Brief Remark on Law in Islam and Christianity
As the heading above indicates, I'm posting a brief remark on "Law" in Islam and Christianity. In yesterday's blog entry, I noted the tolerant views of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Let us recall his remark on "Law," which he calls Shari'a:
"The fact that all the divine revelations are [revelations] of a single religion should not lead us to believe that they all share the same religious law [shari'a]. 'Religion' is the constant core essence of each revelation. It is one and does not vary, because it is anchored in universal, constant truths that do not change. Conversely, religious law does vary from one divine revelation to the other. By 'religion' we mean the divine message that goes to the common universal principles shared by all revelations, such as the fundamental tenets of faith, morals, and worship. But 'religious law' is the divine law that regulates the life and social behavior of the believers, which changes from time to time and from place to place. While religion, according to the philosophy of Islam, is one, religious law is not. It varies among people, and in accordance with the environment, time, place and circumstances. Therefore, the Koran emphasizes the variety of religious law among the believers: 'To each among you have we prescribed a law and a course. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single nation [5:48].'"This sounds rather unlike what one usually hears from Islam, which often insists upon the primacy of Shari'a over all other systems of law because it is grounded in revelation. Al-Tayeb doesn't elaborate upon the grounding of law, but his Qur'anic citation suggests that Allah has "prescribed a law" to each religiously defined nation, presumably through revelation, though this revelation leaves room for alterations dependent upon time and place. On the one hand, this is tolerant on the part of Al-Tayeb, for it allows for difference. On the other hand, this is problematic, in that it leaves open the question of the law that a Muslim should follow when living in a non-Muslim state. Does Al-Tayeb think that Muslims have the right to follow their own Shari'a even in a secular state, such as those that make up the EU? There also seems to be no rational ground for distinguishing good laws from bad laws since Allah apparently prescribed different laws for different groups. But I'm speculating without sufficient evidence.
At any rate, Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent address in Berlin, reminded his audience of the mainstream Christian view of Law:
How do we recognize what is right? In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law -- and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Christian theologians thereby aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. In the first half of that century, the social natural law developed by the Stoic philosophers came into contact with leading teachers of Roman Law. Through this encounter, the juridical culture of the West was born, which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind. This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to "inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world".The Pope was speaking to the Germans, and he begins by noting -- in a manner similar to Al-Tayeb -- that Law has often been based on religion, differing according to the religion of a people. But unlike Al-Tayeb, he ends up in a different legal place. Christianity does not propose a law grounded in a particular revelation. Rather, it grounds Law in universal Natural Law discovered through reason. There is, then, ultimately one Law for all humanity.
On the surface, Al-Tayeb's view sounds more tolerant, but it allows for arbitrary laws, including those that most civilized people find repugnant, such as the cutting off of hands for thievery. Conversely. the Pope's view sounds less tolerant, but it insists upon the rationality of Law and thus offers a standard for rejecting laws repugnant to civilized people.
Or so things seem to me . . .