Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

Bhojani, “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a”

This month, Routledge Publishing will release “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a: Independent rationality in modern Shi’i usul al-Fiqh” by Ali-Reza Bhojani (Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham).  The publisher’s description follows:

Moral Rationalism and Shari'aMoral Rationalism and Shari’a is the first attempt at outlining the scope for a theological reading of Shari’a, based on a critical examination of why ‘Adliyya theological ethics have not significantly impacted Shi’i readings of Shari’a.

Within Shi’i works of Shari ‘a legal theory (usul al-fiqh) there is a theoretical space for reason as an independent source of normativity alongside the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. The position holds that humans are capable of understanding moral values independently of revelation. Describing themselves as ‘Adliyya (literally the people of Justice), this allows the Shi ‘a, who describe themselves as ‘Adiliyya (literally, the People of Justice), to attribute a substantive rational conception of justice to God, both in terms of His actions and His regulative instructions. Despite the Shi’i adoption of this moral rationalism, independent judgments of rational morality play little or no role in the actual inference of Shari ‘a norms within mainstream contemporary Shi’i thought.

Through a close examination of the notion of independent rationality as a source in modern Shi’i usul al-fiqh, the obstacles preventing this moral rationalism from impacting the understanding of Shari ‘a are shown to be purely epistemic. In line with the ‘emic’ (insider) approach adopted, these epistemic obstacles are revisited identifying the scope for allowing a reading of Shari’a that is consistent with the fundamental moral rationalism of Shi’i thought. It is argued that judgments of rational morality, even when not definitively certain, cannot be ignored in the face of the apparent meaning of texts that are themselves also not certain. An‘Adliyya reading of Shari’a demands that the strength of independent rational evidence be reconciled against the strength of any other apparently conflicting evidence, such that independent judgments of rational morality act as a condition for the validity of precepts attributed to a just and moral God.

Podcast on Mideast Christians and ISIS

ep26For those who are interested, I sat for an interview yesterday on Mideast Christians and ISIS, part of a podcast series produced by Fr. Nareg Terterian of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in Douglaston, New York. Fr. Nareg, a St. John’s grad, did a wonderful job and I appreciated the opportunity. You can listen to the interview here; my segment starts around the 10:00 minute mark and runs for 30 minutes.

Goldsmith, “Cycle of Fear”

This March, Hurst Publisher’s will release “Cycle of Fear: Syria’s Alawites in War and Peace” by Leon Goldsmith (Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman).  The publisher’s description follows:

Cycle of FearIn early 2011 an elderly Alawite shaykh lamented the long history of ‘oppression and aggression’ against his people. Against such collective memories the Syrian uprising was viewed by many Alawites, and observers, as a revanchist Sunni Muslim movement and the gravest threat yet to the unorthodox Shi’ah sub-sect. This explained why the Alawites largely remained loyal to the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But was Alawite history really a constant tale of oppression and the Syrian uprising of 2011 an existential threat to the Alawites? This book surveys Alawite history from the sect’s inception in Abbasid Iraq up to the start of the uprising in 2011. Goldsmith shows how Alawite identity and political behaviour have been shaped by a cycle of insecurity that has prevented the group from achieving either genuine social integration or long term security. Rather than being the gravest threat yet to the sect, the Syrian uprising, in the context of the Arab Spring, was quite possibly a historic opportunity for the Alawites finally to break free from their cycle of fear.

St. John’s Hosts Panel on Mideast Christians

L-R: Michael LaCivita, Mark Wasef, MLM

This past Wednesday, the Center for Law and Religion co-sponsored a panel, “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis,” at the St. John’s Law School campus in Queens. The Catholic Law Students Association, and, especially, this year’s energetic president, Eugene Ubawike ’15, took the lead in organizing the event, which was also endorsed by the Law School’s Center for International and Comparative Law. I served as moderator.

Eugene introduced the panel by referring to the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS operatives in Libya last weekend. The martyrdom of Christians is not something one reads about only in history books, he said–persecution is happening right now. In my introduction, I followed up on Eugene’s comments by reminding the audience of what Pope Francis said at our conference in Rome this past summer: there are more Christian martyrs today than in the first centuries of the Church, since before the time of Constantine, 1700 years ago.

Michael LaCivita, the Chief Communications Officer of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, explained the mission of his organization and helpfully situated the discussion by giving a brief history of the Christians of the Middle East. Mark Wasef, an attorney and member of the board of United for a New Egypt, provided an overview of the situation Christians face in contemporary Egypt. He spoke movingly of the troubles Copts have faced in recent years, but also of the possibility of peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims, and his hopes for the future. A robust question and answer session touched on topics like the dhimma, the promise of the Sisi government in Egypt, Mideast Christians in American politics, and the legacy of the Crusades.

This is not the first panel on Mideast Christians that CLR has sponsored at the Law School, and, as at the event we sponsored in October 2010, turnout on Wednesday night was encouraging, a sign that the Law School community takes this issue seriously. Congratulations to Eugene and the Catholic Law Students Association for an important event in the life of St. John’s, and many thanks to our panelists.

People of the Cross

people-of-the-crossFrom Patheos:

 ISIS released its first video of mass beheadings last Saturday.

The victims of this murder were 21 Christian Egyptian men who ISIS marched onto a beach in Libya and then beheaded en masse. A CBS senior news analyst commented “They are targeting the people of the cross,” the Copts, which is an ancient Christian communion located mostly in Egypt. This isn’t much of an analytical leap, considering that ISIS named the video “A Message to the Nation of the Cross.”

France and Egypt have called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to deal with the “spiraling crisis of ISIS.” Meanwhile, Italy has closed its embassy in Lybia and also appealed to the United Nations as it attempts to deal with a huge influx of refugees who are fleeing Libya.

“This risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us,” Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Il Messaggero newspaper. She added that the risks of Jihadists entering Italy along with the refugees “could not be ruled out.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said, “We have told Europe and the international community that we have to stop sleeping. The problems cannot all be left to us because we are the first, the closest.”

Egypt’s government has responded to the video with bombings of ISIS locations inside Lybia. Egypt has also asked for American assistance in this war.

At an academic conference a couple of years ago, a prominent scholar with impeccably elite credentials scoffed when I referred to the worldwide persecution of Christians. “Next you’ll be telling us about the persecution of the one-billion-plus Chinese,” he said. I’m sure his opinion hasn’t changed.

 

Panel: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis” (St. John’s, Feb. 18)

On February 18 at 5 p.m., CLR will co-host a panel, along with the St. John’s Catholic Law Students Association, on a very timely topic: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis.”

The discussion will be moderated by CLR Director Mark Movsesian. Speakers will include Michael LaCivita (Catholic Near East Welfare Association), Edward Clancy (Aid to the Church in Need), and Mark Wasef (United for a New Egpyt).

For more information, please click here.

Ibrahim, “Pragmatism in Islamic Law”

In April, Syracuse University Press will release “Pragmatism in Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History” by Ahmed Fakry Ibrahim (McGill University).  The publisher’s description follows:

pragmatismIn Pragmatism in Islamic Law, Ibrahim presents a detailed history of Sunni legal pluralism and the ways in which it was employed to accommodate the changing needs of society. Since the formative period of Islamic law, jurists have debated whether it is acceptable for a law to be selected based on its utility, rather than weighing conflicting articulations of the law to determine the most likely expression of the divine will. Virtually unanimous opposition to the utilitarian approach, referred to as “pragmatic eclecticism,” emerged among early Islamic jurists. However, due to a host of changing institutional and socioeconomic transformations, a trend toward the legitimization of pragmatic eclecticism arose in the thirteenth century. Subsequently, the Mamluk authorities institutionalized this pragmatism when Sultan Baybars appointed four chief judges representing the four Sunni schools in Cairo in 1265 CE. After a brief attempt to reverse Mamluk pluralism by imposing the Hanafi school in the sixteenth century, Egypt’s new rulers, the Ottomans, embraced this pluralistic pragmatism.

In examining over a thousand cases from three seventeenth- and eighteenthcentury Egyptian courts, Ibrahim traces the internal logic of pragmatic eclecticism under the Ottomans. An array of archival sources documents the manner in which Egyptian society’s subaltern classes navigated Sunni legal pluralism as a tool to avoid more austere legal doctrines. The ensuing portrait challenges the assumption made by many modern historians that the utilitarian approaches adopted by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Muslim reformers constituted a clear rupture with early Islamic legal history. In contrast, many of the legal strategies exercised in Egypt’s partial codification of family law in the twentieth century were rooted in premodern Islamic jurisprudence.

Boe, “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a”

Last month, I.B.Tauris released “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a” by Marianne Boe (University of Bergen). The publisher’s description follows:

Passed into law over a decade before the Revolution, the Family Protection Law quickly drew the ire of the conservative clergy and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. In fact, it was one of the first laws to be rescinded following the revolution. The law was hardly a surprising target, however, since women’s status in Iran was then – and continues now to be – a central concern of Iranian political leaders, media commentators, and international observers alike. Taking up the issue of women’s status in a modern context, Marianne Boe offers a nuanced view of how women’s rights activists assert their rights within an Islamic context by weaving together religious and historical texts and narratives. Through her substantial fieldwork and novel analysis, Boe undermines both the traditional view of ‘Islamic Feminism’ as monolithic and clears a path to a new understanding of the role of women’s rights activists in shaping and synthesizing debates on the shari’a, women’s rights and family law. As such, this book is essential for anyone studying family law and the role of women in contemporary Iran.

Farzaneh, “The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani”

In March, Syracuse University Press will release “The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani” by Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh (Northeastern Illinois University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution was the twentieth century’s first such political movement in the Middle East. It represented a landmark in Iranian history because of the unlikely support it received from Shi’ite clerics who historically viewed Western concepts with suspicion, some claiming constitutionalism to be anti-Islamic. Leading the support was Muhammad Kazim Khurasani, the renowned Shi’ite jurist who conceived of a supporting role for the clergy in a modern Iranian political system.

Drawing on extensive analysis of religious texts, fatwas, and articles written by Khurasani an other pro- and anti-constitutionalists, Farzaneh provides a comprehensive and illuminating interpretation of Khurasani’s religious pragmatism. Despite some opposition from his peers, Khurasani used a form of jurisprudential reasoning when creating shari’a that was based on human intellect to justify his support of not only the Iranian parliament but also the political powers of clerics. He had a reputation across the Shi’ite community as a masterful religious scholar, a skillful teacher, and a committed humanitarian who heeded the people’s socioeconomic and political grievances and took action to address them. Khurasani’s push for progressive reforms helped to inaugurate a new era of clerical involvement in constitutionalism in the Middle East.

Napoleoni, “The Islamist Phoenix”

In December, Seven Stories Press released “The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East” by Loretta Napoleoni.  The publisher’s description follows:

The Islamist PhoenixThe rise to prominence of the Islamic State (IS)—now dominating Middle Eastern politics—is explained in revealing detail by economist and bestselling author Loretta Napoleoni. The Islamist Phoenix: Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East illuminates the singularity and modernity of IS and describes its strength and its appeal in an increasingly destabilized Middle East. It is a mistake to compare IS to other jihadist groups such as the Taliban or al Qaeda, which aren’t interested in contemporary nation-building, says Napoleoni. In her introduction she writes, “While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the scripts of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the cradle of the Islamic State.” Napoleoni traces the beginnings of IS to the war on terror, its evolving relationship with al-Qaeda, and its current status as the first official Caliphate in over a century. And she details how modernity, pragmatism, and establishing strongholds in financially strategic regions—something no previous Middle East armed organization has been able to do—are the basis for IS’s enormous successes. With brilliant insight and straightforward prose, Napoleoni brings the newest form of shell-state government to light, and shows us how dangerous it would be to underestimate it.