Shari’a, faith and critical legal theory
DOI link for Shari’a, faith and critical legal theory
Shari’a, faith and critical legal theory book
Public discussion by Muslims and non-Muslims about ‘Islam’ has, for some time now, been dominated by polemics between Islamists – ‘crusaders’ with a crescent instead of a cross – and Islamophobes, the new antisemites. Two of the symptoms of this unholy alliance are the increased rhetorical identifi cation of the ‘Shari’a’ with Islam; and the tendency to essentialise the ‘civilisational’ differences between, on the one hand, a ‘European’ culture that is presented as Greek and Christian (downplaying its Jewish and Islamic infl uences) and an ‘Islamic’ one, which is presented as essentially ‘Eastern’ and which could never have absorbed the infl uences of Greece and Christianity. In this second regard much too much commentary has been made on S. Huntington’s approach to deserve further mentioning here. A more recent, and perhaps more disturbing, example, in France, was Sylvain Gougenheim’s deeply fl awed but widely publicised Aristote au Mont-Saint-Michel – Les racines grecques de l‘Europe chrétienne (Gougenheim 2008). Focusing on the fi gure of James of Venice, the twelfth-century Greek who translated Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics directly from the Greek (bypassing the Arabic translations), the book suggests that the much studied Arab/Muslim contribution to European enlightenment has been exaggerated and proposes, in its place, a mythical version of a Christianity that managed to become ‘purely European’ (specifi cally Greek and Norman with all Semitic elements excised), ecumenical and at peace with itself (forgetting the great schism in 1054 or the sacking of Constantinople). While this mythical Europe is presented as harmoniously incorporating its Greek and Christian heritage – the spirit of scientifi c curiosity and philosophical refl ection embedded in a religious tradition that the Church sought to guarantee – the book presents a picture of the Arab/ Muslim world as only superfi cially Hellenized due to two essential features: a
Semitic language (Arabic, pejoratively qualifi ed as idiom) that is structurally incapable of expressing scientifi c and philosophical ideas contrary to IndoEuropean languages (Gougenheim 2008: 126, 136), and a religion (Islam) that is inherently contrary to reason (for example, Gougenheim 2008: 101). Of course such works do not go unanswered by serious scholarship and Gougenheim’s in particular has encountered devastating criticism by a dedicated volume (Büttgen 2009). What is more harrowing is the realisation that this book is only the most recent in a long history of attempts by Europeans to ‘salvage’ the Greek heritage from its Arabo-Muslim pollutants; something which complements other more crudely formulated anti-Semitic/Islamophobic views. Centuries ago St Thomas Aquinas, while compiling his theology, also sought access to the original Greek texts in order to bypass the neo-platonic Arab translations: chronologically his writings coincide with his vociferous anti-semitism.