The finals for this semester are closing in, and it provokes the inevitable question: What am I going to write about in my assignments?
This summer will present me for five finals, which all need a written assignment, one of them being a seminar paper, so there will be a lot of writing, which is fine, I do love to write, but it also takes a lot of extra reading. Nothing to do about that, besides to read.
What is nice about this semester, contrary to the last, is that I have more freedom to choose subjects, so the subjects will be more interesting for me. Anyway, as far as I have decided the subjects I am going to write about are:
The Use of Quranic Verses in Umayyad Architecture: In the course Archaeology and History of Muslim Jerusalem I have been wondering where to put my focus. Since the course mostly focused on the archaeology, and not so much in the history (well, it is part of it), I wondered how to combine it with my study of religion. My decision fell on the use of Quranic verses, which seems to be have very widespread during the Umayyad Caliphate, e.g. in the Dome of the Rock, so I thought that it could be interesting to see how the Quran was used as part of architecture and whether it was meant as some sort of educational tool, as was the case with other expressions of thought, e.g. in mosaics.
Christian Thought on Free Will: In the Early Christianity and Late Antiquity we have dealt most of this semester with studies on Augustine. In one of the classes we dealt with another Christian and contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, who did provoke some controversy, among other thing on the question of free will and original sin. I found the thought interesting, especially from a theological point of view. Do we really have free will? If not, is God then Just? And if so, is God then All Powerful? It’s going to be interesting to see what these two thinkers thought of it.
Abraham ibn ‘Ezra’s response to Muslim Polemical Arguments: In the Medieval Jewish Exegesis we have dealt with the commentaries and methodology of four great Jewish commentators from the medieval Western Europe, namely Rashi, his grandson Rashbam, Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, and RaMBaN. Since I am mostly focused in the meetings between Islam and Judaism, I have decided to focus on ibn ‘Ezra and possible answers against Muslim attacks on the Jewish faith. I have to admit that I’m not too sure whether he really did deal with it, so I might change focus to his answers to the Karaites instead, in order to keep my focus on the Muslim world.
The Jewish Convert’s Attack on Judaism, and the Jewish Thinker’s Responses: The Battle over the Bible has really been an interesting course, where I’ve learned a lot of new things concerning approaches to the Bible as text and as phenomenon, both concerning Jewish, Christian and Muslim attitudes. Especially one Muslim caught my attention, the 12th century Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi, who wrote a polemical work against the Jewish faith called Ifham al-Yahoud, Silencing the Jew. This work apparently did become rather known, since we see a lot of later responses to it. One who responded rather early is Maimonides, though not on all of the Ifham, and probably not directly on it either. In his Iggeret Teyman, Letter to Yemen, he responds on some of the claims which is being brought forth in the Ifham. It could be interesting to see how the two view the Bible, and how Samaw’el’s approach differ from earlier Muslim approaches to the Bible.
Jewish Influences on Early Islamic Jurisprudence: This is one I’m really looking forward to, and which I have spend a lot of time considering. In the Early Islamic Texts and the Formation of the Muslim Community I have chosen to write my first seminar paper. I did decide from the outset to focus on Islamic law, since I feel that there are a lot of similarities between law in Islam and in Judaism, both in rules but also in methodology and attitudes. It is going to be a challenging subject though, leaving me with four problems to choose between. The first is the obvious comparative study of Jewish and Islamic Jurisprudence, where I wondered about whether there are any Jewish influences in the way early Islamic scholars approached the deduction of laws. One reason why I think so is the contrast in method there existed between the two earliest schools of law in Islam, al-Maliki and al-Hanafi, the former being situated in Medina and Mecca, and traditionally focused on tradition, based on the logic that since the prophet lived there, then he would naturally correct people who did things incorrect as well as showing the people the correct ways, whereas the latter, situated in Iraq, was much more inclined to relate to logical reasoning, something they might have learned from the many great Jewish scholars which had their ancient dwelling there, namely in the old Babylon. It wouldn’t be totally weird for the early Muslims to have relations to the Jewish scholars of Iraq. This doesn’t mean that there was influences or that they were total in so far as there were. The problem is how to relate to the matter, do we choose to make an external or internal study, do we compare the apparent similarities or do we go in and focus on the approach and outlook.
The interest in this particular subject was raised by two articles, one by Judith Romney Wegner, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The Four Roots of Islamic Law and their Talmudic Counterparts,” and one by Joseph E. David, “Legal Comparability and Cultural Identity: The Case of Legal Reasoning in Jewish and Islamic Tradition.”
In Islamic Jurisprudence there are four sources traditionally, two revealed sources, Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet (as it is found in the Hadith-literature), as well as Ijma, which means consensus, as well as Qiyas, which means analogical reasoning. The two first sources are agreed upon a hundred percent by all four schools, where as the two latter sources are subject for discussions.
Wegner, in her article, argues that the four sources are influenced by Jewish sources in the Talmud, the Quran being the Islamic answer on the Written Torah, the Sunnah on Oral Torah (written down in what is called Mishnah, which root is close to the root of sunnah), the consensus of the Ulamah, the learned Islamic scholars, being the Islamic answer on the consensus of the Sages, and Qiyas, legal reasoning being the answer on the Talmudic reasoning, two forms of reasoning which seem pretty similar, at least from an external point of view. And it is here where David comes in with his article, where he deals with different approaches to the comparative study, attempting to present a new approach, “jurisprudential consciousness”, based on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning of the jurist, which contrary to Wegner’s approach is a much more internal approach, leaving a different impression than the first.
An example is in its place, taken from David’s article. In both the Talmudic reasoning as well as in Islamic reasoning there is an understanding of judicial error, that is, a judge who makes a faulty decision. There are two categories under this subject, those faults which are based on lack of knowledge or understanding of the revealed sources, and those which is caused by flawed legal reasoning. In both Judaism and Islam the former has to be corrected, whereas the latter is accepted. And in both religions the former is based on precisely the same criteria, going against the revealed sources (in Judaism the Written and the Oral Torah, and in Islam the Quran and the Sunnah), where is the criteria differs in the latter case. In the Talmud the flaw based on legal reasoning is based on the wrong choice of two differing opinions, which have never been dealt with. It can be the case of two Tannaim (Mishnaic Sages) or two Amoraim (later Sages from the Gemarrah) who have a disagreement which was never solved. A later judge might then base his decision on one of the two opinions, whereas the general practice follows the other opinion. It is a fault, since he should have followed the normal practice, but it is still accepted. In case of Islamic thought, at least according to Shafi’i, the fault is caused based on flawed legal reasoning based on the principle of qiyas, analogy, not on the judge deciding the wrong of two differing opinions. And here we see a contrast between Jewish and Islamic legal reasoning.
But this is only the first of the four possible problems I might choose among. That is, how much similarity or difference are there between Jewish and Islamic legal thought, and can this be a sign of Jewish influence on early Islamic legal thought? The next problem is to establish connections. Namely, are there any Jewish converts who had influence on early Islamic law? If not, can we then assume that early Muslim legal scholars met with Jewish scholars and discussed with them? That is also an interesting question, a question which demands a different approach, focusing on historic accounts on interfaith meetings between Jews and Muslims within the first centuries of Islamic time.
The third question deals with the reasoning and methods of the “ahl al-ra’y,” the people of reasoning, the early Islamic scholars in Iraq, an important step in understanding the way the resonated in their dealing with legal questions. The reason for the importance of this, is obvious. If Shafi’i, a third century AH Islamic scholar, can be said to be influenced by Jewish thought, whereas the earlier Islamic scholar in Iraq differ strongly, then the question is how much Jewish legal thought influenced Islamic legal thought, and if at all.
The fourth problem is the already mentioned difference in approach found in the Meccan-Medinan legal thought, as expressed by imam al-Maliki, and the Iraqi legal thought, expressed by imam abu Hanifa, and their disciples. There are differences and the root and cause of these differences can be hinting to some Jewish influences on the one of them, so far as we can point to any similarity in the legal thought of the two religions.
My problem is to choose only one of these for problems, not having room or time enough to deal seriously with all of them. And I am in doubt which one of them to focus on.
So, there you are. This is my program for next two months. I’m looking forward to share thoughts and progress with you.