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The Uses of Fitra (Human Nature) in the Legal and Political Theory of 'Allal Al-Fasi: Natural Law or 'Taking People as They Are'?


Andrew F. March


Yale University

November 4, 2009

Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 190

Abstract:     
This paper discusses an important feature of much modern Islamic writing on law, politics and morality. The feature in question is the claim that Islamic law and human nature (fitra) are in perfect harmony, that Islam is the “natural religion” (din al-fitra), and thus that the demands of Islamic law are easy and painless for ordinary human moral capacities. My discussion proceeds through a reading of the Moroccan independence leader and religious scholar ‘Allal al-Fasi (d. 1974), with a brief comparative reference to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966). I argue that simply suggesting that this represents a turn toward “natural law” is insufficient. First, on many understandings of the term, Islamic law in all forms has always been a “natural law” theory. Second, advocates of the natural religion doctrine often go to great lengths to avoid heterodoxy and distinguish their views from natural law theories. Third, merely pointing to similarities with natural law does not explain the rhetorical or justificatory function of the natural religion doctrine. I discuss the ambiguities within Fasi’s treatment, and suggest that the natural religion doctrine might be better understood as a concern with realism and feasibility within normative ethics, and the tradition within political theory of constructing “realistic utopian” theories of justice.

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Date posted: November 5, 2009 ; Last revised: June 22, 2010

Suggested Citation

March, Andrew F., The Uses of Fitra (Human Nature) in the Legal and Political Theory of 'Allal Al-Fasi: Natural Law or 'Taking People as They Are'? (November 4, 2009). Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 190. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1500009 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1500009

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Andrew F. March (Contact Author)
Yale University ( email )
New Haven, CT 06520
United States
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