The relationship between law and morality in islam

The nature of law and morality : Plain islam

the relationship between law and morality in islam

LAW AND MORALITY INTRODUCTION TO LAW 1. b)TYPES OF MORALITY c) RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LAW AND MORALITY d)DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAW AND Example: The value of morality in Islam is very high. The Islamic moral system stems from its primary creed of belief in One The key to virtue and good conduct is a strong relation with God, who. And today there are legal systems, such as the Islamic for example, which are The close connection between what is right and what is moral, between law and .

I maintain that the dynamism and vitality of Islamic law must be preserved in the contemporary age, and that such a result is not possible without maintaining the liberty and innovative capacities of the individual. I do not believe in the desirability or reasonability of ignoring or dismissing the entire Islamic juristic heritage. It would be intellectually irresponsible and pedagogically incoherent to do so. In my view, the Islamic juristic heritage has an important instructive and demonstrative role, but also a critical anchoring role to play for contemporary Muslims.

I do believe that, as many contemporary Muslim reformers have argued, the classical juristic tradition must be examined and interrogated through the probative lens of ethical and moral theory. Justice as the Path of Divinity: And man assumed it. He hath proved a tyrant and a fool. Humans are to be held accountable for their decisions and actions here and in the final life.

the relationship between law and morality in islam

The failings of humanity are its own and the successes are its rewards. This burdensome privilege is not confined to the trust God placed in humans. The purpose of humans in life is to realize the righteous path of God, but this entails an everlasting moral struggle to attain that Divine path.

It is as if the genuinely and truly moral and righteous are co-extensive and inseparable from the Divine.

the relationship between law and morality in islam

The Divine is the very embodiment of all that is moral, ethical, good and right, and therefore, the presence of the Divine as an objective reality necessarily means the existence of ethical values such as justice and goodness as an objective reality.

Accordingly, it is meaningless for one to claim that God in fact does exist but that justice or goodness does not. Partial justice or partial goodness could be contextual, contingent, and relative, but absolute and perfect justice or goodness is not.

Absolute and perfect justice and goodness are attributes of the Divine because the Divine embodies all that is right and good. The objective entails the absolute and Divine, as the Divine is non-contingent and objective. But, ultimately, God alone knows what the right path is: As is well known, there is no formal church or priesthood to guide people in Islam. However, especially in Sunni Islam, the authority of these experts is entirely contingent on personal deference, or the willingness of individuals to place their confidence in the opinions and claims of such experts.

the relationship between law and morality in islam

Regardless of their expertise or knowledge, no religious scholar can claim sacred authority or claim to be immune from error. They will not be excused for deferring to the commands of their superiors or for blindly adhering to the prevailing social mores or inherited religious beliefs and practices.

This does not mean that the technical rulings of Islamic law are to be known intuitively or that any conceited person with a delusional sense of jurisprudential acumen may pontificate as to the details of the law. In other words, we are talking about the basic moral and ethical precepts and the responsibility of individuals to seek to live an ethical and moral life. Ethical Obligations in Islamic Law In this context, it is critical to differentiate between responsibility or obligation and accountability or liability.

In this context, the truth is Divinity and Divinity is the truth, but recognition of Divinity necessitates the recognition of the values that attach themselves to the Divine—values such as justice, fairness, compassion, mercy, honesty, and goodness.

As God created humans, he inspired unto them an intuitive liking for the path of righteousness: The righteous path of Godliness is embedded in the very nature of human beings. It is possible that a person might seek to realize elements of the righteous path while neglecting to pursue the righteous path in its entirety.

It is possible to seek to be merciful, for instance, but neglect to properly reflect upon the demands of justice. But more importantly, it is possible that a person might seek to realize moral and ethical precepts while failing to seek out the Divine. The righteous path in its fullness is woefully incomplete and inadequate without believing in God. Recognizing or believing in the Divine is as if making a decision to remove the blindfolds, and if one does so, he enables himself to see the light that has been there all along unaffected by the heedlessness of the blind.

Moreover, this Divine light has qualities and attributes that exist completely unaffected by the denials of the blind or the incredulity of the obstinate. The precepts and values of ethics and morality are what I have been describing as the qualities or attributes of the Divine. Metaphorically, moral and ethical precepts are like luminous supernal elements within the light of God.

It is possible to seek out and recognize these luminous elements while denying that the Divine or its light exists. From a theological perspective, this means that a person who does so is partially blind—he can see particular luminous substances but does not see the full celestial light. All human beings have an affirmative individual responsibility and obligation to see or recognize as much of the light as possible. Effectively, this means that each person is obligated to be as religiously pious and devout and as moral and ethical as possible.

However, accountability for the realization of this responsibility is an entirely different matter than the obligation itself. Conceptually, the fact that human beings are obligated to seek the path does not necessarily mean that they are accountable for failing to realize the path or even accountable for failing to seek it in the first place.

In Islamic theology, temporal accountability is entirely separable from Divine accountability. Divine accountability is something that is in the sole discretion of God—no one can tell God who to forgive or punish.

Muslims are asked to believe that God is just in the most perfect sense. Therefore, while Muslims may believe that God, being perfectly just, will give each person his due, no one can presumptuously claim to know what the application of Divine justice will ultimately entail.

Temporal, as opposed to Divine, accountability is investigated through the instruments of Islamic jurisprudence.

the relationship between law and morality in islam

Another way of understanding the functions of Islamic jurisprudence is to state: Rights, however, exist objectively—their existence is not contingent or conditioned on human recognition. According to Muslim legal theory, the purpose of Islamic law is to seek after the righteous path—to try to come as close as possible to it and in doing so, achieve the welfare of the people.

Examples of such laws would include the command to pray five times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, or give alms, and the prohibitions against extra-marital sex, slander, or the consumption of alcohol and pork. A claim of necessity is but a tool invoked in order to protect a moral principle or ethical value.

But a claim of public interest is premised on the idea of the greater good or preserving the overall welfare of people. I am also not claiming that Islamic law limits itself to the recognition of cases of individual necessity or that Islamic law does not recognize cases of public necessity.

In fact, because Islamic jurisprudence does recognize exceptions to the law in cases in which the necessity claimed is of a public nature, some contemporary jurists conclude that the difference between necessity and public interest is only a matter of degree—not fundamental in nature.

This, however, is not correct: With such an overarching utilitarian commitment, it becomes difficult to defend the objectivity and absoluteness of any ethical or moral value.

Every ethical or moral value becomes contingent on its ability to serve the general welfare or well-being of people, otherwise it is rendered invalid. This is exactly why modern jurists who relied on the concept of public interest as the save-all measure for Islamic legal reform have tended to create an unprincipled legal system that was made to endorse a very wide range of individualized and even idiosyncratic preferences.

For many Muslims, they have become the indisputable proof of the unique identity of the Islamic legal system and also the symbol for Muslim cultural and political autonomy. Furthermore, many non-Muslim and Muslim scholars and writers, who are poorly informed about Islamic jurisprudence, treat these laws as if they are the very heart and core of the Islamic legal system.

See Rabb ; idem ; idem But there is no plausible reason to believe that the attributes or characteristics of Divinity or that the ethical precepts of Islam are embedded in specific punishments—whatever these punishments may be. What ought to be considered immutable and eternal are the ethical values that the punitive measures were intended to safeguard and not the punitive measures themselves.

The punishments themselves, however, are contextual—they depend on a variety of factors such as mitigation; evidentiary certitude; the intent and purpose of the individual perpetrator; the reliability and accountability of the judicial system at a particular time and place; community standards; sociologically dependent and shifting notions of cruelty, barbarity and mercy; and the possible deterrence value of such punishments within the context of a certain age and place. In fact, in a well-known set of traditions, the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have taught that in criminal matters, any doubt must be construed in the light most favorable to a defendant.

Any human legal system sets in motion certain potentialities—a potential, for instance, for achieving justice, equity, fairness, security, safety, and stability—but the ability of a legal system to pursue, leave alone achieve, any of these potentials is highly contingent. The pursuits of a legal system are dependent on a set of complex socio-political and economic conditions as well as the sincerity, knowledge, intelligence, and diligence of the typically large number of human beings who grease and turn the wheels of a legal system.

Like the achievement of immaculate justice and consummate ethical existence, these are aspirations and ideals that are unattainable and unachievable, but the fact that they are impossible to realize should not in any sense dissuade human beings from pursuing them as ideals.

Morality in Islam

You command what is good and forbid what is evil and believe in God. Also, see Abou El Fadl— Hence, human knowledge cannot be equated with the truth of Divinity, but the very process of searching is morally praiseworthy, and an ethical imperative, even if human beings are capable only of approximating and coming close to the truth. In my view, if a government, group, or people arrogantly claim that they are capable of representing the Divine Truth or Will, then they have committed a grievous moral offense by associating partners with God shirk.

Whether rich or poor, God is their sustainer. Refrain from following your whims and desires lest you fail to be just, for if you fail to uphold justice, God is fully aware of what you do. See my essays in Abou El Fadl et al. Moreover, this seems to me to be an essential characteristic of a universal religion that is addressed to humanity at large, and not to an exclusive cultural, social, or ethnic group.

This has become all the more critical in an age in which advances in communications has united the consciousness of human beings into an ever more shared epistemological awareness. It is as if the urbanized populations of the world, regardless of their cultural and historical particularities, have been forced into a porous epistemological consciousness in which different societies cannot avoid gazing upon one another.

In such a world, Islamic law cannot afford to be interpreted on the basis of legal rulings and precedents of the past alone. Wrestling Islam from the Extremists The law plays a central role in Islam and yet, the law is also the least understood aspect of the Islamic faith by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some even go as far as thinking that a Muslim who believes in Sharia law is by definition a fanatic or fundamentalist.

Yet to accuse every Muslim who believes in Islamic law of fanaticism is akin to accusing every Jew who believes in Rabbinic or Talmudic law to be a fanatic as well. The truth is that so much hinges on the particular conception that one has of Islamic law and the interpretation that one follows. Islamic law is derived from two distinct sources: Traditions purporting to quote the Prophet verbatim are known as Hadith. The Sunnah, however, is a broader term; it refers to the Hadith as well as to narratives purporting to describe the conduct of the Prophet and his companions in a variety of settings and contexts.

In Islam, the Quran occupies a unique and singular status as the literal word of God transmitted by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims believe that God warranted and promised to guard the text of the Quran from any possible alterations, revisions, deletions, or redactions, and therefore, while Muslims may disagree about the meaning and import of the revelation, there is a broad consensus among Muslims on the integrity of the text.

At times the Quran addresses itself to the Prophet, specifically, but on other occasions the Quran speaks to all Muslims or to humanity at large. In different contexts, the Quran will address Jews or Christians or the polytheists.

After the Quran, most Muslims consider the Sunnah of the Prophet as the second most authoritative source of Islam.


Although the Quran and Sunnah are considered the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law, there are material differences between them. The Quran is primarily concerned with ethics and morality; the Sunnah, however, contains everything ranging from enunciations of moral principles, to detailed prescriptions on various matters of personal and social conduct, to mythology and historical narratives.

Not all of the Sunnah can easily translate into a set of straightforward normative commands, and therefore, Muslim jurists argued that parts of the Sunnah are intended as legislative and binding, while other parts are simply descriptive and for the most part, not binding.

Most importantly, the huge body of literature that embodies the Sunnah is complex and generally inaccessible to the lay person. In order to systematically and comprehensively analyze what the Sunnah, as a whole, has to say on a particular topic requires a considerable amount of technical knowledge and training. In part, this is due to the fact that the Sunnah literature reflects a rather wide array of conflicting and competing ideological orientations and outlooks that exist in tension with each other.

Selective and non-systematic approaches to the Sunnah produce determinations that are extremely imbalanced and that are highly skewed in favor of a particular ideological orientation or another. And yet, such selective and imbalanced treatments of the Sunnah are commonplace in the contemporary Muslim world. Nevertheless, it is important to note that many of the basic rituals of Islam were derived from the Sunnah traditions.

In addition, the Sunnah helps in contextualizing the Quranic revelation, and also in understanding the historical framework and role of the Islamic message. Consequently, it is not possible to simply ignore this formidable oral tradition, or focus exclusively on the Quran, without doing serious damage to the structure of the Islamic religion as a whole.

the relationship between law and morality in islam

When the Quran and Sunnah are considered together, they tell a complex story. They can be a source of profound intellectual and moral guidance and empowerment. However the opposite is also true: For instance, the Sunnah contains a large number of traditions that could be very empowering to women, but it also contains an equally large number of traditions that are demeaning and deprecating towards women.

  • Qur'anic Ethics and Islamic Law, in Journal of Islamic Ethics 1 (Brill, 2017) 7-28
  • The nature of law and morality
  • Morality & Ethics in Islam

To engage the Sunnah on this subject, analyze it systematically, interpret it consistently with the Quran, and to read it in such a fashion that would promote, and not undermine, the ethical objectives of Islam calls for a well-informed and sagaciously balanced intellectual and moral outlook. Other than the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, there were various methodologies used by jurists for producing legal rulings.