Jurisprudence: The Ultimate Arena for Existential Clash or Cooperation Within and Among Civilizations?

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Posted Mar 31, 2007
Jurisprudence: The Ultimate Arena for Existential Clash or Cooperation Within and Among Civilizations?

by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

Perhaps the three most seminal books to appear during the past year or two on the role of jurisprudence in the renewal of civilization as a means to marginalize violent extremists in every religion have been published by Harvard Law School, by the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

The most profound of the recent books addressing the past, present, and future of existential clash or cooperation within and among civilizations is the monumental, 558-page, Festshrift, entitled Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy, and Mysticism in Muslim Thought, Essays in Honour of Hermann Landolt, edited by Todd Lawson and published by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. This magnum opus on a major world religion was well worth the more than fifty hours required to read, annotate, and index the work of many scholars, both Ismailis and others, who have devoted their lives to exploring a thousand years of scholarship on the interdependent roles of reason and inspiration in seeking out the Will of God. This task is essentially jurisprudential, because the paradigm of all Islamic thought, and indeed of all religion, is the search for a higher reality of universal truth accessible to persons and communities as guidance for a normative system of compassionate justice.

This collection of studies, each one a model of careful scholarship on the historical development of what is known as Shi’ism and especially of its Ismaili branch, is particularly interesting for the typical American who believes only what he or she has directly experienced and is attracted by the traditionalist Islamic emphasis on immediate awareness and love of God and on its natural manifestation in the search for universal justice. This independence of spirit is why the typical American hanif or Muslim by primordial fitra, like those in Makkah fourteen hundred years ago, is skeptical of all institutionalized religion but eager to learn about the deeper insights that are obscured in all religions by identity politics. Of course, this is also the reason why ethnic and ideological Muslims from abroad distrust American converts and why this distrust, especially among African Americans, often is reciprocated.

Mysticism is at the core of all religion, including often lapses into superstition and polytheism, which is precisely why a major purpose of divine revelation is to bound it by right reason. The tension between these two capabilities of the human being, the esoteric and the exoteric, is what gave rise in the Muslim world to Sufism.

All the schools or tariqat of Sufism, with the single exception of the Shadhili tariqa from North Africa which provided all the terminology used by Saint John of the Cross, arose in Asia beyond the purvey of Western empires. This may explain why the Arabs almost universally declare that the Lord Buddha was a kafir or heathen, whereas most Muslims from Persia to the Pacific consider him to be not only a Muslim but a prophet. This is why the Saudi perversion of the Yusuf Ali rendering of the Qur’an, which has been donated in millions of copies around the world, eliminated the esoteric from Yusuf Ali’s original translation, including his footnote to Surah al Tin indicating that the term Tin refers to the Bo Tree under which the Buddha received enlightenment.

The magisterial work, Reason and Inspiration in Islam, explicates Shi’ism as a path to compassionate justice in the form of what scholars might, but never have, called `Ilm al `Adl, the combined esoteric/exoteric science of jurisprudence. In point of fact, though not by intention, this tour de force presents a chronological history of Sufism in four parts: Classical Islam, Early Medieval, Later Medieval, and Pre-Modern and Modern.

Following European custom, whereby the individual professor rather than the educational institution carries maximum prestige, this undertaking was prepared by the former students of Hermann Landolt in his honor as a foremost advocate of what nowadays is often termed the Sophia Perennis or science of the permanent things. Landolt started his career in his hometown, Basel, Switzerland, where he wrote his dissertation in its then dominant environment of post-war existentialism epitomized by Karl Jaspers and Karl Barth. These were identified as the two leading beasts of the Anti-Christ (bete noir) by my professor at the time, the famous Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini at the University of Munich, where I was the first American student at a German university after World War II. Landolt left this dead-end corner of intellectual life to earn another diplome under Henry Corbin at the Sorbonne. In 1964 he moved to McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies in Montreal, Canada, founded ten years earlier by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, where Landolt spent the next thirty-five years as a “Persianist” exploring Islamic mysticism, including the controversial subject of wahdat al wujud, about which I have published an extensive critique in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, and the legacy of the leading mystical jurisprudents, ranging from Imam Jafar al Siddiq, who founded the first of the major schools of Islamic law, and the early Ismaili philosopher Abu Hasan al Hujwiri (Datta Ganjbaksh), the author of Kashf al Mahjub, which was the first history of tasawuf and introduced me to Islam during a two-week khalwa on top of a mountain in New Hampsure; to Suhrawardi, who led the cause of ijtihad during the Dark Ages of the Sunni naqba; to William Chittick, Toshihiko Izutsu, Hossein Nasr, and many others, who carried the flame of sophia perennis in the face of the cold winds that threaten to bring on the intellectual winter of a global naqba today.

The studies in this book reflect amazing detective work by many young scholars uncovering the interconnections among the seminal spiritual and intellectual leaders of Islam’s Southwestern and Central Asian heartland over the past more than one thousand years, as well as the historical backdrop of their respective eras.

Since this is a compilation for scholars by scholars, the reader would be well advised first to read Hossein Nasr’s chapter, “The Spectrum of Islam” in his book, The Heart of Islam, as background in order to distinguish the more orthodox intellectual and spiritual leaders among the Shi’a from the less orthodox and to identify the movements that originated from the latter but developed into sects within Islam and even into new religions outside its widest boundaries. For example, the Akhbaris, mentioned in the Harvard Law School publication on schools of law, flourished in the middle Safavid period (early 1600s) but spawned the Shaykhi movement of the early Qajar period (1700s), which gave rise in the early 1800s to the new Bahai religion. This modernist response to Western cultural imperialism essentially reversed the mindset of its origins by developing the anti-intellectual piety of the Akhbaris into a form of 21st-century post-modernism.


Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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