The World Needs More Madrasas

Shari'ah Law: An Introduction

I’ve been reading about Shariah law because I don’t want to be ignorant, and the book is very enlightening.  I have learned that there is a long history of Islamic scholarship, and that there are four or five major schools of interpretation.  Some of these schools emphasize the letter of the law, while others emphasize the intention and purpose.  All recognize the historical context in which the laws arose, and all recognize to some degree the place of reason in understanding the laws.

Professor Kamali points out some plain statements in the Qur’an that are often ignored by advocates of harsh punishments.  For example, passages prescribing amputation of a hand for thieves or flogging for adultery, are followed by the words “unless they repent.”  Who wouldn’t repent for stealing when their hand was on the chopping block?

Kamali also frequently quotes the verse “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”  He also frequently discusses issues related to gender equality, supported by laws in the Qur’an and examples from the prophet’s life.

One of the most remarkable sections of the book, to me at least, was on the “Decline of the Madrasahs.”  The last two chapters of the book discuss the need for reform and challenging issues.  The decline of Islamic schools means that a generation of young Muslims is growing up ignorant of the Qur’an and the other sources of Shariah, as well as the history of Islamic scholarship. Consequently their ignorance makes them vulnerable to ignorant fanatics who recruit them for suicide missions.

In the discussion of that issue, Kamali makes it clear that Islamic law universally condemns both suicide and the intentionally targeting of civilians.

In reading this book I was reminded of a statement of Rabbi Gamaliel,

An ignorant person cannot be pious.  [http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-6.html  — the whole article is worth reading!]

I used to think this was snobbish, and I thought of Jesus appealing to fishermen, farmers, and day laborers.  But now I realize, Jesus called people from all walks of life to follow him and learn from him.  He called them to become disciples.  Jesus taught the people of the land.  In this sense, I think it is true that a Christian who willfully remains ignorant cannot be devout.

I also think of the difficulty conservative Christian centers of learning, such as Bible colleges, have in remaining conservative.  We knew a sociologist years ago who wrote his dissertation on “goal displacement” in Bible colleges.  He studied the inevitable drift away from specific doctrinal commitments and from a narrow curriculum to broader and more liberal curricula.  Most leaders of such institutions see this as a problem.  But maybe it’s not.  Maybe being narrow and dogmatic is not a virtue.  Maybe an educated person cannot remain dogmatic.  Maybe it is impossible to study the Bible (or the Talmud or the Qur’an) without raising serious questions about traditional understandings.

My colleague Wes and I went to hear a distinguished professor of genetics who has devoted his waning years to destroying something he doesn’t understand.  I asked him what background he had in the study of theology or philosophy.  He replied, “I don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t study fairiology.”

If I believed fairiology was the greatest threat to our civilization, I would study it.

Ignorance is a threat not only to civil society and peace, it is a threat to faith.  I think Hillel was right after all.

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