Colombo Telegraph

Justice Weeramantry – Hero Of Muslims

By M.F.M. Anoozer

M.F.M. Anoozer

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” ~ Matthew 5:9

Much has been written about Justice Weeramantry and his achievements and contributions. He was a genius at what he did as a Judge, academic and an advocate of world peace.

He was passionate about promoting peace between nations, communities and individuals. His quest for peace was not confined to his writings and lectures alone. He established the “Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research” to enhance study and understanding of the main religions of the world. Many practical steps were taken by this Centre by involving individuals and organisations to promote understanding of each other’s cultures and religions.

This desire to encourage the study of religions other than one’s own was two-fold. Firstly he believed the study of other religions reinforces the teaching of one’s own and secondly and more importantly such a process of education would take away one of the primary causes of conflict.

Justice Weeramantry lamented the separation of religion from International Law which he acknowledged was due to wars of religion in the 17th century (between 1618 and 1648). International law as written by Hugo Grotius, in the midst of this war, was euro-centric and monocultural. International law was shaped to suit their own ends dominated by economic and political values. However, he emphasized the need to bridge the gap between religion and international law pointing to the enormous reservoir of accumulated wisdom of International Law in the religions of the world. As a judge of the International Court of Justice he dipped into the teachings of various religions on international law on many occasions.

Justice Weeramantry

He was interested only in the principles of all religions and not matters of dogma and rituals. He concluded that all religions teach basically the same principles. They come together in their teachings on all matters such as dignity of the human person, the unity of the human family, the protection of the environment, the rights of future generations, the importance of peace, the peaceful resolution of disputes etc.

This study and research into other traditions brought him into contact with Islam, which he said was the subject of a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding. He wrote “Islamic Jurisprudence- An International Perspective” in 1988 which was an attempt to correct this in the interests of international harmony. With the publication of this book Justice Weeramantry highlighted facts which were unknown to the West and much of the modern Muslim world. We were made aware of the great flowering of scholarship which began in Arabia soon after the death of the Prophet of Islam in the 7th century and continued until about the 15th century.

Due to a paucity of literature and material, we Sri Lankans, particularly the Muslims of Sri Lanka were not aware of the enormous gratitude the world owes to the Arab empire for the advancement made in mathematics, astronomy and science. We have algebra and algorithm from Al-Khwarizmi. Abu Moosa brothers developed trigonometry and spherical geometry just to calculate the times of the five daily prayers. Al Beruni calculated the circumference of the earth, in the 11th century, which is only 16.8 km less than the current known value of 6,356.7 km. Five centuries after Al-Beruni’s calculation of the circumference of the earth Galileo Galilei was punished by the King of Italy for claiming that the world was spherical! In the area of medicine the book written by Ibn- Sina (Avicenna to the western world) was used as recently as the 18th century in the Western world. The first scientist of the world, who introduced the scientific method, was Ibn-al Haytham (Al Hazen to the western world). Ibn-al Haytham wrote a six volume text on optics in the 11th century where he emphasized the need for systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. In the area of astronomy Nasir-ud-din-Al Tusi drew the planets of the universe in the 13th century. This diagram was copied by Nicolaus Copernicus 3 centuries later and presented as his own. It is interesting to note that Copernicus copied even a mistake of the diagram of Al-Tusi thus indicating that he did not understand what he was copying! These are but a fraction of the contribution made by the Arab empire to the modern world.

Doctrine of Double Truth

While acknowledging the advancements made in the fields of science, mathematics and astronomy during the time of the Arab empire, Justice Weeramantry appeared to conclude that the greatest impact of the Arab empire on the modern world was in the field of philosophy and law.

In the area of philosophy ibn Ruschd (Averroes to the Western world) came up with the doctrine of double truth in the 12th century to the problem of the nature of the relationship between divine revelation and human reason. To what extent was there scope for the latter when the divine will had been both declared by God and interpreted by the Prophet? The same issue plagued the Christian world as well but it chose to discount the value of human inquiry which led to the so called dark ages in the West. The Church emphasized the need to study the Bible only and any other study was greatly discouraged. It was Ibn-Ruschd who broke the shackles placed on human inquiry with his doctrine of double truth. He said that there was truth that emanates from divine revelation but there is also truth that comes to us through human inquiry. This was supported by the hadiths of the Holy Prophet. There was room for coexistence of human reason and the word of God. This doctrine of double truth thus explained was accepted and adopted by Thomas Acquinas in the 13th century in his book Summa Theologica. Through this work, reason gathered momentum in the Western world and resulted in intellectual and political upheavals of vast proportions such as the Reformation and Renaissance. In the words of Justice Weeramantry, by the introduction of this doctrine in the West, “the horse of reason which had been kept confined in the stables, bolted, and could never be put back again”.

In the area of philosophy the Arabic philosophers such as Abu Yusuf Ya’Kub Ibn Ishak (Al-Kindi to the Western world), Al-Farabi, Ibn-Sina and Ibn Ruschd translated and commented upon the works of Greek philosophers. Aristotle, the philosopher of reason and individualism, had been neglected by the Christian Church which had preferred the philosophy of Plato. Plato had taught that those best able by reason of their knowledge and wisdom, to guide the state should be in control of it, while citizens should subordinate their reason to that of these philosopher-kings. For Aristotle, the individual and reason were more important. The intellectual attraction of Aristotle for these Arab philosophers was very great and Aristotle’s work was translated into Arabic.[1] Al-Ghazali’s work brought together, and indeed took further the work of the Greek philosophers regarding the application of the method of logic to interpretation as well as their view of happiness as the ultimate end of man.[2]


It is well beyond scope of this article to trace even in outline the influence of Islamic Law on the Western world. Basic Islamic legal ideas such as the notion of sharing, caring, trusteeship of property, brotherhood and solidarity, universalism, fair industrial relations, human dignity, dignity of labour, ideal law, fair contract, commercial integrity, freedom from usury, abuse of rights, condemnation of anti-social conduct, charitable trust, juristic personality, individual freedom, equality before the law, legal representation, presumption of innocence, non-retroactivity, supremacy of the law, judicial independence, judicial impartiality, limited sovereignty, bidding unto good (am I my brother’s keeper), tolerance and of democratic participation were subjects on which many treatises were written during the time of the Arab empire.[3]

Hugo Grotius is generally thought to be the father of International Law. Some historians tend to claim that King Alfonso X, King of Castile as the father of modern International Law. This is due to a part of an encyclopedia he wrote on knowledge in the 13th century. This part, contained in one volume, dealt with International Law. Scholars now agree that this was an absolute reproduction (verbatim translation) of the treatise on International Law written by Mohammad bin Hassan Shaybani at the end of the 8th century. These works found its way to the West through Islamic Spain where Grotius completed his work on international Law (War and Peace) without acknowledging the works of earlier scholars although the indications are that he did indeed have access to these works and also reflected all the principles of Islamic law.

Individual dignity ranks high in Islamic law and the concept of human rights fits naturally within its framework.[4] Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights was framed by eminent Islamic scholars and representatives of Islamic movements in 1981. Islamic Jurisprudence, Justice Weeramantry thought, was much in tune with current international jurisprudential and human rights thinking.

Justice Weeramantry’s philosophy was ‘peace by promoting mutual respect for each other’s religions which can only be generated by propagation of knowledge’. In doing so, he has become the accidental hero of the Muslim world by highlighting facts which were consistently written out of the history books of the West. We learnt of the enormous gratitude the modern world owes to the medieval Islamic scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, jurists and scholars. Likewise the modern Muslim world owes a huge debt of gratitude to this Prince of Peace.

M.F.M. Anoozer, Attorney-at-Law

[1] Islamic Jurisprudence, an international perspective p 101

[2] Islamic Jurisprudence, an international perspective p 99

[3] Islamic jurisprudence, an international perspective pp 59-93

[4] Islamic Jurisprudence, an international perspective p 114

Back to Home page