THE PURPOSE OF LAW AND THE PURPOSE OF RELIGION

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LAW and RELIGION

We cannot understand the role of either law or religion unless we understand human nature. We must believe that the human being is capable of knowing good and evil, benefit and harm, because our bodies by nature are vulnerable to differences in the environment (e.g., can live only within limited temperatures), a fact that defies a relativist attitude toward good and evil. The Qur'an, for example, stresses such distinctions:

The blind and the seeing are not alike,
Nor are the depths of darkness and the light;
Nor are the (chilly) shade and the (genial) heat of the sun:
Nor are alike those that are living and those that are dead . . . (Surah 35 Fatir: 19-23)

We also read in Surah: "Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better (with goodness) . . . ." (Surah 41 Fussilat: 34)

A human being is a vessel into which we put culture, religion, law and good and evil. People are born not knowing anything; they are of our own making, as the Qur'an says: "It is He who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affection: that you may give thanks." (Surah 16 Al Nahl: 78) Unless we understand this, we will not be able to leave corruption and bloodshed. Without this, we will not be able to bear responsibility as Adam did and we will stay on the path of Satan. We will have concocted a lie against God if we regress back.

Religion is about salvation in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. Salvation is to accept good and reject evil, to refuse to become an instrument for evil, to cooperate for good and righteousness. "Help you one another in righteousness (compassion) and piety, but help you not one another in sin and rancour . . ." (Surah 5 Al Ma'idah: 3)

"`In very truth, I tell you', said Jesus, `that everyone who commits sin is a slave (of sin)."' (John 8:34) Both the Bible and Qur'an show us ways of dealing with evil that go beyond the simple dichotomies of ordering people to stay away from evil or to destroy evil. At the risk of simplifying the issue, it is important to clarify how we still fail in approaching the mental realm. Killing the evil one is like breaking the glass instead of washing it. Since we do not accept doctors who kill their patients, it is hard to understand why we accept it when intellectuals, or those who claim to be sons of God, continually glorify the killing of the ignorant instead of teaching and guiding them1.

When we understand this, we reach serenity and bliss, or what Indian philosophy may describe as Nirvana, a state, which cannot be found by those who condemn others and absolve themselves. In the Qur'anic language one reaches what is termed the "pure heart" (al-qalb assalim) or wholeness when the heart becomes devoid of hatred. As the Qur'an says, "The Day will come whereon neither wealth nor children will avail, But only he (will be saved) that brings to God a sound heart." (Surah 26 Al-Shu'ara: 88-89)

In other words, violence comes from false knowledge, and peace in the heart requires true knowledge. As the Bible says, "And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) And the Qur'an remarks, "Those who believe, and whose hearts find serenity in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find serenity." (Surah 13 Ra'd: 28) When serenity comes through knowledge, it is even manifested on the tongue, for language becomes devoid of abuse. The hand also stops harming, just as Adam's son refused to stretch his hand and harm his brother. Our serenity signals a commitment to reaching others through understanding and comprehension, even if the commitment is one-sided: "[He] committed them to the command of self restraint, and well were they entitled to it and worthy of it. And God has full knowledge of all things." (Surah 48 Al Fath: 26)

Just as religion is about this serenity, law is the system by which taboos and duties are set. Law is inherently needed in any collectivity, and it emerges automatically when people meet. In the first days, if a person entered a cave and it was empty, s/he could sit anywhere sThe liked. But if another person was there, the already occupied place became forbidden to the new arnval. Thus, taboo, and the notion of right and duty, emerge even in simple situations. When children play, they set rules by which both sides must abide. Law by its nature requires the commitment of all sides in order to provide protection when violation occurs. When law is violated and some want to sit in the place , of others, social consciousness must be used to intervene and prevent such a breakdown. Law by its nature presupposes a deparlure from violence. Thus, those who refuse to leave violence cannot enter the world of law.

Entering the world of law is voluntary and those who enter this world are subject to it equally. The dilemma of law does lies in its severity or leniency, for this imbalance can be modified with the consensus of the community or involved parties. The problem lies in the fact that people rebel against the law and thereby break the covenant and that the lawmakers apply the law to punish some while letting others get away. This is the injustice that breaks down societies.

Nor was thy Lord the one to destroy villages (a population) until he had sent to its centre a messenger, rehearsing to them our signs: nor are We going to destroy villages (a population) except when its members are unjust. (Surah 28 A1 Qasas: 59)

Law provides protection for those who come under its authority. They relinquish their sovereign right to protect themselves and surrender it to law. Living in a society entails protecting its members and arbitrating among them with justice.

But when society relinquishes this protection to the individual, it regresses to the law of the jungle. There can never be law where people rely on their own individual power instead of resorting to society to resolve their conflicts. Similarly, there can never be democracy where individuals resort to their personal powers or where they have the belief that their own power is sufficient to protect them. Law is about stopping violence to solve conflicts peacefully, so where physical power rules, law disappears. And where knowledge and understanding rule, law occurs. The dividing line between lawlessness and law depends on whether authority resides in the realm of the intellect or in the realm of biceps2. "Hast thou not turned thy vision to thy Lord? How He doth prolong the shadow! If He willed, He could make it stationary! Then, We make the sun its evidence." (Surah 25 A1 Furqan: 45) In a lawful society, authority is not contingent on the body. The authoritative point of reference decides the nature of a given society; it places the society either within or without the boundaries of legitimacy and peace.

Law and violence negate each other. There is no law where there is violence and there is no violence where there is law. Of course, this is a complex idea: the mechanisms of law and violence escape us the way the movement of two mobile bodies confuses us. But as I have argued, just as our misconceptions of the universe will not change any of its laws or movements, so the natural relationship between law and violence will not change just because we think violence is a vital part of our lives.

Law and religion should not be founded on human whims and illusions. Nor should they be based on mere mental perceptions of the world; rather, our intellectuals should be creating a methodology using historical knowledge for weighing our perceptions, with harm and benefit to the creation as its point of reference. Historical knowledge permits us to sift through the harrn and benefit of countless human actions; "you will recognize them by their fruit3." With history, we know more about good and evil, a knowledge that will gradually deepen and consolidate.

Footnotes

1 Jesus describes the "intellectuals" of his age in many ways:

They make up heavy loads and pile them on the shoulders of others, but will not themselves lift a finger to ease the burden. Whatever they do is done for show . . ; they love to have the place of honour at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogues, to be greeted respectfully in the street, and to be addressed as "rabbi" . . . . `Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of Heaven in people's faces; you do not enter yourselves, and when others try to enter you stop them. Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to win one convert; and when you have succeeded you make him twice as fit for hell as you are yourselves.' Man 23:2-15.

2 The Qur'an brings examples on how our own mental perceptions take precedence over reality. The Qur'an discusses how humans could be more lost than animals because they are not programmed with instincts the way animals are. Since humans have choice and the knowledge of good and evil, their deviation is worse than animalistic behavior, which is regulated and programmed by instinct. The Qur'an uses the sun as an example of how our own perceptions could be misleading.

3 "[T]he foam (scum) dries out like forth cast out; while that which benefits humankind remains on the earth." Surah 13 A1 Ra'd: 17. And in the Bible, we read: "You will recognize them by their fruit. Can grapes be picked from briars, or figs &om thistles? A good tree always yields sound fruit, and a poor [corrupt] tree bad [evil] fiuit." Matt 7:16-17.