In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Praise be to God.
May peace and blessings be upon our master, the Prophet Muĥammad ﷺ.
There is no power nor strength save in God.
The subject of the miracles of the Qur’an is too vast to do more than touch on here. It suffices to say that God Himself issues direct challenges about it that have never been met. God affirms that no one can produce another book like it (17:88, 28:49) or even ten chapters like it (11:13–14) or ultimately even a single chapter like it (2:23–24, 10:37–38).
There are many different kinds of miracles in the Qur’an: grammatical, rhetorical, linguistic, auditory, logical, organizational, structural, numerical, exegetical, theological, psychological, spiritual, soteriological, scientific, foreknowledge, knowledge of the past, knowledge of the unseen present, and comprehensiveness. For myself personally, however, the most powerful have always been the miracles of its philosophical content. For there is no serious topic in philosophy (such as epistemology, ontology, language, symbolism, time, consciousness, life, cosmology, hermeneutics, logic, numerology, jurisprudence, anthropology, sociology, religion, and oneirology) that I have not found covered completely and perfectly in the Qur’an. I will not attempt to prove this here, but I have done it in detail for the philosophy of love in my book Love in the Holy Qur’an (which is an English translation of my 2010 PhD thesis at the Azhar).1 Anyone who understands Arabic and really knows philosophy (and whose [spiritual] heart [qalb] is not completely clouded by his or her own appetites and passions) will not fail to be continuously amazed, enthralled, and overawed by the Qur’an. Indeed, the Prophet Muĥammad ﷺ himself said:
Those who know cannot get enough of it… despite constant repetition, and its wonders never cease (Sunan al-Tirmidhī).
In another sense, however, this is not surprising since its author is of course Omniscient, and because it “has been revealed by Him who knows the secret of the heavens and the earth” (Al-Furqān, 25:6).
Before turning to the miracles of Al-Mā’idah (5:48), it is worth considering what is meant by “the rule of law,” and then considering that there is a difference between the rule of Law and the Rule of law.
Nowadays people use the phrase “rule of law”—first coined in 1885 CE by the Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford, Albert Venn Dicey—as if it were in itself a moral imperative and synonymous with good government. The late Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Tom Bingham, writes:
What is the difference between Good and Bad Government? I would answer, no doubt predictably: the rule of law… in a world divided by differences of nationality, race, colour, religion and wealth it is one of the greatest unifying factors, perhaps the greatest, the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal secular religion. It remains an ideal, but an ideal worth striving for, in the interests of good government and peace, at home and in the world at large.2
Of course “rule of law,” as such, is the starting point of any decent and functioning society, including Islamic society. Nevertheless, since man-made laws can be unjust—even democratically made ones—“rule of law” in itself is not enough to ensure justice. That is of course precisely why Islamic laws are based in divine revelation. So for the sake of clarity, I will use the phrase “rule of Law” to indicate situations where more-or-less just laws are the underlying principles of a society. On the other hand, I will use the phrase “Rule of law” to indicate the foundational ethical principle of the jurisprudence of enacted laws.
Now in Western law—and in canon law before it, and perhaps even in Jewish sacred law—this principle is usually conceived as justice. In Islamic shariah, it is justice only secondarily, and divine mercy and love first. For, as I argue in Love in the Holy Qur’an, God created the world and human beings out of His love and mercy and for His love and mercy. I will not restate the textual arguments here. It suffices to cite the following hadith narrated by Abū Hurayrah:
When God completed the creation, He wrote in His book with Him upon the Throne: Verily, “My mercy prevails over My wrath” (Bukhārī; Muslim).
What I will argue here is that the “Rule of law” in the Gospel is love—not divine love, as Christological redemption theology would have it, but human love. Consequently, as will be seen, human love is—or should be—the great ethical principle of Christianity. I will also argue that love bears—or should bear—on the “rule of Law” in Western and/or Christian societies as well.
And We have sent down to you the Book in truth, confirming the Book that was before it and guarding (muhayminan) over it. So judge between them by what God has sent down, and do not follow their caprices (ahwā’ahum) over the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have appointed a law (shir¢atan) and a way (minhāj). Had God willed, He would have made you one community, but He would put you to the test in what He has given you. So vie with one another in good works; to God you shall all return, and He will inform you about that wherein you differed. (Al-Mā’idah, 5:48)
Now, this verse contains a number of miraculous statements. For example, the assertion that the Qur’an confirms the Book that was before it is a miracle of knowledge of the unseen past, since the Bible was not translated into Arabic until the ninth century CE (two hundred years after the revelation of the Qur’an) and the Prophet Muĥammad ﷺ did not read and write, did not speak any languages other than Arabic, and did not have access to any Bibles. The disclosure that the objections of people of the book (referred to here) to the Qur’an are actually caprices (ahwā’), not inspirations or logical deductions, is a miracle of knowledge of the unseen and hidden present (and of the inner motivations of the Prophet’s interlocutors). The prediction that Muslims, Christians, and Jews will never become one community—and, indeed, they have not, in the fourteen centuries since this verse was revealed—is a miracle of the unseen and unknown future.
Yet the three miracles I wish to discuss here are not these three (for these are clear and do not need more explanation). What I wish to discuss are the assertions that (1) the Qur’an is guarding over the Bible and that (2) God appointed for Christianity (as for Judaism before it) a law (shir¢atan) and (3) a way (minhāj).
After all, does not Islam aim to supersede Christianity and Judaism? Surely there is precisely no sacred law in Christianity, but rather only common law? And how can there be a (spiritual) way appointed by God (directly) in Christianity when the existing Bible we have does not describe the details of one, and anyway did not take its final form until the third century CE (not to mention that each Christian denomination has a different canon of what books belong in the Bible, or that anyway no translations of the Bible are ever the same, or finally that we do not have the original Aramaic of Jesus Christ’s words)? To answer these questions, we must look at the Gospel itself, as we have it, in particular the two great commandments of the Gospel and the Golden Rule.
Jesus Christ, upon him peace, describes the two great (spiritual) commandments as follows in the Gospel of Matthew:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)3
And in the Gospel of Mark, as follows:
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)
Both of the two great commandments have their origin in the Torah and recur separately throughout the Bible. Indeed, the first great commandment appears as the Shema of the Book of Deuteronomy, a centerpiece of the Old Testament and of Jewish liturgy:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
This first great commandment to love God is also to be found in a number of other places throughout the Bible, including Deuteronomy 4:29, 10:12, 11:13 (also part of the Shema), 13:3, 26:16, 30:2, 30:6, 30:10; Joshua 22:5; Mark 12:32–33; and Luke 10:27–28.
Similarly, the second great commandment appears in the Torah as follows:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)
And slightly further on:
“The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shalt love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
The second great commandment is also to be found elsewhere in the Bible, including Matthew 19:19; Luke 6:27; John 15:12–13; Romans 13:9; I Corinthians 13:1–8; Galatians 5:4; James 2:8; and I John 3:18, 4:7–8, 4:11, 4:20–21.
Now, clearly this is the way—the minhāj—that Jesus, upon him peace, taught. Certainly that is what Saint Paul took them to be (if we understand the first great commandment as the implied root and origin of the second):
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Galatians 5:14)
So the Gospel does have a way—the way of love—described in essence, if not detail (as in the sunnah of the Prophet Muĥammad ﷺ). This way is also the Rule of law, as the words “There is no other commandment greater than these” indicate. Al-Mā’idah (5:48) is of course entirely correct, and that is another miracle of the verse.
The Gospel does not, however, only contain the two great commandments as Jesus’s reading of the law. It contains a simple Golden Rule, which is the “Law and the Prophets”:
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. (Luke 6:31)
Being the Law and the Prophets, the Golden Rule is thus precisely the shir¢ah of Christianity, as mentioned in Al-Mā’idah. Here too, then, Al-Mā’idah (5:48) is entirely correct, and that is yet another miracle of the verse. It is worth noting that a shir¢ah, although it is translated here as a “law,” is not exactly the same as a sharī¢ah. The great Qur’anic lexicographer Rāghib al-Iśfahānī (d. 505 AH / 1108 CE), in his Mufradāt alfāz al-Qur’ān, suggests that shir¢ah is the fundamental principle of divine law that all religions have (rather than the particular laws of Islam [sharī¢ah]). In other words, we can call the Golden Rule “a rule of Law.”
Unlike the two great commandments, which are spiritual injunctions and concern a person’s own soul (primarily at least), this Golden Rule is a practical instruction (and hence a “rule” precisely) and concerns concrete actions toward others. But how should it be applied? For as simple and perfect (and arguably universal, in the world’s religions) as the Golden Rule is, it presents some obvious difficulties in its application, simply because people are different. To take a trivial example, let us suppose that someone likes tea, and indeed drinks nothing but tea and water. Then let us suppose that person gets married: Should he (or she) then get tea for their spouse to drink when their spouse likes coffee and hates tea, or even is allergic to it? Surely not.