5: Islamic Law & Shia Islam


RELI 3320 | Intro to Islam

“Verily, I am leaving behind two precious things among you: the Book of God and my kindred (Ahl al-Bayt), for the two will never separate until they come back to me by the Pond [on Judgment Day].”
Prophet Muhammad
Hadith al-Thaqalayn

Islamic Theology & Law
Aslan Ch. 6

I. Islamic Orthodoxy & Orthopraxy

  • A. Orthodoxy | Greek: ortho (right) doxia (belief)
    • C.f., Christianity: belief is more important than practice
    • Islamic scholastic theology: kalam (عِلْم الكَلام)
      • “pure speculative theology” often irrelevant to a lived Islamic life
      • Ulama: what’s key is how a Muslim lives her life

  • B. Orthopraxy | Greek: ortho (right) praxis (practice)
    • C.f., Judaism: practice (Jewish law) is more important than belief
    • Islamic law: fiqh (فقه)
      • Aims to be practical and relevant
      • Changes as the times and historical context change
      • Different schools of fiqh across the world

II. The Five Pillars

  • The Shahadah (الشهادة‎) | the Islamic Declaration of Faith                 
    • The synthesis of belief and practice: say what you believe
      • “There is only One God and Muhammad is His Messenger.”
      • The sum of all Islamic theology
    • The way to become a Muslim (join the Ummah)
    • Tahwid (توحيد‎): Islamic Monotheism
      • God is One
      • C.f., “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” (Deut. 6:4)
      • God is without parts or personae (no trinity, no son, no division)
      • Gos is without quintessence — no definable term can capture God
        • Allahu Ackbar — God is Greater [than anything imaginable]
        • God has 99 names in the Qur’an — yet they’re all metaphors
      • Shirk (شرك‎): opposite of Tawhid
        • idolatry and polytheism
        • Christian trinity (e.g., Jesus as God, part of God)
        • Any obstacle put between the believer and God
    • Muhammad as Rasul Allah — the Messenger of God
      • Muhammad as the final arbiter (i.e., leader of the Ummah)
      • The Qur’an as humanity’s final and greatest testament
      • There will never be another: Muhammad is the Messenger
  • Zakat (زكاة‎) | obligatory alms-giving
    • Given to members of the Ummah in need
    • Social burdens shared by all Muslims
    • 2.5% of savings and wealth (beyond a living wage)
  • Sawm (صَوْم) | Fasting
    • Abstaining from food, drink, and physical pleasure during daylight hours
    • Held during the month of Ramadan
    • Exempt: kids, expectant & nursing mothers, sick, injured, elderly, travellers, etc.
    • Rooted in Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur
      • 25 hour fast to atone for sins against God (thru repentance, prayer, and charity)
      • Fasting is prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those before you. (2:183)
    • Every Muslim should know what it’s like to be without
  • Hajj (حَجّ‎) | Pilgrimmage to Mecca
    • Once in a lifetime trip — if you can afford it
    • The axis mundi — the center of the world — for a quarter of the world’s population
    • Visit the Ka’ba (أَلكَعْبَة): simple “cube,” draped in black, bearing Qur’anic writing
    • Meccan Trip Itinerary
      • Don simple white garments
      • Enter the Great Mosque of Mecca
      • Make 7 orbits around the Ka’ba (at the center of the mosque)
      • Run back and forth between two sacred hills (c.f., Hagar)
      • Travel to Mount Arafat (c.f., Adam & Eve)
      • Stone three sacred pillars (Satan)
      • Ritually slaughter sheep, cattle, and lambs — given to the poor
      • Bring home simple white garments (c.f., funeral shroud)
  • Salat (صلاة) | Daily Communal Prayer
    • Two forms of Islamic prayer
      • Du’a: individual prayer at any time for any purpose
      • Salat: communal prayer at specific times in a specific way
    • Salat occurs five times a day: sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening
    • Before Salat
      • Modest dress, reasonably clean, in a ritually clean environment
      • Ritual ablutions (wudu): hands, mouth, nose, arms, face, hairline, ears, and feet
      • The muezzin faces Mecca and recites the Islamic Call to prayer (adhan)
    • Facing Mecca, Salat includes
      • Hands raised and lowered in unison
      • Heads turned east and west
      • Bodies prostrated — with hands, knees, and forehead on the floor
    • Daily Salat as the “tent pole” of the Five Pillars of Islam
      • The Shahadah is recited
      • Salat is performed
      • Give 2.5% of the day, ~30 minutes (c.f., Zakat)
      • Give up phyisical pleasure (c.f., Sawm)
      • Face Mecca (c.f., the Hajj)

III. Paths of Kalam: Rationalism & Traditionalism

  • Kalam: Islamic Rationalism
    • If God is One, then God is logical
      • Reason/logic as the best justification for theological claims (article link)
    • If God is One, then nothing is co-eternal with God
      • Therefore, the Qur’an is not eternal
        • Therefore, the Qur’an is a created text
        • Therefore, the best way to study the Qur’an is thru historical context
    • If a text has a discrepancy, it must be reinterpreted or rejected
      • A text must cohere with: facts, history, and Islam
      • E.g., the “hand of God” (Qur’an 48:10) must be read metaphorically

  • Kalam: Islamic Traditionalism
    • Reason and logical proofs as limited and fallible
      • Therefore the Traditionalists didn’t use reason to justify theological claims
    • The Qur’an as the perfect Voice of God
      • The Qur’an should be read literally (zahir)
      • Religious Truth is accepted without recourse to metaphorical interpretation
        • A Traditionalist bears witness to Qur’anic claims without asking how (bila kayfa) it works
    • For Traditionalists, it’s not up to us to understand how or why apparent contradictions occur
      • The Qur’an says “the face of your Lord will endure forever” (55:27)
        • Traditionalists: this verse is true, yet God also doesn’t have attributes

Medieval View of Fiqh

Our school is correct with the possibility of error, and another school is in error with the possiblity of being correct.

Abu Hafs Umar an-Nasafi,
12th century Hanafi Jurist

IV. Sharia & Fiqh: the Dream vs. the Lived Reality

  • Sharia (شريعة): a utopian challenge of what Islamic life should look like
    • Sharia as eternal, perfect, and unattainable
    • Fiqh (Islamic Law) is the evolving, imperfect, lived, regional attempts at Sharia
    • There is one Sharia — with many different schools (fiqh) attempting to reach it
  • 2 Categories of Sharia
    • Islamic Legal Codes (Muamalat)
      • Focuses on family law, commericial law, civil law, and bodily injury
      • Inconsequential to American Muslims, who obey U.S. Common Law instead
        • Islam teaches Muslims to obey the laws of the land in which you reside
        • Wherever freedom of religion is offered, Muslim citizens owe their loyalty to that government
    • Islamic Religious Duties (Ibadah)
      • This is the dimension of Sharia/Fiqh useful to American Muslims
      • Analogous to Jewish Law (Halakha) for American Jews
      • Describes how Muslims should worship (i.e., the Five Pillars)
  • Sharia is arrived at via:
    • Qur’an: the holy Islamic scripture
    • Hadith: the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (i.e., belief)
    • Sunnah: the collected customs and practices of Muhammad & the Early Ummah (i.e., practice)
  • Interpreting Sharia
    • 3 modes of juridical interpretation
      • Ijma: the scholarly concensus of the Ummah
      • Qiyas: Analogical reasoning (e.g., this never happened before, but it’s similar to these 3 earlier problems…)
      • Ijtihad: Independent reasoning (promoted by Islamic Modernists)
    • Legal precedent vs. independent thought
      • Over time, unthinking imitation (taqlid) of previous jurists became commonplace in Medieval Islam
        • This conformity and over-reliance on precedent is seen negatively by most modern Muslims
      • Rather than fall victim to taqlid, modern Muslims promote ijtihad — arriving at new ideas thru independent thought

Shia Islam
Aslan Ch. 7

Imam Ali

Do you see how Fatima’s son fights? Do you see how Ali’s son fights? Do you see how the Hashemites fight despite three days of hunger and thirst?

Imam Ali
Karbala Massacre, 680 CE

I. Karbala & the Birth of Shia Islam (174)

  • Husayn, Son of Ali & Fatima
  • The Party of Ali | Shiatu Ali
  • Ashura: lamintation as atonement (183)

II. Imamah in Shia Islam (184)

  • The Prophet & the Imam (185)
  • The Imam & Ta’wil (186-187)
  • The Mahdi (189)

III. Iran: the Modern Shia State (191)

  • Shia Iran: 1501-1979 
  • Khomeinism (192)
  • After Khomeini (196)
    • Disbelief in Khomeini’s death (tore his funeral shroud)
    • From Najaf (Iraq) – an non-political Shia Islam (197)