“Should I Be My Brother’s Keeper? Yes and No”

“Should I Be My Brother’s Keeper? Yes and No” August 19, 2022


The Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam
A view of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


A new article went up a short while ago in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:


“Should I Be My Brother’s Keeper? Yes and No,” written by . . . well, Daniel C. Peterson

Abstract: We typically teach and often even sing that we should be our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. And we do it with the very best and most holy of intentions. For many of us, indeed, loving and caring for our brothers and sisters is at the very heart of what it means to live a life of truly Christian discipleship. And rightly so. But there’s another way to think about this matter. I’ve pondered it for decades, and now, maybe some others will also find it thought-provoking.


And here’s something of mine that recently appeared in Meridian Magazine:


“What Does it Mean to Be a Witness?”


A church in old Amsterdam
One of the impressive church towers of the city of Amsterdam
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)


I very much like this short piece from Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:


‘Watch: Elder Gong narrates video about welcoming all in the Savior’s Inn: ‘As we create room in His Inn, welcoming all, our Good Samaritan can heal us on our dusty mortal roads,’ Elder Gong says”


Anne Frank memorial
Monument to Anne Frank, in front of the Amsterdam house in which she and her family lived.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


We hear a great deal these days about the decline of religious belief in the United States and in the West more generally.  Here’s something fresh on the topic:


“Is America’s religion cup half-empty or half-full? Two new takes on the omnipresent ‘nones'”


On the Amstel River in Amsterdam, which is named after it.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


With the brutal recent attack on the Anglo-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, it’s not surprising that some are inquiring again about the Islamic concept of a fatwa.  Here’s an article on the subject that was published a few days back:


“What is a fatwa? A religious studies professor explains”


Those who are interested might also find this article helpful.  The late William Hamblin and I wrote it for the Deseret News back in 2016


“What a fatwa is and is not”


It will be readily apparent that the Deseret News article is taken from a very brief explanation that I had already published in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World in 2004:



An advisory opinion issued by a recognized authority on law and tradition in answer to a specific question.  Fatwas can range from single-word responses (e.g., “Yes,” “No,” or “Permitted”) to book-length treatises.  Although typically focused on legal matters, fatwas also treat more general religious issues, including theology, philosophy, creeds, and ‘ibadat (religious obligations or acts of worship).  Traditionally, despite numerous exceptions (particularly since the eleventh century), the issuer of fatwas, termed a mufti—whose authority derives from his knowledge of law and tradition—has functioned independently of the judicial system, indeed often privately.

While court rulings rely on the sifting of evidence and conflicting testimonies, muftis assume the facts presented by their questioners, which, obviously, can bias the answer.  Moreover, a fatwa differs from a court judgment, or qada, not only in its wider potential scope—for instance, although ‘ibadat are essential parts of Islamic law, they transcend the jurisdiction of the courts—but because the qada is binding and enforceable, “performative,” while the fatwa is not.  Instead, it is “informational,” and, while decisions of shari‘a courts usually pertain only to the specific cases they adjudicate, thus setting no legal precedents, fatwas are very often collected, published, and cited in subsequent cases.


Schacht, Joseph.  Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence.  Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Weiss, Bernard G.  The Spirit of Islamic Law.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.


A view of Amsterdam canal houses on the Herengracht just after the sunset of a winter evening. Photograph by Anne Dirkse, http://www.annedirkse.com; ://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Herengracht,_Amsterdam_in_the_Blue_Hour.jpg


We began our current tour yesterday, meeting with a part of our group who had come to Amsterdam slightly early.  We had a local Dutch guide by the name of Joyce, who was, I thought, remarkably good.  (Unfortunately, I don’t know her last name, but, just in case somebody might be interested, I found her on a website of local Dutch tour guides.). We went first to a place called the Zaanse Schans, where a number of still-functioning windmills — and exhibits and shops — can be found in a beautiful area of water and grassy meadows.  Next, we walked through the village of Edam, which gave its name to the famous cheese (some of which we bought and shared with our group).  Edam is a quiet, interesting, and pretty alternative to the bustle of Amsterdam, and we had a very good lunch at L’Auberge Damhotel.  Then we dropped by Irene Hoeve, where we were given really amusing and informative presentations on the making of Gouda cheese and the manufacture of wooden shoes (“clogs” or klompen), and offered the chance to buy each of them.  Concluding our tour for the day, we walked around the town of Marken, located on what was formerly an island but is now, thanks to Dutch engineering, a peninsula.  Its wooden houses are especially memorable.  In the evening, we cruised serenely along the Amstel River and about the canals of Amsterdam, including the Herengracht and the Prinsengracht, on a small boat.


Joyce met us again this morning at our hotel and led us for about two hours on a circuitous and very informative walk through the Centrum of Amsterdam to the magnificent Rijksmuseum.  There, she left us.  But I have to say that traveling about with her allowed me, at least, to see Amsterdam in a different way than I’ve ever seen it before.  And I’ve never really spent much time out in the Dutch countryside beyond the city, so this has been an enlightening visit for me.


We had only a very little time in which to visit the Rijksmuseum on this trip (and none at all to visit the nearby Van Gogh Museum) before we needed to go to our boat.  So we spent almost all of our time on the Museum’s celebrated second floor, with its marvelous collection of works by, among others, Rembrandt (including, in pride of place, his large painting commonly known as the Night Watch), Johannes Vermeer, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Frans Hals, taking a quick moment at the end to drop by the few paintings by Van Gogh on the first floor.  Then we headed to our boat and met our entire group for the first time.


Posted from the North Sea



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