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The Concept of Law
One of the most important hopes of religions is to reach salvation and be free after death. Religions have different beliefs about how a person should live a life to reach salvation. Even in three Western or Abrahamic religions, which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are different ways of following a religion to reach salvation. These three religions have different laws, which plays an important role to live as a religious person. Practical laws are really important for Jews and Muslim whereas in Christianity there is not that much practical law. Judaism and Islam are more orthopraxy whereas Christianity is more orthodoxy. Judaism and Islam are more orthopraxy and because of that law play a central role in their lives. For Jews and Muslims law came from word of God which is in the Books but in Christianity word of God came in flesh that is Jesus Christ and faith to him will be the way to Salvation. Torah and Quran are foundation of Judaism and Islam. A Jew or a Muslim born with law which is circumcision and they die with law which is rituals of funeral. Law roles the life of a good Jew or a good Muslim as they have law for every aspect of their life.
There will be focus on Judaism and Islam about the importance of law and that is crucial for a good Jew or Muslim to follow their practical laws. In Judaism and Islam, because of different interpretations and understanding of divine law, it had been changed through time and led to division of different groups. Also there were reformation movements to adapt religious laws with modern world. These movements, changes and debates show the importance of law because they formed different ways to apply divine law in lives of its followers. May be the foundation of some movements was not because of different understanding of law but after or in a same time they made their own views to how they should follow divine laws in their religions because it is most important thing in their life and they can not reach salvation with out following laws.
In both religions, there is no priest as what it is in Christianity but there are rabbi and Sheikhs who plays important role in both religions. They were not in religion from the beginning but they became teacher of religious rituals, which strictly involved with laws and they developed their authority in different period of time. They are involved in lives of Jews and Muslims because The Laws are central things in Muslims and Jews lives and they have knowledge of understanding and explaining divine Laws. As Cohen-Sherbok said: “Today a Rabbi is one learned in Jewish law, who has been ordained to teach and preach and who generally serves a congregation.”(Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P.49). In Islam there are more specific specialty with laws for example there is Qadi, Mujtahid, Mufti, Mutikalim, Faqih, and Sheikh. Each of them has specific duty to do in Islamic society, which is in involved with Muslims’ lives. Qadi is an Islamic Judge (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P.116), which was chosen by Caliph in the past time but after Caliphate they chosen by governor and they are appointed from Islamic Universities. Mujtahid is a learned Muslim scholar who has enough knowledge about Quran and Sunna to engage in independent reasoning, which is called Ijtihad (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P. 116). Mufti is someone normally appointed by the government for specific purpose of answering questions concerning Islamic law (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P. 116) but nowadays it is not necessarily appointed by government, in Ulamas’ offices and other places they are Muftis who have right to give Fatwa. Mutikalim is an Islamic theologian. It seems to be Theology does not have any relationship with law but Islam theology started with a question of “Who is grave sinner?” which has a direct relation with Islamic law. Even after that it continues with some questions about Sharia. Faqih is an Islamic jurisprudence (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P. 114) that plays an important role in Islamic Society nowadays. For example after Islamic revolution in Iran, the leading of country were by faqih, Ayatollah Khomeini, and right now by another faqih, Ayatollah Khamenehye that they tried to use Sharia as constitutional law. Sheikh is broad term and can be used for all of special people in Islamic society but in general Sheikh is a person who is in higher spiritual level and he is an elder person in society. Sheikh is more like a counselor for family problem or other conflict between two Muslims before they go to Qadi. As it mentioned, rabbis do not have that much specialty or expertise, at least it is not mentioned in our sources but they are more like Sheikhs and for sure in past there were Jewish judges. They are involved in many rituals like circumcision, marriage, and funeral. They are important nowadays to keep law of religion alive in Jewish lives. In Islam it is more based on expertise and each Alim, singular of Ulama, has in its expertise. A Qadi do not give Fatwa whereas a Mufti does not judge. May be a Mufti judge a person by religious laws because he has knowledge of it but he does not have that much authority as a Qadi has. For sure these knowledge and expertise develop through time because there was a need of it in Jewish or Islamic society. Beside nowadays lives of Jews and Muslims, also history show importance of law in their lives and how it became more important through time.
Judaism, as Dan Cohn-Sherbok mentioned, after ruin of temple could be disappeared like Manicheans and other religious cults but their survival was due enthusiasm and efforts of Pharisees (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 47). Pharisees were group of Jews who were scrupulous in obeying both written and oral laws (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 116). Oral law was as important as written laws for Pharisees. Written Laws are the laws of Pentateuch (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P.118). Midrash is rabbinic interpretation of Holy Writ and because they believe that Pentateuch, in particular, is regarded as the Word of God, it is essential to be understood correctly (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P.48). Pharisees also were popular because of their verbal interpretation of the sacred books and also they explain inner and hidden meaning of scriptures. They made it easier for people to understand oral law and because of they were more authoritative over people (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 45). Cohn-Sherbok said: “Only in middle ages did the title “rabbi” come to mean the spiritual leader of a particular Jewish community.” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 47) Starts of Rabbinic Judaism gave more power to rabbis for development of law and other ideas in Judaism. In rabbinic period, studying Torah and Oral laws became so important and God in one of His aspects became known as a rabbi. Oral laws are oral interpretations of written laws by rabbis, which was recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 115). By the second century C.E. the oral interpretation of laws became complicated and the patriarch, Judah ha-Nasi, set a recording of the debates and decisions known as Mishnah (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 47). Talmud is Massive compendium of Jewish Laws, interpreted by Rabbis. There were two different versions of Talmud, one of them was from Babylon and other one was from Palestine. Babylonian Talmud is main Talmud nowadays and it was compiled in the late sixth century. Even in Rabbinic times there were different groups of Jewish rabbis who follow the laws in different ways. Sadducees and Essenes were two other different groups in temple beside Pharisees, which they were in different social statues, but they had different views of law too. Through history these three groups were disappeared by time. Nowadays there are many different groups of Judaism but they are divided to three main groups, which are reform, conservative, and Orthodox. Reform Jews as Cohn-Sherbok said: “Reform Jews are progressive denomination which has attempted to make Judaism compatible with modern historical knowledge” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 116). Reform Jews do not believe that Torah was absolute word of God because they believe that it was revealed to Moses by that it was inspired by Moses’ interpretation. Dramatic changes were made by Reform Jews to be compatible with this modern world and it was easier for them to change the laws because to do not believe in Oral laws. Even in Orthodox group there were some changes but they did not deny written and oral law. For example, the idea of polygamy was part of Jewish tradition but rabbi Girsham said that for now and for thousand years no one is allowed for polygamy. In the movie called “Jewish time and rituals”, one of the Orthodox Jews said toward reformist that in the period of modernity, Judaism was reduced to Ethic but Judaism is not to be just ethical. Reform movement accepted some of the changes that were inevitable in modes of Jewish life and they were kind of in between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews. Orthodox Jews are “Those who believe in Written and Oral Law were given by God and must be obeyed in every particular.” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 115) Orthodox Jews believe that Torah was literally dictated to Moses from God and it was foundation of Jewish life. Maimonides said: “I believe with perfect faith that the whole and complete Law as we know it is one and the same as that given to Moses… I believe with perfect faith that the Law will never be changed, nor that any other law will be given in its place by the Creator.” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 36) Also Cohen-Sherbok said: “Their lives are governed by the myriad provision of Torah” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 19). These three groups are three main later formation ofJudaism in nowadays with different views about Law.
Islam in the time of Prophet Mohammad was not lead to any division because of his founder was alive. He was source of law himself. After Prophet’ death there was conflict between Sunnism and Shi’ism that who is legal successor of prophet and that led to main division of Islam. Beside that because of different understanding of Shariah, there were formations of different schools, Madhaheb, in both Sunnism and Shi’ism. As it is mentioned, Fiqh is Islamic Jurisprudence but Fiqh is much more than that. It is also explained as human understanding of Shariah. Shariah is divine Law dictated by God for running of universe and it was collected from two main sources, Quran and Sunna (Hadith). Quran and Sunna have same role in Islam as written law or Pentateuch has in Judaism. Different interpretation and understanding of Shariah, was a reason for emergence of different schools. In Sunnism there are four major groups, which are called Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi’i. Jamal J. Elias said: “Sunni Muslim Jurists belong to four schools that differ as to whether or not they put more trust in textual sources of Quran and Hadith, or in the human ability to reason by analogy” (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P. 49). In Sunni Schools three main categories are discussed. First two are Quran and Sunna, which there are different interpretation of it and about their importance. The third thing is human ability of adapting it by Society by analogy and reasoning. In Shi’ism there is one major school, which is called Jafari School, and it was made by Jafar al-Sadiq, one of Shi’ite Imam. In Twelvers Shi’ism, it is different from Sunnism because they believe that their Imams are divinely guided and in the time of hidden Imam, Mujtahids have right to give opinion on Shariah. Also there are Sufi group who follow one of these five schools but they live a monastic life under teaching of Sheikhs. These divisions are not exactly as division with in Judaism but they have similar aspect of it. Same as Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, which they had, different understanding of law, Islamic schools had different understanding of laws too but there are lots of differences between Judaism and Islam. Some schools in Islam, mostly Sunnis, believe in that after the fourth school of Sunnism, Hanbalites, the gate of Ijtihad is closed whereas Shi’te says that the gate of Ijtihad is open but only for Mujtahid to give his opinion on Shariah. But beside that the Sunni reformist, does not matter fanatic movements or modernist movements, believe in that the gate of Ijtihad is open. It is open because each period of time needs its own changes. As Mohammad Abduh one of the great Islamist theologians or modernist said that in modern life, it is impossible to have more than one wife and follow the exact instruction of Sharia about it. Abduh forbid that to have more than one wife. Girsham said a same thing in Judaism about the idea of polygamy. In modern period there are lots of different groups who are trying to adapt Islamic law with modern society but no one does not try to abolish Islamic law unless they are secularist like Mustafa Kamal, known as Ataturk, (Jamal J. Elias, 1999, P. 85). Same thing happens in Israel who are secularist party and they want to change to religion to be more individual. But Unlike nowadays Christianity, Islam and Judaism are not just individual matters, there are social laws and most of actions in their lives should be permitted by laws. Beside that there are extreme groups who are trying to go back just to the text and doings of prophets. Karaites is Jewish example of it, which they say that the whole law will be found in the scriptures and not later understanding of it, which is rabbinical interpretation (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 50). Also Wahhabi movement was avoiding all later tradition of Islam and they just follow Quran and Sunna. All these movement are because of different views about law and importance of it in society.
As a Jew is born, he will be circumcised, if the baby is a boy. Then they start to be familiar with the tradition of Judaism, which is mostly about law. They start reading Talmud when they are teenager, and some attend Talmudic academy, which is called Yeshiva (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 20). In that time there is ceremony, which is called Bar Mitzvah, for boys, or Bat Mitzvah, for girls, which is entering to Jewish community. Entering to Jewish community means to enter to covenant with God. As Cohn said: “A Covenant relationship was established between God and the patriarch. God promised that he would protect and preserve Abraham’s family, they would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, and they would be His Chosen People. On their part, Abraham descendants must obey God’s commandments.” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 35). From Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, their religious duties which is following laws starts. Marriage is another important thing in both religions and they do not have same view as Christian. Jews and Muslims believe that marriage is a holy thing but under holy law. Jews marry in certain Jewish way. Even in orthodox Jews Marriage ceremony, men and women are separated. Funeral has its own importance in all religions but in Judaism it should be done in following the laws which is done by rabbi. The idea of purified food is existed in Judaism which is called Kosher food and it should be done under the laws of Kashrut. (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P. 115). Cohn-Sherbok said: “Muslims inherited the idea of ritually pure food from the Jews.” (Cohn-Sherbok, 1999, P.83). For Muslim, foods should be purified under the laws of Shariah. Also Muslims inherited they idea of circumcision from Jewish people when a boy is born. Also their Marriage is done in a certain way and marriage life should be fulfilled by following Shariah. In Muslim marriage ceremony, men and women are separated like Jewish marriage ceremony. The death is the last stage of being in this world, which should be done in certain way by praying to the dead body of Muslim, and then it will be buried.
In Conclusion, It is obedience of God’s law, which identifies Jews and Muslims identity. Through history, there were lots of changes and movements in these two religions but always law was one of discussions took by scholars. They live with the law and they die with law. They have law from the moment, which they are born till their spirit fly from their material body. Law is a central duty of each religious person in these two religions and if they do not follow these laws they will be counted as sinful. If there are different ways and rituals in these religions to fulfill the laws that because of their different understanding of it but they did not avoid it.
1. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Judaism, Prentice Hall Inc., 1999
.2Jamal J. Elias, Islam, Prentice Hall Inc., 1999