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Religion: Direct communication between God and man



David Westbrook says: "I agree with Paul Simon's suggestion of a certain affinity between Islam and Protestant thought, an affinity I noted in passing in "Islamic International Law and Public International Law: Separate Expressions of World Order (33 VA. J. INT'L L. 819 (1993)). A slight amendment may be helpful: priesthood of all believers is a Lutheran concept, i.e., predates and is the source of the impulse in American Protestantism. Recall that Luther translated the Bible into German in order to make scriptures accessible to those who could not read Latin. Luther understood the promise of salvation to depend on the word of God alone ("sola scriptura"), as opposed to doctrine, the schoolmen, what we might more generally call tradition. This direct or purifying impulse was in concordance with the other two core principals of Lutheran theology, the emphasis on faith alone ("sola fide") as opposed to reason, and grace alone ("sola gratia"), as opposed to merit or works. I think similar impulses can be found in Islamic thought.

One of the more interesting Islamic legal scholars (in my admittedly limited knowledge) is Abdullahi An Na'im, now a professor at Emory Law School. If memory serves, in his book Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and Islamic Law, An Na'im urges that Islamic law must renew itself by getting back to its roots, and, conversely, by deemphasizing the various contextual decisions made within what might be called the Islamic tradition, and in particular on the elaboration of Islamic law by scholars and judges (ulama). In its insistence on the renewal of tradition through a return to fundamentals, and its use of history/humanistic learning to situate and thereby reduce the authority of tradition, An Na'im's work always struck me as akin to Luther's attack on the political authority of Rome, despite the obvious and huge differences in religion, time, intention, and so forth. Rephrased, I think An Na'im's title is very good, and more suggestive than he perhaps meant. I never pursued the thought any further, though".

My comment: I confess that these discussions make me uneasy. as I think of all the debates on the interpretations of the texts of the Bible and the Koran. I happen to have been reading about the disputes based on Romans, 12:2: "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is good". This seems clear to me , and excellent advice to WAISers.

Ronald Hilton - 6/7/02


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