Home » All My Posts » Is Shariah Possible (II): Origins of a Cosmopolitan Venture

Is Shariah Possible (II): Origins of a Cosmopolitan Venture

A moral philosophy characteristically presupposes a sociology. For every moral philosophy offers explicitly or implicitly at least a partial conceptual analysis of the relationship of an agent to his or her reasons, motives, intentions and actions, and in so doing generally presupposes some claim that these concepts are embodied or at least can be in the real social world. [Alasdair Macintyre]

shariahAny study of Muslim civilization – with the purpose of exploring the roots of law – cannot remain unaffected by a certain kind of arbitrariness as far as specific time spans concerning various formative and post formative legal developments are concerned. However, it can be said with certainty that during the time of pious caliphate, there was no formal body of religious law that can be understood as binding on all Muslims. The community, being a direct recipient of revealed word of God, had no need to indulge in formal interpretation as the text (being characteristically a recitation-text as indicated by the word Quran itself and the first revelation Iqra’a) naturally exercised authority through immediate oral methods. A striking example of this spontaneous textual authority is Abu Bakr’s admonition to Umar at the time of Prophet’s demise which automatically brought the latter out from a state of denial.

This spontaneity, however, does not imply normative singularity (as we shall see later in the detailed examination of the Quran as a source of Sharia’h) and there were differences of opinions among companions regarding meaning of various verses.

Similarly, the concept Sunnah was not understood to be taken as a authoritative binding source in a proper and well defined framework. It was a kind of exemplary Prophetic practice – not yet formally situated in history – having a quasi-authoritative character; a disposition, which has to be necessarily distinguished from a relatively formal framework developed by later scholars especially Shafii.

It is difficult to identify the triggering point in history where Islamic tradition began to transform itself into a coherent, encompassing and self-assertive social order from a crudely authoritative moral philosophy . In this regard, one of the best studies of historical development of Islamic civilization has been carried out by Marshall Hodgson.

In his majestically detailed work, Hodgson goes on to explain the early  origins of a certain piously conscious class within Muslim societies supporting a faith-based egalitarianism in contrast to ruling absolutism of Marwani caliphate. A striking characteristic of this class – which was later specialized to be accepted as Ul’ema – was the pronouncement of this expectation that Islam has to have its own system of law, ethics, education and set of governing principles for public as well as private life.

With regards to Muslim civilization as a whole, the most profound cultural implication of this universalistic phenomenon was the emergence of a global social concern. In the words of Hodgson:

[…] the Muslims, unlike the Jews, did not regard their own community as a unique and (in principle) hereditary body selected out from a world left otherwise without direct divine guidance. The Muslim community was thought of as one among many divinely guided communities such as the Jewish or Christian, all (at their origin) equally blessed. Thus far, Islam took explicitly the form that various Christian and Jewish bodies had implicitly been assuming under the confessional empires […]. The difference between Islam and the other communities was that Islam was first to rule over and then to supersede all others. Islam was to bring the true and uncorrupted divine guidance to all mankind, creating a world-wide society in which the true revelation would be the everyday norm of all the nations. It must not guide an autonomous community like the Jewish; it must guide the practical policies of a cosmopolitan world.

This indeed was the aspiration which can be termed as the cornerstone of that sacred socio-moral vision we call Sharia’h or Islamic Canon. It is important to note that this sacred vision was as much informed by a will to act in opposition to the political reality of pre-Abbasid period as it was by the resolve to bring the whole ambit of individual life in accordance with divine will; or more specifically, to act as ordained by the Quran and Sunnah.


4 thoughts on “Is Shariah Possible (II): Origins of a Cosmopolitan Venture

  1. Wildon Carr’s statment of the conflict has some presumptions about the nature of reality – that the intellect necessarily only grasps as aspect of it and not the whole of it.

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