Monday, August 18, 2008

Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence - Part 5

The Issue of Qiyas

Previously, I briefly explored the idea of hadith and ijma as two of the major resources which usually are cited in many discussions concerning Sacred Law and shari‘ah. Earlier, I also outlined some important problems revolving about such ideas. Such problems are especially important to keep in mind when people – as, unfortunately, all too many theologians and religious scholars seem inclined to want to do – seek to use either Hadith and/or ijma as a basis for trying to impose on others some given approach to Sacred Law and shari‘ah and claim that the religious determinations that emerge through one’s use of such resources are obligatory or a duty or a Divine ordinance or compulsory and with which, therefore people must comply or to which people must submit.

Qiyas is another methodological source cited by some religious scholars as having authoritative weight when it comes to trying to determine the nature of Sacred Law and shari‘ah. While not all of the four schools of jurisprudence noted earlier accept or use the methodology of qiyas to help reach their determinations concerning the nature of Sacred Law in any given situation, most of the aforementioned schools do, under certain circumstances, employ qiyas as a basic tool.

Qiyas is a word which, in literal terms, means measurement. In effect, when a qiyas is used in discussions concerning religious legalisms, the word is meant to give reference to a standard, metric, or method of establishing a similarity, analogical relationship, or a logical connection between two situations, objects, or issues.

The idea of qiyas gives expression to a form of reasoning or logic which seeks to link two situations or sets of circumstances and focus on the similarities and/or logical relationships between the two. In other words, qiyas is a measuring device, of sorts, which has been constructed in accordance with a mode of logic or discursive thinking which is to be used as a means for comparing the results generated by such a measuring device, standard, or metric that is being used to assess or analyze the structural character of whatever situation, problem, issue, or question that is being considered and to which the qiyas mode of measurement or logic is being applied.

Inherent in the nature of this sort of logic is the idea that if one constructs such a ruler, standard, or measure and lays that measure against one object [or case, issue, question] of interest and, thereby, obtains a measure or assessment of some kind, then, one may be able to take that same mode of measurement or assessment and lay it against other objects [cases, issues, or questions]. Furthermore, if such a mode of measurement generates, with respect to the new object or case, a similar kind of result in relation to the new object/case as was obtained during the first application of the standard, then, the principles inherent in the mode of measurement or logical relationship are considered to be reflected by both objects or cases which are being compared, and, on the basis of such a measurement or application of a standard, one proceeds to argue that the two cases or objects are similar in a certain way or that the two cases/objects share a logical link which is tied to the mode of measurement or assessment – that is, qiyas -- being used.

Thus, suppose one is seeking to measure a cat with a ruler, and, then, one places this same ruler against another object. Suppose further that there are similarities detected by one’s mode of measurement in the new object which are reminiscent of what one found in the case of the cat. According to the logic of qiyas inherent in such a situation, one has grounds for arguing that the new ‘object’ is a cat – even if that new object is not a cat but, instead, turns out to be a rabbit, mouse, dog, or some other life-form.

Obviously, one needs to understand what one is trying to measure, and one needs to understand whether the units of measurement of the ruler or metric being used are appropriate to that which one is seeking to measure. One also needs to know whether one’s mode of measurement actually reveals anything of significance concerning the issue of similarity or logical relationship between two objects or cases – beyond, that is, the manner in which one’s ruler or standard of measurement is constructed and has been used in both instances of measurement or analysis.

The logic of any measuring device is that such a device will find, or not find, only that for which it is looking. Furthermore, if a measuring device captures what it has the capacity to establish in the way of a measurement, this finding, in and of itself, does not necessarily say anything about the nature of that which is being analyzed through such a process of measurement except that one’s method of measurement or assessment is capable of reflecting certain facets of the situation to which it is being applied.

If, for example, one understands that a measuring device can only tell one about the length, width, or height of a given object, then, one knows that when one finds two, or more, objects which exhibit common properties that can be measured by the metric or ruler being used, then, all one has found is a reflection of one’s own method of measurement concerning length, width and height. One has not necessarily discovered anything about the actual nature of that to which such a measuring device has been applied other than that, within certain limits, one’s measuring device can generate a quantitative description concerning the height, breadth, or width of that something.

To say that a cat is ten inches long or three inches wide or six inches tall says nothing about what it is to be a cat other than the fact that some cats come in such a size. If one wishes to know what cats actually are, one has to find a method for assessing the structural character of ‘cat-ness’ that is far more complex than a simple ruler which measures inches and feet.

Quantitative measurements constitute one kind of similarity or logical relationship among certain objects and situations. However, qualitative measurements constitute a very different way of trying to compare two situations, objects, or the like.

To say that two objects share similar physical properties as determined by the measuring or logical process which links the two objects or cases, is one thing. Such quantitative measurements and subsequent comparisons often tend to be fairly straightforward – although using a foot ruler to measure light years could become a little unruly.

However, trying to measure the qualitative properties of two objects or cases tends to be much more problematic. This is especially so when one is trying to say that two objects or cases are similar in some way and that such similarity is sufficient to justify treating the two objects or cases in similar ways or that such similarity is sufficient to justify drawing conclusions concerning how to treat the two objects or cases.

For example, even if one were to come up with a complex measuring metric with respect to cat-ness, nonetheless, determining the nature of a cat will not necessarily tell one very much about the nature of a bird or dog or human being. Furthermore, even if one could construct a measuring device which would permit one to instantaneously calculate similarities and logical relationships among, say, mammals, birds, reptiles, marsupials, and bacteria, none of this might be very helpful in understanding what significance any of these species carried with respect to God’s understanding of Creation.

There are a variety of assumptions inherent in the use of qiyas which tend to suggest that if one believes one knows how God wishes one to engage one situation, case, or object, then, as long as one can demonstrate that a relevant similarity exists between a new case and the already established case, then, whatever behavior, prohibitions, permissions and the like which apply to the former set of circumstances also are said to apply to the latter set of circumstances. Yet, the basis of the alleged similarity or logical relationship which has been put forth through the use of qiyas and which, allegedly, ties together two situations, cases, or objects in question is claimed by the proponents of this method to be a valid way of arguing or justifying what is being claimed.

One assumption permeating the foregoing mode of thinking is the contention that one knows how God wishes one to engage the original set of circumstances at issue. If one misunderstands the nature of the original exemplar, then whatever similarities, analogical relationships, or logical features one points to as being held in common by the two cases will not have much value.

Another assumption inherent in the foregoing way of approaching things is that one is claiming one knows what constitutes a ‘relevant’ similarity or logical relationship when seeking to link two different sets of circumstances. Two objects, cases, or situations are likely to have many things in common, but such commonality does not necessarily justify treating the two objects or cases in the same way or interacting with the two objects or cases in the same way.

In short, the method of qiyas presumes to know what constitutes the most appropriate way of linking things in terms of logical relationship and similarity. Moreover, the use of this qiyas presumes to know which properties and qualities among various objects or cases are the ones which God wants human beings to focus on, or to be measured, or to be shown to be similar, or to be linked through some logical relationship.

Qiyas is a proposal or hypothesis. This proposal or hypothesis claims, in effect, that the manner of arguing through the use of such a method is something which gives expression to the truth of things in a given set of circumstances. Yet, there is nothing independent of such a claim which is necessarily capable of demonstrating the truth of what is being alleged through the use of the tool of qiyas.

Qiyas is nothing more than a rational argument claiming that a given similarity or logical relationship which is established through the use of such a tool is a possible way of thinking about a given issue, problem, or question. That argument may make sense in its own terms, but having an internal consistency with respect to its own mode of logic doesn’t necessarily mean that this form of reasoning has captured the truth of things or that it will lead to a correct understanding of the truth of things in terms of how God understands the situation. As such, the use of qiyas gives expression to a theory of things which stands in need of independent proof that the theory underlying such a use of qiyas reflects the truth of matters in relation to the Sacred Law or shari‘ah.

Consequently, at the very least, an individual needs to exercise caution concerning the use of qiyas. This caution should be exercised not only when one is concerned with one’s own spiritual journey, but, as well, such caution should be exercised even more rigorously when it comes to offering advice to others about how one believes they should lead their lives in relation to matters of the Sacred Law and shari‘ah.

One needs to engage the Sacred Law in a way which provides one with the best opportunity of becoming open to God’s communication and being able, God willing, to discover a condition which will permit one to be led back to the hukm – that is, the authoritative and governing principle with respect to the reality of something -- inherent in some given aspect of a Divine communication as that hukm relates to the problems and questions with which one is grappling. However, if one relies on qiyas, then, one may be trusting in something involving human theoretical constructions rather than Divine disclosure.

To give some intimation of the dangers which may be inherent in using the method of qiyas, I will put forth an example which, although ridiculous in nature, nonetheless, fits into the logical form of a qiyas. More specifically, through the use of qiyas, I am going to demonstrate that I am a Prophet of God.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a man, and I am a man. The Prophet lived to at least the age of 63, and I have lived to at least the age of 63. The Prophet had a beard, and I have a beard. The Prophet spent time in Mecca, Medina, and Taif, and I have spent time in Mecca, Medina, and Taif. The Prophet traveled across the desert between Mecca and Medina, and I have traveled across the desert between Mecca and Medina. The Prophet prayed, fasted, and went on Hajj, and I have prayed, fasted, and went on Hajj. The Prophet spent time in seclusion, and I have spent time in seclusion. The Prophet spoke to people about Islam, and I have spoken to people about Islam. The Prophet had no male children who survived him, and I have no male children who survived me. The Prophet had a sense of humor, and I have a sense of humor. The Prophet sought to live in accordance with the Sacred Law, and I seek to live in accordance with the Sacred Law. The Prophet passed away, and I will pass away.

I could continue on along the foregoing lines, pointing out other similarities between the two of us. Therefore, if similarity is the fulcrum through which such logic is leveraged, then, based on such similarities, I must be a prophet … which, as we all know, is not the case.

The Qur’an says: “…he (Muhammad) is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets;” [Qur’an, 33:40]. In this case, the Qur’an serves as an independent source to demonstrate that the foregoing exercise in qiyas is not tenable. Moreover, the hukm – that is, the authoritative and governing principle with respect to the reality of something – which is operative here is that the status of being a prophet is rooted in Divine appointment and not the presence of similarities.

One can point out as many similarities between two situations as one likes, but if those similarities do not go to the heart of the matter, and if those similarities do not touch upon the appropriate hukm or authoritative principle which governs such situations, then, despite the existence of similarities or logical links between two cases, one cannot necessarily use the presence of such similarities as a basis for drawing conclusions concerning how to think about the two cases in question.

Being able to point to similarities or logical relationships between two cases does not necessarily mean that one understands a situation in the way that God understands that situation. In short, similarities or logical relationships, in and of themselves, are not necessarily sufficient to be able to discover what may be most resonant with the Sacred Law and/or shari‘ah in any given case.

Consequently, in the light of the foregoing indications, the use of qiyas is a potentially problematic tool. This is especially the case when one takes into consideration that qiyas is usually only resorted to when people are not able to find the guidance which they are seeking in either the Qur’an, the sunna of the Prophet, or consensus of opinion concerning some question or issue.

Under such circumstances, the individuals who have not found what they are looking for in the Qur’an, the sunna, or through consensus are not likely to possess some independent source – such as the Qur’an or sunna -- which is capable of showing that the similarities or logical relationships being noted through a given use of qiyas are either viable or untenable … a case which stands in contrast to the previous thought experiment in which I sought to demonstrate that I am a prophet through applying the tool of qiyas. Fortunately, however, I did know of an ayat of the Qur’an to which I could point to demonstrate the fallacy of the thinking inherent in the qiyas which had been constructed by me.

To be sure, God encourages human beings to think about, and reflect on, the communications which are being expressed through the Qur’an.

“Did they not consider [yanzuru] the Kingdom of the Heavens and Earth … ?” [Qur’an 7:185)

Do they not reflect [yatafakkaru] that their companion has not unsoundness of mind [Qur’an, 7:184}

“Do they not reflect within themselves …” [Qur’an, 30:8]

“… thus do We make clear the communications for a people who reflect. [Qur’an, 10:24]

“Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, you would certainly have seen it falling down, splitting asunder because of the fear of Allah, and We set forth these parables to humankind that they may reflect.” [Qur’an. 59:21]

If one considers, thinks, and reflects, then, God willing, one may arrive at certain general realizations concerning the nature of truth and one’s relationship with that truth.

However, these truths which may come to be realized through thinking and reflecting have a resonance with the nature of such Divine disclosures that is not a matter of establishing similarities or analogies concerning such truth. Rather, the nature of such realizations has to do with the truth of certain limited aspects of the nature of reality itself being made manifest to one – to be understood according to one’s capacity to do so and according to the Grace which is conferred on such understanding.

One is, for example, asked in the Qur’an to think and reflect upon the experiences of past peoples and nations. Think and reflect upon how all peoples, empires, and nations have eventually crumbled and lost all that they had acquired in life … is there not a lesson here – a lesson which does not involve similarities or analogies but a certain stark expression of the truth of things that is relevant to one’s life?

So it is with all of the things about which God asks the individual to think and reflect upon. Open oneself, God willing, to what is being communicated and, as a beginning, permit thinking and reflective faculties to operate in an undistorted and unbiased manner so that one can understand, according to the capacity or limits of thinking and reflecting to do so, what is being communicated to one.

In the Qur’an God may use analogies and likenesses in order to communicate with human beings. For instance, consider the following examples:

“The likeness of the two parties is as the blind and the deaf and the seeing and the hearing: are they equal in condition? Will you not then mind?” [Qur’an, 11:24]


“The likeness of this world's life is only as water which We send down from the cloud, then the herbage of the earth of which men and cattle eat grows luxuriantly thereby, until when the earth puts on its golden raiment and it becomes garnished, and its people think that they have power over it, Our command comes to it, by night or by day, so We render it as reaped seed; produce, as though it had not been in existence yesterday; thus do We make clear the communications for a people who reflect. “ [Qur’an, 10:24]

And, an analogy or simile with which many Muslims are familiar, God also says in the Qur’an:

“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not -- light upon light -- Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things.” [Qur’an, 24:35]

Reasoning by analogy may be used by an individual, but one has to be aware of the potential for error which is present in that practice. More specifically, while God does employ similes, metaphors, parables, and analogies in the Qur’an, an important consideration to keep in mind is that God knows the precise meaning of such similes, metaphors, parables, and analogies, whereas human beings do not understand their meanings unless God chooses to disclose such understanding, insight, and knowledge to a given individual.

Therefore, when humans use analogies of their own construction as a basis for trying to establish the nature of the deen, then, there is a potential for considerable error. Only when one understands the structural character of God’s use of simile, metaphor, parables, and analogy, can one hope to tread a straight path, God willing, with respect to understanding and being able to gain access to the hukm – that is, the authoritative and governing principle with respect to the reality of something -- of whatever is under consideration.

One might approach the issue of qiyas in another, perhaps, more direct manner than the foregoing. Consider the following verses from the Qur’an:

“This, then, is Allah your God, the Lord, the Truth [your true Lord].” [Qur’an, 10:32]

“That is because Allah is the Truth.” [Qur’an, 22:62]

And God speaks the truth and leads [guides] to the way. [Quran, 33:4]

“Do you not see that God created the heavens and earth through [with] Truth.” [Qur’an, 14:19]

“He did not create the heavens and earth and what is between them except through [with] Truth.” [Qur’an, 30:8]

If God is truth, and if the Word of God is the truth, and if everything which has been created in the heavens and earth, as well as between them, is the truth, then what is one trying to accomplish when one seeks to construct a qiyas which attempts to establish a certain dimension of similarity between two things or which attempts to show the logical relationship of one thing to another? Presumably, one is trying to use qiyas as a means of elucidating, or giving expression to, the nature of a truth governing such situations.

However, if a given use of qiyas is incorrect, then, surely, as the Qur’an indicates: “What is there after truth but falsehood [error]?” [10:32] Moreover, according to the Qur’an: “Allah’s is the conclusive argument,” [Qur’an, 6:149] so, one must look to God in order to gain access, God willing, to the nature of such a conclusive argument with respect to any given application of qiyas.

As such, a qiyas is something which, itself, stands in need of further proof – from God – concerning the extent, if any, to which a particular use of qiyas gives expression to truth. A qiyas, in and of itself, is nothing more than a proposal concerning a possible truth about, say, Sacred Law or the shari‘ah, and one needs to have such a proposal confirmed by God rather than by human beings.

One may be able to follow the logical mapping entailed by some analogical relationship between two situations which is being proposed by this or that religious jurist, but this is not enough. One must know whether, or not, what is being proposed in the form of such a qiyas is acceptable to God as an appropriate manner of linking two situations with respect to helping one to better understand the nature of Sacred Law or the nature of shari‘ah.

The use of qiyas in any given set of circumstances often operates with a hidden presumption. The presumption is that the analogical relationship or logical relationship which is being set forth through such use of the methodology of qiyas carries a Divine sanction, but this sanction is not demonstrated merely by putting forth a qiyas – one needs a further conclusive argument from God concerning the matter which only can come through spiritual disclosure and not rational argument.

In the Qur’an, one finds:

“Indeed there have come to you clear proofs from your Lord; whoever will therefore see, it is for his own soul and whoever will be blind it shall be against him, and I am not a keeper over you.” [Qur’an 6:104]

Proof is a matter of understanding and seeing … of having wisdom … of being taught by Allah. Furthermore, this understanding is for each individual soul and is not something which is to be imposed on others.

The proof is in the understanding which comes to one’s heart. Moreover, when one comes to understand the nature of the Divine proof, it becomes incumbent upon one – as a requirement of the way things are -- to act in accordance with that truth.

Unfortunately, some individuals are blind to this understanding even as they suppose that they see the truth. When one comes to understand how gravity operates, it behooves one to take into consideration the nature of gravity when dealing with physical reality. Similarly, when one comes to understand the nature of some spiritual principle, then, it behooves one to take into consideration the nature of that spiritual principle when dealing with Being.

Such an understanding reflects part of the order of things. Once one knows something of that order, then, one departs from that order at one’s own risk.

Notwithstanding the foregoing considerations, none of what has been said so far necessarily rules out, or automatically invalidates, using the methodology of qiyas as a possible aid in relation to someone’s spiritual deliberations concerning the nature of the Sacred Law. On the other hand, while the use of qiyas in any given situation may appear to be persuasive to an individual when it comes to the making of judgments and choices in his or her own spiritual journey, the method carries little authoritative, spiritual weight, in and of itself, unless one can demonstrate – in the sense of the sort of conclusive proof which belongs to God – that the qiyas in question reveals an important truth concerning the nature of the Sacred Law and/or shari‘ah. More importantly, there is nothing about the logical force of any attempted use of qiyas, considered in and of itself, which has the capacity to justify trying to compel anyone to comply with the logic of such a qiyas, and this would be true even if the Qur’an had not already indicated that there can be no compulsion in matters of Deen.

In legalistic approaches to: the Qur’an, Sacred Law, and shari‘ah, one is taught that the nature of the authoritative, governing principle of something’s reality – that is, determining its hukm -- tends to be a function of deductive, inductive, and analogical modes of reasoning. However, one cannot use such rational methods to arrive at the hukm of a verse of the Qur’an – one must be taught this directly through spiritual means … the depth and character of understanding being determined by: (1) the faculty through which one is taught or through which one comes to understand; (2) the extent of the Grace of disclosure which is manifested through that faculty, and (3) the character of one’s spiritual capacity in such matters.

The surface meaning of a Quranic ayat is related to the hukm of that ayat. Nonetheless, the latter cannot be reduced to the former.

Whatever is plainly communicated in the Qur’an is the surface meaning of that verse, and God has given every human being the freedom to accept or reject what is being communicated through such surface meanings. At the same time, in order to understand the full guidance of the Qur’an, one must be led to the nuances of how the collective meanings of the Qur’an may be most harmoniously and efficaciously brought together and be applied as one moves from one circumstance in life to the next, and this involves being brought back to the roots of things by God. One needs to be shown the hukm or reality or spiritual authority of something, and only God can do this … only God can teach this.

“If you are godfearing (have taqwa), He will give you discrimination.” [Qur’an, 8:29]

“Be Godfearing [have taqwa], and God will teach you [Qur’an, 2:282]

One cannot use the capacity of reason to penetrate through all levels of meanings inherent in God’s communications. Beyond the capacity of reason are the capacities of heart, sirr, kafi, and spirit, and these additional faculties have capacities for knowing and understanding which transcend the capabilities of rational modes of knowing and understanding.

At best, rational methods may only grasp -- according to their capacity and only if God wishes -- something of the surface features of revelation. However, as indicated earlier, the surface meaning of an ayat is but one mode of resonance or wave length or frequency arising out of the hukm of the Qur’an taken as a whole.

Just as light consists of an array of frequencies that give expression to the phenomenon of light, so, too, the Qur’an gives expression to an array of meanings which give expression to the hukm of any given Quranic ayat in a given instance of applied guidance. Furthermore, each of these meanings has a reality which is resonant with the overall reality of the Qur’an.

In the Qur’an one finds: “So learn a lesson, O ye who have eyes.” [Qur’an, 59:2]

The term for “learning a lesson” here is: i‘tabiru. The imperative form of i‘tabiru comes from a verbal noun ‘ubur which conveys a sense of “crossing over” as in from one bank of a river to the other, or as in making passage from one place to another.

Literally speaking, the term ‘itibar’ gives expression to a metaphor of sorts which involves a process of seeking to engage a mode of transport which takes one beyond the original or actual context of a given issue. In the context of the Qur’an, when one is trying to ‘learn a lesson’ one is seeking to cross over from the particulars that are being expressed through a given aspect of the external form of revelation to the underlying hukm or governing principle which is inherent in that external form.

Thus, to learn a lesson in the foregoing sense is to begin one’s journey with the structural character of a given situation in terms of its facts, particularities, and contingent circumstances, and, then, use such a starting point to struggle or strive to gain insight into the nature of such a situation. To learn a lesson is to cross over from the surface features of a situation to its hukm – its governing principle, reality, or truth.

Virtually anyone may be able to see the external, surface features of a given set of circumstances, but not everyone may be able to grasp the spiritual meaning, significance of, or principle inherent in such a situation. Those who, by the Grace of God, successfully have made such a transition are those who have learned a lesson concerning that to which God is directing one’s attention through this or that facet of revelation … these are the ones who have eyes … these are the ones who can accomplish the process of crossing over from worldly facts to a spiritual understanding concerning those facts.

The use of rational faculties – such as in the use of qiyas -- is one mode of crossing over. However, it is not the only mode of doing so, and, in fact, spiritually speaking, rational methods are the most limited, constrained, and problematic forms of crossing over because such methods tend to introduce a variety of distortions and biases into the crossing-over process – problems and distortions which reflect the form of logic inherent in the rational methodology which is being imposed on reality and which filters or frames what we experience by means of the logic of that methodology.

The crossing over process of learning a lesson from a given set of Quranic circumstances is more deeply and thoroughly understood when the faculties which are used to make passage from the external realm to the internal realm is done through, for example, the heart (especially the dimension of the heart known as fo’ad), sirr, kafi, and the spirit. All of the foregoing faculties are mentioned in the Qur’an – for example in conjunction with sirr and kafi, one finds: “God knows the secret (sirr) and that which is more hidden (kafi)” [Qur’an, 20:7] -- but, unfortunately, many theologians, religious scholars and jurists tend to restrict themselves to purely rationalistic methods when engaging the Qur’an, and, as a result, run a very real risk of developing skewed understandings concerning various Quranic passages.


No comments: