ʿAbd al-Jabbar, and beyond his doctrine, that the Shariʿa law could be criticized or judged by the natural law. If the natural law, for example, were to assess polygamy as unlawful in its very nature, would it overrule the traditional Shariʿa law that permits it? If the natural law were to assess that cutting off a thief's hand is excessive punishment, or the Islamic method of divorce too loose and unfair, or, in the Shiʿa jurisprudence, the doctrine of temporary marriage (the Nikāḥ al-Mutʿah (or نكاح المتعة‎) offensive, would the Shariʿa law be amended? If the natural law were to arrive at a conclusion that human chattel slavery, or sex with slave-women (both allowed in traditional Islam) is intrinsically immoral, would that allow us to trump those provisions of traditional Shariʿa law that allow for it? Would the natural law allow us to judge Muhammad's role as a lawgiver or any of his revelation, legislative acts, or behaviors not in conformity with it? It is doubtful that any Muslim, even one like al-Jabbar, would allow such a role to the natural law. To judge Muhammad by the natural law is something a Muslim would not even entertain. To this degree, at least in the view of the Christian, it would seem that the voice of God's vicar in the Muslim's heart would be squelched. The Muslim, of course, would not view the voice of God's vicar in the heart as a voice that should be heard, but as a voice that must be silenced, one that that should submit without questioning, without murmur, without dissent to the greater demands of the Shariʿa that he sees as an expression of the ineluctable will of Allah. What do we do with a religion that, to protect its prophet and its law, silences the law of God written in the heart of man and counts it as good?

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