Thursday, May 11, 2006

Islamic Legalism

Regarding rights, in Islam there are two categories of rights: the rights of God (huqooqu-llaah) and the rights of the people (huqooqu-l-abaad). The rights of God concern those things which God is owed (mainly obedience to His laws as revealed in Islam, which includes as its foundation faithful adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam). The rights of the people concern those things which people are owed. These rights are mandatory and affect a person's salvation.

There is a debate among Muslims regarding which is superior. This debate, as trivial as it may seem, is substantial and significant for Muslims.

Legalists believe that the rights of God are superior. As such, they believe that on the Day of Judgment people will be asked primarily about their obedience to and fulfillment of these rights and commands; they also believe that a Muslim's judgment will be based on his/her obedience. As such, it is of paramount importance, for example, for a Muslim to pray five times a day. Nothing else should come in the way of this requirement.

But this goes a bit further than simply determining whose rights are superior. If the rights of God are superior, then rules and regulations concerning them are likewise superior and of the utmost importance. Hence, the obsession with what seems to be minutiae: when a prayer's time begins and ends; how to perform wuDuu (ritual washing) if one is wearing socks of cloth or leather; what movements are to be made in prayer; how loud one's voice must be; the validation or invalidation of prayer due to various factors such as breaking wind, soiled clothes, someone walking in front of one's prayer rug while one is praying, the presence of pictures; and so on and so forth. And this is only for praying. The Five Pillars of Islam also include fasting in the Islamic month of ramaDaan, going for Hajj, and paying zakaah (mandatory religious contributions levied on one's gains and property).

Other Muslims believe that the rights of the people are of the utmost importance. Such Muslims would stress building character, social harmony, and uplifting the needy. They would also be more lax on the rules concerning ritual requirements. They believe that on the Day of Judgment a person will be asked primarily about his/her relations with other humans.

Neither side would say that one of the two categories of rights is unimportant or irrelevant. Nevertheless, because of the centrality of what is supposed to be superior, the other is given less attention.

This debate, as mentioned before, is quite significant because it is a matter of salvation. According to legalists, it will not matter how nice and charitable a person has been if he/she has not been faithful in praying and fasting. Likewise, on the other hand, Muslims will say that a person's faithfulness to ritual requirements will not matter if he/she was not a good person to others. The side that wins minds is legalism (particularly when bolstered with quotes from Islam's sources), but the rights of the people wins hearts. Not that the latter helps them any. One of Pakistan's major philanthropists, Abdul Sattar Edhi, a very devout Muslim, has had his life threatened by Islamic militants. (His efforts and success are not surprising: he is from the Memon community, who are well known not only for their wise use of money but also their charity, philanthropy, communalism, and looking out for one another.)

This is significant for those in the West because of the ramification of legalism when taken to its logical conclusion: as long as a person is faithful to ritual requirements and to God's commands, what a person does is irrelevant. All what matters is a person's adherence to ritual requirements. Indeed, some would see terrorism, let alone suicide terrorism, as being part of this adherence to the rights of God. Hence, why such acts are not only important and significant in their mind but also why they are considered to die as martyrs. When Muslims rely on such a dry, formulaic, and ritualistic interpretation of Islam, the results are often quite bloody and inhuman.

innaa naHnu-l-a'lam.

10 Comments:

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

I'm not sure how on topic this is, but I've been wondering about the Islamic interpretation of some of some Mosaic Law. Christians tend to treat things like circumcision and the kosher diet as being primarily about the "peculiarity" of Jews as the chosen people, neccessary mainly to keep them distinct from other people so that they don't assimilate away into nothing over time. When gentile Christians are circumcised (like most American men) or vegitarian, the purpose isn't to horn in on the Covenant, but usually a belief that what God requires of the Jews tends to be what's hygenically best anyway.

I get the impression that Muslims consider things like the consumtion of pork to be intrinsically wicked acts, like theft or idolitry. How inaccurate would it be to say that Muslims believe that God gave the Jews something like Sharia, and their chosen status is dependent on their obedience to the Law, and further, that by observing the Commandments as they do, they sort of "trick" God into thinking that they are His chosen people?

 
At 2:52 PM, Anonymous adolfo velasquez said...

legalism when taken to its logical conclusion: as long as a person is faithful to ritual requirements and to God's commands, what a person does is irrelevant.

I'm reading a great book about the Middle Ages called Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and the above comment reminded me of a character in the book who believes he can do any immoral thing, raping, killing, etc., as long as he gets absolution from a priest afterwards.

It's interesting that Islam is still fighting this theological battle that Christianity fought 800-900 years ago.

 
At 4:41 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

Christians tend to treat things like circumcision and the kosher diet as being primarily about the "peculiarity" of Jews as the chosen people, neccessary mainly to keep them distinct from other people so that they don't assimilate away into nothing over time.

That's not exactly accurate, Christianity teaches that the old covenant requirements were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as they were just a type and a shadow of the real thing - pointing toward His coming.

I'm reading a great book about the Middle Ages called Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and the above comment reminded me of a character in the book who believes he can do any immoral thing, raping, killing, etc., as long as he gets absolution from a priest afterwards.

While it's possible someone who is basically insane could think this, there's never been anything in Christian doctrine to support that. Even the system Roman Catholics use of absolving sins by confession and penance does not work for some sins called "mortal" sins.

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Tom M said...

Thabnk you for the post, Muslihoon.
I was wondering if you knew whether the "taxes" that a dimmmi would be required to pay were somewhat equivalent to the (tithe?) zakaah, and how does it get determined?

Thanks, in advance.

Tom M

 
At 6:45 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thank you, dave,

Good points, dave. I think Jews and some Christians maintain that the Mosaic Law was revealed to make Israel a holy and consecrated (that is, set apart) people unto the Lord. Not eating pork, being circumcized, observing the Sabbath was more to set them apart, keep them distinct, and to place a yoke of obedience upon God's people.

As Christopher Taylor mention, most Christians believe (exclusively or in addition to the above) that the Mosaic Law was to remind or teach Israel of Jesus and what He would do. As such, the old law was fulfilled in Jesus, who revealed a new law.

What is interesting is that Muslims view rules in a different light. Christians and Jews believe in a "chosen people," being separate from the world. This is accomplished, in part, by rules that make them distinct. Muslims believe in no such thing. According to them, what God has revealed is incumbent and applicable to all people. These laws are absolute and fundamentally based on right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy. So, when Muslims obey the rule not to eat pork, it's not because they believe God said so because He wants them to be different but because they believe God revealed it because pork is bad. Same with alcohol, gambling, etc. Muslims are fond of saying that there is an explanation/reason behind every rule in Islam: everything is reasonable and supported by science and logic, they claim.

Muslims believe that Moses revealed to Israel the very same laws (which I suppose can be called "sharee'ah") Muhammad revealed to the Arabs. Same beliefs, same standards. Obviously, some things, such as reciting the Qur'an, fasting, prayers, were different, but the standards and beliefs were basically the same. Any difference between Islam and Judaism is chalked by Muslims under deviance (intentional, as Muslims believe) from what God revealed to Moses.

By following their interpretation of the law God revealed to Moses, Muslims believe that they are mocking God, rebelling against Him, and consciously continuing to pervert God's revelation.

However, I think we can all see who's perverting what. Islam is quite the mish-mash of Judaism (with much polemic against it), Christianity (very poorly understood), Zoroastrianism/Zurvanism, Arab paganism, Arab superstition, and perhaps even Gnosticism. For Muslims, then, to say that Jews or Christians are following something perverted or polluted is quite ironic indeed.

 
At 6:45 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

You bring up a good point, adolfo. I would not be surprised if such Christians did exist. Such fanatics exist in every religion. This is one reason why it is believed Buddhism came about: the elites had stripped the Vedic religion of all moral character and focused on the salvific (and amoral) results of ritualism. The masses became upset and embraced Buddhism, a religion that overturned ritualism in favor of morality. To counter this threat, the Bhagavad-Gita came about to embrace many Buddhist beliefs in a Hindu framework, which eventually succeeded in supplanting Buddhism as the religious inspiration of the masses (and providing a check to dry ritualism).

However, such extremes usually go against the fundamental groundwork of its respective religions. Although some Christians may have believed that (one can do anything as long as one is absolved), there was little to really support their belief. With Islam, the danger exists because the religion's sources can successfully be interpreted as supporting such amorality and extremism.

(The whole concept of Bogomils, for example, who believed that since they were saved, they could not sin no matter what deeds they did, with a corresponding element in Gnosicism, is interesting.)

Thanks for your comments, Chrisopher! They helped indeed!

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thanks for your comment/question, tom b!

What dhimmis paid was called the jizyah. It was a capital tax (meaning that it was paid per head) whose value, it seems, was determined according to the dhimmi's socioeconomic status. The richer dhimmis paid more; the poorer dhimmis paid less. In addition to this was the kharaj, a land tax that initially only dhimmis paid but later which Muslims had to pay as well.

This is not to introduce any equivalence between Muslims and dhimmis. Islamic authorities ensured that dhimmis had to pay at least twice what Muslims had to pay.

zakaah (pronounced as zakaat by non-Arabs) is determined by sharee'ah. One part (zakaatu-l-fitrah) is a capital tax (paid per head) paid usually at the end of ramaDaan. Another part (zakaatu-l-maal) is 2.5% of certain possessions meeting certain conditions. (I am not completely clear on the specifics of zakaah, but I can get them if you would like.)

Shiites pay an additional tax, the khums (one-fifth tax on certain goods meeting certain conditions, divided into two portions, each going to a different group of people). I can get details on khums as well.

However, paying the jizyah was usually done in a public ceremony where the dhimmis' inferiority to Muslims was emphasized: the dhimmi would give the tax in a debasing posture, and the tax-collecter would administer two blows to the head or neck. Indeed, such humiliation is commanded by the Qur'an ("until they pay the jizyah from their hand and they are humiliated/made small"). Furthermore, jizyah was collected on the poor, sick, old, and dead.

Wikipedia on: dhimmi, taxation of dhimmi, jizyah, zakaah, khums.

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Tom M! I meant "Tom M"! I'm so sorry, Tom M.

 
At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Tom M said...

Thanks for both the answer and the correction.I will follow your links. No need to get the research on my part. It is, however quite illuminating to be told what to expect if we lose. Not that anyone who could use the lessons would actually read the posts, but I would find it interesting what other restrictions await us if we don't get this right.

 
At 7:40 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Thanks, Tom M! (Woohoo! Got it right!)

I added your comment to my post on taxes for dhimmis. I never saw it that way, but a good thing to keep in mind.

 

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