Posted: Sun Jan 30, 2005 5:41 pm Post subject: The Relationship Between Religion and Politics in Islam
In his interview with The Globe and Mail. January 30, 2002, MHI stated:
"But I think the more over-riding issue is the issue of theocracy versus secular state, and I think that at this point in time, the vast majority of countries within the Muslim world have recognized the difficulty of a theocratic state, and these difficulties are due to many different forces in these countries. But also, the pluralism within Islam. Because if you create a theocratic state, automatically you are saying there must be an interpretation which is the state interpretation of the faith.....What we are talking about are states that want to have modern forms of government but where the ethics of Islam remain the premises on which civil society is built. And I think that's where we see this -- to me very exciting -- effort to maintain the ethics of Islam, but in a modern state. And I think when we're talking about the ethics of Islam, it's easier to have civil society institutions built on the ethics of the faith, than a theocratic state in the full form."
As stated above, the key issue facing the Islamic world is the relationship between religion - the 'church' on the one hand and politics - the 'state' on the other. The following article that appeared in the Dawn discusses the relationship between the two in the context of Pakistan.
While reading a historical novel (The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown), I came across some startling claims. An Oxford historian and a Harvard professor of religion, both of them specialists in pagan and Christian symbolism and dogma, are discussing matters with a cryptographer who is also a symbologist. Here are the high points of their exchange.
Christianity had been spreading exponentially and, at the beginning of the fourth century, it appeared that it was going to be the wave of the future. As conflict between the pagans and Christians threatened to rend Rome, Emperor Constantine decided to unite the empire under Christianity. In order to make it acceptable to the pagans, he fused elements of pagan rituals, mythology, and symbolism with the Christian tradition.
The New Testament in the Bible was collated under his direction, and gospels (other than those of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) that portrayed Jesus as a prophet but nevertheless a mortal human were excluded. Constantine chose to invest him with divinity in the expectation that it would stop pagan challenges to Christianity, consolidate the empire, and augment his authority as well as that of the Catholic Church.
The emperor knew of pre-Christian precedents for his move. A pagan god, Mithras, called son of God, was believed to have been born on December 25 and later, three days after his death, resurrected. Osiris, Adonis, and Dianysus were credited with the same date of birth. A conference that Constantine called in 325 AD, known as the Council of Nicaea, debated and settled the date for Easter, administration of sacraments, and the status of Jesus as the son of God.
Originally Christians had observed the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, but Constantine moved it to Sunday, the day on which the pagans paid their weekly tribute to their sun god. Pictograms of Isis (Egyptian nature goddess), nursing her miraculously conceived son (Horus), may have led to the Christian images of the Virgin Mary nursing the Baby Jesus.
We know of other rulers taking a hand in the formulation of religious dogma and practice in Zoroastrian Persia, mediaeval and early modern Europe, and in several places during periods of Muslim rule.
Linkage between religion and politics has been debated in Pakistan since before its inception. It is true that those who led the campaign for its establishment invoked Islam often enough. But it is true also that they did not all contemplate the same role for it in governance and politics.
Ambiguity has continued to be the refuge of secular-minded politicians. They would like to implement Islamic principles and values, which are open to interpretation, but they do not want to enforce Islamic law and injunctions. At the same time, they would rather not say so publicly. Let us look at the Objectives Resolution as an illustration of the paradoxes that ambiguity can cause.
The Resolution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949, committed the state to exercise its authority within the limits prescribed by God; observe the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice as enunciated by Islam; enable Muslims to order their individual and collective lives according to the teachings and requirements of Islam as set forth in the Quran and Sunnah.
The word, "enable," has been problematic. In ordinary English usage the word means providing a person, who wants to perform a certain act, with the means or opportunity of doing so; making it possible, practical, or easy, and to that end, removing the impediments, if any, lying in his way. But enabling does not carry the meaning of forcing, or otherwise persuading, the person concerned to want to perform the act in question. There are other words in the language to convey that meaning.
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan added a word of explanation. The state, he said, would create conditions conducive to the development of a truly Islamic society, one that practised democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice. There is no way one may construe this or any of his other statements during this debate to mean that the state would force Muslims to pray, fast, and do all of the other things that the Islamic injunctions require.
The prime minister further explained the import of the Objectives Resolution when he observed that the acknowledgment of God's supremacy was essential because politics unrestrained by ethics tended to become tyrannical. Moreover, the terms "democracy," "equality," and "social justice" had larger and more wholesome meanings in Islam than they did in other systems of thought. For instance, Islamic social justice implied that all citizens would be free from want. Islamic democracy meant that not only government and politics but all social institutions would function democratically.
His government, he said, would build a "truly liberal" society wherein all would be equal before law, which would bring about a better distribution of wealth and removal of want; where no shackles would be put on thought; where disadvantaged groups would be helped to catch up; and where everyone would have a say in the determination of public policy.
Several Hindu members of the Constituent Assembly objected that, as some of the ulema had told them, non-Muslims could not have equal rights in an Islamic state. Liaquat Ali Khan denounced "these so-called ulema" as enemies of Islam and Pakistan. He went on to make the astonishing claim that a non-Muslim could indeed be the head of the administration in an Islamic state, such as the one envisaged in the Objectives Resolution.
As the debate proceeded, varied opinions were voiced. Several members saw the resolution as a confirmation of the ruling party's commitment to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan. Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani endorsed this commitment, and he was frank enough to say that only the believers could run it. Some administrative positions might be open to non-Muslims, but they could not be asked to frame the state's general orientation, or to deal with matters vital to its safety and integrity.
Professor Mahmud Husain pointed out that the resolution had made no reference to an Islamic state. Dr I.H. Qureshi endorsed the prime minister's position that non-Muslims would be equal participants in its government and politics. In a subsequent debate on a similar subject (Basic Principles Committee Report in 1953), Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar offered the curious interpretation that while a Hindu citizen could not be head of the state in Islamic Pakistan, he could become prime minister.
Two questions may be raised at this point. One, is there anything wrong with the Objectives Resolution? Two, were Liaquat Ali Khan and his colleagues invoking Islam essentially for their political purposes?
The resolution employs terms whose meaning is far from settled in western political discourse from where they have come. For instance, no one can claim to know what precisely social justice means. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor? If so, how much? Social Darwinists (exponents of "survival of the fittest") would leave the poor where they are unless they rise out of their hole by their own effort. The hard line conservatives everywhere have been disinclined to accept equality as a desirable value. There is disagreement even today as to whether equality is to be taken as equality before law (if even that) or as equality of condition. Khrushchev in Russia and Mao in China claimed that they practised true democracy while that in the West was actually a farce.
Far from reducing the ambiguity surrounding these terms, we increase it when we add the adjective, "Islamic," to them. The ulema have been telling us all along that western democracy is not Islamic. In saying that his government would establish Islamic social justice, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan was promising to build a society where no one would go without the basic necessities of life, where no one would be destitute. He spoke in these terms probably because they had become fashionable.
The Objectives Resolution is internally inconsistent. It makes Islamic injunctions the guiding framework for policy and then goes on to say that all citizens, including non-Muslims, shall have equal rights - a position that is unsustainable in the context of religion. It assures citizens freedom of thought and expression, freedom to profess and practise one's religion, but then abridges them (without indicating the limits of such abridgment) by making them subject to "law and public morality."
Religious injunctions will surely place severe limits on the freedoms of thought and expression, especially if these are exercised with reference to established dogma or major theological assertions. It is doubtful also that non-Muslims can profess their religion from a street corner or go out to preach it. The courts in Pakistan have held that the Ahmadis cannot profess and practise their religion the way it enjoins them to do.
Were Liaquat Ali Khan and his associates reformulating Constantine's precedent? It is likely that they brought in the Objectives Resolution as a political necessity. They had to do something to counter the more militant of the ulema (Maulana Maududi and his cohorts in Majlis-i-Ahrar) who were urging Muslims to disobey the state of Pakistan because it was un-Islamic.
Constantine modified Christianity to a more traditional position for the purpose of consolidating his empire. Liaquat Ali Khan was reinterpreting Islam to give it modernistic and liberal inclinations and thus to make it compatible with the system of governance he and his associates hoped to create and maintain.
As a statement of ideals that governments might endeavour to reach, as a pointer to the adjustments that must be made in our day and age, as a frame of reference, and as a preamble to the Constitution, the Objectives Resolution did the needful. But it was violence to Islam, an insult to the nation's sense of moral integrity, and an invitation to obfuscation in the realm of law to make it a substantive part of the country's Constitution.
The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Wed Feb 02, 2005 7:47 am Post subject: Islam and America, Three Years After 9/11
Islam and America, Three Years After 9/11
Far from being incompatible, Islamic values and American values are very similar, says a Muslim leader.
Interview by Laura Sheahen
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City and the founder of the American Sufi Muslim Association. A popular interfaith speaker, he teaches Islam and Sufism at the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan and at the New York Seminary. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about his book "What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West."
The name of your book is "What's Right with Islam," and sections of it address "What’s Right with America." What is right with both?
What’s right with Islam is what’s right with America, in the sense that the fundamental ideals of Islam, the idea of what the right society should be, are very similar to what the American idea of what the ideal society should be, as expressed in our founding documents.
When Jesus was asked what are the greatest commandments, he said “love God with all your heart” and, co-equal to that, “love thy neighbor.”
Islamic jurors basically expanded it. They said all the law--how God wants us to live--is to protect and further five fundamental human rights: the right to life, freedom of religion, family, property, and mental wellbeing. What I do in the book is map that to the American Declaration of Independence.
It’s interesting that you call America a sharia-compliant state.
It really means there’s a religious commandment to build the right society, to have a sense of social justice and a social safety net, to have laws that take care of human beings, that aren’t prejudiced against people.
You say that, contrary to what some non-Muslim Americans believe about Muslim countries, such societies can be religious and yet respect other religions and not be dominated by one religion.
Absolutely. To a large extent that’s what happened in much of Islamic history. It may not have been ideal. But, for example, [during] the Ottoman caliphate, Greeks lived throughout Turkey. Two-thirds of Smyrna was Greek until 1922.
So there are definite precedents for a Muslim country to be more tolerant than perhaps some people today perceive.
Yes. But in the 20th century, the Muslim world created a vision of religious nationalism. Turkey, for example, had to be ethnically Turkish. Kurds, Armenians, other minorities didn’t have a place in such a vision of a nation-state.
Towards the end of book, you outline a solution for the apparent conflict between the West and Islamic nations. What are the highlights?
The ultimate vision is to instate in the Muslim world the notion of multiculturalism, which is part of our heritage and history, part of the fundamental, mainstream ideals of Islam. We also have to improve the separation of powers [idea] that we have developed in the West. What’s brilliant about the United States system of government is separation of power. Not only the executive, legislative, judicial branches, but also the independence of the military from civilians, an independent media and press, an independent central bank.
You also outline responsibilities for non-Muslim Americans, for Western media and businesses. What are they?
The business world can help in transmitting to the Muslim world the notions of capital formation. What leads to a successful economy is the financial infrastructure. Helping people create wealth
You’re saying if we’re more interconnected financially, that might help overcome tensions?
About the media: Muslim leaders frequently condemn terrorism, but many non-Muslim Americans don’t seem to be aware of that. Why is there the perception that no one is speaking out?
The media is not amplifying the message of these condemnations as much as they could. Another reason is that American foreign policy has contributed to a lot of the rage and anger in the Muslim world. It’s important that America is seen as even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s also important that America not be seen as a marketer of ethics which are not acceptable not only to Muslims, but to believers, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews. We don’t like pornography, something which reduces family values, the violence we see from Hollywood. That’s the picture people are seeing of America.
You talk about all Americans voting with our pocketbooks with regard to Hollywood. What can American Muslims, specifically, do to help defuse tensions?
We want the Muslim-American community to be the mediator, to say to each side “the picture you are seeing of each other is false.” That’s why the book [addresses] what’s right with America and what’s right with Islam. We have to look at what is right in both traditions and see how similar they are.
You say U.S. Muslims are uniquely positioned to help “wage peace.”
If you personally had been completely in charge of the American Muslim response to 9/11, what would you have done?
Well, we did condemn the actions of 9/11 saying it was outside of Islam. It was condemned by nearly every Muslim nation and scholar.
We encouraged people to understand that Islamic values are part of the Abrahamic system of values. Our commandments are the same as those of Judaism and Christianity. We tried to address the issues that fueled it, issues of power and economics. People in the Muslim world feel disempowered and economically deprived.
After 9/11, we ran an essay by Khaled Abou el Fadl, who said he would have encouraged Muslim Americans to visit Ground Zero and bring, say, a flower. What you’re talking about is obviously more broad-based.
Yes, those things are very powerful symbols of American-Western sharing in the grief and mourning for what happened. I’ve participated in a number of different interfaith memorial services for those who have died.
But beyond the mourning, the real issue is the diseased, dysfunctional relationship between the United States and the Muslim world--understanding it through courses and attacking the root causes. If we address these causes, change will happen rapidly.
Some Christians point to violent passages in the Qur’an. Other Christians point out there are similarly violent passages in the Bible. Do Muslims tend to downplay these Qur’an passages just as Christians do with the Bible? For example, at a Christian church service in America, you’re unlikely to hear a Bible passage where people are urged to kill each other even though such things are in the Bible. Is it the same with the Qur’an? Would such passages be read at mosques?
They are certainly not mentioned as the meat of the religion. Having said that, [some] groups feel that Islam is under attack--a few young males say, "the West is engaged in a crash of civilization, they want to destroy Islam, we have to protect it." So they would draw from these controversial passages in the Qur’an.
Just a ballpark figure: What percentage of American Muslims, if they went to the mosque on Friday, would hear these violent passages from the Qur’an preached?
Next to zero. Hardly anybody would--and after 9/11, it really went down to zero. Those type of speeches did exist, but after 9/11, those types of preachers have basically recognized the damage of what they have said.
What do you wish writers like Bernard Lewis, who have been very critical of Islam, understood about Islam? Your book points out that they are not getting certain things.
I wish they would speak more of the multicultural heritage of Islam and point out that the conflict is not one of religion but one of issues of power, issues of economics. It’s not religion so much; it’s a way of thinking how to structure societies.
What they contend is a problem with the religion of Islam is really a problem with the mindset of people or governments or people in power. Fascism can exist under any ideology. Fascism can exist under Christianity, which happened [with] the Inquisition in Spain or other parts of Europe. Fascism can exist under atheism, like what happened under the Communist world. It can happen under Islam, which has happened with the Taliban. Some people even believe the McCarthy era in this country was the closest we came to a fascism under democracy.
But we must not confuse fascism with Christianity and say that what happened in the Inquisition came out of Christian ideology. We have seen fascism now in the name of Islam.
What have you been hearing from the U.S. Muslim community about profiling at, for example, airports? How do you see the situation and what do you wish would happen?
There’s no doubt we’ve been profiled since 9/11. The Patriot Act has kind of made Muslims... there’s a sense of "guilty till proven innocent" rather than the other way around. Certainly the Cat Stevens [detainment] and the [Tariq] Ramadan incident.
Cat Stevens becomes a Muslim and talks about Muslim issues and that’s looked at differently. Madonna takes Jewish Kabbalism. We don’t say that because Madonna practices Jewish mysticism and has gone to Israel, she’s embraced the philosophy of Sharon or she is becoming a rabid, anti-Arab settler-type person. So why should we associate Cat Stevens, who has become a practicing, devout Muslim, with terrorism?
Some Islamic charities are being investigated for terrorist ties. Have you seen what you consider to be reputable Islamic charities being financially damaged?
Well, it’s become very difficult to send money abroad or receive money from abroad; everything now has to go through hoops to make sure it’s legitimate--which is certainly understandable.
We believe that a certain portion of every charity has been legitimate. To say that you have connections with terrorism is a very gray area. It’s like the accusation that Saddam Hussein had links to Osama bin Laden. Well, America had links to Osama bin Laden--does that mean that America is a terrorist country or has ties to terrorism? It’s that type of logic.
Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2005 3:26 am Post subject: Pakistani religious law challenged
KARACHI, PAKISTAN - On the evening that Basira Jiskani ran away from her abusive husband almost a year ago, she felt relief for the first time since she left home. But things only got worse.
Now, Basira faces charges of adultery - her husband alleges that she ran away to marry another man - and a possible death sentence by stoning. In addition, vigilantes may await her back home in southern Sindh Province.
"I want to go back to my village, but I know I cannot," says the 19-year-old, whose parents consented to her marriage to a man twice her age. "They want to kill me back in my village, the landowner, my husband, and even my own family members. They have already declared me an adulteress, so they can kill me anytime."
Basira Jiskani is just one of thousands of women facing trial in Pakistan under the infamous Hudood Ordinances, religious codes which were passed under the military dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul-Haq. Unlike the system of "honor killing," which is illegal but common in Pakistan, the Hudood Ordinances are the law itself. The ordinances stem from Islamic law, which stipulates severe punishments for hudood offenses ranging from adultery and premarital sex to alcohol consumption. Not all Muslim countries have adopted hudood penalties in their criminal justice codes, and Islamic scholars debate whether such laws are a correct interpretation of the Koran.
Many Pakistani politicians, including President Pervez Musharraf, say the laws should be reviewed - some say repealed - since they have a disproportionate effect on women and the poor. But in the past 26 years, the laws seem to have become as unalterable as the Koran itself, and activists say the only way to bring equal justice to Pakistani society will be through a sustained campaign of pressure and resistance.
"Pakistan is a patriarchal society, where the power of feudal lords and tribal leaders has ugly manifestations in controlling women, such as cutting off their noses or simply shooting them to protect the honor of the family or the tribe," says Farzana Bari, director of the Women's Study Center at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "But with the Hudood Ordinances, the state becomes a partner in this."
"Political parties, such as the People's Party and even the Pakistan Muslim League, all say they would repeal the Hudood Ordinances when they are sitting in opposition," she adds. "But when they get to power, it is not a priority."
The Hudood Ordinances (hudood means "limitations or boundaries" in Urdu) have now become the dominant law affecting women. Of the 7,000 women in jail around the country awaiting trial, 88 percent are accused of crimes under Hudood, according to the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid. Ninety percent of these women have no lawyer, and 50 percent do not know they are entitled to contact one. Most women accused of Hudood violations are acquitted, but lose an average of five years to confinement, and lose their reputations as well.
Zia Awan, president of the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, a private legal aid group in Karachi, says that most Hudood cases in the courts revolve around a woman's ability to choose her own spouse. In a society where families usually choose spouses for their children, defiance comes at a high cost. Many families, particularly in traditional rural areas, file charges against their own children for premarital sex, rape, or adultery, all in the name of protecting family honor.
Hudood has also unwittingly become a major factor in rape cases. Many rape victims refuse to file charges, because under Islamic law, four male Muslim witnesses are required to prove charges of rape. Women who cannot produce this many witnesses often end up in jail themselves for adultery, a crime against the state punishable by stoning to death.
"One of the first cases I took up 15 years ago, there was a woman who was kidnapped by a man who promised to marry her," says Mr. Awan. "Instead he kept her in a room and raped her. She escaped and went to the police, and there, she was registered both as a victim and as an accused under Hudood." The woman was later found innocent and the kidnapper was found guilty, but by then she had spent 13 months in jail.
Awan praises President Musharraf for other reforms - such as introducing a separate legal system for juveniles, and new stricter rules to control trafficking in children. But he calls Musharraf's public promise four years ago to review the Hudood "half hearted."
Conservative Islamic activists and scholars say the Hudood Ordinances cannot be repealed. To do so would be a rejection of the Islamic system, they say, and an offense to Islam itself.
"Nobody can say that Koranic punishments are unacceptable," says Sen. Ghafoor Ahmad, vice president of the conservative Jamaat-I Islami party and supporter of the Hudood Ordinances. "If you believe in the Koran, then these punishments are there. For theft, the punishment is to cut off the hand. For adultery, the punishment is death."
But Senator Ahmad says that Islam "is not barbaric," but merciful. The Prophet Mohammad brought out these punishments only in the later stages of his prophecy, a time of greater prosperity and less crime among the Muslim community. Ahmad believes that Pakistan should work harder at attaining prosperity for its citizens before imposing harsh sentences.
"If there is hunger or disorder in society, then the first priority should be to solve these problems, not to insist on these punishments," adds Professor Ghafoor.
As for Basira Jiskani, all this talk seems academic - and terrifying. What is more real to her is the oppressive way that women are treated.
Sold into marriage on March 5, 2004, to Mohammad Yousuf Jiskani, the nephew of a powerful landowner, Basira became a kind of slave to her new husband, and to his wife.
On March 21, Basira told her family she was going to the market. The wife sent an older daughter along to keep an eye on Basira, but when the two were out of sight of the village, Basira dashed off. She made it to her aunt's house, then to a human rights office in Hyderabad. On March 31, she filed for divorce.
Back in the village, Basira's family filed charges against Basira as an adulteress, saying that she had been kidnapped and forcibly married to a man from a rival family. Local police have produced a marriage document registering the marriage of Basira with this second man. Basira denies getting remarried and her lawyer notes the document does not bear her signature or thumb print.
In the meantime, Basira spends her days at a women's shelter in Karachi. Together with other women escaping abusive husbands, she learns embroidery and other skills.
"We talk about our troubles together, we cry together, we laugh as well," says Basira. She looks down and becomes silent. "I just want to have my life back."
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Some time back in SAB Tv in program "Kuch dil sey" there was a discussion on topic of honor killing. Lot of women each year are killed in India in the name of honor killing specially in province of Punjab.
The reason behind is narrowmindness and foolish tribal laws. Women are considered as properties of men and not given equal status. There is not such a law of punishment in India but yet in Villages, villagers have themselves made their laws and in panchait [all villagers sit together to discuss on different issues etc] they decide and give severe punishments.
Now regarding huddod laws and Pakistan....
Its good that news paper and media covers topic of people who are victim of these problems...Many people may think that certain laws are not proper..Now as far as Shariati Laws are concerned we have think that..when were these laws made and how much time has passed..can these laws still applicable in this period.? Muslims are confused in matter of Shariati laws and modern times..As many hadiths are attributed to Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] which were not made by Him, Same can be with these Shariati Laws .
Many politician and people dont want these laws but are afraid with whom? The answer is Muslim extremists...The whole world is frightened with these terrorist and extremsit which includes other muslims of same and different sect,Christians,Jews and Hindus as well....Their power is very strong and they are very cruel. In the name of Jehad they misguide innocent people to promote terrorism and get heaven..
Must democracy rest on faith?
In his latest book, Pope John Paul II criticizes Western democracies for abandoning God's laws.
By Sophie Arie | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ROME - Just as democracy is celebrating its first victories over tyranny and fear in the Middle East, one of its greatest advocates in the 20th century, Pope John Paul II, has issued a stark warning that self-rule does not always work.
In a new book published last week, "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums," the pope attacks Western democratic society for being so obsessed with freedom that it has lost its sense of good and evil.
In the "negative" society of the West, the pope writes, "the principle to which people aspire is to think and act as if God did not exist."
There are such "enormous economic forces" behind the Western antigospel campaign, which supports divorce, free love, abortion, and euthanasia, that the Pope wonders whether the Western way of life is in fact a "new totalitarianism cunningly disguised as democracy."
He noted that it was a democratic parliament in Germany that allowed the election of Hitler in the 1930s. "We have to question the legal regulations that have been decided in the parliaments of present-day democracies," he wrote.
The book is the pope's fifth semiautobiographical publication. His first one sold 20 million copies.
By backing the Solidarity movement in his own country of Poland, the pope beckoned Poles to choose European democracy - an action that secured his place in history as a key figure behind the downfall of the Soviet Union. Now, he warns that Central and Eastern European countries are at risk of "falling without criticism under the influence of the negative culture so widespread in the West."
John Paul II's criticism highlights a growing schism in Europe between left-wing liberals who dominate the European Parliament and religious-minded conservatives who say that the idea of freedom in Europe has gone too far.
More significantly, the pope's remarks are a major critique of democracy at a time when President Bush is urging its spread to the Arab world.
To be sure, the pontiff holds democracy as the best form of government. But his remarks echo the warnings of some Islamic leaders, such as Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who have warned that embracing the Western model of democracy means giving up religion.
"Islam has something in common with the views expressed in this book," says Massimo Introvigne, founder of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, in Italy. "But so does Bush."
The common ground between the pope, the Islamic leaders, and Bush, he says, "lies in the belief that religious moral values should remain the fundamental basis on which a society is run."
The Vatican, which opposed the invasion of Iraq, has in the past indicated that exporting democracy to that country may not solve its problems.
On Feb. 7, 2004, an unsigned editorial in "La Civiltà Cattolica," the magazine of the Jesuits of Rome, which prints with the imprimatur of the Vatican, argued that implanting democracy in Iraq was a "pretext particularly offensive to the Islamic community."
The pope has since supported the election as a good development for Iraq.
The editorial claimed that by invading Iraq, the United States "[has] lent support to the impression that the West [...] intends a new colonization of Islamic countries, aimed at taking control of their oil, on the pretext of wanting to bring 'democracy,' [...] without realizing that, at least for Islamic fundamentalism, 'democracy' takes the sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the 'people,' which for a Muslim believer is an act of 'impiety.' "
"It seems the Vatican is concerned about the kind of freedom the Middle East may soon discover," says Roberto Menotti, a political scientist at Rome's Aspen institute.
Coming just weeks after President Bush's inaugural address, which set forth his manifesto on human freedom, the pope's remarks are stirring debate about what, exactly, freedom and democracy should entail.
"The main question the pope is raising," says Introvigne, "is whether humans should be free to make laws as they please or is there a law of God that nobody can breach?"
For the pope, the evolution of some Central and Eastern European countries who have embraced capitalism without restraint, is cause for concern.
"We are now at a peak of the domination of so-called freedom values," said Ingo Friedrich, who is vice-president of the European parliament, where he represents the People's Party.
"When you have very high levels of wealth, the danger of freedom overload is always higher," he says. "If the donkey gets too fat, he falls through the ice," he says, quoting a German proverb. "We are definitely at a time when people are wondering how far this freedom thing will go."
"What the pope is really saying is that democracy is good for people only if it does what the Catholic Church says," said Franco Pavoncello, political analyst at Rome's John Cabot University. "But the whole point of democracy is that there is no blueprint. People get to choose how they want things to be done."
"In Rome, no one's listening to the pope's warning," wrote the newspaper La Repubblica, after mulling over the pope's words for a week. Recognizing the pope's arguments over human rights on question such as abortion and gay adoption, La Repubblica's Andrea Manzella argued that Italy's and Europe's Constitution both have careful procedures for laws to be challenged if they seem to infringe human rights.
"After the end of the ideologies of the 20th century and especially after the fall of Communism, various nations have pinned their hopes on democracy," the pope writes. "Which is why it is so important now for us to ask ourselves what democracy ought to be."
"Laws made by men, by parliaments," he added, "must not be in contradiction with natural laws, that is with the eternal law of God."
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Posted: Sat Mar 05, 2005 5:26 am Post subject: High Court Debates Commandments Displays
High Court Debates Commandments Displays
Washington, March 3 - With demonstrators shouting religious slogans outside, Supreme Court justices questioned, argued and fretted Wednesday over whether Ten Commandments displays on government property cross the line of separation between church and state.
Back-to-back arguments in cases from Texas and Kentucky were the court's first consideration of the issue since 1980, when justices ruled the Ten Commandments could not be displayed in public schools.
Clearly reluctant to adopt a blanket ban, the current justices wrestled with the role that religious symbols should play in public life - right down to the Ten Commandments display in their own courtroom.
Several expressed support for a 6-foot granite monument on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol, but were less certain about framed copies of the commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.
"If an atheist walks by, he can avert his eyes," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in a courtroom filled with spectators, many of whom could be seen glancing at the court's frieze of Moses carrying the tablets.
Banning the Texas display might "show hostility to religion," he said.
But Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while acknowledging the nation's religious history, wondered where the line should be drawn. The court ruled in 1983 that legislative prayer is allowable, citing its historical significance, but in 1992 said prayer in public schools is not because students may feel pressure to participate.
What if every federal court had a Ten Commandments display over its bench and opened with a prayer, Ginsburg asked, brushing aside Justice Antonin Scalia's retort that the justices already open their sessions with "God save this honorable court."
"We would try and defend that," said acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued on behalf of the Bush administration in supporting the Ten Commandments displays.
A pivotal vote in the case is expected to be Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who in recent years has been at the forefront in outlining constitutional tests based in part on a symbol's history and "ubiquity." She did not tip her hand Wednesday, if she had one.
"It's so hard to draw that line" between allowing a legislative prayer and not allowing a Ten Commandments display, O'Connor fretted at one point.
Monuments carrying the Ten Commandments are common in town squares, courthouses and other government-owned land around the country. Lawyers challenging these displays argue that they violate the First Amendment ban on any law "respecting an establishment of religion."
While the cases strictly involve Ten Commandments displays, a broad ruling could determine the allowable role of religion in a wide range of public contexts, from the use of religious music in a school concert to students' recitation of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. A decision is expected by late June.
The question has prompted dozens of heated legal battles, including one in Alabama by Roy Moore. He lost his job as chief justice a year ago after defying a federal order to remove a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state courthouse.
At the Supreme Court, about 100 supporters of commandments displays gathered outside in the icy cold. Many shouted "Amen" and broke into refrains from "Amazing Grace." Several knelt before the court steps.
Opponents of the displays, smaller in number, waved signs reading "Keep Government and Religion Separate" and "My God Does Not Need Government Help." According to an AP-Ipsos poll, 76 percent of Americans support such displays, a fact that was not lost on some of the justices during arguments.
"It's a profoundly religious message, but it's a profoundly religious message believed in by a vast majority of the American people," Scalia said.
In the Texas case, the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the exhibit to the state in 1961, and it was installed about 75 feet from the Capitol in Austin. The group gave thousands of similar monuments to American towns during the 1950s and '60s, and those have been the subject of multiple court fights.
The suit was brought by Thomas Van Orden, a former lawyer who is now homeless. Van Orden, who enlisted the help of Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in the appeal, said in an interview that he spent the morning at the University of Texas law library playing chess online. He did not comment on the case.
Two Kentucky counties, meanwhile, hung framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses and added other documents, such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the display.
While one lower court found the Texas display to be predominantly nonreligious because it was one of 17 monuments in a 22-acre park, another court struck down the Kentucky displays as lacking a "secular purpose." Kentucky's modification of the display was a "sham" for the religious intent behind it, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
Arguing against a strict wall between church and state, Solicitor General Clement said, "The Ten Commandments have an undeniable religious significance, but they also have a secular significance as a source of the law, a code of the law and a well-recognized historical symbol of the law."
David Friedman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is challenging the courthouse displays in Kentucky, countered: "An assertion that the Ten Commandments is THE source, THE foundation of our legal system ... that is simply wrapping the Ten Commandments in the flag, and that's endorsement."
The Supreme Court's frieze depicts Moses as well as 17 other figures including Hammurabi, Confucius, Napoleon and Chief Justice John Marshall.
When Stevens said the depiction is more neutral in part because it does not display the Ten Commandments' text, Clement gently demurred. "I don't know if a display of Moses might be sending more of a religious message. The cases are Van Orden v. Perry, 03-1500, and McCreary County v. ACLU, 03-1693.
Posted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 5:02 am Post subject: Beatitudes vs Ten Commandments
The following article illustrates the problems one could face in a pluralistic society if we were to combine the church and the state in the governance of societies. Which system of ethics to follow? Here it is being proposed that the Beatitudes derived from Christianity be displayed as opposed to the debate around the display of the Ten Commandments from Judaism in the previous post. That is why it is recommended that the church should be separated from the state.
A Modest Proposal
Let’s at least be scolded for promoting something that comes straight from Jesus.
The Ten Commandments are on the front pages again, now that the Supreme Court is deliberating about the propriety of displaying that ancient moral code in public places. I have a suggestion for the justices to consider. Maybe they could recommend an alternative: substitute the Beatitudes for the Ten Commandments.
Actually the idea is not original with me. I got it from an unlikely source when it comes to spiritual matters: Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut, a gifted novelist not known specifically for his religious insights, made some good theological sense last year in a column he wrote. He noted that there is a lot of talk lately about making the Ten Commandments visible in public places, but no one ever seems to mention the Beatitudes as having any meaning for our public life. Why not? he asks. After all, the Ten Commandments are from Moses, but if you really believe in Jesus you should want his unique teachings to get some publicity. So, proposes Vonnegut, let’s put “Blessed are the merciful” signs in our courtrooms. And let’s have a big “Blessed are the peacemakers” billboard in the Pentagon.
I’m intrigued by Vonnegut’s suggestion. That’s not to say I have problems with the Ten Commandments. Both Moses and Jesus are in the Bible I read regularly. The commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai are of fundamental importance for human morality, both collective and individual. But they do have a stern tone about them, and it could be that by emphasizing the "thou-shalt-nots" of the Ten Commandments, we Christians are coming across as a bit too self-righteous. Furthermore, it has long been acknowledged by Christian theologians that at least the first few commandments—the ones dealing with worship and idolatry—are not the sorts of things we want to impose on everyone in our pluralistic democracies.
On a more positive note, it might be better for Christians—especially those of us who talk a lot about "moral values"—to let our fellow citizens know that we do care a lot about the "blessed" traits that Jesus sets forth in the Beatitudes: meekness, peaceableness, empathy with the poor and the grieving, a spirit of mercy—things of that sort. To be sure, we will be criticized for this, too, by the folks who don’t want us to inject any of our religious views into the public square. But if we are going to be scolded by those who resist religious teachings, let’s at least be scolded for promoting something that comes straight from Jesus.
When George W. Bush said, during the last presidential campaign, that Jesus is his favorite philosoper, he took a lot of criticism from the intelligentsia. I did not join in the ridicule. Jesus is also my favorite philosopher. I believe Jesus has profound things to say to contemporary America—to all of us as citizens, as well to each of us as private individuals.
Which leads me to an even bolder proposal. People like me can push for this sort of move, but no one will really pay any attention. But if the President and a well-known novelist were to team up in urging the justices of the Supreme Court to endorse the public display of the Beatitudes—well, then we might actually get somewhere. The more I think about the idea, the more I like it. President Bush, please contact Kurt Vonnegut immediately.
Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:43 am Post subject: Made-in-America Wahhabism
This article illuminates the debate of the relationship between the 'church' and the 'state' drawing examples from Islamic and Christian world experiences.
The Christian right is our own brand of extremism.
By William Thatcher Dowell
March 8, 2005
There is a certain irony in the debate over installing the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Second Commandment in the King James edition of the Bible states quite clearly: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the Earth below, or that is in the water under the Earth." Few people take this as a prohibition against images of stars and fishes. Rather it cautions against endowing a physical object, be it a golden calf or a two-ton slab of granite, with spiritual power.
In trying to promote the commandments, the Christian right seems to have forgotten what they are really about. It has also overlooked the fact that there are several versions: Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Different language in Catholic Bibles and the Jewish Torah offer more variants.
Which should be enshrined? That is just the kind of debate that has been responsible for religious massacres through the ages. It was, in fact, the mindless slaughter resulting from King Charles' efforts to impose the Church of England's prayer book on Calvinist Scots in the 17th century that played an important role in convincing the founding fathers to separate church and state.
The current debate, of course, has little to do with genuine religion. What it is really about is an effort to assert a cultural point of view. It is part of a reaction against social change, an American counter-reformation of sorts against the way our society has been evolving. Those pushing to blur the boundaries between church and state feel that they are losing out — much as, in the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalists fear they are losing out to "Western values."
The reactions are remarkably similar. In the Arab Middle East and Iran, the response is an insistence on the establishment of Islamic law as the basis for political life; in the United States, school districts assert religious over scientific theory in biology class, tax dollars are going to the faith-based, and the Ten Commandments are a putative founding document.
In fact, George W. Bush may now find himself in the same kind of trap that ensnared Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud. To gain political support, Saud mobilized the fanatical, ultrareligious Wahhabi movement — the movement that is spiritually at the core of Al Qaeda. Once the bargain was done, the Saudi royal family repeatedly found itself held political hostage to an extremist, barely controllable movement populated by radical ideologues. The evangelical movement in the U.S. nudged the president back into the White House, and Bush must now try to pay off the political bill for its support.
In Saudi Arabia, what drives the Wahhabis is a deep sense of grievance and an underlying conviction that a return to spiritual purity will restore the lost power they believe once belonged to their forefathers. A belief system that calls for stoning a woman for adultery or severing the hand of a vagrant accused of stealing depends on extreme interpretations of texts that are at best ambiguous. What is at stake is not so much service to God as the conviction that it is still possible to enforce discipline in a world that seems increasingly chaotic.
The Christian right is equally prone to selective interpretations of Scripture. In its concern for a fetus, for example, the fate of the child who emerges from an unwanted pregnancy gets lost. Some fundamentalists are even ready to kill those who do not agree with them, or at least destroy their careers. They seem to delight in the death penalty, despite the fact that the Bible prohibits killing and Christ advised his followers to leave vengeance to God.
Just as in the Middle East, the core of U.S. puritanism stems from a nostalgia for an imaginary past — in our case, a made-up United States peopled mostly by Northern Europeans alike in the God they worshiped and in their understanding of what he stood for. The founding fathers, of course, preferred the ideas of the secular Enlightenment, which, instead of anointing one religious interpretation, provided the space and security for each person to seek God in his or her own way.
Perhaps the strongest rationale for separating religious values from politics is that politics inevitably involves compromise, while religion involves a spiritual ideal that can be harmed by compromise. No less a fundamentalist than Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini once stated that if forced to choose between Islamic law and Islamic rule, he would choose Islamic rule. Yet the effect of that decision has been to betray Islam, as genuine Islamic scholars in Iran have found themselves under continual pressure to change their interpretation of God and God's will in order to conform to political realities.
Religion, when incorporated into a political structure, is almost invariably diluted and deformed and ultimately loses its most essential power. Worse, as we have seen recently in the Islamic world (as in the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials in the Christian world), a fanatical passion for one's own interpretation of justice under God often leads to horror.
The fact is that, as St. Paul so eloquently put it, "now we see through a glass darkly." Men and women interpret the deity, but they are only human and, by their nature, they are flawed. In that context, isn't it best to keep our minds open, the Ten Commandments out of our public buildings or off our governmental lawns and to lead by example rather than pressuring others to see life the way we do?
As Christ once put it, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
William Thatcher Dowell edits Global Beat for New York University's Center for War, Peace and the News Media. He was a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine from 1989 through 1993. A longer version of this essay appears at http://www.tomdispatch.com/
Posted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 7:38 am Post subject: Religious Fundamentalism
The following dialogue addresses the issue of religious fundamentalism.
Jim, via the Internet, writes:
"Can you say if you think Karen Armstrong's book would be valuable or helpful reading on the subject of religious fundamentalism?"
I believe you are referring to Karen Armstrong's book on fundamentalism entitled, "The Battle for God." It is a broad and sweeping analysis of fundamentalism in the three religions that claim to root in Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I commend it to you or anyone.
Karen Armstrong, a former nun, is one of the best writers and religious commentators in the world today. She is clear and articulate as well as being a competent scholar.
When you read or study this book, you will inevitably become aware that fundamentalism has little to do with religious truth. It is rather a security seeking, defense mechanism used by frightened people. Fundamentalism rises out of an inner need for certainty that the world will never provide. That is also why there is such anger in fundamentalism, as well as great hostility toward those who are not by their definition "true believers." The people who have written the most hate-filled letters to me, and almost all of the death threats that I have received, have come from those who define themselves as "Bible based, true believers." That should tell us something about both their fear and about the integrity of their belief system.
I hope your study will help the participants understand these issues. If your study is a clandestine attempt to convert fundamentalists to your point of view you will not succeed, not because the sources you used were somehow lacking, but because you have failed to understand the nature of fundamentalism. I wish you well.
-- John Shelby Spong
The following link is to an article that appeared in the NewYork Times online about the change in the equation of the state of the state-church relationship as a result of the changed religious composition of the US population and also the popular expectation of religious values and symbols to play an important part in the public life. There are two views on how the state-church relationship should address or accomodate these changed circumstances. On the one hand we have the ''values evangelicals'' who promote the approach of applying shared ethics and moral principles to political-public life. On the other hand we have the ''legal secularists'' who argue that religion should play no part in public life and should be confined to the domain of private life.
The article attempts at a solution to this divide.
One nation, but so many different ideas about God under the same God
How to separate state from church in the US today
By Carol des Lauriers Cieri
In August 2004, even as insurgency was stirring in Iraq, a rebellion of a different variety was erupting in Montgomery, Ala.
The previous winter, Judge Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, had moved a 2-1/2-ton block of granite to the rotunda of the Montgomery courthouse and had it inscribed with the Ten Commandments. When ordered by federal courts to remove the monument, the judge refused. TV cameras turned up and public controversy raged.
It's a debate that rages on, despite recent US Supreme Court rulings that religious displays in public places are illegal unless their motive is clearly secular.
Noah Feldman uses the scene at the Montgomery courthouse to set the stage for his new book, "Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem and What We Should Do About It."
Despite the title, this New York University law professor takes great care to note that Americans are not divided by God, or even by religious beliefs and affiliations. It is rather, he says, the relationship between religion and government that confounds them at every turn. It is an evolving equation with significant consequences.
"The stakes of that debate," he writes, "extend beyond statutes to billions of dollars in government funding: basic moral questions of life, death, and family; and the recurrent challenge of what it means for Americans to belong to a nation."
To help resolve the controversy, Feldman asks readers to rethink the relationship between church and state in the US.
But first he walks them through American history, making it clear what a great and novel experiment was launched in the United States: The country's founders crafted the constitutional principle of separation not because religion wasn't important, but because it was so very important.
"Divided by God" is an extraordinary book, carefully researched and well-written, with a cogent, if narrowly drawn, conclusion. It is a window on a mind - and a nation - at important work, and it is impressive.
Feldman brings strong credentials to his topic. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Cambridge, Mass., and he attended an Orthodox Jewish school. That helped frame his perspective.
"I always felt lucky because I had a foot in both camps. I had a foot in religion ... and a foot in Northeastern secular liberalism," he told Publishers Weekly, "I always believed there was more in common among these world views than either was prepared or able to recognize."
Feldman graduated from Harvard, earned a doctorate in Islamic thought as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and earned a law degree from Yale, after which he clerked at the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, and the US Supreme Court.
He began teaching law at New York University two weeks before 9/11, when his fairly obscure doctorate and fluency in Arabic made him a hot commodity. His previous book, "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy," was considered brilliant by many, and in 2003, he was asked to advise the Iraqis on their constitution.
Clearly, Feldman knows his way around divisive church/state issues here and abroad, but it is his search for commonality that distinguishes this book. As he maps out US history, he shows how the country has recast itself to create unity around every influx of religious diversity.
He highlights the events that led to adjustments in the church/state equation: a growing religious diversity, the rise of science, changing political alliances, and considerable legal maneuvering.
Of our present-day stalemate, he asks, "Is there a third way that could produce reconciliation between Republican and Democrat, red and blue, evangelicals and secularists? ... I want to point us toward a solution that draws on the best of what we have done in the past, while rejecting our not-insignificant mistakes."
In Feldman's view, Americans must preserve religious liberty while maintaining an institutional separation between church and state. His way is to "offer greater latitude for public religious discourse and religious symbolism, and at the same time insist on a stricter ban on state funding of religious institutions and activities."
Feldman's simple rule is: no money, no coercion. Cash, he notes, is concrete and finite and subject to divisive competition, while speech and symbols are not. Yet one can't help observing that when religious symbols are inscribed on a 2-1/2-ton block of granite and installed in a courthouse rotunda, they become concrete and finite in a hurry.
While Feldman argues that citizens should not be threatened by the display of symbols or speech that they disagree with, it seems counterintuitive to assert that display does not imply endorsement.
Still, his formulation appears to stand squarely on the Founders' intent, and represents a reasonable compromise between two viewpoints. "Secularists must accept the fact that religious values form an important source of political beliefs and identities for the majority of Americans," he writes, "while evangelicals need to acknowledge that separating the institutions of government from those of religion is essential for avoiding outright political-religious conflict."
Feldman comes out on the opposite side of recent court rulings. According to his vision, funding religious schools through public vouchers would be wrong (because money is involved), while displaying the Ten Commandments at a courthouse would be permitted (because no coercion is believed to be involved.)
Yet the law as it now stands was determined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's swing vote and she has left the US Supreme Court, leaving open the possibility of redrawing these arguments. Suddenly the ground is fertile indeed for this account of constitutional history, and this recommendation for the future.
As Feldman says, no matter how we are divided by our religious beliefs, the work of unity, of reconciling diversity, goes on and we must "welcome it as it comes."
• Carol des Lauriers Cieri is a writer and editor in Lincolnville, Maine.
Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem - And What We Should Do About It
By Noah Feldman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux306 pp., $25
Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:49 pm Post subject: Religion and Terrorism
I came across this article in Bangkok Post. I hope I've placed it under the right category...
COMMENT / RELIGION AND TERRORISM
Jihad or murder? COMMENT / RELIGION AND TERRORISM
There is no need to look to theology to call a crime by its proper name
By ABDOU FILALI-ANSARY
It is remarkable that some of the most critical concepts of Muslim religious terminology have now become part of the international language of current affairs.
Questions drawn from Islamic theology are discussed freely by the world public, engaging specialists and non-specialists, Muslims and non-Muslims. Theological disputation has moved far from Islam's religious academies.
For example, the term jihad, commonly translated as ``holy war'', has become nearly ubiquitous. Though conceived in early Muslim history as a means of spreading God's word, Muslim scholars today distinguish between two kinds of jihad _ one being an internal struggle against temptation, and the other a physical conflict against an aggressor who threatens the survival or the fundamental rights of a Muslim community. In this context, there is widespread rejection of the fundamentalists' use of the term.
Numerous Muslim scholars have raised their voices to challenge the terrorists' defence of suicide bombings or attacks on civilians, offering long citations from centuries of religious jurisprudence. In itself, this approach represents a worthy expression of collective conscience in opposition to the terrorists.
But many among the public and in the media want more. Muslim intellectuals are being encouraged to press the religious argument against fundamentalist violence in order to deprive the terrorists of their most fearsome and potent arguments. If Muslim scholars can somehow disprove these arguments, it is thought, then the terrorists' ability to sustain their violent underground will be reduced.
Is this right? A quick survey of the history of religious conflict shows that theological controversies have never been resolved by theological arguments. Looking more closely, one finds that while these controversies were often framed in religious terms, they were not at all about religion. The range of opposing interpretations of religious texts is virtually unlimited, and disputes are seldom resolved by rational argument.
In earlier times, such controversies were decided by political authorities, which used military force to impose one particular point of view at the expense of all others. Muslim history is full of such cases. Recently, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he found scholars who raised theological arguments on his behalf. The coalition confronting him had no difficulty finding religious arguments that led to precisely the opposite conclusion.
Today, it is clear that fundamentalists and their supporters are completely closed off to even the most elaborate theological refutation of their views, even when produced by distinguished religious authorities. The first reflex of the fundamentalists is to withdraw from the mainstream, to build around themselves a shell that is impervious to any logic other than their own. The most essential questions that humans face today _ those that engender the deepest conflicts _ have nothing to do with theology. They concern disputes over territory, political power, definitions of rights, and distribution of wealth. The means of discussing these questions is known to all and is expressed in all religions and all languages. The evils most deeply resented _ in all societies _ are injustice, despotism, corruption and poverty.
We all understand what these mean, and how certain people must live with them on a daily basis.
Why, then, do we follow the fundamentalists to the very heart of their madness? Allowing them to frame these problems in religious terms legitimises the perspective that they are attempting to impose, particularly in their own societies. It also allows them to camouflage their very worldly thirst for power.
Repeatedly, the Muslim religious establishment has been urged to issue statements denying fundamentalists the right to use religious terms like jihad. But experience has proven that this approach leads nowhere. In fact, debates about the use of religious terms lend credibility to fundamentalist efforts to apply these ideas to conditions in the modern world. Such debates concede that these religious concepts are generally valid, even when, as in the fundamentalists' case, they simply do not apply.
As a result, the entire discussion could easily backfire. Invariably, fundamentalists dismiss religious critiques of their views as evidence that religious authorities have been corrupted by hostile influences. In this way, the terrorists oppose the purity and authenticity of their arguments to the compromises presumably forced upon religious establishments.
Speaking to Muslims exclusively in their own religious terms also excludes them from broad ethical frameworks that defend essential human values, most notably the protection of innocent civilians. These values are the foundation upon which all religious and cultural traditions rest.
To be sure, it is important to understand the discourse of those who are making war on societies _ their own societies first and foremost. But adopting the terrorists' interpretation of events conceals the reality of this conflict. Instead of fighting on behalf of political and religious liberty, we risk engaging in a conflict with the false images that the terrorists have created. Worse still, we would bring this conflict into our own societies, where different religious and cultural traditions are now inextricably mingled.
There is simply no need to look to theology to call a crime by its proper name. The revulsion provoked by the murder of innocents is deeply felt by all, and it is reprehensible by any standard, religious or not. It may even be that religious language does not adequately express the repulsion we all feel toward the terrorists' actions. No feeling of victimhood can justify, under any conditions, such crimes against innocents, and no theology can accept the negation of the human essence that we all share.
Abdou Filali-Ansary is Director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University of Karachi, Pakistan.
Religion and Politics*
(To listen to the audio version of this article, click here )
By Jamal Badawi**
Now the Church plays only a spiritual role in the life of Christians.
Separation Between Church and State: A Historical Background (listen to this section here )
The separation between religion and state, or what is religious or sacred in the West and what is secular, is something that has its own historical roots. For a considerable period of time, people used to consider the Church as an institution which at times aligned itself with the ruling elite and did not necessarily serve the interest of the masses. It was perceived by some people, especially in the 17th century, as an institution which had a strong desire for power, struggling with the ruling elite or the so-called temporal authorities. Many people also considered the name of the Church synonymous with the Inquisition and with the persecution of scientists and thinkers. For a considerable period of time, it was seen as standing against freedom of thought.
When the European Age of Enlightenment came, people reacted to this image of the Church in a very strong way by rejecting anything that pertained to the Church or to the concept of the power of the Church. This reaction was evident in even those who took a moderate position and were less critical of the Church. This reaction led to the idea of keeping the Church responsible only for the spiritual and moral aspects of life, and leaving secular authority in the hands of other people.
Although this separation can be understood in terms of the circumstances surrounding the rise of the Church and its history in Europe, this doesn’t mean that this principle of separation is either universal or that it has to be imposed on Islam, as Islam has its own system.
Irrelevance of the Separation to Islam (listen to this section here )
In Islam, the word “religion” means way of life, a way of living that includes all aspects of life.
In Islam there is no Church as it is understood in the Christian world as an institution which has the exclusive power or authority to interpret matters of faith. Consequently, Islam also does not have any system of priesthood or clergy or even ordination to ordain people in a certain ritualistic way so that they can be priests. In Islam the notion of saying that this is a man of the word or this is a man of religion doesn’t exist. Ideally, in Islam, every man or woman, every person, is a “person of religion.” Religion is not something that can only be entrusted to a certain class or group of people who become the exclusive body who can speak about matters of faith. In Islamic history, there was no incident or period of time that comes close to the Inquisition courts or to the persecution of scientists. In fact, scientists persecuted elsewhere found security, encouragement, and an encouraging atmosphere for scientific productivity in the Muslim world. However, there was some degree of persecution during certain times in Islamic history, but it was the persecution of those free thinkers among religious scholars by the ruling elite who fought to get justification for their actions.
The Notion of Religion
If you asked someone “what is religion?” in the West, people may say that it is the set of beliefs and values which deal with the spiritual and moral aspects of life. In Islam, the word “religion” means way of life, a way of living that includes all aspects of life, be they spiritual, moral, social, economic, or even political. Islam takes the human being as he or she is. It takes the human being as a spiritual being and tries to satisfy his spiritual needs; it takes the human being as an intellectual being and respects human intelligence and human reasoning and uses them as tools for faith rather than seeing them as the opposite or antithesis of faith. It takes the human being as a physical being and looks after his or her physical needs, and so on. Islam upholds the notion of the integration of all aspects of life into one harmonious whole.
“Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesar’s” (listen to this section her )
Separating what is religious and what is secular is alien to the essence of all revelation.
Some people have quoted the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) as saying “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and render unto God that which is God’s.” Even if we assume that Jesus did actually say that, I believe that he didn’t really mean by that what is commonly understood. Reading the context of this statement, we can notice that some people came with an evil intention of trying to prove to the Roman authorities that Jesus was a man they should get rid of. One way they tried to reach their objectives is by attempting to extract a statement that could be interpreted as a defiance of the Roman authority. They asked him, “Should we pay the taxes to the authorities?” The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was smart enough and guided by God to understand the evil intention behind this apparently innocent question, so he said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and render unto God what is God’s.” But he never really meant that there are two authorities in this universe, one which is under the domain of God, limited and restricted to the Church, and the other one which belongs to temporal authorities, in this case, Roman rulers, because that contradicts the very basic notion of the supremacy of God.
In addition, Jesus was not sent by God with a new set of laws and regulations, but rather to add spirituality to the formalistic practice of religion that existed among the Israelites in his time. Given his circumstances and the nature and scope of his mission, it was not necessary for him to talk in detail about temporal authority. Instead, he wanted the people to be uplifted in the spiritual sense. Therefore, the notion of the separation of what is religious and what is secular or what is temporal, is something which is alien not only to Islam but even to the essence of all revelation given to all of the prophets because of its contradiction to the notion of servitude to God alone.
Servitude to Allah Includes Government (listen to this section her )
The problem of humanity is not in admitting the supremacy of God but in refusing to accept His guidance as to how we conduct our lives.
The Qur’an indicates that one of the biggest problems of humanity has not really been whether or not to believe in God as the creator, but rather, it is the failure to carry this belief to its logical conclusion and to be true servants of God and submit to the will of God. For example, the Qur’an says what means: [Say: Whose is the earth, and whoever is therein, if you know? They will say: Allah’s. Say: Will you not then mind? Say: Who is the Lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the mighty dominion? They will say: (This is) Allah’s. Say: Will you not then guard (against evil)? Say: Who is it in Whose hand is the kingdom of all things and Who gives succor, but against Him succor is not given, if you do but know? They will say: (This is) Allah’s. Say: From whence are you then deceived?] (Al-Mu’minun 23:84-89). They—which refers here to the unbelievers—admit that everything belongs to God but they rebel and refuse to comply with what the one and only Creator of the universe commands them to do. The Qur’an also says what means: [And if you should ask them who created them, they would certainly say: Allah. Whence are they then turned back?] (Az-Zukhruf 43:87). Logically speaking, if you admit that Allah is your Creator, then it follows that you should obey what that Creator tells you to do. He knows best what’s good for you so you should follow him, but they stop just at admitting that God created them. So the problem of humanity is not in admitting the supremacy of God in terms of being the Creator, but in human pride and vanity in refusing to accept His guidance, commands, and directions as to how we conduct our lives.
There are many verses in the Qur’an which talk about God and government. For example, in one verse it says what means: [Is it not His to create and to govern?] (Al-A`raf 7:54). This concise verse puts God’s authority in direct relation to His creation, so if you admit that God is the Creator then you have to admit that He is also the One Who should govern. Governing here doesn’t mean governing the universe in terms of physical phenomenon but also [setting] moral, social, political, economic laws—these are all ultimately the domain of God.
In a similar way, in the Qur’an Allah is decribed as follows: [And He it is Who is Allah in the heavens and Allah in the earth] (Az-Zukhruf 43:84). In other words, the domain of God is not only the spiritual aspect of life; human life is not just prayers and supplication; it includes economics as much as it includes social as well as political aspects.
The Qur’an also describes those who refuse to rule or judge in accordance to what God has revealed as “unbelievers,” “wrong doers,” and “transgressors.” [And whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unbelievers] (Al-Ma’idah 5:44); [And whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unjust] (Al-Ma’idah 5:45); [And whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors] (Al-Ma’idah 5:47). This means that if the person ruling does not comply with the rules that God has set down, then all of these three descriptions apply to him. Also in the same surah, God directs His message to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) [And that you should judge between them by what Allah has revealed] (Al-Ma’idah 5:49). This means that even the Prophet himself was directed to implement the laws of God, and not to take his role as merely preaching them.
For more on the process of secularization in Europe, see “Secular Values and the Process of Secularization”
The Qur’an is full of direct and indirect, implicit and many times explicit indications that show that the establishment of the Islamic order is a requirement on Muslims whenever possible. In addition to the Qur’an, there are several sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) talking about government: “Even if just three people are traveling together, they should choose one of them as their leader.” The Prophet Muhammad, within the wider scope of his role as a prophet, was also a head of the state. He conducted the affairs of the Muslims and established the mechanism that looked after the implementation of those rules. Many times the Qur’an speaks about certain rules or aspects of criminal law. How could this be implemented? Can any person take the law in his or her hand and implement those rules? The very fact that these rules are mentioned in the Qur’an shows the necessity of having organized states and a leadership that will make sure that the laws are implemented in a fair and just way.
*This is an adaptation of a part of Dr. Jamal Badawi’s series on Islamic Teachings.
** Dr. Jamal Badawi is a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where he teaches in the Departments of Religious Studies and Management.
· System of Rights:
Human Rights in Islam - In Times of War - Justice in Islam - Rights of Citizens in an Islamic State - Treat Them Kindly… Prisoners of War - The Pacifism of Islam - Of Torture and Abuse: Q & A Session
Democracy fuels Islam's rise Religious parties are winning elections in many Middle East countries. But the reasons are different in each case.
By Dilip Hiro
DILIP HIRO is the author of many books, including "Secrets and Lies" and "The Iranian Labyrinth." A longer version of this piece appears at Tomdispatch.com.
January 25, 2006
BY NOW, THE VOTING will have begun in today's Palestinian elections. It's not clear how well Hamas will do, but polls in the Palestinian territories show the Islamic organization gaining quickly on the ruling Fatah party. This is so even though Fatah strategists have plastered the territories with campaign posters of Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader who is running for office while also serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli jail.
This is but the latest manifestation of the rise of political Islam in the electoral politics of the Middle East, a development that — despite the Bush administration's endless promotion of democratic reform in the region — is causing deep worry among top U.S. policy-makers.
Last year began with Islamists winning most of the seats in the first, very limited municipal polls in Saudi Arabia, and ended with the Iraqi religious parties — both Shiite and Sunni — performing handsomely in the December parliamentary elections. The official Iraqi results showed the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance winning almost 80% of the seats that should go to the majority Shiite community. Likewise the Islamic Iraq Party won 80% of the seats to which the Sunni minority is entitled.
In between these polls, in a general election held last summer, Hezbollah — the "Party of God" — emerged as the preeminent representative of Lebanese Shiites, the country's largest sectarian group. And in the first legislative elections not flagrantly rigged by Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 out of the 150 seats it contested.
Put all these events together and you have what looks like a single phenomenon sweeping the region. But focus on them one by one and you see that the reasons for Islamist advances are particular to each country.
Take Iraq's Shiites. Once Iraq became part of the (Sunni) Ottoman Empire in 1638, Shiites were persecuted and discriminated against. Even after the dissolution of the empire, when King Faisal was installed by the British in 1921, little changed. He was Sunni, as were the leaders of the Baath Party that followed him to power.
History shows that persecuted minorities often turn to religion for solace; in Iraq, mosque and religion became the last resort of Shiites.
Once the Baath Party was deposed, the Shiite religious network emerged as the most cohesive and efficient organization in the country. (In the late 1970s, after the fall of the shah's secular regime, Iran saw a similar phenomenon.)
Egypt is another story entirely. By inflicting a swift and humiliating defeat in 1967 to President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Israel delivered a near-fatal blow to Nasser's hopes for the development of secular Arab nationalism in Egypt. In that hour of their downfall, many Egyptians attributed the Israeli victory to Jewish devotion to their religion and, in a similar spirit, turned to Islam for their own spiritual succor. It was at that point that the Muslim Brotherhood, though still an outlawed organization, began gaining popularity.
In more recent years, Mubarak's failure to narrow the gap between a tiny, wealthy elite and the country's impoverished masses has provided the Brotherhood with ever-richer soil in which to plant its utopian and increasingly appealing slogan, "Islam is the solution."
The Palestinian case is altogether different. Israel's 38-year military occupation, with its devastating effect on the everyday lives of the occupied, has spawned a politics with no parallel elsewhere in the Arab world.
For one thing, the ruling Fatah movement suffers from tensions between local leaders in the territories and those who spent years abroad before returning after the 1993 Oslo Accords. Hamas' leadership, in contrast, is almost wholly local.
Because the Palestinian state is not fully formed, followers in the ranks of such parties are able to exercise direct pressure on the leadership. As the government has proved corrupt and inept in administering the Palestinian entity, the ruling party, Fatah, has seen its standing wane. By contrast, Hamas has a history of providing free social services and is not tainted with a history of corruption and cronyism.
In short, although political Islam is ascendant in the emerging electoral politics of the Middle East, the reasons for its successes are varied and specific to each country. This is not a case of "one size fits all." Those who mold public opinion in the U.S. ought to grasp that.
As for the administration's policymakers, they will sooner or later have to face reality and deal with organizations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, just as they have found themselves forced to play ball with the religious parties in an Iraq occupied by their troops.
The following article that appeared in today's Calgary Herald illuminates some of the issues around the relationship between the church and the state. What kind of relationship must exist? How can the ethics of faith influence public life. These are issues that the Islamic societies will also have to grapple with. I hope the Canadian society with it's matured institutions and respect for pluralism will provide models for other countries. From that perspective the conference is important
Think-tank seeks to cure church vs. state imbalance
Group leader wants to avoid 'wall of separation'
Joe Woodard, Calgary Herald
Published: Saturday, May 13, 2006
Canada's only social conservative think-tank, the Centre for Cultural Renewal, is holding a major national conference in Calgary in early June.
The CCR conference theme is The Co-operation of Church and State.
"What we need in Canada is a shift from the language of the separation of church and state to a language of cooperation," says Iain Benson, founding director of the 12-year-old CCR.
"We have to avoid the American vocabulary of the 'wall of separation.' That language was meant to protect the church from the state, but today it's become a way of insulating public life from any influence of faith."
Benson says that within any healthy civil society, there is a distinction -- not a division -- between religion and politics. But any people's faith is an inseparable part of their public life, a source of family stability and a primary motive for law-abiding, philanthropy and cultural contribution.
"We need a vocabulary that steers between the rocks of theocracy and dogmatic secularism," Benson says.
But in the current Canadian climate, he adds, the dogmatic secularism rock looms larger: "Theocracy is a problem, not just in traditional religion; a kind of atheist theocracy is possible."
With more than a dozen speakers in seven sessions, on June 8 and 9, the Co-operation of Church and State conference includes some deep thinkers:
- Illinois-based Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society;
- University of British Columbia historian of religion George Egerton;
- University of Toronto Jewish studies professor and First Things editor David Novak, author of the Jewish Social Contract;
- University of Lethbridge politics professor John von Heyking, author of Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World;
- Statistics Canada senior social scientist and Carleton University professor Paul Reed, whose studies find that the two greatest determinants of volunteerism and generosity in society are parenthood and religious faith.
Local conference speakers include Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry, Calgary Board of Education chairman Gordon Dirks, and St. Mary's University College president Terrence Downey.
Benson says one major battleground between secular statists and religious advocates has been the importance and autonomy of the family.
"Secularists tend to think of the state as omni-competent," he says.
"People of faith tend to see the family as having its own sphere of competence and authority, whether that's the Calvinist notion of sphere sovereignty or the Catholic idea of subsidiarity."
Political scientist von Heyking says the co-operation of church and state raises fundamental questions of politics and political philosophy.
"Do families and religious communities have some sort of independent reality, or are they just agents of the state?" Von Heyking asks.
"And if you say that the legitimacy of rulers comes only from the consent of the ruled, who can give meaningful consent? Arguably, we can give consent really only as members of kinship groups and religious communities, not as isolated individuals."
Western liberty has always been a balancing act between the sovereign authority and the autonomy of "civil society" -- families, churches, trade and labour associations, charities and cultural guilds, von Heyking suggests.
"If you can't get the balance right for families or churches, you're not going to get it right for art guilds," he says with a laugh.
As its normal operations, the CCR hosts an annual Hill Lecture at Parliament and publishes LexView commentaries on legal decisions, the CentrePoints newsletter and CentreBlog.
CCR director of operations Ray Sawatsky says the Calgary conference is the centre's fourth in seven years. It sponsored a 1999 McGill conference on liberalism and religion in Canadian law; a 2000 arts symposium, Leap to Meaning, with 50 working poets, painters and composers; and a 2005 conference in Vancouver on Citizenship and the Common Good.
"Given all the legal actions involving religious belief, it's urgent that we find some common vocabulary for the public square," says Sawatsky.
"Shouting isn't helpful."
CCR director Benson laments the dearth of social conservative think-tanks in Canada. In response to the statism of the 1960s and '70s, the American culture spawned a range of learned conservative institutions like the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, Hudson Institute, Rockford Institute and more.
Canada has conservative economic institutes in the Fraser and C.D. Howe, and conservative activists in the Canada Family Action Coalition or Campaign Life. But with the exception of his own small Centre for Cultural Renewal, there is almost no support for social conservative academics and analysts, and few private universities.
"We're left with a well-meaning but inarticulate grassroots," he muses.
Jewish studies professor David Novak says institutions like CCR are needed to elevate public discourse. Without that, multiculturalism will be misinterpreted and enforced as "people leaving their faith at the door," dumbing down the society.
"Some people look on religious traditions as the enemies of free or multicultural societies," Novak says.
"But different faith traditions share common principles and have always made room for others within their public life."
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