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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sunni Islam and the Natural Law: Natural Law Thought in Abu al-Husayn al-Basri, Part 2: Conclusion

AL-BASRI SEEKS TO DEVELOP A THEORY OF LEGAL KNOWLEDGE that gives proper emphasis on both revelation and reason. Reason alone, he acknowledges, is insufficient guidance for man; he must consider the divine revelation in assessing whether those things that the presumption of permissibility would allow him to otherwise enjoy may be enjoined. Man must also access revelation to know certain obligations of which reason is unable to inform him. How, for example, would reason inform the Muslim of the need to fast at Ramadan? How else except through revelation would the Muslim know of which prayers to pray, and in which direction to face in prayer, and that he needed to abstain from wine or from the flesh of swine? Emon, 85. There are things, furthermore, that reason simply cannot answer; its light is too weak, and so revelation supplements.

Yet in some circumstances reason speaks, and speaks authoritatively. Where the Sharīʿa does not does not speak, where it is silent, reason, based upon its presumption of permissibility, can direct as to what is good and bad, what is husn (حسن) and what is qubh (قبح). Moreover, reason is also important as a sort of preamble to the faith, a Muslim praeambula fidei. For Al-Basri, reason provides the basis for recognizing the authenticity of scripture (sihhat al-sharʿ, صحّــت الشرع), the knowledge of God and his characteristics, most importantly that he does not perform evil acts (la yafʿalu al-qabih, لا يفعل القبيــح). Emon, 84. Finally, for al-Basri, there are areas where both the Islamic scriptures and reason overlap or establish concurrently the same truth. That there is one God, that one has an obligation to return a deposit, and that one may enjoy the benefits of things so long as they do not harm another. These are the sorts of things to which both revelation and reason jointly testify. Emon, 85. In summary, al-Basri's thought is as follows:
For al-Basri, natural reasoning about the good and the bad involves a series of principles and premises that contribute to a method of inquiry into the various indicators at one's disposal. At times, these indicators may be reason, where its authority is based on al-Basri's fusion of fact and value in his presumption of permissibility. At other times, the indicators are source-texts [the Qur'an and the Sunnah], whose authority is built upon a series of principled presumptions.
Emon, 85-86.

Al-Basri addresses in a notable way the fundamental role of reason in the establishment of law, and relates it to will. Clearly, as one would expect from one with Mutazilite leanings, he finds himself in the rationalistic camp, and not the voluntaristic camp. He asks, speculatively, whether Allah could say to Muhammad or to legal scholars (the ʿUlamā'), "rule and whatever you decide is correct." Emon, 86. Could Allah make right conditioned on radical choice alone, on raw will alone, whether that was the will of a prophet or a group of scholars? While some, al-Basri acknowledged, believed such authority resided in Muhammad or the ʿUlamā', most jurists did not believe such authority was given even to them. Indeed, al-Basri believed that such authority could not be given. Men do not always choose rightly, and they can be corrupt. So, were God even to mandate that such a man be followed as if he were right regardless of the right, that would not change the essential wrongness in following him. God cannot change a wrong to a right, and he cannot make the legislation that an evil man wills into one that is right. "To establish an obligation," al-Basri maintained, "one must first know the good before acting upon it." Emon, 87. Importantly:
This knowledge of the good can only be known prior to any choice that the individual makes, thus rendering the method of knowing to be of paramount importance. The goodness of an act is not a consequence of choice, but rather is a maslaha [مــصــلح] or perceived good that is given effect through choice [هو مصلح في نفسه ب الإكهتيار ].
Emon, 87.

One should note, however, that al-Basri's use of reason as normative is limited to the interstices of the Sharīʿa, inasmuch as where the Sharīʿa reveals an injunction different from that which reason would demand, reason is abrogated. This would suggest that reason has a clearly subordinate role to revelation, and that where the two conflict, reason is preempted. This is implicit in his rule:
To make a determination of the rule of obligation, the jurist utilizes his naturalistic reasoning to determine what the proper rule is for the given situation. This is possible as a first step because of al-Basri's naturalistic presumption: nature embodies the fusion of fact and value, given God's desire to benefit humanity through His creation. Subsequently, one inquires into whether the rationally based rule might change on the basis of scriptural [Qur'anic and Sunnaic] proofs. "If he does not find [therein] anything that changes [the rule] from the rationally based rule, then he decides in accordance with [the latter]. But if he finds a source-text [in the Qur'an or Sunnah] that rebuts or alters the rationally based rule, he must rule according to the source-text. "Reason decides those rules on condition that a scriptural proof does not alter [our decision] on [them].
Emon, 87-88 (quoting al-Muʿtamad, 2:343). So here, once again, even the Mutazilites disappoint. The reason they advocate, even if nominally normative, is shunted, thwarted, made to sit in a corner, when the Sharīʿa is in the room. The Sharīʿa is not to be judged by human reason; it is not to be judged even by that law of God in the heart of man. If St. Paul is correct that God has written his law in the heart of man, then the Muslim insists that the law of God in man's heart be squelched if the Sharīʿa holds otherwise. Can God preempt his own law? Does that not place God in a contradiction? Can God have put one law in man's heart and another in the Sharīʿa? Would God put us in such a quandary?

Though the Catholic view shares some companionship with the Mutazilite view, it insists that there is no contradiction, and never can be, between the natural law and the law of God. There is no possibility of preeminence of one law over the other, of appeal from human reason to God, for the very simple reason that the Divine Law and the Natural Law have the same Divine Legislator and both are founded on the one Eternal Law. "We know in effect that truth cannot contradict truth," John Paul II said to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996. We also know in effect that Natural Law, based upon reason, cannot contradict the Divine Law, based upon revelation. When it comes to the Divine Legislator, Law cannot contradict Law.

This truth, that Law cannot contradict Law, seems to have been altogether lost in the Dar-al Islam, the House of Islam.

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