Pluralizing Religion: Islamic Law and the Anxiety of Reasoned Deliberation
Anver M. Emon
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law
August 25, 2009
PLURALIZING RELIGION: ISLAMIC LAW AND THE ANXIETY OF REASONED DELIBERATION, Courtney Bender, Pamela Klassen, eds., After Pluralism, Columbia University Press, forthcoming
For the liberally minded, religion is something that inheres in people, rather than an arena for reasoned deliberation. This essentialization arises in part from how an uncritical embrace of liberal tolerance as value-neutral covers the way in which liberal governance essentializes religion, and thereby marginalizes it from general debate. For Wendy Brown, who writes in a context of a liberal theory of governance, the conception of “the religious” in a discourse of tolerance is reductive, and will often blind others from understanding how members of a faith community understand both their God and their world through a thick, rational vocabulary founded upon religious traditions that either speak directly or are made to speak to issues affecting the public weal. It can and has contributed to a climate in which the religious is deemed to have little or no place in public debate and discourse, on either principled or pragmatic grounds (Brown, 4, 10, 24).
Those with a religious framework may not view their religious system as purely subjective, private and individual. Rather, they may rely upon it as a lens through which to view and understand their world. As such, to problematize liberal discourses of tolerance and religion will require us, in part, to understand how religious traditions such as Islamic law were not rarefied traditions, but instead offered a framework for understanding, characterizing, and ultimately ordering the world.
But accepting Brown’s critique can have anxiety-producing implications for the religiously minded who might not want to contend with the indeterminacy that comes with rendering religion a site of reasoned deliberation. Those with a religious framework may want their framework to be so determinate as to be outside the bounds of reasoned deliberation. Indeed, Roxanne Euben suggests that for Islamic fundamentalists, having a uniform set of guidelines aids in cementing an Islamic identity positioned against a hegemonic liberal West. Thereby, to undermine the rarified image of a religious tradition such as Islamic law may pose a threat to both liberals and Islamists whose agendas of governance and community identity benefit from the rarification of a tradition such as Islamic law.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that Islamic legal history is replete with theoretical inquiries into the nature of knowledge, the scope of moral agency and legal interpretation, and the authority of law. These inquiries are perhaps a product of the anxiety that comes with recognizing a religious tradition as a site of reasoned deliberation. This article provides a brief account of how premodern Muslim jurists theorized about the inevitable interpretivism in the juridical enterprise. The way in which they gave license to jurists to reason to conclusions of law raised fundamental questions of theology, moral agency, and legal authority.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: law, religion, history, Islam, Sharia
JEL Classification: k19
Date posted: September 13, 2009