June 4, 2008


Islam, the Law, and The Sovereignty of God: Accommodating Qur’anic principles to the civil religion (Mark Gould, June/July 2008, Policy Review)

Islam is a multifarious religious tradition. Here I focus on the dominant Sunni tradition. I do not deal with variations in that tradition in the many social and cultural circumstances where it has been and is found. I characterize the logic of religious commitments, the obligations that motivate and legitimate activities, not religious dogma.

Eschatology and soteriology. While soteriology, the theology of salvation, is of paramount importance in Christianity, eschatology, the theology of the last judgment, is of primary significance in Islam. Christians believe in original sin. No Christian, on her own, has the capacity to be saved. God sacrificed his Son to enable salvation; people are saved, or not, through God ’s grace.

In Islam, humans are created with a sound nature, a natural understanding of their obligations to God. They are, however, forgetful and subject to Satan ’s temptations. God’s messengers, and most especially his last and final messenger, Muhammad, remind them of their obligations. Thus God has informed believers how they must act to be saved. God has requested nothing that believers cannot do. If they follow his commandments, on the Day of Judgment God will judge them fairly, weighing the good against the bad, including them among the saved.

These rules are not easy to follow, but Muslims believe that God does not want to create hardship and asks nothing that cannot be accomplished by men and women endowed with a sound constitution, a fitra, which guides each person to God. Unlike in Christianity, where original sin precludes salvation without God ’s grace, here each person’s nature enables her to act in ways that merit God’s grace.

The concern with one’s eternal fate is as manifest in Islam as in Christianity, but its manifestation is different. The Early Meccan suras, those learned first by most Muslims, focus on the Day of Judgment, on God ’s judgment of people in light of his commandments (which are codified in the later suras to be revealed, in the Hadith and in the Shari’a). God is merciful, but believers are told to fear his wrath if they fail to conform to the duties he has revealed for them; thus Muslims are highly motivated to fulfill God ’s commandments, knowing that at the Last Judgment, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it also” ( q 99, 8–9). The structure of their religious commitment is embedded in this eschatology. In Christianity, in contrast, a soteriology of grace is enunciated which requires deeds but which centers more concretely in faith. The incarnation of God in Jesus, not in a text articulating a set of rules and regulations, embodies men ’s hopes even as it increases their uncertainty.

Unfortunately, for all of the isms, uncertainty is the whole ball of wax. Islamicism, Socialism, Communism, Libertarianism, Nazism, Maoism -- every form of Utopianism -- is fatally flawed because they reflect a mistaken certainty about the perfectibility of man and human society.

That's why the Shi'a faith affords a better basis for an Anglo-American-style constitutional order but the Sunni will have to be Reformed.

The True Believer (Eric Hoffer)

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and
die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions,
that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded
of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of
approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes
freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 4, 2008 12:19 PM
Comments for this post are closed.