Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Milk in Ancient Times

Just finished reading Hallaqの「Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations」. Almost a month ago, I almost-finished it, and then it ceased to be a good travel book (only ~20 pages to go, why carry a heavy book around?), so like the proverbial last bit of milk in a jug it remained on a to-do shelf. Extra frustration: haven't started a new book because I didn't finish it. Took it to dinner tonight. Near the end of the book, Hallaq discusses various authors' approaches towards formation of a new hermeneutic for Islamic morality (replacing or updating usul al-fiqh). He then contrasts this with his own ideas, suggesting that Islamic governance is irretrievably lost because it is incompatible with the modern state; Islamism is one form of Islamic modernism that dispenses with usul al-fiqh (and the majority of scholarly Islamic civilisation), while the modern states have centralised sharia and in their efforts to codify it have stripped it of its essential character.

One of those striving towards a new hermeneutical he mentions, Muhammad Shahrur, struck me as having an interesting approach to the Quran, providing an analysis that divides Mohammad's roles as a prophet from those as a messager, and analysing Sharia through the lens of "is this the upper or lower bound of a requirement/punishment/prohibition". This opens the door for a kind of liberalism that he argues has been lost since the time of the prophet. I find this reading of Shahrur interesting (I hadn't heard of him before Hallaq's mention), although I take issue with Shahrur's take on polygamy. Polygamy is forbidden or restricted in most Muslim countries, although Islamist groups generally push hard against these restrictions. The grounds on which it's forbidden is normally Mohammad's restriction that it only be practiced when the husband can be fair to all his wives, noting that this is practically impossible. Shahrur (as presented by Hallaq) takes a different tack, noting that discussion of polygamy happens in the context of discussions of orphans and mothers who no longer have a husband. He uses this as a basis to suggest that while one's first wife may be taken with no special restrictions, later wives are only be acceptable in this kind of situation of need. It's an interesting intuition (that has some weight when reading the Quran, based on my amateur reading), but I have a problem with it.

One of the things I think people who read religious texts might assume is that their authors (typically being prophets, gods, divine creatures, etc) are above it all, and their actions/behaviour are inhumanely good examples of how to be. I think this is a reasonable assumption for most faiths I know of, although it's not something that really works for other lawgivers (like philosophers, national founders, etc). As a general rule then, I don't think religions can/should promote moral rules which their exemplars violate. This is slightly complicated by S30V50 giving special dispensation to Mohammad for this, unfortunately.


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