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Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s Theory of Justice: Its Implications for Public Law and Contemporary Political Governance in Islam

By focusing on the concepts of “rationality” and “human will,” which hold paramount importance in Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Muʿtazilī’s theory, this article aims to provide a legal and positive interpretation of the elements of his justice theory.

In light of the evolving nature of modern legal systems, certain aspects of Islamic law, such as the khums (one-fifth tax) and zakāt (alms tax), as well as discussions surrounding taxation and gender equality, have sparked debates within the realm of Islamic jurisprudence. This research aims to propose a suggestion that could potentially facilitate the rational integration of Islamic law with a Muʿtazilite approach, fostering greater compatibility between Islamic law and the legal requirements of public law in contemporary political communities. By focusing on the concepts of “rationality” and “human will,” which hold paramount importance in Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Muʿtazilī’s theory, we aim to provide a legal and positive interpretation of the elements of his justice theory. This perspective may facilitate the coexistence of Islamic legal principles and the enacted regulations of modern legal systems.

Modernity has brought about significant transformations in the structures of traditional civilizations and societies. By embracing the rationality inherent in modernist elements, a new civilization has emerged, accompanied by appropriate structures. However, this new societal formation poses direct challenges to traditional rationality, as well as the established rational and legal foundations of traditional religious law. These challenges extend to devotional actions, interpersonal conduct, contracts, and unilateral acts.

In the realm of politics, the society is governed by a novel legal framework that includes parliamentary or presidential systems, elections, separation of powers, a reformed judiciary system, and a diverse array of executive institutions such as municipalities, tax bureaus, and treasuries. The question arises: can a legal system rooted in traditional law coexist with the factors of modern life? Is it feasible in today’s societies to comply with secular lawsbenacted by competent legislative bodies while remaining devoutly committed to religious and devotional practices in accordance with the rules set by the Sacred Legislator?

Ideas do not emerge ex nihilo. They are intricately tied to the socio-political contextbin which they arise, and they often represent attempts to respond to and transform that context. Dismissing the emergence of the Muꞌtazilites as solely influenced by external cultural factors, as some scholars, including certain orientalists, have done, would be tantamount to disregarding the prevailing conditions. At best, it would attribute a purely reactionary role to these ideas. Conversely, denying any external influence, as some Arab scholars have done, contradicts historical and scientific facts (Kamal 2013, 36). When studying the interaction between two cultures or civilizations, it is crucial to recognize that ideas entering a culture or civilization can only flourish if they find a hospitable and receptive environment (Waines 2003, 11). This same principle applies to the Muꞌtazilite ideas and the circumstances that facilitated their growth within Islamic thought. Once the Muꞌtazilite school had matured, its principles could be summarized into two main tenets: 1) the oneness of God, and 2) the just and merciful nature of God’s judgments (ꞌAbd al-Jabbār 1974, 13-14). The concepts of “justice/ʿadl” and “divine unity/tawḥīd,” along with other Muꞌtazilite ideas or their five principles, can be traced back to these two fundamental principles. For instance, “divine promise and threat (waʿd and waʿīd)” can be considered a manifestation of the principle of justice (ʿadl). According to this principle, if God has promised to reward good deeds and punish evil deeds, it is a matter of justice that God fulfills these promises without fail, as going against one’s promise would contradict the concept of justice.

Furthermore, the doctrine of “enjoining the good and forbidding the evil” can be placed within the framework of “the position between two positions” (ꞌAbd al-Jabbār 1965, 123). The concept of the “position between two positions” tackles the complex matter of individuals who commit grave sins and how the Muꞌtazilites have introduced a new categorization that goes beyond the binary classification of believers and unbelievers.

The rise of the Muꞌtazilite School and the evolution of its doctrines hold significant importance in the intellectual history of Islam (Gibb 1953, 107). This school of thought emerged as a response to the intricate political and doctrinal challenges during the initial two centuries of Muslim history. Its profound impact on the shaping and perpetuation of Islamic thought was so notable that even after the decline and disappearance of the school from the intellectual landscape of Islam by the fifth/eleventh century, Muslim thinkers from diverse schools continued to be influenced by its ideas (Mohsen 2017, 17).

Qāḍī ꞌAbd al-Jabbār b. Aḥmad al-Hamadānī al-Asadābādī (d. 415) is renowned as one of the most distinguished scholars in the field of Muꞌtazilite theology. He received his education under prominent figures such as Abū ꞌAbdullāh al-Ḥusayn b. ꞌAlī al-Baṣr (d. 369) in Basra and Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. ꞌAyyāsh (d. 336) in Baghdad. In the realm of kalām (theology), he is recognized as a representative of the Basran Muꞌtazilite school, while in the field of fiqh (jurisprudence), he followed the Shāfiꞌī school of thought.

The majority of ꞌAbd al-Jabbār’s writings focus on kalām. To delve into Qāḍī’s theory of justice, one can explore several of his significant surviving works. One such work is al-Mughnī fī uṣūl al-dīn (The sufficient book in the principles of religion), which is available in a fourteen-volume edition. Another important source is Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa (Explaining the five principles). In al-Mughnī fī abwāb al-tawḥīd wa-l-ʿadl (Reynolds 2005, 12), he extensively elucidates the concept of justice and provides the theoretical foundations for this subject.

Qāḍī, highlighting the significance of “will” and the concept of “reason,” placed himself in opposition to deterministic ideologies. Elaborating on his theory of human free will and reason, Qāḍī employed the customary theological approach of the Muꞌtazilites (Heemskerk 2000, 33). This method relied on negative propositions that relied on negation and affirmation. Through a step-by-step negation of unfavorable alternatives, Qāḍī eventually arrived at the favored alternative. He argued that determinism leads to injustice, presenting two potential outcomes: either there would be no punishment despite its existence, or one would have to believe that God is unjust. According to Qāḍī, human beings are the true creators of their actions, not merely metaphorically, and they may be rewarded or punished based on their deeds.

Continuing his exploration of human free will and upholding the principle of attributing justice to God, he stressed the logical correlation between the understanding of justice and injustice, which constituted a fundamental aspect of his theory of justice. Qāḍī maintained that the notion of justice and injustice should precede the belief in the principle of the “impossibility of God performing unjust actions” as a matter of order. In other words, he advocated the ontological precedence of ethical principles over legal or jurisprudential rules, thus promoting the belief in the essential goodness or badness of actions and the necessity of understanding their moral quality independently from religious legislation (Ibrahim 2018, 17-18). Qāḍī ꞌAbd al-Jabbār emphasized the interconnectedness and mutual entailment of determinist theological beliefs and the policies of the Umayyad regime. In his view, upholding the concept of divine justice and proposing a theory of justice required denying injustice to God and attributing it to human beings. When applied to the realm of political power and the ruler’s responsibility for combating injustice, the same principle applied. This Muꞌtazilite perspective provides an avenue to examine Qāḍī’s theory in terms of its influence on jurisprudential and legal processes, enabling a scrutiny of the viewpoints of theologians, including Qāḍī himself, from the standpoint of public law.

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Bibliographic Information

Title: Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s Theory of Justice: Its Implications for Public Law and Contemporary Political Governance in Islam

Author(s): Seyed Mojtaba Hosseini Karabi, Mohammad Emami, and Mohammad Rasekh

Published in: Religious Inquiries ( 2023), 12(2)

 Language: English

Length: 12 pages

Pub. Date: December 2023

Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s Theory of Justice

About Ali Teymoori

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