“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?” Malachi 3:14
I think there’s an inevitable question that will be raised in the conscience of the faithful somewhere throughout their lives. Why, indeed do I fight to follow ancient Laws that were commanded to my great ancestors so many years ago? The world offers many pleasurable and enticing outlets, many forbidden fruit from which to taste. The struggle to resist is all but easy. Why not take a bite?
This morning, on my 15 minute commute to school I read a fascinating book called “The Kuzahri.” The author, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, was one of the greatest Jewish philosophers and poets of all time. He relates a tale (which is probably just a metaphor) of the king of Kuzahr who woke up morning after morning with strange dreams about the meaning of life. He tried to ignore them, but when the dreams wouldn’t go away, he realized that he ought to do something about it. So, he summoned a philosopher and a Jewish rabbi to hear what they each have to offer to make sense of his dreams. The rest of the book (In my print is about 200 pages without commentary) is a brilliant dialogue between the king and the rabbi exploring the depths of our faith and the wisdom of our tradition.
Halevi is not the only medieval rabbi to write a detailed philosophical works of that caliber. He’s in great company; there’s Maimonides‘ Guide for the Perplexed, Bachya ibn Pekuda’s Duties of the Heart, and Saadia‘s Book of Faiths and Beliefs. (Coincidentally, these four most important philosophical works were all originally written in Arabic!)
Riding a bus through the mountains and valleys of Jerusalem, with the beauty and eloquence of a well related parable, I finally found an answer to one of the most important questions of life.
“…One of a company of friends who sought solicitude in a remote spot, once journeyed to India, and had honor and rank bestowed on him by her king… The king loaded him with presents for his friends, gave him costly raiment for himself, and then dismissed him, sending members of his own retinue to accompany him on his return journey. No one knew that they belonged to the court, nor that they traveled into the desert. He had received commissions and treaties, and in return he had to swear fealty to the king. Then he and his Indian escort returned to his companions, and received a hearty welcome from them…
Henceforth they frequently sent ambassadors to India to wait upon the king, which was now more easy of accomplishment, as the first messengers guided them the shortest and straightest route. All knew that travelling in that country was rendered easier by swearing allegiance to his king and respecting his ambassadors. There was no occasion to inquire why this homage was necessary, because it was patent that by this means he came into connection with the monarch-a most pleasing circumstance.” Kuzari, end of First Essay
In Halevi’s world, we swear allegiance to the Merciful and Kind King, for it is by that means that we attain the greatest gift of all-a connection with the King. When you follow the ways and guidance of the King and his messengers, you will build a relationship with the King, and there’s no greater reward than being loved and cherished by the King.
A hundred years before Halevi, Bachya addressed this question, but offered a very different viewpoint.
“…When one feels that his tendencies are to rebel against the Creator and to break His covenant. Let him take account … that all of what he perceives in the universe with his senses – whether the foundations of the earth, its elements and compounds, its higher (stars, planets) and its lower creations – all of them exist by the word of God and guard His covenant (follow the laws of physics, etc).
If we would imagine in our mind that one of them would transgress the covenant of the Creator, no human would be left alive. For example, what would happen if one of the elements would transgress the covenant of the Creator and change its nature, or that the earth would leave its center… if the organs of a man were to rebel, and the organs whose nature is to move would be stationary, or the stationary ones would move… one’s formation would be lost, his composition would disintegrate, and his normal ability to function would become null and void.
How can a man not be ashamed to transgress the covenant of his God in a world which does not transgress the covenant of God, and do so with the help of limbs which God has commanded them to obey the man’s wish and bear all the man’s affairs, and these limbs do not transgress the Creator’s covenant?” Duties of the Heart, Gate of Spiritual Reflection
In Bachya’s world, disobeying the Word of God is foolish, selfish and hypocritical. We obey His Commandments for we owe it to Him. He created us, He feeds us, He sustains us, and it is through His Laws to nature that we survive. Using His creation against Him, is inhumane.
In the same time of Halevi, Maimonides took yet another, very unique approach:
“Good deeds are such as are equibalanced, maintaining the mean between two equally bad extremes, the too much and the too little. Virtues are psychic conditions and dispositions which are mid-way between two reprehensible extremes, one of which is characterized by an exaggeration, the other by a deficiency. Good deeds are the product of these dispositions.
To illustrate, abstemiousness is a disposition which adopts a mid-course between inordinate passion and total insensibility to pleasure. Abstemiousness, then, is a proper rule of conduct, and the psychic disposition which gives rise to it is an ethical quality; but inordinate passion, the extreme of excess, and total insensibility to enjoyment, the extreme of deficiency, are both absolutely pernicious. The psychic dispositions, from which these two extremes, inordinate passion and insensibility, result—the one being an exaggeration, the other a deficiency—are alike classed among moral imperfections…
…The perfect Law which leads us to perfection—as one who knew it well testifies by the words, “The Law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul; the testimonies of the Lord are faithful making wise the simple”—recommends none of these things (such as self-torture, flight from society etc.). On the contrary, it aims at man’s following the path of moderation, in accordance with the dictates of nature, eating, drinking, enjoying legitimate sexual intercourse, all in moderation, and living among people in honesty and uprightness, but not dwelling in the wilderness or in the mountains, or clothing oneself in garments of hair and wool, or afflicting the body.” Commentary to Mishnah, Introduction to Avot
In Maimonides’ world, the Law is here to protect us. Like a careful prescription by the greatest doctor, one disobedient act is a risk of life and death. God’s Way is the Way of Life.
Therefore, my friends, strengthen your faith in difficult times and follow the ways of God. It is as Bachya explains, the humane thing to do. According to Maimonides, the safe thing to do. And perhaps most importantly, as Halevi says: you have a connection to the King!
I think it is enough food for thought. I encourage you to read the beautiful words of these great masters again. It will enlighten your life.
God/Allah Bless you
Reblogged this on Hasidic.
Thank you for weighing in on the law. I liked the quote from Maimonides which I think highlights an understanding of the Law which bears a lot of resemblance to Islamic thought. Prophet Muhammad said that “Islam is the religion of moderation” which can be related to the Divine Law as he understood it. Both Judaism and Islam have in common a legalistic framework (halakha & Shariah respectively). While Christianity is the only branch of the Abrahamic faith to reject the law according to Pauls Gospel of freedom from the law.
What are your thoughts on the absence of legalistic frame of guidance in a religion and the potential for misguidance and deviation? Specifically, in regard to the “lawless” nature of Christianity.
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I’ve heard (perhaps you can provide some verses) the Muhammad rebuked the Jews for not following the Torah. On the other hand, the tragedy of Christianity where some random guy showed up from Syria, no one ever heard of him, he didn’t even meet Jesus, and he basically threw the Torah into the sewer… you don’t have to keep anything in Paul’s Judaism… Gods Law expired… can you imagine you have an Imam that shows up and starts preaching that the Quran is irrelevant! Now imagine his fabricated twisted cursed view becomes the biggest religion on earth…
that’s how I feel about the Law and Christianity. I mj
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Sorry sent to quickly,
I think it’s sad, for as you see in the quote from Maimonides, Christianity made both mistakes. On the one hand you have the pope and priests who abstain from certain pleasures, and they are somehow holy for everyone. And then you have the masses who are completely unbound by any serious frame of Law.
In Halevi’s analogy, it’s like living in country where there’s the most merciful and kind king and rebelling in all his laws but shout “we love you king” “we have faith in you”
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“In Halevi’s analogy, it’s like living in country where there’s the most merciful and kind king and rebelling in all his laws but shout “we love you king” “we have faith in you””
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Thanks for your comments and insight. I think Muslims and Jews can find a lot to agree on in regard to this subject.
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Reflecting on the comment by Ibn Issam…
(some pre-modern) Christians did have Canon law? I think the Catholic Church has laws/rules/regulations?
Law, in the Modern period, has been abused by the powerful (state/elites) and it is not based on ethics/morality. It also appears to be arbitrary and inconsistent because it is based on state interests or on the gains/greeds of the powerful/elites. So I would say—we, as “Moderns”, live in lawless times?
The two principles that MUST balance any conception of Justice are 1) compassion and mercy 2) Equality.(not based on sameness but on the idea of inherent equivalent value of human beings)
Without a correct framework of equality, justice cannot be consistent or comprehensive and without compassion and mercy to balance it–justice can become coercive/oppressive.
Modern religions make the mistake of not understanding that “law” (God’s law) is about a wholistic system (way of life) based on a world-view (Tawheed in the case of Islam).God’s law is also “adab” (manners) which is what makes it a wholistic system–because laws/rules are about regulating human interactions with each other (and between individuals and God). Because law is a way of life—to force everyone under a single system is oppression—that is why there must be legal pluralism (many systems of laws) for people to choose from.
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Thx 4 your input. I agree with much of what u said. However I was not speaking of secular law but rather divinely revealed law and guidance. Neither was I speaking of the criminal laws etc. Sorry for not clarifying. I do not believe that Canon law is divinely revealed but is instead a set of man made rules and regulations for the governance of the church. You are right about wholistc system and adab, i agree. In regard to legal pluralism I agree and in my understanding so does traditional Islamic thought. In a modern context the Divine Law is there for the followers of the religion to follow as a guidance in how to practice their faith and remain within the boundaries set by God. It is not something to be forced on others, Qur’an says, “there is no compulsion in religion” but the divine law should be freely adopted and embraced by the adherents of that faith tradition. The secular laws as you mentioned are different and should be agreed upon by society.
My original point was that there is no legalistic spritual guidance in Christianity to guide the believer as to the proper practice and to guard against religious innovation and deviations.
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Regarding the Canon Law. See my comment to Ibn Issam. The canon law is part of the problem. The substituted God’s wise Law with garbage. You have God telling all Jews to eat kosher, to fast on Yom Kippur , Rest on the Seventh Day… it was replaced by what? By man made laws where you can violate everything God said and do what some group of people decided????
It is no wonder a religion that was founded like that eventually came to worship idols… if you don’t keep the Law you’ll make yourselves new gods…
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When confronted with the rejection and absence of the Law in their religion, Christians (even at times Protestants) often retreat and say they have the Law of the Canon, which as you indicated is not a helpful answer, and just further highlights the deviations that have led Christianity away from the traditional legalistic framework of the Abrahamic Faith.
Some Christians state that they follow the OT law, while not seeming to understand the implication of Paul’s Gospel of Freedom, and faith based redemptive teachings, New Testament Christians are not truly held accountable under that moral code in any binding way.
Other Christians refer to the Noahide laws, but they don’t seem to realize that they have broken the first and second Noahide laws by denying God’s Absolute Oneness, while replacing it with the utter blasphemy that God has a partner (Jesus) in divinity.
The argument for “Natural Law” is also flawed and incomplete as well. Paul argues that Gentiles who are without the law, “do by nature things required by the law…the law is written upon the heart.” (Romans 2:12-16). But there is still no guidance or requirement to choose good over evil, and this leads to deviation and misguidance.
If there is no Divine Law, there is no code of conduct.
If there is no code of conduct, there is no clear path to follow.
With no clear path to follow, there is deviation, innovation, and misguidance – all of which lead AWAY from the pleasure of God and the reward of Salvation which is only given through God’s mercy to those who have followed his guidance and remained obedient to the core commandments of his Divine Laws.
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Paul argues that Gentiles “do by nature things required by the law…the law is written upon the heart.” shame God didn’t consult Paul before he wrote the 10 commandments…
Without a Divine Law there is no clear guidance or motivation to usher people forward along the righteous path. Without coupling faith with the action of adhering to the guidance of God, and obeying his commandments, there is no forward movement. Without such forward movement the personal spiritual development of the individual believer will be mired in stagnation.
It Paul’s innovated Gospel of Freedom from the law and the teaching of Faith Based Redemption, which has resulted in the licentiousness of the vast majority of Christian people and set them on the trajectory which caused them to stray so far from the true historical teachings of Jesus and the traditional culture and moral values of the Abrahamic faith. Almost every other religion has some sort of legalistic framework to guide the believer in the right direction. Without a legalistic framework, there are no boundaries, no clear line between what is acceptable (Halal) and what is forbidden (Haraam), and this opens the door to innovation, deviation, and straying from the righteous path. This is why we see so many who identify as Christians acting in deviant and sinful ways, that the Prophets themselves would never have approved. Ever since Paul’s rejection of the Law, Christians have been confused and misguided, lulled into the belief that they are saved by faith alone.
Some have argued that Christians are “Free to obey” the law, but conversely, this also implies that they are “Free to Disobey” as well. According to Paul’s Gospel of Freedom from the Law, Good deeds are like unto “filthy rags” so one wonders, why even bother with good deeds? Based on this teaching, a Christian is good only because he chooses to be good not because it is required of him. He is good DESPITE his religion not BECAUSE of it. Either way the Christian still believes he is saved by faith belief in Crucifixion, thinking that he will not be held responsible for his own actions since Jesus supposedly died for his sins. This effortless and easy “Salvation on Demand” gives people the false feeling that they are “In the Kingdom” or “Saved by Grace.” Many people say a sinners prayer, are baptized and believe in Atonement by Cross, they may even believe it in their hearts but continue in their sinful ways exhibiting no real change or transformation in their sinful lives. Regardless of what one may think, these people truly believe that they are Christians. Even though some more straight Christians would like to disassociate themselves from them, these people are the fruit of Christianity, and they are absolutely 100% Christian. It is a cop out to blame the shameful Christian immorality that we see today on various secular ideologies and political creeds, when it is Paul’s own teachings which really opened the door and allowed such deviation to enter into the house of Christianity.
A hollow faith in the Atonement by the Cross does not necessarily result in good works or spiritual growth for the self or society, because faith based redemption ultimately does not require any action.
Given this, the question should be asked: Of what use or benefit is Christianity for the betterment mankind, on an individual spiritual level and societally? If Christianity as a faith tradition, leads to such sinful immorality and it does not really offer anything (including salvation) that cannot be obtained elsewhere in more rational based religious traditions……
……then why remain a Christian?
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early christianity was struck with a problem that the idiot called paulus calls “legalism”
There’s also the question of why Peter would need such a vision at all–of which Peter says, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean”–if Peter were with the resurrected Jesus of Matthew, who said to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
it is funny that in acts, none of these could find any justification to go “make disciples of all nations ” from jesus.
it is as if they were not aware of the verses about what defiles and going to the gentiles.
Thank you for this article which I think it’s very interesting! Moreover, I think it’s very big topic to be discussed.
The question is why we must keep the law of God regardless all the criticism and desires that we face in this life. Jewish scholars whom you mentioned provided very good answers which are to have a good relationship with God, to be a grateful for the Creator, and to be protected by God. All of these answers have been considered in Islam already. In fact, I can quote from Quran and Sunnah what matches each answer with modified considerations for each.
However, I think there’s something missing which is the most important and above all answers. That thing is called in Islam ( Belief in the last day)… The life hereafter…. The reward of paradise and the punishment of the hellfire.
As muslims, we try our best to sustain the law of God because there’s a judgement after this life. For example, we try our best not to drink alcohol in this life because we want the reward from Allah in Paradise.
You quoted Malachi 3! We read in verse 15 the following :
“But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it”
Quran has answered this objection! Those people complained because their standard relies on the status of this life. However, the real standard is your status in the life hereafter.
“Beautified for those who disbelieve is the life of this world, and they ridicule those who believe. But those who fear Allah are above them on the Day of Resurrection. And Allah gives provision to whom He wills without account.”
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious
When evil touches him, impatient
And when good touches him, withholding [of it],”
Also, this equation must be taken into account with a general sense and with other considerations.
For example, you may find a man who keeps the law of God, yet he’s so sick and has cancer. Also, you may find a person who blasphemes God on a daily basis, yet he’s so rich with a big house and family. That doesn’t mean the first one is cursed, and the other is blessed, and again this is not the case for each one, but the big consideration is the status of the life hereafter.
Quran and Sunnah told us already that the Road to Allah is a test.
The prophetﷺ said
“The Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Hell-Fire is surrounded by temptations”
Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.
Sometimes it could be so hard! I’ve seen a video for men of the Bashar’s army, in the Syrian war which is against muslims, in which they bury a muslim guy gradually, and they commanded him to say (no god but Bashar), yet he kept refusing,and he kept saying (no God but Allah) till they buried him alive completely! May Allah have mercy on him.
In regard christians, it’s odd enough that they have left the law of God,yet they keep the law of men!
Even Jesus when he will return, he will condemn them because they are ((LAWLESS)) people!
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” !
Christianity as whole is an ironic religion for me!
What makes me be amazed that they always talk about the tribulation!
Allah knows the best
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thanks for your insight. in fact, judgment day is all over the bible. i should’ve added it to my list.
interesting points by Ibn Issam….
The worldview of Christians and proponents of “Natural Law” is based on Shirk (division) that is why laws derived from such paradigms are unbalanced. For example, Trinity inclines one towards a hierarchical paradigm which is in opposition to the understanding of Equality based on Tawheed (Unity). Equality = all humanity is of equivalent worth/value before God. To get to a more balanced concept of equality, Western Modernity had to ditch Christianity so that they could establish a different paradigm—this was “Natural law”. Yet, because this was not based on One God (Tawheed) but substituted an abstract concept of “Nature” for God—it also fell into Shirk. Modern concept of “Nature” is based on two ideas—that of linear progress (evolution) and survival of the fittest—this makes the paradigm relative, inconsistent and hierarchical.
One God is the paradigm that provides stability, consistency (because God is unchanging/stable), equality (because all humanity is of equivalent value before God) and balanced (because the paradigm is wholistic/way of life as a whole—“path to water”). Such a paradigm opens up a more sophisticated way of dealing with the complexities of reality….(than the simplistic binaries of the philosophies of today.)
However, God’s law is a “reminder”. If I understand correctly, that is what “Torah” means…a reminder. Goodness (in intent and conduct) is in our inherent nature (Fitra). To be “humane” is to be compassionate and merciful. Thus, badness/malice is a rebellion against God’s law and our Fitra. If so, then the fundamental principles of God’s law—Justice, Equality, Compassion and Mercy—are Universal—as in, instinctive/intuitive to all humanity. Therefore, all groups of people are capable of recognizing, applying, and obeying God’s laws regardless of the particular culture, environment or religious label they may be….
With Tawheed (Unity/One God), the principles of ethics/morality (which lead to laws) will be more balanced.
In the Modern era, some of our laws also have fallen into shirk…many of the hybrid systems of laws in Muslim-majority countries are for the benefit of the powerful and corrupt. We need to re-evaluate our own ethico-moral principles too……?…..
the truth is that a christian does church rituals because he likes to be seen by men. I say this because they think that their god sees them as dirty and filthy period blood. they given themselves to pass judgement on other people because they think that all future sins have been cleared and judgement taken away. why they pass judgement on people and at same time believe all judgement has been taken off from them?