10 May 2015

Justice and Love: Prince Ghazi of Jordan

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Pope Francis is welcomed by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad. Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed Pope Francis is welcomed by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad. Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed http://www.itv.com/news/story/2014-05-24/pope-francis-arrives-in-jordan-for-middle-east-visit/?page=2

This is the second out of three blogs devoted to my manuscript, which, as of this writing, has been sent out to anonymous reviewers by the publisher – Justice and Love: A Muslim-Christian Conversation.

In the first one we looked at the main Christian source for this book, Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff. For him, justice is about the inherent dignity of people, by virtue of their creation in God’s image and their being deeply loved by God, to the point of sending his own Son to die on a cross for their salvation. That dignity translates into inalienable rights, argues Wolterstorff, and justice consists in finding ways to make sure that all receive what is rightly theirs – a seemingly impossible task in a world ripped apart by outrageous inequalities.

Now we look at the Muslim author whose writing and action, starting in 2007, initiated a sea change in Muslim-Christian relations – at least potentially, and this book wants to add to that impact. This is Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad (b. 1966), son of Prince Muhammad bin Talal.

Here I just want to cover three points about his writing: love is central to the Qur’anic revelation; the Common Word letter on love and justice; a short summary of his big book, now in its seventh edition, Love in the Holy Qur’an, and what it says about love and justice.


Islam is primarily about love

In a book about the Common Word letter he co-edited with Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, Prince Ghazi in one chapter responded to criticisms he had received about the letter (Volf did the same in responding to Christian critiques). The last criticism out of seven was this: that it was a concession to Christians by framing traditional Islamic discourse in the language of “love.” This was a common objection by Muslims, he wrote, but it also displays a glaring ignorance of their own faith tradition. In his words,


". . . this frequently underestimated aspect of our religion: the Grand Principle of Love. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an uses over fifty near-synonyms for love; English does not have the same linguistic riches and connotations, as was discussed in particular during the Yale workshop and conference in July 2008. If Muslims do not usually use the same language of love as English-speaking Christians, it is perhaps because the word 'love' for Muslims frequently implies something different for Muslims than it does for Christians.

            Our use of the language of love in ‘A Common Word’ is simply, then, a recognition that human beings have the same souls everywhere, however pure or corrupted, and thus that the experience of love must have something in common everywhere, even if the objects of love are different, and even if the ultimate love of God is stronger than all other loves."


But there’s an edge to this . . . Muslims continue to feel the sting of Christian polemics over the centuries which indict Islam as a religion of law and justice, but devoid of love. George Washington University professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, arguably “one of the most important and foremost scholars of Islamic, Religious and Comparative Studies in the world today” (a quote from his website), wrote the Foreword to Ghazi’s book. “Love is in fact one of the central themes of the Noble Qur’an,” he asserts, “whatever naysayers, whether non-Muslims or even some Muslims who see only the external dimension of things, may assert.” Then this recommendation of Ghazi’s book:


“This unique work, therefore, is of great importance not only for Muslims, who at the present moment are so much in need of a deeper understanding of their religion and realization of the central importance of the Prophetic virtues of love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness, but also for non-Muslims and especially Westerners. For too long Western critics of Islam have asserted that while Christians view God as Love, Muslims hold the view of God as a vengeful God who emphasizes His justice alone at the expense of his Love and Mercy. This false and malicious view of the Islamic conception of God has been propagated over and over in orientalist writings and also asserted again and again by Christian missionaries who preach to those Muslims who would listen to them that the Islamic emphasis upon the Divine Attributes of Justice eclipses and nullifies the reality of the Divine Attributes of Love, Compassion and Mercy. The present book is a powerful response to this erroneous but prevalent view that is such a major obstacle to better understanding between the two religions.”


But before delving more into that book, let’s have a look at the Common Word letter. As penned by Ghazi, it is mostly about love for God and love for neighbor. That said, justice is still in the background.


Love and justice in the Common Word

You will remember that this was an open letter to the Pope (Benedict XVI) and “to all Christian leaders.” World peace will be unattainable unless Christians and Muslims, who form more than half of humanity, seek reconciliation after centuries of conflict. The good news is that what the two faiths have in common is at the very core of their traditions: love of God and love of neighbor. That’s the central message of the letter. And on the periphery you can find several interesting clues relative to justice.

Here I’ll take you directly to the conclusion, when Ghazi comments on the following verse: “Say (Muhammad): I am no new thing among the messengers (of God), nor know I what will be done with me or with you I do but follow that which is Revealed to me and I am but a plain warner” (46:9):


“Thus also God in the Holy Qur’an confirms that the same eternal truths of the Unity of God, of the necessity for total love and devotion to God (and thus shunning false gods), and of the necessity for love of fellow human beings (and thus justice), underlie all true religion:

[First, it quotes Q. 16: 36, then this verse:] ‘We verily sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance, that mankind may stand forth in justice….’” (57:25).


Ghazi believes that love for one’s fellow humans includes justice. And then, at the end, after quoting Q. 16: 90 (“Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk . . .”), the letter mentions Mat. 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers . . .”) and then comes the last sentence, “Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.” All these virtues, including respect and justice, come together under the umbrella of love, and produce “peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.”


Prince Ghazi’s Love in the Holy Qur’an

This man who graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude was already gripped by the idea of love at the time. “Love” was on his radar as a Comparative Literature major there, and he went on to Cambridge University for a PhD in that field. His dissertation title was “What Is Falling in Love? A Study of the Literary Archetype of Love.” Finally, he enrolled in what is considered by many as the first Islamic university in the world, the 10th-century Al-Azhar University of Cairo, traditionally considered as the most prestigious center of Islamic Sciences. Love in the Holy Qur’an is the product of that second doctorate.

As you might expect, this is a modern version of a scholastic treatise, but it remains very traditional, just the same. I call this a “literalistic” approach: the book is probably 90% quotations from the Qur’an, the hadith, and the classical Islamic commentators. The rest is Ghazi’s own skillful weaving of all this material in the service of his own thesis: that love is indeed central to God’s revelation in the Qur’an.

I don’t have the space here to go into any detail, but just to give you a taste of how justice and love interact. This mostly comes up in Chapter 17, “Love of Others (All Humanity; The ‘People of the Scripture’; Believers and Friends).”

Since all human beings were “created from a single soul” (e.g., Q. 6:98) and since they all descend from one pair, Adam and Eve; and finally, since the diversity of languages, ethnicities and cultures are among the Divine Signs (ayät) (Q. 30:22; 49:13), “God values every single soul as if it were all humanity, when it comes to saving its life or not causing its death” (Q. 5:32). After quoting several other verses, he notes, “Thus God commands Muslims to be peaceful and to be just toward every single human being, except those who wage war upon them, destroy their places of worship and drive them out of their homes.”

After three more pages of Qur’anic quotes, Ghazi offers this summary. Note here the connection between justice, forgiveness and rights:


“In summary: God has given each and every human being inalienable rights, and has obliged Muslims to have respect for all human beings; not to commit aggression against anyone; to be peaceful and to be just; to be merciful; to empathize with all human beings; to forgive them; to pardon them; to restrain themselves from anger; and even to repay evil deeds with kindness and “turn the other cheek” – and to do this with all people, whoever they may be and regardless of their faith (or lack of it) all the times, so long as they are not first waging war against Muslims.”


Here you have Ghazi unwittingly agreeing with Nicholas Wolterstorff that God endowed all human beings at creation with “inalienable rights” and has as a result enjoined on us all to act toward one another with profound respect, mercy, kindness and even repaying evil with kindness and “turning the other cheek.” That last phrase is an innovation in Islamic literature. Ghazi, after all, knows the gospels well and he’s made an admirable effort to bridge the gap between the two communities.

And then, after a two-page summary of quotations on the People of the Book (Jews and Christians, primarily), Ghazi concludes with this statement:


“God enjoins upon Muslims – in addition to having respect, justice and mercy in general towards all humanity – to have affection and admiration for the People of the Scripture in general (notably Christians and Jews). God says in the Holy Qur’an that the Jews were His most favoured people and that Muslims have a special affinity with Christians in particular; and God knows best.”


Love was not mentioned in any of the Qur’anic verses cited, so it doesn’t figure here. But notice how justice is paired with mercy, and that “affection and admiration” should be the hallmarks of Muslim attitudes toward Jews and Christians.

I end here, but not without looking you in the eye, dear reader, and saying, “do you realize how this Jordanian prince has invested his considerable assets? Not only his wealth, prestige, and influence … but his intellectual gifts?” His cousin, King Abdullah, convened an international conference in Jordan in September 2013 specifically to address the Christian exodus from the Middle East. Ghazi was influential in that initiative (see my first blog on the Christian exodus from the region).

Amidst the terribly negative publicity Muslims tend to receive in our media these days, would you be willing to counter that image with friends and acquaintances and actively build bridges between these two faith communities – thus directly contributing to peacebuilding in our conflict-ridden world? Prince Ghazi’s efforts should inspire us all!