The need for revealed law

Muslim jurists were more concerned with practice than with theory. The primary purpose of Islamic law in their view was the well-being and salvation of the entire community, which required clear tenets of faith and practice, not abstruse matters that only theologians and the scholarly minded could understand. Sound adherence to the law was something that all Muslims could learn and potentially put into practice. From a legal perspective, conformity to God's commandments did not require an abstract intelligence or an elaborate education. The pathways of faith and practice lay within the grasp of the many and the few, the untutored and the elite.

For Mu'tazilite and Ash'arite theologians, however, God's purpose in revealing the law revolved around the abstract questions, such as the nature of taklif. For the former, human reason knew good and evil. God could not create evil but was bound of necessity to do what was best for human well-being. The chief purpose of the revelatory law was to inform humanity of the compensation or retribution their acts would meet with in the next world. Those who did good would of necessity be rewarded; those who did evil would inescapably be punished; those who fell between the two categories would occupy an intermediate state (manzila bayn al-manzilatayn).

For the Ash'arites the law's purpose also rested on the issue of taklif and the knowledge of good and evil. Humans know good and evil and their otherworldly consequences only through revelation. Since the will of God is utterly free, God will mete out judgement in the next world as He sees fit. He is not bound by necessity to reward or punish anyone. By virtue of His revealed promise, He will, in fact, reward good and punish or forgive evil, but this is not a cosmic imperative; it is utterly the workings of His will.56

For the Maturidites, revelation, reason and empirical knowledge comprise complementary sources of truth regarding the Seen and the Unseen. The revelatory law is humanity's aid in this life and the next, but knowledge of good and evil is accessible to them through each of the three sources. Unlike the Mu'tazilites, however, the Maturidites argue that it is fundamentally mistaken to make the principle of divine justice the cornerstone of theology. Sound theological speculation must begin and end with reflection on divine wisdom. God's wisdom permeates creation, explains the existence of good and evil and provides the prism through which the intricacies of God's justice become intelligible to human beings.

The Muslim scriptures sometimes seem to exist in tension with the grand speculations of medieval kalam. The Qur'an and hadith clearly teach the innate goodness of human nature (fitra), and its inherent aptitude to know God. It was widely held that natural faith was sufficient for the salvation of all children who died before majority, and for adults who died before receiving the prophetic teaching, if they lived in a way faithful to their natures. The Islamic declaration of faith (''legal faith'') based on true knowledge of God and acceptance of his prophets complemented and perfected human nature. An account attributed to Ibn 'Abbaas, a Companion of the Prophet, held that God's primordial covenant with humanity (Qur'an 7:172-3) accounts for the essentially moral and spiritual proclivities of human nature:

God took from [human beings] as a covenant the pledge to worship Him and to associate no partners with Him. The Hour [of the day of judgement] will not come until all humans are born who were given the covenant on that [first primal] day. Whoever encounters the second covenant [i.e. the Prophetic message] and fulfils it will profit from the first covenant. Whoever encounters the second covenant but does not fulfil it will not be benefited by the first. Whoever dies as a child before encountering the second covenant dies in the state of the first covenant in accordance with the natural human condition [fitra].57

The soul knows God instinctively, is conscious of His perfection and glory, and desires nearness to Him. It possesses basic knowledge of good and evil, a love of truth and a hatred of falsehood, a consciousness of justice and injustice, and even, according to some, an intuitive knowledge that good and evil will receive full recompense. 'All al-Qari (d. 1607) affirmed that human natures are intrinsically equipped for the knowledge of God and the distinction between right and wrong. If left in their original state without negative influences, they would continue for ever to live according to their upright primordial natures.58

Some understood humanity's inborn knowledge of moral and spiritual realities to be ''subconscious''. Consequently, it could be confounded, forgotten and lost. The self's capricious nature and its inclination towards passions and selfish interests are among the fitra's greatest adversaries. Humans often turn away from their better natures, and require inducements to turn back to their natures and stimulate the goodness intrinsic to them. Ghazali exemplified the fitra's need of positive motivations by using the metaphor of digging a well. The water lies hidden within the earth, but only shovels (positive outside stimuli) make it accessible. He also invoked the images of extracting oil from almonds and water from roses;neither feat can be accomplished without an oil press.59

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