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
November 4, 2009
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 190
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35working papers series
Date posted: November 5, 2009 ; Last revised: June 22, 2010
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