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 23, 2011

الشرع لا العقل: Shari'a Not Reason: Allah Wants Us Stupid

IN THE CLASSIC BOOK OF DOCTRINE called the ʻUmdat al-Sālik wa-ʻUddat al-Nāsik (عمدة السالك وعدة الناسك), frequently referred to as the Reliance of the Traveller, by the Islamic medieval scholar Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 769 A.H./1368 A.D.), we find a classic presentation* of the Islamic way of thinking which puts an unfortunate wedge between revealed religion and reason, to the point that reasoning is simply given a subordinate, slavish role. For Hume, reason was but the slave of passions. For the classical Muslim, reason is but the slave of the law alleged to have been revealed by Allah through Muhammad, the shari'a. There is no question for a Muslim, such as there is for a Catholic, for faith and reason, for morals and reason. For a Muslim, it is shari'a, not reason. Reason can be used to analogize or apply the shari'a, but it cannot in any way ever claim to be its equal, and cannot be invoked to criticize shari'a. It cannot even be used as a source of determination of good and evil. For a Muslim, reason is always post-revelation, post-shari'ia. Reason and the revealed law (shari'a) are unequal partners.

Fiqh al-Imam Ash-Shafi'i

Since practical reason is banished from the moral equation in Islam, it means that natural law does not exist in Islam. You will never be able to argue to a traditional Muslim that the shari'a is unreasonable. The proposition is preposterous to the Muslim. And though their shari'a is preposterous and preposterously brutal in many particulars to anyone who uses his or her God-given reason, the traditional Muslim cannot be approached with the argument. He has blinded himself, and that is a great tragedy inherent in Islam. The invention of Muhammad, that is, the idol Allah and his alleged law, has blinded the Muslims to the use of reason.

This Allah and his self-proclaimed spokesman Muhammad were distrustful of human reason. We may view the distrust of human reason in two ways. First, distrust of reason is something inhumane, something against authentic humanism. But this distrust is also irreligious; is is something against authentic religion. Indeed, distrust of human reason may be categorized as demonic. Why would God, through the gift of revelation, compel us to act in a manner that was against the gift of reason? Surely, what God gives with one hand in nature, he does not take away with the other in supernature? The notion posits a schizophrenia in God which only the devil or stupidity could advocate.

Lest we be accused of misconstruing Islam in general or Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri in particular, we might simply quote the text as translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller.
a1.2 The question arises, Is it possible for the mind alone, unaided by Allah's messengers and revealed scriptures, to knowing rulings, such that someone not reached by a prophet's invitation would be able through his own reason to know Allah's rule concerning his actions? Or is this impossible?

a1.3 The position of the Ash'aris, the followers of Abul Hasan Ash'ari, is that the mind is unable to know the rule of Allah about the acts of those morally responsible except by means of His messengers and inspired books.**

For minds are in obvious disagreement about acts. Some minds find certain acts good, others find them bad. Moreover, one person can be of two minds about one and the same action. Caprice often wins out over the intellect, and considering something good or bad comes to be based on mere whim. So it cannot be said that an act which the mind deems good is therefore good in the eyes of Allah, its performance called for and its doer rewarded by Allah; or that whatever the mind feels to be bad is thus bad in the eyes of Allah, its nonperformance called for and its doer punished by Allah.

a1.4 The basic premise of this school of thought is that the good of the acts of those morally responsible is what the Lawgiver (syn. Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)) has indicated is good by permitting it or asking it be done. And the bad is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not be done. The good is not what reason considers good, nor the bad what reason considers bad. The measure of good and bad, according to this school of thought, is the Sacred Law, not reason (الشرع لا العقل).***
Now, the orthodox Christian is not an advocate of rationalism, a hater of Faith or Revelation. Nor is the orthodox Christian an advocate of fideism, a hater of Reason. The orthodox Christian seeks to navigate the waters of life avoiding the Charybdis of fideism and irrationalism and the Scylla of rationalism and infidelity. The orthodox Christian believes that reason, for all its weaknesses in man, is a gift of God, and a sure one, especially if guided by the Teaching Church, and confirmed by Revelation.

The notion that God demands unreasonable worship, a submission to unreasonable laws, to laws against the natural moral law, is simply untenable, and it is that aspect of Islam which results in a fundamental irrationality of Allah's worshipers. It is also that quality which makes Islam fundamentally inhuman and tyrannical. Islam is not submission to God, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, or Jesus. Islam, by its rejection of Reason, is a form of rebellion against God, and so it may be more accurate to say that it is a submission to the Devil, the great Shaytan (شيطان‎) or Iblis (إبليس) they rail against.

I beseech the Muslims to consider the words of St. Paul: "I beseech you therefore, brethren," says St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, "by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service," τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν, rationabile obsequium vestrum. Indeed, I beseech them in their own tongue:

فاطلب اليكم ايها الاخوة برأفة الله ان تقدموا اجسادكم ذبيحة حية مقدسة مرضية عند الله عبادتكم العقلية.

Free yourself from your slavery to unreason. Follow the natural law, which is your tutor to the true God and to his Christ. Oh Muslim brother! Law is not found between the sheaves of the Qur'an, nor in the pages of the Sunnah, nor in the life of Muhammad, nor in the fatwas of your Imams. No, law is found first in reason: God's Reason first, and man's reason next, and God's Reason, that is his Law, speaks to us through our reason, our conscience, that is, through the natural moral law. As George MacDonald† put it:

The mind of man is the product of live Law;
it thinks by law, it dwells in the midst of law,
it gathers from law its growth; with law, therefore,
can it alone work to any result.

That "live Law" is the natural law based upon reason and found in conscience, not the dead law mouthed by an alleged prophet from a god, nay, not even a god, a sad idol of his vain and unreasonable and often self-serving imaginings.
*By "classic" we ought to be more precise. The text is a classic in Shafi'i jurisprudence. The Shafi'i (شافعي‎) school of law (or madhab, مذهب‎), is one of four main schools of Islamic law or schools of fiqh (فقه‎) in Sunni Islam. The other schools or madahib are the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. The Shafi'i school is the second largest school of the Sunni branch of Islam, governing approximately 29% of Muslims. According to Wikipedia (s.v. Shafi'i): "It is also recognized as the official school of thought by the governments of Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. In addition, the government of Indonesia uses this madhab for the Indonesian compilation of sharia law. It is the dominant school of thought of Palestinian Territories, United Arab Emirates, Chechnya, Kurdistan (East Turkey, North west Iran, North Iraq, Northern Syria), Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Maldives, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia."
**This, of course, means that we cannot know right or wrong through any natural moral law.
***This is clearly a divine positivism. Something is good because God wills it, God does not will it because it is good. That is why when the Qur'an encourages lying or dissimulation, Qur'an 3:28, or encourages the killing of apostates from Islam, e.g., Qur'an 4:89, or encourages jihad against non-believers, e.g., Qur'an 9:36, or unreasonably discriminates against women, e.g., Qur'an 2:282 (woman is worth half a man) or Qur'an 4:11 (males inherit twice that of females), or allows for sex with women slaves captured at war, e.g., Qur'an 4:24, etc. these things are considered good. They are good because Allah decreed them; Allah did not decree them because they are good (indeed, under the natural moral law, they clearly are not good).
†George MacDonald, The Heart of George MacDonald: A One-Volume Collection of His Most Important Works (Rolland Hein, ed.) (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers,1994), 424.

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