Peace through Faith-Based Justice in the Holy Land
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Peace through Faith-Based Justice in the Holy Land
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
I. The Paradigm of Faith-Based Balance
In classical Islamic thought, as developed from the third through sixth Islamic centuries, peace as the essence of Islam results from justice, and justice is merely the expression of truth. The most profound verse in the Qur’an as a source of guidance for faith-based justice is Surah al An’am 6:115, “The Message of your Lord is completed and perfected in truth and in justice.” This teaches that justice is an expression of truth and that truth originates in the transcendent order of reality not in man-made law.
The second most profound verse perhaps is Surah al Shura 42:17, which emphasizes the concept of balance, known as mizan. This is central to all classical Islamic thought in every aspect of both personal and social life: “It is God Who has bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, and [thus given man] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong]”. This verse of the Qur’an teaches that divine revelation through the various prophets in human history is considered to be a balance, an instrument placed by God in our hands by which we can weigh all issues of conscience.
The concept of choice is also central, because, without freedom to choose, neither balance nor justice would have any meaning. The power to choose between good and bad is the greatest gift from the Creator to the created, but it is also a profound test for every person, every community and nation, every civilization, and humanity itself. The Qur’an emphasizes the importance of the basic power to choose between purposes or higher paradigms of thought, because the choice shapes the governing agendas of both persons and communities and thereby controls action. According to the Qur’an, the choice that has determined the rise and fall of entire civilizations throughout history is between the pursuit of transcendent justice and the pursuit of material power as an ultimate goal in life. The weightiness of this choice is indicated in the following verse from the Qur’an:
We bestowed revelation from on high, and [thus gave you] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong]; and We bestowed [upon you] from on high [the ability to make use of] iron in which there is awesome power as well as [a source of] benefits for man; and [all this was given to you] so that God might mark out those who would stand up for Him and His Apostles, even though He [Himself] is beyond the reach of human perception. (Surah al Hadid – Iron - 57:25)
Man has the power through his own ingenuity and free choice to convert to his own use the natural resources of this world in order to fashion tools and ultimately to develop technology and the machine and even nuclear fuel for either good or evil. He can develop modern conveniences to live more easily on his native planet or he can treat the entire planet as a tool and thereby lose his inner connection with nature. This, in turn, can lead to the gradual dissolution of all moral and spiritual perceptions and to denial of divine guidance as a fact of reality.
This is why the last sentence of Surah 42:17, quoted above, reads: “And for all you know, the Last Hour may well be near.” At the end of the Qur’an this is explained in Surah al Qari’ah – The Sudden Calamity -100:6-11: “Verily, towards his Sustainer man is most ungrateful – and to this, behold, he [himself] bears witness indeed, for, verily, to the love of wealth is he most ardently devoted. But does he not know that [on the Last Day], when all that is in the graves is raised and brought out, and all that is [hidden] in men’s hearts is bared, that on that Day their Sustainer [will show that He] has always been fully aware of their deeds.”
The balance to be maintained in every civilization as embodied in every world religion is among order, justice, and freedom. This paradigm of balance teaches that order, justice, and freedom are interdependent. When freedom is construed to be independent of justice, there can be no justice and the result will be anarchy. When order is thought to be possible without justice, there will be no order, because injustice is the principal cause of disorder. When justice is thought to be possible without order and freedom, then the pursuit of order, justice, and freedom are snares of the ignorant.
The essential cause of disorder, injustice, and oppression is the failure to understand the proper nature of order. In human society at every level from the nuclear family to the commonwealth of humankind, order is the first need. Order is the path that people follow by consensus and by which they live with purpose and meaning. As the Book of Job puts it in the Bible, “If we lack order in the soul and in society, we dwell ‘in a land of darkness’.”
Without a consensus on the proper nature of order, and of justice and freedom as its component parts, rather than as independent pursuits, no civilization can continue to exist. The twin roles of religion in all of its traditionalist manifestations, including the monotheistic and “revealed religions”, and especially Islam, are spiritual well-being or happiness of every person and the maintenance of consensus on the responsibilities and rights necessary to live in an ordered society.
Those who want order at the expense of justice and freedom may say they are working for peace, but the Qur’an warns that they may be hypocrites. At best they are naïve. The appearance of order can be obtained by superficially trying to sustain the status quo with all of its injustices, but this must result in either oppression or chaos.
II. The Paradigm of Guided Transformation
The substance and reality of order can be achieved only by promoting the dignity of others as they understand it. This is the basic principle of metalaw, which is another name for the transcendent law of the Islamic maqasid al shari’ah. The meta or transcendent principle of respect for the sacred nature of every human person and of the communities that derive their sacredness from their individual members is similar to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule of metalaw, however, is the opposite, namely, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto themselves.”
Every person has three choices when faced with the injustices that are inevitable in every society. The first is to rebel as an outsider, which automatically renders this person irrelevant to any process of constructive change. The second is to assimilate and become part of the problem. The third is to transform the society in which one lives by first transforming oneself. This is emphasized throughout the Qur’an in such verses as Surah al Ra’d 13:11, “God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves.”
Individuals should work in solidarity to perfect the institutions of society in the pursuit of justice, for example by reforming the entire system of money creation and credit in order to broaden access to wealth producing capital and thereby to narrow the ever increasing wealth gap. But personal transformation is step one. The reason for this is that the pursuit of justice without inner transformation can lead to the unjust search for power as an ultimate end. The greatest evil comes from those who convince themselves that they are acting to transform the world for the better, but do not include themselves in this transformation. These are the arrogant worshippers of a closed ideology, who increase in their moral disease because they are the last ones to admit their own arrogance.
Transformation by definition requires change. But change can produce true and lasting order only if it promotes justice. In classical Islamic thought, justice can have meaning only as an expression of the natural law of God, known in Islam as the sunnat Allah, because secular and subjective concepts of justice, known as positivist law, almost always end up in the denial of human dignity and freedom.
One can legitimately seek justice in the form of ethics, which may be defined as the search for coherent meaning without basing it on faith. This may result in the same code of human responsibilities and rights, but the temptation to pervert this understanding in the search for revenge and destructive power is greater.
Many well-intentioned people have suffered so much from religious totalitarians that they have turned into militant enemies of all religion. At best they consider that faith-based justice is a snare and that any consideration of it is a counter-productive and wasteful use of time and effort because it diverts attention from the most urgent evil in the world, which they insist is religion itself. Their hatred of those who falsely claim to be religious ensnares them in the same pandemic of global hatred that they so much decry.
The classically transcendent law of Islamic jurisprudence is especially important today in the new global era when polytheism is greater than ever in human history and when the most insidious of the false gods, namely, the pursuit of power, prestige, plutocracy, and hedonistic pleasure, threaten to conquer and destroy all the cultures on which civilization depends. Transcendent law provides a framework to counter the worst trends and bring out the best potentials in the inevitable process of cultural globalization.
III. The Premises of Islamic Law
If positivism, the denial of faith-based law, is the destroyer of civilization, what is its opposite. What are the roots and product of theocentric thought and society?
In traditionalist thought, as well as in Islam generally, the queen of sciences is law, and, specifically, a transcendent law that accepts man-made law but within a framework that transcends it. In classical Islam the ultimate framework for philosophy, sociology, biology, mathematics, and physics, as well as political-economy, is the Will of God, which is another word for law. The Will of God, however, is not something arbitrary but derives from the nature of God as the all-powerful, all merciful, and all wise, which are divine attributes similar to the Christian trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Some Muslims consider that tazkiya or spiritual purification, and even its expression in various schools of Sufism, is the primary category because it is “transcendent” and includes the ghraib or hidden nature of reality, whereas all law is “immanent” in that it does not transcend space and time. Traditionalists hold, however, that one’s spiritual life and guidelines for it are part of transcendent law, precisely because this law reflects the nature of God. Perhaps the deepest wisdom lies in the term “inscendent law,” which would encompass both the transcendent and the immanent. A leading student of such apparent dichotomies, Donald Kemner, a former Franciscan priest, proposes that we banish the very words immanent and transcendent in favor of the all-encompassing word “inscendent”. This would reflect the wisdom of the universe contained in the Islamic concept of tauhid, which emphasizes the totality of reality as an expression of the Oneness of God. In a letter to the present author, who is a former Franciscan monk, perhaps the only Muslim Franciscan monk in the world since he never left the order, Father Kemner writes, ”Both the philosophical/theological terms, transcendence and immanence, … are hopelessly encoded in a dualism of separation, not unity.”
Arrayed against the corrosive force of positivism worldwide is a growing traditionalist movement in all religions that has been called “The Great Awakening.” Several books appeared in America during the Year 2007, foremost of which is Jim Wallis’s book by that name, which has an introduction by former president Jimmy Carter and revives justice as a new paradigm of thought in the world and as the only antidote for the opposing forces of self-described “creative destruction.” This is significant because it revives not merely spiritual awareness and love, which Thomas Jefferson declared is the greatest bulwark to preserve freedom, but also compassionate justice as the expression of love on the level of moral theology and as the inspiration for moral action.
The unique aspect of Islamic law as contained in the set of universal principles known as the maqasid al shari’ah is its purpose to educate, not to maintain order as is true of positivist law. Whereas positivist law has failed in its purpose if it is not enforced, the Islamic shari’ah has failed if it has to be enforced.
The Islamic shari’ah is a vision of shared purpose. Some narrow-minded ‘Ulama or professional clerics define the shari’ah narrowly to consist only of a set of dogmatic rules and regulations, known as ahkam (sing. hukm). These are derived directly from the Qur’an and ahadith through established intellectual techniques together known as the fiqh without reference to the informing principles of the shari’ah, which alone can provide the context of justice for their specific application. This body of fiqh typically is divorced from everything of deeper spiritual, social, or political substance.
Others take a diametrically opposite view by defining the shari’ah in Qur’anic terms as the shar’ or way of life that was taught by all the prophets from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad, peace be upon them all. The universal term shar’ is used twice in the Qur’an in reference to the universal concept of justice as the most universal value in all civilizations and religions. Traditionally justice has been viewed as a set of responsibilities or virtues, the practice of which produce what in modern parlance are called human rights.
The absence of even the word justice in the modern political lexicon, except perhaps as a synonym for revenge, explains why there is so much negative reaction to the failure of American policymakers to include freedom and democracy within the concept of justice as a higher paradigm of thought. The traditionalist objective was not to pursue freedom from moral values, as has become the de facto concept in both modernist and post-modernist thought, but to practice the values that produce freedom.
The study of justice in Islam is a distinct discipline best described in the terms ‘ilm al taqwa and ‘ilm al ‘adl. Both are paths in the search for truth, which is a higher purpose of all religion. At the highest esoteric level ‘ilm al taqwa is the search for knowledge of the One through love, which is a constant refrain throughout the Qur’an. The search to make such truth manifest at the exoteric or outward level of reality in the sense of balance through the diversity known as tauhid is the purpose of ‘ilm al ‘adl, which directly translated means the science of justice.
The two pursuits, the esoteric and the exoteric, as both the classical Islamic thinkers and their counterparts, Saint John of the Cross and Thomas Aquinas, defined them, have ultimate meaning only as they fulfill each other. Both of these seminal thinkers in the Christian heritage adopted both the substance and terminology of their writings from their Islamic counterparts. According to Miguel Asin Palacios in his book Saint John of the Cross and Islam, Saint John borrowed his entire methodology and terminology from Shaykh Abu’l Hassan al Shadhili, who founded from his base in North Africa what came to be known as the Shadhiliyyah Sufi Order, which is the only great tariqa to originate outside Central and Southwest Asia and is ancestral to many of the modern Sufi paths in Europe and America. Saint Thomas, who was the greatest of the Church Fathers, proclaimed on the first page of his Substance and Existence, “Whenever I say master, I mean Avicenna.”
St. Thomas and St. John, as well as their respective Islamic mentors, are often considered to be opposites, because St. Thomas emphasized the rational basis of faith, whereas Saint John of the Cross emphasized the higher level of infused wisdom. Together with all the Muslim theologians, theosophists, and jurisprudents, however, both St. Thomas and St. John agreed that there could not possibly be any contradiction between faith and reason, or between religion and science, and that if one saw an appearance of such then one’s understanding of at least one of the two must be wrong.
All of these wise thinkers went far beyond the negative belief that there could be no contradiction between the truth that God reveals through nature and the truth that He reveals through human intermediaries known as prophets. They believed that each of these two sources of truth is designed to reveal and enrich the other and that they both have a common purpose.
Higher purpose is the essence of Islamic law. The greatest scholar of the maqasid or universal principles of the shari’ah, Al Shatibi, who died in 1388 in Grenada, summarized all his teachings in a single sentence: “Anyone who seeks to obtain from the rules (ahkam) of the shari’ah something that is contrary to its purpose has violated the shari’ah and his actions are null and void”.
Another of the greatest Islamic scholars, Ibn Taymiya, who died in 1328, a purifier of Sufism in his day, taught that the then standard taxonomy of maqasid al shari’ah, which was limited to the five irreducible purposes or principles originally formulated by Abu Hamid al Ghazali, who died two centuries earlier in 1111, failed to include the law’s most significant and sublime purposes. His contributions to Islamic normative law are discussed in the newly published book, Imam Shatibi’s Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law, edited and annotated by Ahmad al-Raysuni, International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, 2005, pp. 37 ff. In reference to the standard list used by the establishment ‘Ulama, Ibn Taymiya wrote, “Among this-worldly interests they list what guarantees the prevention of bloodshed and protect people’s material wealth, chastity, mental faculties, and outward religion, but they make to mention of forms of worship that are both outward and inward [including the five arkan or pillars of Islam], such as those that lead to the development of experiential knowledge of God, His angels, His books, and his Apostles, as well as spiritual states and actions of the heart such as love and reverence for God, worshipping with complete devotion and sincerity, utter dependence upon Him and hope for His mercy and blessing.”
This wisdom of Shaykh Abu’l Hassan al Shadhili and Saint John of the Cross, of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Saint Thomas Aquinas, and of Al Shatibi and Al Ghazali, is found in the classical formulations of all world religions, and is reflected in the premises of the Islamic shari’ah. In its broadest definition, the shari’ah has four premises, which together inform the teachings of Islamic law on peace through justice. The first is its holistic ontology embodied in the term tauhid, according to which the entire created order exists in unitary harmony. The things and forces we can observe are real, but their existence comes from God. They do not exist independently of His purpose.
The second premise is esthetic. The nature of transcendent reality, and of all being, is Beauty, which precedes and is independent of cognition. The flower in the desert is beautiful even if no person sees it. Beauty, and necessarily therefore Islamic law, consist of unity, symmetry, harmony, depth of meaning, and breadth of applicability. The greatest beauty is the unitive principle of tauhid itself, because without it there could be no science and no human thought at all. This is of controlling importance in the shari’ah, because it means that the ideal system of law should be simple, symmetrical, deep, and comprehensive.
The third premise is epistemological. All knowledge is merely a derivative and an affirmation of the unitary harmony inherent in everything that comes from God. All creation worships God because He is One. Every person is created with a need and a corresponding intuitive capability to seek and to know transcendent reality and to submit lovingly to God in thought and action. This epistemological premise reinforces the first two, because it indicates that Islamic law serves to give meaning to everything man can observe. And meaning comes from God, Who gives purpose to everything He has created.
The fourth and most easily understood premise of Islamic law is its normative or purposive, goal-oriented nature. Islamic scholars over the centuries have identified several irreducibly highest principles. These are known as the maqasid or purposes, as the kulliyat or universals, and as the dururiyat or essentials of justice.
IV. The Maqasid al Shari’ah
The ethical framework of the guiding juristic principles in Islam is the good of the community, known as maslaha mursala. These principles originate from human reasoning in the form of induction from what Islamic jurisprudents consider to be the three sources of knowledge, often known as the ‘usul al fiqh or roots of legal reasoning. These are haqq al yaqin, which is the sum of all the divine revelation to all of the prophets throughout human history, ‘ain al yaqin, which is scientific observation of the material world, and ‘ilm al yaqin, which is the use of human reason to understand the first two sources.
Islamic jurists have argued over the use of these sources in deriving the maqasid, differentiating among three different applications or techniques. The first is strictly limited to explicit ahkam or rulings in the Qur’an and sunnah. This is known as maslaha al mu’tabara. The second is based on istislah, from the word salah meaning “sound”. This is like the first in that it is based on the values of Islam revealed in the Qur’an and Sunnah, but it identifies the maqasid by rational induction from the parts to the whole. The third is based on istihsan, from the word hasana meaning good. This is the most free-wheeling of the three sources or techniques of reasoning and is rejected by many scholars because it might degenerate in practice to mere personal opinion, however well-informed, known as ra’i. These distinctions apply in reference to the narrowly defined purposes of the maqasid as “law” but not to the broader framework of the maqasid as guidance for public policy.
Islamic scholars have hesitated to list the maqasid in terms of priority, and have constructively disagreed even on their number and on the architectonics of the hierarchy of levels of purpose. Universally, however, the highest in priority is haqq al din. For six hundred years until the present millennium this was ossified in the Sunni portion of the Muslim world to mean “protection of true belief.” In recent decades, this maqsud has been expanded and reinterpreted by some of the greatest modern scholars in the Sunni world, following the lead of the Shaykh al Islam Mufti Ibn Ashur in the first half of the twentieth century to mean “freedom of religion”.
Next come three sets of pairs. The first pair consists of haqq al nafs and haqq al nasl, which mean the duties, respectively, to respect the human person and life itself and to respect the nuclear family and communities at every level that derive from the sacredness of the human person.
Each of these primary levels of purpose contains a secondary level of objectives, known as hajjiyat, which serve to spell out and to apply its parent purpose. The first one, haqq al nafs, at the secondary level includes haqq al haya, the duty to respect life, which contains the elaborate set of principles that define the limits of the just war. This also includes the societal issues of murder, abortion on demand, suicide, the quality of life of the aged and disabled, and guaranteed health care of high quality for everyone. This obviously also would include the foreign policy issues of refugees, nuclear proliferation, and unilateral preemption. Many of the foreign policy issues are rooted in failure to observe the fundamental Islamic principle that peace comes most basically not from efforts to maintain stability through military power but from pursuing justice.
Increasingly important under this high priority principle or purpose of the shari’ah is the secondary objective, known by several terms in Arabic but translated into English as ecology. Although respect for nature and one’s place in it as a steward has been central to Islamic thought from the very beginning, only recently has anyone recommended that environmental stewardship be raised to the level of a primary maqsud.
The second primary purpose of Islamic law in the first set is known as haqq al nasl, which is the duty to respect the family and community. This brings our moral focus on such issues as divorce, the care of children, homosexuality, and AIDS. In foreign policy, this highest-level purpose of Islamic law covers the concept of community rights in international law. Western international law, developed by the world’s leading colonial powers, recognizes only the rights of individuals and of states, a state being defined as whatever power can exercise control over a given territory.
The second pair of maqasid consists of responsibilities that deal with institutionalizing economic and political justice, known, respectively as haqq al mal and haqq al hurriya. It must be said that, more often than not, this second pair of responsibilities throughout most of Islamdom has been observed only in the breech. And even when the principles are acknowledged, the derivative lower levels of institutionalized implementation have been ignored.
The subset or hajjiyat of economic justice begins with the duty to promote and protect private ownership of the means of production as a fundamental human right, because whoever does not own and control the tools one uses to earn a living is in fact a slave of whoever does own them. Therefore the institutions of society should be reformed to fight poverty not directly by redistributing existing wealth, which would be theft, but by removing the barriers in existing institutions of money and credit to broaden access to capital ownership in future wealth production.
The maqsud dealing with political justice addresses the human right of self-determination or responsible political freedom. This is the duty and right of every person and every interest group to help determine the directions and priorities of the polity in which they choose to live. The four hajjiyat or basic principles within this maqsud are 1) khilafa, which is the responsibility of the rulers, as well as of the ruled, to God; 2) shura, which is the responsiveness of the ruler to the ruled and the duty of the entire polity, both rulers and ruled, to establish formal political structures by which this shura can be reliably maintained; 3) ijma or consensus, which requires all the members of the community or nation, especially the opinion leaders, to develop a political consensus by compromise adequate to sustain the first two elements of the just polity, namely, khilafa and shura, and 4) an independent judiciary. This second set of the universal principles of the shari’ah has been developed in greater detail in the present author’s book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice, published in 2008 by the International Institute of Islamic Thought.
The third pair of maqasid consists of haqq al karama and haqq al ‘ilm. The first one is the duty to respect human dignity. This addresses many issues of conscience, such as unemployment, drugs, the homeless, affordable housing, prison warehousing and recidivism, as well as some of the underlying causes, including racial discrimination and the failure of some of the intended remedies.
The most critical issue of conscience in most Muslim countries, but still important throughout the world, is gender equity, which requires Muslim women to gain equal education with men so that they can lead the women’s liberation movement by reinterpreting the entire body of fiqh to reflect the universal principle of human dignity.
The last of the seven generally recognized universal principles of Islamic law is haqq al ‘ilm. This is the duty to respect, seek, and apply knowledge and is closely related to the issue of human dignity. This is the duty and right freely and responsibly to educate oneself and one’s children, because whenever any people lose control of either their own or their children’s education, they truly have lost the future of all succeeding generations.
Two issues of conscience predominate at the secondary level of this maqsud. The first is the general freedom of thought, speech, and assembly, without which none of the universal principles of Islamic law can be either understood or implemented.
The other issue of conscience in the area of haqq al ‘ilm is freedom from the secular-humanist attack on religion and everything sacred in society under the guise of separating church and state. The Founders of America led the way, based on the spiritually oriented “Scottish Renaissance”, in maintaining the purity of divine revelation by removing sectarian religious control over public life and by removing governmental control, with its legitimate monopoly of coercion, over religion. The purpose was to institute freedom for religion as the pursuit of knowledge by the individual person, as well as by the communities that individuals form in order to seek knowledge together. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence, summarized the Islamic teachings on religious freedom when he stated that people can remain free only if they are properly educated, that education consists primarily in learning virtue, and that no people can remain virtuous unless both their personal and public lives are infused with loving awareness of God.
V. Peace through Faith-Based Justice in the Holy Land
The great spiritual leaders of the world have long perceived that justice in the Holy Land is the pivotal issue in the modern world. Any solution that can guarantee the permanent legitimacy and security of Jews in the Holy Land must proceed from dialogue between equal peoples, which means that if one party is sovereign so must be the other. Each must recognize the other as existing in international law but with a vision to transcend the exclusiveness of legal sovereignties in order to build over time a federation of equal peoples, united economically and in their role as facilitators of civilizational enrichment.
They must recover their lost identities in which the historical role of the many peoples that enriched the population of Palestine was to serve as a bridge among cultures. Only in this way can the Jews, Christians, and Muslims overcome the role that the Holy Land played occasionally in the past not as a civilizational conduit but as a block against civilizational interchange and as a source of rivalry between hostile empires.
Identity exclusivity can be overcome only by education and by interfaith cooperation among spiritual leaders. Projects are well along to produce a single textbook for each grade level throughout all schools in the Holy Land on the history of the peoples who live there. At the university level, such textbooks must include the common wisdom of the spiritual leaders, as distinct from religious leaders blinded by bureaucratic and political agendas. Political leaders make the necessary decisions, but their success in the Holy Land will be determined by spiritual preparation and follow-up.
When President Ronald Reagan asked me in September, 1981, to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in order to work with its emir, Shaykh Zayid bin Nahayan, on the Gulf Cooperation Council, I made this point about the primacy of faith-based reconcilation with Middle East governments that are either de jure or de facto faith-based. He was quiet for a long time and then almost whispered, “You know, I have always thought that, but I have never heard anyone say so.” His best friend, the Director of the National Security Council, Judge William Clark, tasked me to work with the Aspen Institute to prepare a series of workshops at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Thanks to the assistance of Butros Butros Ghali in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, the invited participants had accepted and everything was arranged, when Israel invaded Lebanon. This initiative died on the spot and has never been revived.
Although the first workshop was to focus on economic justice as theoretically the least controversial topic, all the workshops were based on the underlying premise and most basic commonality among the Abrahamic religions, which is their approach to transcendence. In the “Western” world the non-Semitic paradigm of reality started with the cosmocentrism of the Greeks who taught that the entire universe can be explained without reference to any extraneous source and that the divine, however conceived, exists within the cosmos. The Greeks further developed this into theories of pantheism through what one might call ontological anthromophism. They concluded that ontos or being, and the study of it known as ontology, is cyclical in accordance with what we now know as the second law of thermodynamics, and that there is no purpose in anything other than what humans and their anthropocentric gods, if there indeed are any, give it. God is the universe, and man is god. Or in modern Gaia Theory, named after the Greek god of fertility, the universe is sentient and man is only a product and reflection of this universal deity. Neo-Platonists later introduced theories that resemble panentheism, in which God’s Being is outside the physical universe but He acts within it and even pervades it as its fundamental substance.
The Semitic religions, on the other hand, introduced theocentrism, according to which the universe does not constitute all of reality, because the universe was created and is sustained by God, Who is beyond existence and beyond being. Meister Eckhart, who succeeded Saint Thomas Aquinas as holder of the chair in theology at the University of Paris, defined God simply as the ultimately transcendent “Beyond Being.” As the “father” of cataphatic or “yes” spirituality, he taught that purpose and meaning come from God, that is, from beyond man and beyond the universe. God declared, according to the Qur’an, “Be!” and it was. He revealed this through human prophets and representatives of the Divine, but only partially in accordance with man’s limited capacity for understanding.
The corollary of this paradigm of Semitic thought, unlike the cyclical thought of the Greeks and some Eastern religions, is that contingent existence is lineal or directional toward an end time and that justice will be fulfilled in a balance both within and beyond time.
The danger in Abrahamic religions is the temptation to withdraw from time into an esoteric dream world. The decline of Islamic civilization resulted in part because the artificial dichotomy between Revelation and Reason, which was the Islamic counterpart to the Western war between religion and science, led the more spiritually attuned to withdraw from politics and public life in the belief that such secular pursuits were incompatible with their own esoteric inclinations.
The thrust of the Abrahamic religions, and especially of Judaism and Islam, has always been justice. God revealed in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.” God revealed in the Qur’an, Surah al An’am 6:115, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice.” This classical teaching has been revived among Christians during the past century or so, as reflected in Pope Paul VI’s urging, “If you want peace, work for justice.”
This common understanding must be the basis of a lasting solution to the present impasse in the Holy Land. Thus the Qur’an states in Surah Ali Imran 3:199, “And among the People of the Book are those who believe in God, in the revelations given to you, and in the revelation given to them. They bow in humility to God. They will not sell the signs of God for a miserable gain. For them is a reward from their Lord, and God is swift in taking account (of all good deeds).” Near the beginning of the Qur’an in Surah al Baqara 2:62 we read the standard formulation, “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, the Christians (those who follow the teachings of the Gospel), and the Sabians (including all monotheists either explicitly or implicitly like the Buddhists) - all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - shall have their reward from their Lord, and they need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” In Surah al Baqara 2:112, an even more generic formulation is given: “Everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.” Whoever does so is a Muslim and it is in this sense that the terms islam (the religion) and muslim (the person who surrenders to God) are used throughout the Qur’an.
Of course, those radical Muslims who have invented their own religion and dare to call it Islam insist that the above verses of the Qur’an have been abrogated and no longer apply and that those Muslims who disagree with them are kafirs who have abandoned Islam and no longer represent it. Twice religious radicals have suggested that it is high time to behead me for exposing religious perversions. This radical rejection of traditionalist thought in all three of the Abrahamic religions in favor of modernist pseudo-religion poses the real threat to global civilization because it is a universal phenomenon.
The traditionalist Jewish mission was best expressed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and his magazine, Tikkun. The word tikkun in Hebrew means to heal, repair, and transform the world. He says that all the rest is commentary. Rabbi Lerner’s mission is fourfold: to help overcome American selfishness and materialism; to help heal the inner wounds of the Jewish people, so that they no longer assume that danger lurks everywhere and no longer see the world only through the prism of the Holocaust; to help support peace between Israel and the Palestinian people in a context of security, social justice, and the full rights of both peoples to self-determination; and to help build a new bottom line of love and caring, ethical, spiritual, and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
The only alternative to dark visions of a twenty-first century holocaust is dialogue between Jews and Muslims designed specifically to transform the self-identity of each. The goal of the Jews must be to return to the spiritual core of their religion, best exemplified by Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, in which Zionism is the return to God, and Israel is the song of God bringing sparks of wisdom, mercy, and love to all peoples.
The goal of the Muslims must be to return to the spiritual core of their religion. The spiritual core of Islam includes the centrality of justice and the articulation and implementation of its inner essence of love, which demands respect for all Jews and for the Jewish nation, so that all the peoples of the Holy Land can enjoy compassionate justice.
American Muslims must struggle to support the enlightened Jews who best understand their own religion, because secular and apocalyptic Zionism has corrupted both the Jewish people and the political process in America. This was the belief of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who some consider to be the greatest rabbi since Maimonides eight hundred years ago. During the 1982 war in Lebanon, in a private communication from his quarters in Israel, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz told me that he foresaw a catastropic end someday to the divine mission of the Jews in the Holy Land unless current trends are reversed. The failure of critical thought to address the portents of history has imposed a heavy guilt on Americans for helping to bring the Jewish people in the Holy Land perhaps eventually to the brink of extinction and exposing tens of millions of Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and America to a fiery death.
In order to understand the true dynamics of conflict in the world, we must be aware that the suffering in the Holy Land is the result of a conflict between two civilizational paradigms, one the spiritual, which automatically serves as a bridge among cultures, and the other, the secular, which sees material power as the only variable in the world and automatically breeds war.
This conflict has been the governing theme throughout the five-thousand-year history of Palestine. The location of Palestine at the intersection of three of the world’s five continents, and the Semitic languages, which are best suited of all languages to express the subtleties of divine revelation, may explain why the common message of the revealed religions was given through prophets in this pivotal part of the world.
The destiny of Palestine has been to accelerate both cooperation and clash among civilizations. Today it serves both roles simultaneously, and its future will determine the future of humanity. The warnings of the great spiritual leaders speak universally to all religious communities in all times and places, though their words might be directed in the first instance at their own peoples.
Perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest spiritual leader in the world was Abraham Isaac Kook, who was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 until the beginning of the first great Palestinian national-liberation movement in 1935. He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins. Rebbe Kook’s wisdom has been collected in Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, translation and introduction by Ben Zion Bokser (Paulist Press: N.Y., Ramsey, Toronto, 1978), published in The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters under the supervision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Fazlur Rahman, Huston Smith, and others.
Although the fundamentalist Gush Emunim invoke Rebbe Kook as their mentor, they make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind. Abraham Isaac Kook’s entire life spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the disposition of the Israelite nation,” he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.” Universally recognized as the leading spokesman of spiritual Zionism, Rebbe Kook went to Jaffa from Poland in 1904 to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the “holy sparks” in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.
This was the exact opposite of “secular Zionism,” which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe, compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith. Thus alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation came to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal, and therefore to transform the land of Israel into a golden calf.
As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the “microcosm of humanity.”
“If individuals cannot summon the world to God,” proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call. The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being. This is found only among the Jewish people, whose commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.
But he warned, again “prophetically,” that, “when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height. In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness. Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible. Each person then suffers: The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one’s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment. In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction. When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one’s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within. The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.”
Rebbe Kook warned that “the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry. It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.” “Love of the nation,” he taught, “or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations. This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.”
“By transgressing the limits,” Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.” Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant. “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation. We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. Our people will be rebuilt and established through the divine dimension of its life. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ‘Let is go and return to the Lord!’ And this return will be a true return”.
We cannot know whether the catastrophe that Rebbe Kook foresaw and the true return is already taking place, but he was confident of the end result. The Rebbe always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, and proclaimed that, “the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion [and turn] the darkness to light.”
1 Crane, Robert D., “The Great Awakening of Justice: A Winning Strategy for Peace and Prosperity,” http://www.theamericanmuslim.org Janua,ry 30, 2008.
2 Crane, Robert D., “Human Rights and Tolerance within Islam: Legal, Political, and Spiritual Perspectives,” http://www.theamericanmuslim.org Febru,ary 7, 2007.
3 Imam Shatibi’s Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law, edited and annotated by Ahmad al-Raysuni, International Intstitute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, 2005, 441 pp, p. 37.
4 Crane, Robert D., The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice, International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, 2008, 220 pages.