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Copyright (c) 2004 Islam in America Conference DePaul University The Journal of Islamic Law and Culture


Spring / Summer, 2004

9 J. Islamic L. & Culture 65


Noah Feldman 1


What happens when Aristotelian rationalism confronts the stringent obligations of holy war in the Jewish and Islamic legal traditions? Maimonides and Averroes are the right figures to consider in confronting this question. Born a decade apart and less than a mile from one another in medieval Muslim Cordoba, they seem never to have met, since the younger, Maimonides, fled the 1148 Almohad invasion of al-Andalus with his family when he was as just a boy of thirteen, finding refuge in more tolerant Fatimid Egypt. Yet along with Thomas, these two men were the greatest Aristotelians that the medieval world knew, and arguably the greatest of any time.

Had they met, Maimonides and Averroes would have been astonished by the degree to which they shared a common basic predicament. Each took their religious tradition as the starting point for constructing a legal order necessary for making sense of the practical world, and each was a highly trained lawyer from a legally accomplished family. Islamic law for Averroes, who served as a royally-appointed judge in Cordoba and Seville, and Jewish law for Maimonides, who became the acknowledged world authority on the subject in his lifetime, were coherent, self-sufficient structures of order that had to be taken seriously in their entirety and approached through their own conventional hermeneutic tools. Yet the same time, both men were committed to Aristotelian metaphysics and the use of Aristotelian practical reason and political philosophy. The resulting engagement between religious law, with its scriptural origins, and rational philosophy, ...
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