July 25, 2003


Over at Secular Islam, Fatima has a post on a 14th century book on Islamic law that's worth reading. She focuses on the treatment of infidels, the penalties for apostasy (that is, departing from the faith, which was roughly equivalent to charges of heresy in Christendom, although not nearly so prevalent), and adds,

It's true that in "real life" today, I would say that proabably most of the dictates of Shari'ah are not followed and in fact not even known about by the populace at large. Nevertheless they exist and provide backing to fundamentalists and Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state based firmly on these dictates, which are seen as coming straight from Allah Himself, not to be changed. In addition, the areas of Shari'ah that are most likely to be implemented in modern-day Muslim countries are those dealing with family law, women, and the like, which are typically horribly misogynistic (which I will deal with next time!). And of course, if the ulama scholars) are constantly dispensing fatwas and advice based on all aspects of Shari'ah, as seen on sites like Islam Q&A and Ask the Imam. It's also worth noting that this book and its laws was not originally written by a Wahhabi or a fundamentalist, but by a mainstream jurist of Islam in the 14th century, who was even a Sufi.

That seems about right to me, although it's regrettable to note that in some areas where Shari'ah is not followed, even harsher forms of tribal justice are observed. For the record, 14th century Western ideas on tolerance and religious freedom weren't exactly stellar; Norman Cohn argues that the second greatest Jewish holocaust was carried out around the time of the Black Death, particularly in (where else) the German kingdoms, but also elsewhere in Europe.

I don't raise such facts to denigrate the West; on the contrary, I find the modern West, and particularly the United States (I am partial), to be the last best hope of humanity. But Western notions of tolerance, pluralism and religious freedom evolved from a European milieu that spread the blood libel far and wide; that fairly regularly expelled Jews (Portugal, Spain, England); whose intellectuals engaged in witch hunts and burnt Giordano Bruno as a heretic and wanted to do the same to Galileo.

I suspect that Muslims are capable of the same transformation, although I agree there is a long way to go. For example, see this bit of Islamist horror, a sort of etiquette manual for Muslims living in the West who encounter Jews.

Posted by Ideofact at July 25, 2003 11:56 PM

Apostasy is not unknown in Christiandom either. See the Emporer Julian (r. 361-363 CE) for the most famous example. The word is derived from the Greek for 'to revolt' and is only applied to those who renounce a faith they once proclaimed. A heretic, on the other hand, just professes a diferent version of the same faith.

'Infidel' works in both cases ;)

Posted by: Rand Race at July 28, 2003 03:58 PM

Hey, I thought Babylon 5 was the last best hope for humanity.

Oh, wait, B5 was the last best hope for peace. Then I think it became the last best hope for victory.

Posted by: Randall Parker at July 28, 2003 09:47 PM

Bill, Fatima has picked up an advanced text on fiqh, islamic law, that is far above her level to understand unaided, if she was interested in understanding it, which I doubt. I'll just leave a few links here if you don't mind; the comments section at Secular Islam is too frightening.

First off, she appears not to know who Shaykh Nu Ha Mim Keller, the translator of the book, is. He is probably the most well-educated American muslim alive; a short autobiographical essay of his is available here:


Fatima states (and remember, Islamic law is considered to be perfectly valid even today) as if to imply that this book is valid in it's entirety now. In fact Islamic law is constantly being reinterpreted, based on existing precedent. Those modernists who call for reinterpretation of Islamic law in the West are usually calling for existing precedent to be thrown out entirely and recreated from the source texts of Quran and Hadith.

The last thing I'll bother with is this totally unfair dig:
"As an aside, here is the rule about Arab women marrying non-Arab men:

m4.2 The following are not suitable matches for one another: a non Arab man for an Arab woman (because of the hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, "Allah has chosen the Arabs above others")."
What she posts as a "rule" is in fact one of a dozen or so guidelines for choosing a suitable match, the first and foremost being piety. And just to give a taste for the complexities Fatima is glossing over or willfully misrepresenting, here is an excerpt from a longer discussion (http://members01.chello.se/onesr/fiqhi/fiqha_e76.html) on the relative merits of Arabs vs. non-Arabs:

"Furthermore, Rasulullah said in the Farewell Pilgrimage:

"There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab,

nor of a non-Arab over an Arab.... except in whoever

fears Allah the most."

This is narrated from 17 Sahaba, so it is mutawatir (mass-transmitted). And this is the belief of Imam al-Shafi`i (ra).

Whatever ruling Imam al-Shafi`i meant when he said he preferred Arabs to marry Arabs, does not have a bearing on affirming superiority in the eyes of Allah but only with custom and on condition that those concerned are people of Taqwa. Imam al-Shafi`i never said that he would prefer a non-muttaqi Arab over a muttaqi non-Arab. It is likely, also, that what the Imam meant by "Arabs and non-Arabs" in this particular ruling was as an euphemism for free men and slaves, and this sense is also implied in the narration "There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab." Meaning: of a free man over a slave or former slave, because slaves and former slaves were overwhelmingly non-Arabs since the earliest centuries in Islam. This is confirmed by the narration adduced by Ibn al-Salah in his Muqaddima on the Hadith sciences from `Ata' that the latter was asked by the Caliph Hisham ibn `Abd al-Malik in al-Rusafa:

- "O `Ata'! Do you know anything about the foremost Ulema in the world?"
- "Yes, Commander of the Believers."
- "Who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Madina?"
- "Nafi` the Mawla of Ibn `Umar [most likely a Persian according to al-Dhahabi]."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl Makka?"
- "`Ata' ibn Abi Rabah."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Yaman?"
- "Tawus ibn Kaysan."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Yamama?"
- "Yahya ibn Abi Kathir."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Sham?"
- "Makhul."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Jazira?"
- "Maymun ibn Mihran."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl Khurasan?"
- "Al-Dahhak ibn Muzahim."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "No! A Mawla."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Basra?"
- "Al-Hasan and Ibn Sirin."
- "Were they Mawlas or Arabs?"
- "No! Mawlas."
- "Then who is the Faqih of Ahl al-Kufa?"
- "Ibrahim al-Nakha`i."
- "Was he a Mawla or an Arab?"
- "An Arab!"
Hearing which, Hisham said:
- "Had you not said an Arab I think I would have expired on the spot."

Mawla is one of the addad in Arabic- words referring also to their opposites - and can mean the slave-owner, as illustrated by `Ali's word to the Ansar: "How can I be your Mawla [=owner] when you are all Arabs [= free men]?". Narrated by Ahmad with a chain of sound narrators as per al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa'id (9:128-129 #14610).

In this sense, what al-Shafi`i meant by his fatwa was that it is disliked for a free woman to marry a slave because it is preferable for her to bring free men and women into the world, and Allah knows best."
That site is like a trainwreck, Bill. Now I understand a little bit why Rabbis are supposed to talk you out of converting to Judaism.

Posted by: Bin Gregory at July 29, 2003 04:18 AM

B.G. --

Your points are well taken, if a little harshly made regarding Fatima (her commenters are another matter).

Posted by: Bill at August 12, 2003 11:11 PM