Islamic-Jewish Fatwa

A mid 14th century manuscript from Grenada offers a theological dilemma posed by an unknown Jewish author to the renown Muslim jurist of Granada Abu Said Faraj ibn Lubb al Shatibi (d 1381).  The Jewish questioner assumes the Muslim is a follower of the Asherite doctrine of predestination. The questioner also assumes that the Muslim position is that we have free will to either choose Islam or make the wrong choice. The Jew asks the logical question of Islamic predestination: If all people are to freely choose Islam in order to allow for human responsibility, then if there is also predestination does that not mean that God ultimately determines his religion; and in the questioners case God chose him to be Jewish. The questioner asks: Why is God displeased with his Judaism if it was God’s will? The manuscript was brought to light and translated by Vincent Cornell and Hayat Kara and translated by the former. [i]

Oh scholars of religion, a dhimmi of your religion

Is perplexed. So guide him with the clearest proof:

If my Lord has decreed, in your opinion, my unbelief

But then does not accept it of me, what is my recourse?

He decrees my misguidance and says, “Be satisfied with your fate.”

But how am I to be satisfied with that which leads to my damnation?

He curses me and then shuts the door against me. Is there any

Way out at all for me? Show me the outcome?

For if, oh people, I was satisfied with my fate,

Then my Lord would not be pleased with my evil calamity.

How am I to be satisfied with what does not please my Master?

Thus, I am perplexed. So guide me to the solution of my perplexity.

If my Lord wills my unbelief as a matter of destiny,

How can I be disobedient in following his will?

Do I even have the choice of going against his ruling?

By God, cure my malady with clear arguments!

[i] Vincent Cornell, “Theologies of Difference and Ideologies of Intolerance in Islam” in eds. Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, Religious tolerance in world religions (West Conshohocken, Pa: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008) 274-296.

7 responses to “Islamic-Jewish Fatwa

  1. I am not shocked at the notion that people can be predestined to Hell, but then again I am used to Calvinist thinking. Calvinism often did translate into philo-Semitism. If the Jews do not accept Jesus then it is not because they are willfully Satanic, just that they have not been given grace and are hell bound sinners like everyone else.

  2. Giorgio Agamben notes that the Asharite theory of predestination led to the assignation of prisoners in concentration camps who gave up on life as Musselmanner (Muslims) because of the passivity inherent in this line of thought.
    For me the irony lies in the calcification of the image of retribution. Eventually we make hell so bad and god so overbearing that they take on a lapidary or transposable quality. When this happens we begin to assign others to hell, almost as a bracketing of their eventual fate, actions etc. Then we are left with a great deal of latitude in how to deal with this worldly relations with the hellbound sinners who will burn in the lake of fire. To me the argument recalls Hegel’s “inverted world” with deterministic religion as a stand in for deterministic scientism. The point being that both can lead to a self legislating subject.

  3. There is also the determinism of Polish Hasidism or radical Calvinists that glorifies anything the elite do as predetermined.

  4. Is restricting it to the elite an attempt to split the difference? Or is it a working-out of older tropes (at least in our religion, cannot speak for calvinists) regarding tzadikaya and their unique rapport with providence?

    • While both of your answers apply, I think it may be an inverted Agamben. God and heaven are so good and this world is so false, that we assign people to the messianic age.
      E R Goodenough dealt with the predestination in his Psychology of Religious Experience (1965), that I read a long time ago.

  5. I think you are moving backwards into Shiite occlusion or Gnostic dualism and not forward to whatever role these elite are playing in non-dualistic, non-apocalyptic systems.

  6. I find that debate and the predestination theories of that time interesting but just as much as the world in Andalousi Grenada that spawned the likes of Abu Said Faraj ibn Lubb al Shatibi also stimulated the great philosopical ages that not only encouraged in sciences and philosphy but also a very differing view not supporting presestination.

    Ibn-Sina, though noted more for his part in medicine was very much a strict believer of “Qur’an only” and was often at conflict with clerics because of his constant stating that the haddiths were “written by man”. I wonder if he was at that meating with al Shatibi what third view would have taken place!

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