Prof. Fadel started his class, Islam and Public Reasoning, by explaining that the original efforts of political philosophy – the pursuit of truth – changed over time. This was due to the plurality in our society, where different beliefs and perspectives make it extremely difficult to establish a universal view of what is true. By nature, a pluralist society will deal with conflict by fighting one another, which will often result in a stalemate. A stalemate, however, will not last because it is only an agreement not to fight and therefore it does not encourage true reconciliation without understanding the roots and causes of that conflict.
Prof. Fadel explained how difficult it is to establish a political conception that a pluralist society can affirm unanimously. For example, even a social contract is problematic because to have a true and just social contract, the people who write it must do so in a state of ignorance. This state is known as the Veil of Ignorance, where they leave their identity behind (gender, class, religion, race, etc.). There is also the problem that a social contract entered by parties at a certain time will be binding on everyone not party to it for a long time to come. Therefore, those in charge of this contract must be purely motivated for the benefit of everyone, and assume that they are representing the least well-off person in society. All rights must be qualified in some way, so that they are consistent with the rights of all people. This is the only way to develop a political conception that people from many different perspectives can accept.
This is the approach of public reason, which people mistakenly think is only used in the political context, when instead it can be consistent and complement our religious perspectives. If God gave us Shari’a how can we endorse a political conception that is not wholly based on Islam? As a Muslim, it is perfectly possible to believe in the divine law of Shari’a and be able to justify that divine rule from a public reason perspective. Both seek results that are good for human beings. A good example is how we react to murder. Almost all religious doctrines condemn the act of killing another human being and forbid it. However, the act of killing is repulsive even to people who are oblivious of any authority forbidding it. Therefore, we can justify a rule on a religious basis, as well as independently on a moral basis.
Islamic law is heavily committed to rational inquiry and says that the first obligation of a human being is rational inquiry. Prof. Fadel’s lecture helped the LLSP class understand further how, unlike public opinion, Islam is flexible and compatible with other more secular schools of thought.