Islamic
Hermeneutics
[1]


If there is a
conflict between two verses of the Koran, or a verse of the Koran seems in
conflict with an authentic tenet of the hadith, Muslim doctors of law propose
the following harmonizations.


1st rule: exception.

If one text
is more restricted in scope than a conflicting
other, the narrower is considered an exception to the larger.

The
major premise: “X is to do Y”;

the
minor: “X is not to do Y, when Z”;

the
putative conclusion: “X is to do Y, only when not Z”.

 

The
conclusion renders the major premise conditional. This solution seems credible,
granted both texts have comparable level of authority and reliability. Note that
this rule is comparable to Rule 10 or perhaps 13 of R. Ishmael in Talmudic
hermeneutics; it is a dialectical reconciliation.


2nd rule: merger.

If one text
prescribes (or forbids) a part of some class and the other similarly prescribes (or forbids) another part of the same class,
there is no contradiction: together the two texts form a larger proposition.

The
major premise: “X is to do Y, when Z1”;

the
minor: “X is to do Y, when Z2”;

the
putative conclusion “X is to do Y, when Z1 or Z2 (or ‘when Z’, if
Z1 and Z2 constitute all of Z)”.

 

This is a
valid merger or amplification.


3rd rule: exclusion.

If one text
prescribes (or forbids) to what seems a general subject (X) what seems a
specific predicate (Y1), and another text obversely forbids (or prescribes) to
what seems a specific subject (X1) what seems a general predicate (Y), then we
must conclude that either the specific subject is not included in the general subject or the specific predicate is not
included
in the general predicate (the decision between these two
alternatives depending on finding another text which comforts the one or the
other).

The
major premise: “All X are to do some Y1”;

the
minor: “No X1 is to do any Y”;

the
putative conclusion: “No X1 is X” and/or “No Y1 is Y”.

 

For, it is
tacitly argued, if we add to the major and minor that “All X1 are X”
(subjectal) and “All Y1 are Y” (predicatal), we must conclude that
“All X1 are to do some Y” (pitting the minor against the three other
premises) and “At least some X are not
to do any Y1″ (pitting the major against the three other premises), by
regular syllogisms and substitutions.

Note that in
fact, it suffices for the subjectal premise to be “At least some X1 are
X” to obtain the result “No X1 is X”. Also, given the needed
generality of the predicatal premise, the second result should be “At least
some Y1 are not Y”. But we can accept the generalities everywhere, granting
that we are dealing in kinds, i.e.
whole classes (to be precise, such acceptance involves a generalization). Also
note, the disjunction in the conclusion may be taken as inclusive, and/or.

This is a
credible resolution of conflict, granted both texts have the same level of
authority and reliability. Comparing to Talmudic hermeneutics, this rule
concerns a situation treated under Rule 10 of R. Ishmael; but whereas the latter
resolves the conflict by a daring particularization of the major premise, the
Islamic version more carefully challenges the subjectal or predicatal premise.


4th rule: abrogation.

If one text
prescribes (or forbids) the entirety of what another text conversely forbids (or
prescribes), one or the other text must be abrogated, i.e. considered null and
void. If one is more recent, it is to be preferred. Otherwise, add certain
commentators, if one is seemingly more demanding, it is to be preferred. But
there are often disagreements, when such conflict resolutions are not readily
available. (Another logically conceivable resolution, note, would be to
particularize both premises to some extent—but I do not know if Islamic
interpreters use this option.)

There is a
Koranic text (2:106) saying that abrogation of a law occurs only when a better
or similar one is promulgated (for some this implies that God, the author of the
Koran, is the only abrogator or promulgator). This is understood at one level to
refer to God’s abrogation through the Koran of some pre-Koranic laws. At a
second reading, it may imply that there should be no unresolved contradictions
within the Koran, which is doubtful considering the need for two of the previous
three rules. Naturally, if one text has greater authority and reliability (e.g.
Koran vs. hadith), it is to be preferred. But the law doctors wonder whether the
lower text (hadith) may abrogate the higher (Koran) in certain cases.

On a formal
level,

the
major premise: “X is to do Y”;

the
minor: “X is not to do Y”;

so, one
or the other must indeed be abandoned in the conclusion.

 

The
preference of the more recent (say, within the Koran, which is not
chronologically ordered) is sound practice, though it is unclear why God would
change His mind so quickly, before the earlier law has had time to be put into
practice (if that is the case).

Concerning
the subsidiary rule about the relative severities or leniencies of the two
texts, the implication is that the two predicates are not really identical (Y).

Regarding
conflicts between texts of unequal authority and reliability, I fail to see how
the lower (hadith) can displace the higher (Koran), but I have not seen relevant
examples.

We may add
that it could be appropriate to use such a rule when there is a conflict between
a text (Koran or hadith) and an established empirical fact; the latter winning,
according to our modern view.

For
comparison, abrogation is not officially included in Talmudic hermeneutics,
though in practice it occurs (e.g. at least, when one rabbi’s position is
preferred to anotherbut sometimes perhaps also in Torah contexts, as e.g. in
the apparent conflict between Gen. 1:29 and 9:3[2]).


There are
some similarities between the above four rules and Talmudic harmonization rules.
But the latter often consider more complex situations and propose more
far-fetched logical responses. One significant underlying difference is the
rabbinic concern with redundancies.


There are,
additionally (mentioned in my said source), two types of reasoning by analogy.

This involves
generalization. An issue, here, is why the original text did not mention the
sought-for generality in the first place. In cases where the new cases were
unknown at the time (e.g. electricity, say), this is understandable. But in
other cases, the use of such reasoning may seem daring.


5th rule: extension by direct analogy.

A law given
in the text concerning some particular case(s), may be extended to all other
cases of the same sort. The difficulty with this method, as the law doctors
admit, is the vagueness of the underlying criterion of resemblance. Formally,

“X1
is to do Y” and “X1 is an X”,

therefore
“At least some X are to do Y”;

therefore
“All X are to do Y”.

 

This is
syllogism followed by generalization, which is in principle acceptable, so long
as no reason is found for particularization. This method calls to mind that of gezerah
shavah
in Talmudic hermeneutics.


6th rule: extension by indirect analogy.

When a law
found in the text concerns some particular case(s), the reason for the law is sought, before extending to all other
cases which seem subject to the same underlying reason. Formally,

(a) the initial law is “X is to
do Y” (textually given);

(b)
furthermore, we presume that “X is to do Y, because
X is Z” (not textually given);

(c)
granting this, we are supposing that “All Z are to do Y” (not
textually given).

 

The third
proposition is seen as an explanation of the “because” clause in the
second[3].
For, with the propositions “X is Z” and “All Z are to do Y”,
we can by syllogism infer the given premise “X is to do Y”. It is
clear that propositions (b) and (c) are not inferred from (a); rather, we have
sought out propositions from which (a)
might be inferred. (b) and (c) are thus hypotheses which fit this requirement;
but it does not follow that they are the only possible such hypotheses. So long
as no alternative explanation of (a) is found, then (b) and (c) have some
credibility. We have, then, at best an inductive argument, not a deductive one,
note well.

This method
resembles somewhat that of binyan av
in Talmudic hermeneutics. It is called qiyas,
and was developed by the imam Al-Shafii (d. 820). Another jurist, Ibn Hazm, also
known as Abu Mohammed Ali (Spain, 994-1064), criticized this approach, arguing
that God’s intent in the Koran was precisely what he said and no more (except
where the text is put in doubt by another text).


7th rule: application.

Additionally,
some Moslem commentators acknowledge syllogistic reasoning composed of a Koranic
major premise and an observed minor premise. E.g. “Fermented drinks are
forbidden” and “wine is a fermented drink”, therefore “wine
is forbidden”. The issue here is whether the middle term is correctly
interpreted.


Other rules.

My source
further mentions the methods of istihsan
(a law is proposed because it seems ‘good’) and istislah
(a law is proposed because it seems ‘useful to the Community’), which
institute laws not mentioned in the text, that is, through insight of their
value. As some Moslem commentators have pointed out, such methods may be
subjective and arbitrary, and lead far from the given text. Indeed,
value-judgments are almost bound to be conditioned by personal and
social/cultural context; they may easily be prejudices.

There is also
the principle of consensus (ijma),
which resembles the Talmudic principle of rov
(majority). The Islamic principle is based on a hadith where Mohammed says
“My Community will never agree together on an error”. The issue then
arose, on a practical levelwho to include in the ‘Community’?
Democratically, it would be the whole population; this being at the time
impracticable, the law doctors were referred to; but in view of communication
difficulties in the vast Islamic empire, only those of major Islamic centers
were considered. Some commentators suggested, instead, that the ‘Community’
included only the immediate companions of the Prophet.

The very fact
that there are disagreements among authorities regarding the reference intended
by the language of this hadithas well as the practical difficulties of
application of different interpretationsmake such a rule of consensus open to
doubt, and therefore ultimately to some extent arbitrary.


The above is probably not a complete list of
hermeneutic rules used in developing Islamic law.

Note also
that the formal representations of the rules proposed above are my own logical
clarifications. The Islamic jurists who appealed to these techniques were not
necessarily as clearly aware of their structures; and those who were
theoretically aware, did not necessarily always manage to adhere to them in
practice. Probably, some interpreters occasionally wrongly (through mistakes or
dishonesty) claimed their judgments based on these ideal forms.

Anyway, the
rules mentioned above seem overall respectable, from a logician’s point of
view. Needless to say, this positive evaluation of some logical methods is not
intended as a comment on the content of Islamic law, or as an expression of any
sort of personal endorsement of Islam.

Incidentally,
some Islamic methods resemble Talmudic ones, but the former are on the whole
more natural. It is significant that the latter are often more artificial. This
may be due to their being of earlier date historically; it shows anyhow that
they are not universal to all religious groups, and therefore not normal to
human reasoning. Nevertheless, apparently, Talmudic logic includes valid forms,
like the a-fortiori argument, which are (to my knowledge so far) absent in
Islamic methodology, at least at a self-conscious level.


Interpreters


Note,
finally, the distinction between Divine law (shar),
found written in the Koran and not giving rise to disagreements among law
doctors; and Applied law (sharia),
developed by law doctors, in response to textual conflicts or through other
motives.

This
distinction is similar to that between unproblematic Torah law, and Talmudic and
Rabbinic interpretation of law (halakhah).


There are
four main schools of interpreters of
the law[4]:

·
the liberal Hanefists (Abu Hanifa, d. 767), found in Turkey, Central Asia,
Pakistan and
India;

·
the Malekists (from Malik b. Anas, d. 795), dominant in North Africa;

·
the Shafeists (Shafii, d. 820), especially in Egypt and Indonesia;

·
and the rigid Hanbalists (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, d. 855), in Saudi Arabia.

A fifth
school, not officially recognized, is that of the Zahirists
(including ibn Hazm, already mentioned), which sought literal readings and
rejected laws based on human reasoning. We might roughly compare these to the
Sadducees (Tsadokim) or the Karaites (Qaraim) in Judaism.

Mention
should also be made of the Reformists
(principally Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, 1838-1897; Mohammad Abduh, 1849-1905;
Rashid Rida, d. 1935). They tried to “reopen the gates of the ijithad,”
that is, the effort of personal interpretation, in lieu of the servile imitation
(taqlid) of past law doctors by present ‘orthodox’ ones, and to
adapt Islamic law to the modern world influenced by Western civilization. This
may be comparable to Conservative or Reform Judaism.

Note
that the above list makes no mention of Persian interpreters, so that I am not
sure whether it applies only to Sunni Islam, or also to the Shi’ite branch.


The
innovating velleities that begun 19th Century have come to little,
due to the rise of modern fundamentalism, generated by the likes of the
Muslim Brotherhood (founded 1928 in Egypt, by Hasan al-Banna, of the Hanbalist
school).

An allegedly
‘orthodox’ backlash started occurring in the early 20th Century,
which in the last two or three decades, under the given label of ‘Islamism’,
has sadly become more and more radical and extreme, indulging in blind hatred
and violence towards anyone external to it.

According to a newspaper
article I read (Tribune de Genève, 26-7-05), the main theoreticians of
this Salafiya Djihadia movement were: Sayed Qotb (Egypt, 1906-66),
inspired by Hanbalism, and Abu Al-Mawdudi (Pakistan, 1903-79), of Hanefist
inspiration. Their doctrines gave rise to the notorious Al-Qaeda network,
among others. The article does not mention the ideological sources of the
Shi’ite Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1978 Iranian revolution, however.

Moslem intellectuals who wish to
reverse this disastrous trend must begin by critically reviewing every single
argument put forward by the proponents of modern fundamentalism, (a) checking it
for consistency with traditional logical procedures; and (b), in cases where no
hermeneutic rule has visibly been breached, considering the possibility
tradition offers of alternative juridical interpretations. Many faults are
likely to be found in Islamist doctrine on purely Islamic grounds in this way,
even before needing to question traditional Islam and more deeply the Koran.

Another important measure is, of
course, education – inoculating common people against the fallacious arguments
concocted by individuals with dubious motivations. It is all too easy for
religious fanaticism to take hold in populations overly prone to emotional
incitement and social intimidation, and intellectually ill-equipped to insist on
rational checks and balances.



Back to allied works.







[1]
See Arnaldez, pp. 33-45, 56-57,191-197.

[2]
I am not sure this is a good example, as
neither passage explicitly excludes the other: permitting vegetable food and
permitting meat are not strictly in conflict, only davqa
readings make them seem so.

[3]
Another interpretation of the clause
“because” in (b) would not have the same effect. If, for instance,
it meant that Z is a sine qua non
for Y, then (c) would read “Only Z are Y”, which implies
“Some Z are Y and No nonZ is Y”, which is not enough to infer (a)
syllogistically.

[4]
Note, in passing, the following attributions
mentioned by Arnaldez (pp. 42, 57): Personal opinion or ray
was used by Abu Hanifa. Istislah
was used by the disciples of Malik b. Anas. Analogy
was used by Shafii.

2016-10-20T06:32:50+00:00