Saturday, July 29, 2006

Impatience and intolerance: the deadly global partnership

There is a large and growing literature on hyperbolic discounting (excessive impatience that favors instant gratification) in human decision making, which leads to dynamically inconsistent behavior and other problems. I have relied on this literature in part for my understanding of the paternalistic prohibitions in Islamic jurisprudence for certain types of trading in risk and credit (resp. prohibitions of gharar and riba).

In recent weeks, I have been depressed by the events in the middle east: most depressed of course by the senseless and tragic deaths of innocent civilians.

I think that those regional problems are tragic manifestations of the same problem of excessive impatience:

  • The US and Israel are impatient in their desire to "resolve" the regional problems. This is exemplified by the many paradoxical views held by those parties, from Secretary Rice's delusions of an imminent birth of a "new middle east" to Israel's alternating hopes for peaceful coexistence with its neighbors (with full normalization of relations, economic cooperation, etc.) and simultaneous pulverization of all militant opponents of that vision, which those opponents see simply (and not entirely unreasonably) as continued hopes of American/Israeli hegemony that aborts the dreams of future indigenous economic growth and political/democratic institutional development in the region.
  • Arabs and Muslims generally have also been extremely impatient. They cling to memories, and more often, highly mythical dreams of a glorious past when their ancestors had built the most advanced societies on earth. They do not recognize that it would take centuries to rebuild another civilization of which they can be proud. Resentment of other advanced civilizations and their satellite groups in the region (including wealthy enclaves around Cairo and elsewhere in the region, which serve as economic satellites for the advanced western economies), and employment of destructive force, will only widen the gap between the wealthy west and the resource rich but otherwise extremely poor region.
  • What we need is a new partnership between the West and the Arab and Islamic worlds. A partnership that is not built on myopic self-interest, but one wherein each group is willing to sacrifice some of its present well-being for future development. The billions of dollars spent on destruction can and should be directed toward education, institution building, and poverty alleviation. By education, I do not mean indoctrination and the desire to raise like-minded generations of Arabs and Muslims. I mean genuine education that respects differences and aims to assist those societies in outgrowing their sick rentier mentality which was exacerbated and entrenched with decades of reliance on oil receipts. By institution building, I do not mean the mechanics of democracy (elections, civil society, etc.), but rather the marginalization of interest groups who have successfully aborted the development of genuine social and political institutions, even as they adopt empty shells of Western institutions...
  • That is a tall order. It is unfortunately easy for Congress and other sources of funds in various parts of the world to approve and finance the spending of billions upon billions that lead to nothing but destruction and entrenchment of the sources of the current crises. The ease with which this money is thrown at the highly profitable war machine contrasts with the great difficulties in trying to raise money for curing disease, eliminating hunger, or improving education (where a million dollars is considered a very large sum).

Thus, impatience and greed have sown the seeds of death and misery. Just as impatience and dynamic inconsistency at the individual level can be remedied with religious and social norms in the form of prohibitions of certain types of trading in credit and risk, the tragic consequences of those same diseases can be remedied at the social level with basic norms of international decency, morality, norms, and laws. Sadly, there appear to be virtually no recognizable force on the international scene today that shows even the slightest bit of decency and morality. Consequently, there appears to be no end in sight for this catastrophic condition of the miserable human species.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The economics of middle east turmoil

With numerous self-styled pundits commenting on the current events in the middle east, I am surprised not to have heard anyone yet bring up a simple economic formula: If you are a major oil exporter, and you spend $1 in any direction that increases turmoil in the region, or ensures continuation of turmoil, you are likely to reap the fruits manyfold through higher oil prices.

Wars have always more than paid for themselves from the point of view of arms dealers, etc. Now, they are also an economically profitable trade for oil exporting countries. (Or course, some oil exporting countries in the region are nervous about long-term implications of the fighting, but they cannot deny that the fighting makes them much richer). Some countries lose tourism receipts, of course, but (a la Kaldor-Hicks efficiency analyses), they can be -- and probably will be, directly or indirectly -- compensated for those lost receipts. Construction firms will make huge profits, no doubt...

All in all, the more turmoil there is, the more that the rich will grow richer. The poor and dispossessed will die, but their surviving family members can be fed empty slogans by beneficiaries on all sides. In the final analysis, economists can even celebrate the eventual rise in per capita income, especially if the death tolls are substantial.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wisdom of ibn `Ata'illah

For the last couple of days, I have been obsessed with the second of the Wisdoms of Ibn `Ataillah al-Sakandari:

إرادتك التجريد مع إقامة اللّه إياك في الأسباب من الشهوة الخفية‏،‏
وإرادتك الأسباب مع إقامة الله إياك في التجريد انحطاط عن الهمة العلية

Here is my (non-literal) translation of the couplet [updated July 17, to make it more accurate]:

When you're stationed with worldly means, wish not that they're withdrawn: Fight your hidden desire;

And wish not for the worldly means when they are stripped away: Lose not the quest that's higher.

I hesitated whether or not to post this on the blog, and then recognized that this is at the heart of Islam and Economics.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Khallaf on inferring legal rules from Texts -- Parts 3, 4: Logical inference, necessary implication, and ranking the four methods of inference

This is the translation of continuation of detailed discussion of The First Rule.

3. Logical import of the text (دلالة النص): The meaning inferred logically from the Text is that which is understood from its spirit and logical import. Thus, if the Text implies a ruling in a particular instance based on a particular instigating factor (علة), then if there is another instance wherein the same instigating factor applies equally or more strongly, and that is understood immediately from the language without need for inference or analogy, then it is understood that the Text applies to both instances, based on this correspondence of instigating factors.

For example, Allah (swt) says with regards to parents: "do not say to them `uff' " [17:23], the instigating factor for that prohibition is prevention of inulsting and hurting one's parents. Clearly, there are worse means of hurting and insulting one's parents, such as physical abuse and verbal insults, which are thus forbidden by this Text forbidding ta'affuf. This follows since it is linguistically clear that the prohibition of such display of intolerance applies more appropriately to more severe forms of abuse and insult, and thus the unspoken is more worthy of the legal ruling of prohibition than what was mentioned.

Another example is the verse: "those who devour property of orphans unjustly devour none in their bellies but fire" [4:10]. It is understood directly from the Text that it is forbidden to devour or eat the orphans' property unjustly, and it is understood logically that it is forbidden to burn, waste or otherwise destroy the property of orphans, since all such transgressions would be equivalent to wrongfully devouring the property of one who is incapable of protecting his property. In this instance, all means of destruction of the orphan's property are equal in instigating factor to eating it, and thus the prohibition applies equally to all such forms.

... [example from Egyptian civil code]

4. Necessarily implied meaning of the Text (إقتضاء النص): What is understood as a necessary implication of the Text is any meaning that is not mentioned explicitly, but that is required for the Text to be meaningful.

An example is the Prophetic Tradition [literal translation]: "acts of my religious community ('umma) based on error, forgetfulness, or coercion have been lifted". The apparent meaning of this Hadith's language suggests that the very act based on error, forgetfulness, or coercion is itself lifted (rufi`a). This is not a correct meaning, since the act cannot be lifted once it is executed. Thus, to make the Text meaningful, we infer a missing term, indicating that the sin of such acts has been lifted [thus, the proper translation would be that "my religious community has been absolved of sins based on ..."]. Thus, "sin" is an ommitted term, but its impilcation is necessary for the Text to be meaningful.

Other examples include the verse "your mothers and daughters are forbidden for you", meaning in marriage. Similarly, the verse: "forbidden for you are dead animals, blood, and pork meat", means the prohibition of eating such objects or using them to other beneficial ends. In such instances, prohibition is not attached to the mentioned individuals and objects themselves, thus the forbidden aspect or action must be inferred for each Text according to its appropriate context.

...[more examples of necessarily implied meanings]

[Summary of first rule:]

Based on this detailed analysis of the four categories of Textual meaning, we conclude that any meaning inferred thus can be a legal proof. In this regard, (1) the most apparent meaning is the one intended by its context and understood by its phrasing, (2) the meaning based on Textual hints is necessarily attached to the phrasing, (3) the meaning inferred logically is based on the spirit and logical import of the text, and (4) the meaning derived from necessary implication is the one without which the Text cannot be meaningful.

In this regard, the immediate Textual method of inference is stronger than the Textual hints method, since the former is immediately understood and intended by the context while the latter is necessarily attached and not intended by the context. Both of those two methods are superior to logical implication, since they are both based on the Text itself and its phrasing, while the logical implication is based on the spirit of the Text and logical analysis thereof. Thus, if the meanings are in conflict, we give precedence to the immediate textual meaning over the hinted textual meaning, and both are given precedence over the logically inferred meaning.

As an example of conflict between the immediate Textual meaning and the hinted one is the Prophetic Tradition: "the shortest period of mensturation is three days, and the longest is ten". The immediate Textual meaning of this Hadith is that mensturation period cannot exceed ten days. In a different Hadith, the Prophet (p) said: "a woman spends half her life neither fasting nor praying", which hints at the possibility of mensturation extending to 15 days. However, since the first meaning is immediately inferred from the Text, and the second is only inferred from a Textual hint, the first is given precedence, thus limiting the legal period of mensturation to a maximum of ten days.

...[example from civil code]

As an example of conflict between hinted and logically inferred meanings, we consider the verse: "whoever kills a believer wrongfully should free a believing slave". This verse would imply logically that one who kills a believer intentionally should also free a believing slave, since that is a more severe crime. On the other hand, the verse: "whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment wll be hellfire, within which he will reside indefinitely" hints that there is no worldly punishment for this crime, since the only mentioned punishment is residing in hellfire forever. Since the two meanings are in conflict, the one inferred from Textual hint is given precedence over the one inferred logically, and hence the premeditated murderer is not required to free a slave.

Next posting will begin coverage of the second rule, iA.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Khallaf on inferring legal rules from Texts -- Part 2: Textual hints and conjoined meanings

This is the continuation of detailed discussion of The First Rule, translation of which was started in the previous posting.

2. Textual Hints (إشارة النص): A textual hint is a meaning that is not immediately apparent from the words, but a conjoined meaning based on the specific words used, even if it is not the meaning intended within the specific textual context. Thus, since this type of meaning is linguistically conjoined but not intended primarily within the linguistic context, it is thus inferred from the text based on hints, rather than explicit statements. The conjoining of such meanings with primary ones may be manifest or hidden, and that is why scholars have noted that understanding textual hints may require careful reflection and much thought (although, sometimes, it can be understood with very little reflection).

As an example, we consider the verse "[the father] for whom the child was born is required to provide for them food and clothing, according to the best conventional norms". The most direct meaning of the Text, and the one intended by its context, establishes that fathers are responsible for feeding and clothing the mothers of their children. Moreover, the text hints that the father is solely responsible for all expenses of his child, and thus the tribal affiliation of the child follows that of his father. It also follows that if he needs it, the father has the right to take from his child's property without compensation to meet his financial needs. Those latter meanings were inferred from the Textual hints, since the use of the letter lam in (على المولود له) establishes that the child belongs to the father, and that -- in turn -- establishes the rest of the rulings. Those meanings are conjoined to the primary meanings because of the specific wording, but they are not intended by the context, and thus they were inferred from Textual hints, rather than direct Textual wording.

As a second example, we consider the verse enumerating those entitled to a share in fay' (war booty taken without fighting): "to the poor immigrants who were expelled from their homes and properties, seeking provision from Allah, and His good pleasure". The Text here hints at the fact that those immigrants have lost ownership of the properties that they left behind, since they were called "poor" (فقراء), which implies that they no longer own property. This also is a meaning that is conjoined to the language, without being an intended meaning in the Textual context.

... [examples from man-made laws]

It is important to be careful when inferring meanings based on Textual hints, restricting such inference to meanings that are conjoined to the Text in a necessary manner. This is to be contrasted to encumbering the Text with meanings that are quite different, and not necessarily conjoined to the words of the Text, which constitutes subversion in understanding the Texts that is quite different from the inferences based on Textual hints discussed here.

In the next installment, we shall continue with the 3rd component of the First Rule: logical inference from the Text (دلالة النص).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Khallaf on inferring legal rules from Texts -- Part 1: "Allah has permitted trade and forbidden riba" + polygamy and monogamy

Please see the previous post on the full citation of this article from the Egyptian Journal of Law and Economics January 1940. The translated text will be shown in red and indented, any comments of my own will be shown in this standard grey font, without indentation.

The rules herein were derived by scholars of Islamic legal theory from the linguistic methods of reading words and phrases in Arabic, with the tacit approval of leading Arabic linguists regarding the meanings of words. Those rules are applied equally to inferring rulings from Canonical Islamic Legal Texts as well as interpreting rulings from any other Arabic-language legal texts. This is the case since the Legislator's legislation in any particular language must intend for the terms and articles in the written law to be understood according to the standards of that language and the understanding of its people. Thus, we shall ensure that our practical examples for each rule are given from the Canonical Islamic Legal Texts as well as from our own man-made legal texts (أن تكون من نصوص القانون الشرعي و من نصوص قوانيننا الوضعية). We hope that our legal experts will give us more opportunities for making such applications.

[M.E-G: For brevity, I shall only translate examples dealing with Islamic Legal Canonical Texts.]

The First Rule

"An Islamic Legal Text (النص الشرعي) may be used for inference based on phrases (عبارته), hints (إشارته), inferences (دلالته), or necessary consequences (اقتضائه). Those methods vary in the strength of their resulting inferences. Thus, if they lead to different inferences, what is understood linguistically from the phrase supersedes what is understood by hint. Both linguistic and hinted meanings would supersede inferential meanings. This applies equally to any legal text written in the Arabic language."

The general eaning of this rule is that any legal Text (i.e. from Qur'anin verses and Prophetic Hadith) leads to inferences beyond its immediate linguistic meaning, since it may also have other meanings inferred based on hints, logical inference, or necessary consequences. All such meanings can be used as proofs inferred from the Text, since one who is bound by the legal import of a Text is bound by all its linguistically-accepted inferred meanings, using all of the listed methods. As mentioned before, the means of inference vary in strength, which becomes relevant when opposing inferences are derived from the same text.

We now discuss this rule, and the four means of inference listed therein, in some detail:

1. The Legal Phrase: (عبارة النص) By "legal phrase", we mean the text itself, consisting of its words and sentences. What is understood from the legal phrase is the immediate meaning that is derived from its phrasing and that is the most likely intended meaning from that phrasing. Thus, the immediate linguistic inference is the legal meaning that can be derived directly from the linguistic structure of the text (its phrasing) directly or indirectly.

There are numerous examples of such explicit phrasing of legal texts to make the ruling manifest. Indeed, every religious or man-made legal text has such an immedite linguistic meaning. Some of those texts have additional meanings inferred from hints, logical inference or necessary consequences, and others don't. There is no need to give simple examples where the legal text has an obvious meaning. Instead, we shall give examples to distinguish between the immediate linguistic import and the inferred meanings of legal texts.

Allah (swt) said: "and Allah has permitted trade and forbidden riba". This Text's language has two manifest linguistic meanings, both of which were intended by the context. The first is that sales are not similar to riba (أحدهما أن البيع ليس مثل الربا). The second is that the legal ruling of sales is permissibility and of riba is prohibition. Both meanings are inferred from the text, even as the first meaning is the fundamental one, since the verse in its context was a reply to those who claimed that sales are similar to riba. The second meaning is derivative or indirect (و الثاني مقصود تبعا), because denial of similarity required clarifying the legal status of each transaction, so that one may infer from the difference in ruling that the two are not similar.

[M.E-G: The economist in me cannot resist making a comment at this point. This verse has been invoked whenever economically minded participants at Islamic finance conferences object that Islamic banking practices are identical to the conventional practices that they accuse of violating the rules of riba. All you've done is add layers of spurious sales, leases, etc., we argue, but the result is the same, so either both are riba or both are not. A favorite response by Islamic bankers and jurists on their payrolls is to quote this verse, claiming that Allah (swt) did not deny that sales and riba are similar, but maintained nonetheless that one is permitted and the other is forbidden. They thus invoke this verse to argue that form is what matters in the transaction, even if the substance is made arbitrarily similar to what they argue to be riba, which leads to terrible incoherence in the service of their brand of religious peddling. However, as Khallaf points out, the statement that one is forbidden and the other is permitted is to inform us that the two are in no way similar. It thus becomes our job to find the fundamental differences and avoid what is forbidden, rather than focusing on artificial differences to enrich ourselves in the name of religion.]

Allah (swt) also said: "If you fear being inequitable towards orphans, then marry as many [other] good women as you wish, two, three, or [up to] four; but if you fear that you will not be fair, then one".

Three meanings can be inferred from this verse: (1) permissibility of marrying a number of good women, (2) restriction of the permissibility to a maximum of four wives, and (3) the requirement to restrict oneself to monogamy if one fears being unfair if polygamous. It is clear that all three meanings follow immediately by the phrasing of the Text, and all are intended meanings based on the context.

However, the first meaning is derivative, while the second and third are intended to make fundamental statements. The first meaning is derivative since the verse is within the context of plenipotentiaries for orphans, who were afraid of taking the responsibility of guardianship lest they abuse their control of the orphans' property. Thus, Allah (swt) alerted them to the fact that their fear of abuse in dealing with property should also extend to a fear of unlimited polygamy. Thus, restricting marriage to a maximum of four or one is a requirement on anyone who fears transgressing against the rights of others, which is the fundamental intended meaning of the verse based on its context. Thus, the permissibility of marriage is not the fundamental meaning, but a derivative one, while the fundamental meaning is -- in fact -- restricting marriage to four or to one [as the case may be].

[M.E-G: It appears to me that Prof. Khallaf in this last passage is making a strong case for monogamy, while maintaining the upper limit of four made permissible by the verse. By arguing that the essence of this verse is restriction of the scope of marriage to avoid unfairness, and arguing that the restriction of the number is addressed to those who fear to be inequitable in dealings with orphans or others, he clearly implies that it is better to restrict oneself to monogamy, since there is no room for inequity between wives if there is only one. Of course, the unspoken connection is to the later verse "and you will not be successful in seeking [perfect] fairness between women [that you marry]...".]

Next installment, iA, continuation of the detailed discussion of The First Rule, starting with 2. Textual hints (إشارة النص)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Khallaf on inference of legal rulings from Texts - from an earlier Journal of Law and Economics

I picked up an old article from my grandfather's library last night, and plan to post its translation in several blog postings over the next few days, iA.

The article is by the brilliant late Azhari scholar Abdul-Wahhab Khallaf, published in Arabic in مجلة القانون و الإقتصاد (Journal of Law and Economics), which was a publication of the Professors of Faculty of Law (didn't mention which University, probably Fouad I, which later became University of Cairo). Professor Khallaf's affiliation is listed as "Professor of Islamic Sharia; Faculty of Law".

The article was published in volume 10, issues 1 and 2, January 1940 (note: they had a "journal of law and economics since 1930! University of Chicago should feel jealous :-). Its title is "القواعد الأصولية اللغوية في فهم الأحكام من نصوصها" ("Linguistic-based legal-theoretic rules for inferring legal rulings from [Canonical or Civil Code] Texts").

I found many of the rules that he listed in the paper very thought-provoking, especially, for example, the rules relating to general (mujmal) Texts, such as the Qur'anic verses relating to riba.

The article is not very long, so I plan to post a full translation, iA, as soon as I have access to a real keyboard.