This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
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7.6. Sharia Law and The Social Order

Conceptual difficulties

Most modern readers will initially struggle to understand the Shariah, and this is due to both the nature of modern liberalism as well as the nature of Christianity.

Taking Christianity first, we can observe that Christ was born into a framework of law and order, and that he preached his message within the context of the Roman Empire. Jesus and his disciples traveled its roads and even when it came to his crucifixion, the Roman official made efforts to protect him and stave off the bloodlust of the Pharisees, even if by then things had reached a point of no return.

The entirety of Christ’s message assumes the pre-established peace, and assumes the existence of Caesar’s law. Christ gave no indication that he wished to establish a new human law to supplant that of Roman jurisprudence, and especially with respect to the Old Testament law that had been given directly by God, it was made clear that Christianity was to emphasize the spirit over and against the letter. It is said again and again, of course, that Christ came to fulfill rather than to destroy the old law, but regarding what system of jurisprudence Christians were to deploy in place of it, very little is said.

From its origins Christianity, then, has taken ‘philosophy of law’ as something extraneous to the Gospel and even throughout the Middle Ages it was more a question of Christianizing what was inherited from Roman jurisprudence than of deriving a strictly Christian theory of law.

The result of this type of development was that law was envisioned on a spectrum: there was first and foremost the Eternal Law, which existed in the mind of God and was essentially His Will, and this will, as expressed through the laws of manifest creation, was called natural law. Here we come to a characteristic feature of Western philosophy that does not have an exact counterpart in Islam or any other Eastern religion. Natural law became the model toward which human law, which was the third level in the hierarchy. Human law was envisioned as being somewhat open to arbitrariness, but it was possible to judge them as legitimate just insofar as they conformed to natural law. Hence the centrality of natural law philosophy in the West.

This spectrum does not, in itself, encourage a secular view of law, since its whole intent is to reconcile human law (which may vary and is to some degree designed by human minds) with Eternal Law by way of natural law philosophy, which provides an intermediary set of principles by which the transcendent and the worldly can be joined. Again, this is not in itself harmful, and this arrangement, we must assume, was providential and in accord with what Christianity was meant to be. Nonetheless, because it presented human law as open to interpretation, it was revolutionary in comparison to the Old Testament, where it must be admitted that there was no such thing as either human law or natural law, and where everything from the loftiest of rituals to the most basic norms of economic life were a part of Divine Law, and that view was forgotten almost completely.

We have gone to great length to show the unique development of Christian jurisprudence and its distinction from the Hebrew tradition of jurisprudence because, having illustrated it, we can simply say that the Shariah is to Islam what the Divine Law, as directly elaborated in the Torah, was to the Hebrews. In other words, the notion of beginning with ‘purely human law’ which is drawn from extraneous sources (Roman or Greek) and then seeking to reconcile these via natural law to the Divine Law, has no place in Islam, since in Islam, as in Judaism, the details of jurisprudence are given as part of the foundational revelation.

We can summarize by saying that in Christianity law is a product of human reason acting in accordance with Eternal Law, in light of Revelation. This is the formulation of St. Thomas Aquinas, and represents the basic direction taken by the West since the Middle Ages until the Enlightenment, at which point things took a secularizing turn and the notion of “law as the product of human reason” was retained but its accountability to Christian Revelation was discarded.

This disastrous secularization was made possible due to the structural separation between Eternal Law and human law, and this was the weakness inherent in Christian jurisprudence from the beginning: that it always presented human law as the work, primarily, of human reason, albeit in conjunction with Revelation. It is not too great a leap to conclude that the second part of this formulation, “in conjunction with Revelation”, is not entirely necessary, and this is precisely the leap made by humanistic rationalism, and so law becomes the result of human reason and nothing else. And this provides the foundation of modern liberalism.

Thus, to return to what was said at the beginning, modern Western audiences will struggle to grasp the Sharia not only because it is unlike liberalism, according to which they live presently, but also because it was unlike Christianity from the start, which was a Revelation emphasizing the spirit and which left the faithful to adapt human laws according to their own devices. We point this out not to imply that there was anything wrong with this—although we must acknowledge that there were dangers inherent in it that only needed to be exploited in order to sever any connection between the human and the Divine.

Reiteration of the Abrahamic cycle according to Islam

To summarize the esoteric-exoteric relationship as manifested in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we can say that Judaism presents itself as a massive system of Shariah Law, while Christianity, for its parts, was in the beginning presented as having no Shariah at all, but instead accentuating the esoteric kernel of the spiritual life, which moreover was reserved for ‘those with ears to hear’. It was left to the Christians themselves to integrate their message with the social order in such a way that even those beyond the esoteric ‘elect’ could participate in the sacred message, and this they set about doing immediately with the establishment of their own communities and culminating, centuries later, in the social order of the medieval period and what we call ‘Christendom’, which achieved a remarkable equilibrium between the exoteric and the esoteric. In a sense, from the Christian point of view, the Old Testament built up the skeleton and material body and it was Christ who ‘ensouled’, which is to say ‘fulfilled’ it, bringing into being the ‘mystical body’ that is the Church.

The Islamic point of view differs, however, by seeing itself as the message which establishes equilibrium between Mosaic exoterism and Christian esoterism, and it is believed that the ‘Islamic synthesis’ is merely the reinstatement of the religion of Abraham, bringing a grand cycle to a close, hence Muhammad as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’.

In the Sharia, God determines society

The Islamic concept of law is one in which God determines the nature of society and dictates the basic framework of the social order: this is a different point of view from the Christian one where human laws are determined by man with a view toward reconciliation with the Will of God, and is an entirely different world from modern liberalism in which law is purely an expression of the ‘will of the people’ and has no reference to Divine Law whatsoever, these being replaced by vague references to ‘human rights’ and weak attempts to formulate a revised natural law that is not dependent on Revelation. As strange as such a view may at first seem, it is easy enough to comprehend if one simply considers the Old Testament and Jewish Law as presented there.

Sharia law and its levels

While Sharia law, as worked out in Islamic jurisprudence, obviously pertains to God’s will for human society and is the concrete manifestation of his will, it might be helpful to point out that just as the Western view of ‘nature’ and ‘natural law’ was susceptible to application at various orders, so also Sharia can be envisioned as applying at various levels. That is to say, the laws of nature themselves are simply the Sharia of those orders. Sharia as studied here is the Sharia of the human order and is proper to man, just has natural law jurisprudence has primarily in mind human nature, as opposed to animal, vegetable, or mineral nature, although these levels obviously have their own ‘natural laws’ according to which they operate. Animals, plants, and the lower orders of creation act according to their Sharia as given to them, but man, although given the Sharia as part of Revelation, is left free to act according to it or contrary to it.

The transfiguration of everyday life

Modern people worship freedom and see happiness in terms of a maximum of personal liberty. As nonsensical as this is in itself, it also renders the beauty of the Sharia invisible, since the Sharia places certain limits on the actions one takes. Yet there is a certain betrayal of human dignity involved when any system of law becomes secular. What this means is that there is such a thing as ‘non-religious life’ and from thenceforth man must engage in a battle to find deeper meaning in his daily life in a context that has been intentionally emptied of any reference to the sacred. The Muslim, at least if he lives in an Islamic society, is not cursed and degraded in such a way. The Sharia does not so much rob a man of his ability to act, but instead sanctifies the acts that, free or not, all men must perform throughout each day. For the Muslim there is not division between ‘ordinary life’ and ‘religious life’ and spiritual development is something that can be pursued, outwardly and not just inwardly, throughout each day. It is the Sharia that reinforces and supports a vigorous pursuit of sanctification, and whatever problems may be suffered in the traditional Islamic world, we do not encounter the same sense of existential lostness that characterizes the modern ‘free’ countries in the world, namely America, which at present can hardly manage to survive the day without the chemical support of alcohol or an endless variety of pharmaceutical products, all of this in spite of all its wealth and freedom.