Panel: Law and Freedom Put to the Test of Experience (Jan 20)

The Crossroads Cultural Center in New York will host a panel discussion, “Law and Freedom Put to the Test of Experience,” in New York on January 20:

What is the relationship between law, rights, and freedom? When is freedom realized by law? When is it, instead, suffocated or suppressed? The speakers will address these questions in light of the irreducible need for justice and freedom as they emerge in human experience. Does human experience reveal an objective yet inherently personal criteria that enables the individual (regardless of any social, cultural or religious background) to judge both the fairness of a rule and its ability to realize greater freedom? The discussion will relate to a recently published book titled “Elementary Experience and Law” in which four legal scholars apply an innovative take on the concept of “elementary experience” – which is at the basis of Msgr. Luigi Giussani’s fundamental work “The Religious Sense” – to the legal system and the issue of justice.

Details are here.

Blasphemy in Greece

Here’s an interesting report from NPR on two recent prosecutions for the crime of blasphemy in Greece. In the first, the government brought a blasphemy charge against the poster of a Facebook page that mocks a famous Orthodox monk; the government has since dropped the blasphemy charge but has maintained a prosecution for the separate crime of “insulting religion.” In the second, the government is prosecuting the producers of a Greek translation of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a play that depicts Jesus and his disciples as a group of gay men in Texas.

Most European states have abolished the crime of blasphemy. The UK did so in 2008. Nonetheless, the European Court of Human Rights has held more than once that states may criminalize blasphemy in order to protect human dignity — that is, in order to protect the religious sensibilities of listeners from gratuitous and substantial offense. States can’t ban all criticism of religion, of course, only criticism that is insulting or abusive. Obviously, this is not an easy line to draw. In the US, in fact, the Supreme Court has suggested strongly that blasphemy laws are unconstitutional, in part because of the line-drawing problems.

What about the Greek prosecutions in these cases? I can’t read Greek, but the Facebook page in question, which you can access from the NPR story, seems more tongue-in-cheek than anything else. I’m not surprised the government dropped the blasphemy prosecution, though, of course, the prosecution for “insulting religion” continues. The Corpus Christi case seems closer to those in which the European Court has allowed blasphemy prosecutions in the past. In the 1990s, the court allowed Austria to ban a film that depicted sexual tensions between Christ and the Virgin Mary, and allowed the UK to ban a film depicting the vision of St. Theresa of Avila in erotic terms. So the Court might be inclined to allow prosecution in the Corpus Christi case, too, if the case ever reaches Strasbourg. Then again, Greece doesn’t stand so high in the opinion of European institutions these days.

Mustafa, “On Taqlid: Ibn al Qayyim’s Critique of Authority in Islamic Law”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish On Taqlid: Ibn al Qayyim’sOn Taqlid Critique of Authority in Islamic Law by Abdul-Rahman Mustafa.  The publisher’s description follows.

Abdul-Rahman Mustafa offers a deft new translation of a large extract from the book I’lam al Muwaqqi’in ‘an Rabb al ‘Alamin, by the thirteenth-century Islamic scholar, Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyya. The I’lam comprises an extensive discussion of the subject of taqlid, or legal imitation. It is one of the most comprehensive treatments of Islamic legal theory and even today serves as a manual for lawyers, judges, and muftis.

In the portion of the I’lam translated here, Ibn al-Qayyim introduces the nature of taqlid and divides it into several categories. He then provides an account of a debate between a critic of the view that taqlid of a particular school or scholar is a religious duty and this critic’s interlocutor. Among the topics discussed are the different kinds of taqlid, the differences between taqlid and ittiba’, the infallibility of religious scholars, the grounds on which one legal opinion might be preferred over another, and whether or not laymen can be expected to perform ijtihad. Ibn Qayyim’s legal theory is a formidable reformulation of traditionalist Hanbalism, a legal-theological tradition that has always maintained a distinctive character in Islamic history and that is now growing more influential due to modern interest in the Wahhabi movement and in Ibn Taymiyya, whose legal and theological thought was edited and refined by his student, Ibn Qayyim.

In his introduction to the translation, Mustafa critically reviews the scholarship on taqlid and outlines Ibn Qayyim’s legal theory and the importance of taqlid within it. Taqlid continues to generate controversy amongst educated Muslims and particularly academics, as Salafi interpretations of Islam, which are generally ‘anti-taqlid,’ come into conflict with the generally ‘pro-taqlid’ stance of traditional schools such as the Hanafis. Mustafa’s translation of a classic account of Islamic legal theory and strong critique of the dominant legal culture is a timely contribution to an increasingly heated debate.

Hassan, “Contracts in Islamic Law”

This month, I.B. Tauris Publishers is publishing Contracts in Islamic Law by Hussein Hassan.  The publisher’s description follows.Contracts in Islamic Law

This book introduces students to the theoretical and philosophical foundations of Islamic contractual law. Islamic law is applied in differing degrees by many countries across the world and especially in the Middle East. Considering the strategic and financial importance of these countries, taken as a whole, it is surprising how little academic writing exists in the West on either Islamic law or Middle Eastern law. Recently there have been signs of a burgeoning interest in Middle Eastern law. However, traditional Islamic law remains a neglected area of study. Hussein Hassan makes a significant contribution by presenting a detailed survey (which utilises both contemporary and classical sources) of a crucially important area of Islamic law – contract law – and by adopting an approach that gives priority to theory and to a comparative analysis with Anglo-American law theory. Contracts in Islamic Law offers an invaluable resource to academics and researchers with a specific interest in Islamic law, to postgraduate students and final year students of law, and to scholars whose main focus is Anglo-American contract law but who are interested in comparative law/theory.