Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Muslim in You (2)

Post 18—

Remember the topic from the last post? The influence of Islam in you, influence that goes way back to the Middle Ages, but that has wormed its way deeply into Western culture, hearts and minds, including yours. I emphasized the Muslim philosophical heritage, but today I will point out another but related segment of culture where Islam has also left its mark on the West, a segment very closely related the philosophical. Sorry, I just can’t run away from that abstract world in you. But remember what I wrote in Post 17: This stuff is part of you and you cannot escape it even if you wanted to.

The topic of today is the influence of sharia or Muslim law on Western law, including British law that, in turn, has given shape to the laws of former British colonies, including Nigeria and Kenya. I find it very interesting to see how Christians in Nigeria and Kenya as well as leaders of some Christian organizations like the UK-based Barnabas Aid strongly oppose attempts to impose sharia, Muslim law, on Christians. Note that it is the how or the reason for their resistance that I find interesting. I understand their resistance as well as their reasons, but, in distinction of the resistance itself, I find their reasons for it partially wrong. For a very detailed example of that resistance I point you to volumes 7 and 8 of my series Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, where I show the Nigerian Christian resistance. Though I fully sympathize with their resistance, I am advising them to change the parameters of the foundation on which they resist. They resist Muslim law in favour of colonial law they inherited from the British on basis of secular thinking that regards British law as neutral, objective and non-religious. I need to devote a post to that subject one of these days.

The issue here is that scholars tell us that Western law in its early beginning was influenced by the same Muslim philosophy referred to in the last post, the philosophy of Islam in general but especially the Andalusian or Spanish branch. How do you like that for an interesting twist? Joseph Schacht (1902-1969), a British-German orientalist scholar whom Muslims do not regard as their friend, is regarded by some as an important if not the most important Western authority of his day on sharia or Muslim law. In other words, he was a man you cannot ignore in the context of this issue. He regarded sharia or Muslim law as “one of the most important bequests which Islam has transmitted to the civilized world. It is a phenomenon so different from other forms of law that its study is indispensable….” Then he went on about its far-reaching influence on various non-Muslim peoples and cultures:

Several of its institutions were transmitted across the Mediterranean to medieval Europe and became incorporated in the law…. Another significant influence occurred in Islamic Spain. At the opposite end of the Mediterranean, Islamic law has exerted a deep influence on all branches of law of Georgia. There is finally the effect of Islamic law on the laws of the tolerated religions, the Jewish and the Christian. It is certain that the two great branches of the Oriental Christian Church, the Monophysites and the Nestorians, did not hesitate to draw freely on the rules of Islamic law

Schacht thus asserted a far-reaching influence of sharia in medieval Europe, where strands of it were incorporated into the culture and legal systems. Various branches of the ancient church drew freely on the rules of Islamic law. A more contemporary Nigerian Muslim scholar, Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa of Kano, came away from a conference in the UK making a similar claim. He wrote about “the earliest Islamic influences dating back to King Henry, who imported Islamic law from Muslim Spain and modified it into English Common Law.” (See my vol. 6, pp. 66-67, 121--note 33; vol. 8, pp. 351-352, 466-467, note29).

Sorry once again for the scholarly sound of the above, but the claim that Western law in its infancy was influenced by Muslim law and even incorporated aspects of Muslim law will be so startling to most Western and most Christian readers anywhere that it needs the support of serious scholars. This claim is not just picked up out of the clear blue sky; it has authoritative support we cannot ignore.

So, another aspect of the Muslim in you. There is more to come, but for the next week or so I do not have the time for the necessary research. So, for now this is it on this subject. Just realize that there is considerably more of Islam in you than touched upon so far and hopefully I will get back to the subject in due time.

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