An Islamic Framework for the Natural Law of a Just Third Way

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

In the prologue to his Summa Theologica the Christian “Father of the Church”, Saint Thomas Aquinas, called Ibn Sina (Avicenna) “my mentor”. Together they envisaged the discipline of transcendent jurisprudence as a rational key to all thought and action. Islamic scholars at the time used the term maqasid al shari’ah as a paradigm of thought designed to seek ultimate truth from three sources, namely, divine revelation (haqq al yaqin), scientific observation of the laws of nature (‘ain al yaqin), and rational articulation of what is common to both (‘ilm al yaqin).

This concept of integral jurisprudence flourished in Europe as a primordial form of “natural law”. Unfortunately, however, as a result of the militant secularism that reigned during the 19th century in Europe and even in America, the transcendent nature of natural law was popularly reversed in order to exclude reliance on anything that could not be physically observed and measured. The designation “natural law” therefore is not accepted in all the world religions, except in Roman Catholicism, where the traditionally transcendent ontology of natural law is still a matter of faith.

The best effort to substantiate Islamic jurisprudence as natural law may be found in the book, Natural Law: A Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Trialogue, by Anver M. Emon, with Matthew Levering and David Novak, Oxford, 2014, 231 pages. Even Professor Emon, however, in more recent publications seems to indicate that the concept of natural law may be too controversial in Western thought to serve as a definition for other civilizations.

In Islamic jurisprudence the specific rules for application, namely, the axiology or fiqh, should be derived both from the rationally derived purposes and from the specific rules evident in divine revelation and prophetic practice.

The purposes, i.e., maqasid (also known as the universals or kulliyat and the essentials or dururiyat), can be divided into two categories, each divided into four specific goals or hajjiyat.

Each of these can be divided into still more specific tertiary objectives or tahsinniyat, and then into courses of action (‘amal), as suggested in my books, Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia: A Model for Achieving National Priorities, Praeger, 1978, 241 pages (which was funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1976 for the new U.S. Saudi Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation); Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Tapestry Press, 1997, 159 pages, including the appendix, “Moral Law for Cyber-Civilization: A Tawhid Cybernetic Framework for Applying Islamic Thought”; and The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: an Islamic Perspective, Read 1 Communications, 2010, 224 pages; as well as the four-volume mega-textbook with extensive charts, Islam and Muslims: Essence and Practice, which is available in a single cut-down volume, entitled Islam and Muslims: Special Edition, from my co-author, Professor Muhammad Ali Chaudry, founder of the new Islamic Center of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, who has used the shortened version during the past ten years in holistic distance education from Rutgers University.

The first category of the maqasid provides ontological guidance, consisting of respect for religious freedom (haqq al din); for the sacredness of the individual person (haqq al nafs), including right to life; for the sacred nature of the derivative communities from family to nation to humankind and beyond (haqq al nasl), including communitarian pluralism; and for our physical environment (haqq al mahid, from wahda or oneness).

The second category is epistemological and is designed for axiological application in ever greater specifics. These are economic justice (haqq al mal), including reduction of the wealth gap by reform of money, credit, and banking in order to universalize individual capital ownership (; political justice (haqq al hurriyah), specifically through khilafa, shurah, and ijma; gender equity as part of human honor (haqq al karama); and freedom of thought, publication, and assembly, known as haqq al ‘ilm and more specifically as haqq al ‘aql.

Fortunately, there now seems to be a worldwide revival of enlightened religion in reaction to the European imposition of secular states at the expense of organic nations, especially in Southwest and Central Asia, which has led to chaos and terrorism.

This enlightenment is reflected strikingly in the on-going renaissance in the Catholic Church and its relations with other world religions. The first institutional revolutionary was the “traditionalist” Pope Benedict XVI, who spent his formative years in Communist Poland. His contribution to the universal jurisprudence known in Islam as the maqasid al shari’ah was to call this paradigmatic framework “personalism”.

The next most influential revolutionary source was his “progressivist” successor, Pope Francis, who spent his early years as a priest in the “Third World national liberation movement”. He might regard the movement popularized in the Islamic maqasid al shari’ah as a form of “socialism”.

Together these two popes, the one “retired” and the other still very active in this first such arrangement in the 2,000-year history of the Roman Catholic Church, might regard the maqasid as a key to the holistic harmony inherent in a new jurisprudential model of integral education. They might call it simply a “Just Third Way” beyond socialism and capitalism, as developed during the past half century at and more recently at

This, in turn, could give rise to a new system of “metalaw” for all sentient beings, based on the first sentence of the Qur’an, rabbi al ‘alamin, and on the foundational metalegal principle, “Do unto others what they would have done unto themselves”.

Dr Crane is the Chairman of the Holistic Education Center for Civilizational Renewal, based in Kerala, India, which publishes Armonia. He was formerly a professor in the Qatar Foundation’s Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies and Director of its Center for the Study of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies.