Naturalizing Sharīʿa: Foundationalist Ambiguities in Modern Islamic Apologetics
Islamic Law and Society, 22:1-2 (2015), pp. 45-81.
37 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2009 Last revised: 2 Aug 2015
Date Written: November 4, 2009
This essay 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 (fiṭra) are in perfect harmony, that Islam is the “natural religion” (dīn al-fiṭra), and thus that the demands of Islamic law are easy and painless for ordinary human moral capacities. My discussion proceeds through a close reading of the Moroccan independence leader and religious scholar ʿAllāl al-Fāsī (d. 1974). I discuss the ambiguities within Fāsī’s theory and suggest that the natural religion doctrine might be better understood less as a reduction of Islamic law to “natural law” and more as an apologetic effort to defend the realism and feasibility of Islamic law. In the hands of reformers like Fāsī, this project is beset with unresolved ambiguities around the constraining quality of revealed law in practice and the moral validity of non-Islamic political and ethical systems.
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