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: email@example.com
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."
On the outer margins of the debate over the place of religion in politics, there are two extreme positions, each fuelling the fundamentalism of the other
Special to the Sun
Published: Monday, September 25, 2006
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Richard Dawkins, a well-known critic of religion, wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper titled "Religion's Misguided Missiles."
In it, he referred to religion as "a ready-made system of mind control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations," which "teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end" and thereby promotes the ideology of the suicide bomber.
Dawkins concludes: "To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used."
Just two days before these remarks were published, Jerry Falwell, in an interview with fellow tele-evangelist Pat Robertson, had attributed the events of 9/11 as a divine retribution for secularism, infamously singling out, in words that he was later forced to retract: "The abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU . . . all of them who have tried to secularize America . . . you made this happen."
Now, religions do not advocate suicide bombing, though there is no doubt that many abuses are carried out in the name of religion. And religions do not need to be theocratic: They can easily co-exist with secular forms of government without attracting divine retribution.
That said, the statements by Dawkins and Falwell are illustrative of two extreme positions in the debate surrounding the place of religion in politics. These positions can be termed secular fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism respectively. They represent the outer margins of this debate, each fuelling the other and helping radicalize the other.
Is there a middle ground in this debate? Is there a legitimate role for religion in politics? And, if not, can religion, especially in the secular societies that we live in, be excluded from politics?
My contention is that religion, properly understood, cannot be excluded from politics for the simple reason that, though it may take the outer form of a political organization -- which can be denied political participation -- religion is in its essence much more than a political medium. It is a participative worldview, a way of seeing the world and ourselves as connected.
Such connection necessarily has political implications. Religious ideas are at their core concerned with making us aware that there is a transcendent dimension to reality -- something beyond the material world of our ordinary perceptions -- which sustains and connects us all. The awareness of this connection entails that we govern our relationships by living in harmony with all things. Thus it is futile to attempt to exclude religion from public life.
However, when religious expression becomes radicalized, it is in danger of transgressing the bounds of civil discourse and abrogating its right to political expression in civil society. It is important therefore to understand how such radicalization occurs to learn how it can be avoided.
One significant way in which religion becomes radicalized is by being falsely excluded from the public sphere. This happens because of misguided secularist notions of the need to muzzle religious expression.
Religion, even in its more benign democratic manifestations, is sometimes perceived as a threat to the political interests of non-democratic regimes, often backed by external powers whose economic or strategic interests are served by the suppression of political dissent. When non-democratic regimes are installed or propped up by such powers, this can have the effect of shunting dissent into religious expression, leading to a politicization of religious institutions and the radicalization of religious views, which emerge from such suppression in a less benign, often violent, form. Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia come to mind.
For example, Saudi Arabia has promoted its own controversial and radical brand of Islam -- Wahhabism -- which favours theocracy over democracy, ideological conformity over pluralism, and brooks little or no religious or political dissent. Yet it is a regime tolerated by dominant western powers because of its economic, political and military alliances with those powers.
The U.S. proxy war against the former Soviet invaders of Afghanistan was fought by Saudi warriors (mujahedeen) and its petro-dollars were used to promote the Wahhabi ideology through mosques and madrassahs, and to finance the Taliban. It is no coincidence that the perpetrators of 9/11 were mostly of Saudi descent. After the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan, radicalized Islam set its sights on battling perceived western injustices (chiefly, the Israeli occupation, and the proxy governments in the Middle East and Iraq), but its real victim has been the pluralistic and moderate message that lies at the heart of Islam.
Ironically and paradoxically, the suppression of this vital message has been, and continues to be, aided by western powers, by their failure to deal with the underlying roots of political and economic injustices, thereby enfeebling moderate expressions of dissent. This plays directly into the hands of radical (often religious) dissenters, who then take centre stage.
The political suppression of moderate religious expression is one of the chief influences of religious fundamentalism. Political suppression radicalizes dissent and influences religions to cling more forcefully to their outer forms, and thereby to lose their "spiritual compass," and the touchstones of pluralism and moderation.
While the outer elements (being the different faith traditions of the world) are what make each religious tradition unique and exclusive, the inner elements of each religion are not unique but universal, reflecting the adage: Truth is one, though its articulations are many. But the effect of political suppression of legitimate religious dissent is to create the conditions in which outer differences are more readily emphasized rather than inner connectedness.
There is a great danger of reducing a religion to merely its outer elements. To do so is to harden it, to reduce it to a mere carapace, to a set of calcified rules and disciplines rather than to a transformative embodiment of adaptable and living spiritual principles.
Another of the principal causes of religious fundamentalism is modernism, to which it is a reaction. This is to some extent Benjamin Barber's thesis of jihad as a reaction to McWorld.
Modernism relies on a way of knowing that is rooted in rational empiricism, and gives little or no credence to the supra-rational intelligence claimed by religions.
The ethos of modernism is materialist progressivism and its "reign of quantity," which emphasizes individualism and secularism over the religious worldview of a hierarchical reality rooted in transcendence, in a sense of the sacred.
Modernism grew to ascendancy in the West in the wake of medieval times, through the Renaissance. It is a worldview that increasingly marginalizes traditional religion, or indeed, any dimension of reality that it cannot empirically ascertain.
By ignoring the "heart" of religion -- and particularly by denying it its central position in our political lives, we risk yielding that central position to more radical elements.
Religion, when it regains its spiritual compass and moral centre, is -- as Rev. Martin Luther King put it -- the conscience of society, and has a vital role to play in our political lives.
Ali Lakhani, a Vancouver litigator, is the editor of The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of Ali ibn Abi Taliband, and founder of the journal, Sacred Web, devoted to reconnecting the modern world with sacred values.
A Moral Philosophy for Middle-Class America
By DAVID BROOKS
Some people are religious conservatives, who believe that policies should align with the transcendent moral order of the universe. Other people are social libertarians, who believe government should be neutral on values issues, and individuals should be guaranteed their own private space to work out their own solutions to moral questions.
But others of us are social traditionalists. We differ from the religious conservatives in that we’re not sure about a transcendent moral order. Furthermore, we think it’s both too sectarian and too lofty to try to pattern government policies on God’s law.
We also disagree with the social libertarians. We don’t think government can be neutral on values issues. Nations are held together by shared beliefs. People flourish because they have been encouraged by society to adopt certain habits and behaviors. It’s a chimera to believe individuals come up with solutions to moral questions alone; human beings are social creatures whose actions and views are profoundly shaped by the social fabric that binds them.
We traditionalists observe that when policies fail, it’s usually because they are based on inaccurate assumptions about human nature. So we don’t base our thinking on the abstract arguments of theology. Nor do we base it on economics, with its image of profit-maximizing individuals. We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like.
We know, for example, that human beings are wired to form attachments with each other. As Daniel Goleman writes in his new book, “Social Intelligence,” the subconscious mind is able to detect nonverbal emotional messages that the conscious mind is not even aware of. Babies cry in sympathy with other infants. Young children use “mirror neurons” to imitate and learn. As adults, our brain and cardiovascular functions are influenced by the people around us, as we instinctively mimic their emotions.
We are engaged, Goleman writes, in endless “protoconversations,” and you get these social contagions. A mood or change can sweep through a group or a nation as people subconsciously mold one another’s behavior.
All of this was anticipated by Adam Smith nearly 250 years ago. In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Smith based his theory of morals on the intense sociability of human beings (rather than on divine law or the idea of maximum individual autonomy). His approach is a starting point for social traditionalists today.
Smith argued that more than just about everything else, people hunger for approval. We feel intense pleasure when we experience the sympathy of others. In a well-structured society, he continues, our desire for sympathy leads us to restrain our selfish or egotistical behaviors.
Furthermore, Smith continues, we not only want to feel praise, we want to feel praiseworthy. We want to act in ways that would deserve praise, if a wise, impartial spectator happened to be watching us. In our best moments, we want to live up to the ideals our society has gradually engraved upon us.
So for Smith, the crucial policy question was: How do you embed people in relationships that will discourage selfish behavior and emotionally reward virtue and self-control?
Today, while the religious conservatives and the social libertarians have their culture war flashpoints — how many crèches can you fit on the head of a publicly funded pin? — the traditionalists are interested in how to strengthen institutions that breed responsible people. How do you encourage marriage at a time when 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock? How can you embed young men in American cities, or in Iraq, in the constructive world of work, so they won’t drift into the world of violence? How can you build preschool programs so children from chaotic homes will have at least one stable place to develop self-control? How can you assimilate immigrants so they will internalize the social norms of the United States? How can parents keep cultural garbage out of their homes?
In the 1980’s, Smith was known as the apostle of free-market capitalism. But these days attention has shifted over to his social philosophy. The culture war has become self-parodic, so people are hungry for a morality that is neither absolutist nor nihilistic. As the economy has opened up opportunities, it’s become clear many people lack the cultural capital to take advantage of them.
A Republican Party in danger of dividing between religious conservatives on the one side and libertarians on the other might return to these traditionalist values after the coming deluge.
The recent Der Spiegel Interview of Hazar Imam is an eye opener. Too often Religion and Politic is confused. I think each reply of this interview is worth a thousands books.
October 12, 2006, 02:34 PM
Interview of H.H. the Aga Khan
Interview conducted by Stefan Aust and Erich Follath.
"Islam Is a Faith of Reason"
Karim Aga Khan IV, descendant of the prophet Muhammad and spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims, discusses the foundations of his faith, the controversy over the pope's recent statements about Islam and ways of preventing a global clash between religions.
SPIEGEL: Your Highness, in a lecture Pope Benedict XVI quoted Emperor Manuel as saying: "Show me just what Muhammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as a command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." This quotation from the 14th century has caused great uproar in the Muslim world. Why? And what was your reaction?
Aga Khan: From my point of view, I would start by saying that I was concerned about this statement because this has caused great unhappiness in the Islamic world. There appears to be momentum towards more and more misunderstandings between religions, a degradation of relations. I think we all should try not to add anything to worsen the situation.
SPIEGEL: Benedict XVI did explicitly dissociate himself from the emperor's quoted statement. The pope's own position with regard to his lecture is that he wanted it to promote a dialogue; and since then, several times, he has expressed his respect for the world religion that is Islam. Was it just an unfortunate choice of words? Or was he deliberately misunderstood?
Aga Khan: I do not wish to pass judgement on that, nor can I. And it might also be unreasonable for me to presume that I know what he meant. But that (medieval) period in history, to my knowledge, was one of the periods of extraordinary theological exchanges and debates between the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world. A fascinating time. The emperor's statement does not reflect that, so I think it is somewhat out of context.
SPIEGEL: The theme of Pope Benedict's lecture was different, it was one of his favorites: the link between faith and reason which, he said, implies a rejection of any link between religion and violence. Is that something you could agree on?
Aga Khan: If you interpret his speech as one about faith and reason then I think that the debate is very exciting and could be enormously constructive between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world. So I have two reactions to the pope's lecture: There is my concern about the degradation of relations and, at the same time, I see an opportunity. A chance to talk about a serious, important issue: the relationship between faith and logic.
SPIEGEL: If the pope were to invite you to take part with other religious leaders in a debate about faith, reason and violence, would you accept?
Aga Khan: Yes, definitely. I would, however, make the point that an ecumenical discussion at a certain stage will meet certain limits. Therefore I would prefer to talk more about a cosmopolitan ethic stemming from all of Earth's great faiths.
SPIEGEL: Does Islam have a problem with reason?
Aga Khan: Not at all. Indeed, I would say the contrary. Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God's creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason.
SPIEGEL: So, what are the root causes of terrorism?
Aga Khan: Unsolved political conflicts, frustration and, above all, ignorance. Nothing that was born out of a theological conflict.
SPIEGEL: Which political conflicts do you mean?
Aga Khan: The ones in the Middle East and in Kashmir, for example. These conflicts have remained unresolved for decades. There is a lack of urgency in understanding that the situation there deteriorates, it's like a cancer. If you are not going to act on a cancer early enough, ultimately it's going to create terrible damage. It can become a breeding ground for terrorism.
Now to the issue of spreading faith by the sword: All faiths at some time in their history have used war to protect themselves or expand their influence, and there were situations when faiths have been used as justifications for military actions. But Islam does not call for that, it is a faith of peace.
SPIEGEL: It's true that horrible crimes were committed in the name of Christianity, for example by the crusaders. That was long ago, that's the past. But jihadists commit their crimes now, in our times.
Aga Khan: It is not so far in the past that we have seen bloody fights in the Christian world. Look at Northern Ireland. If we Muslims interpreted what happened there as a correct expression of Protestantism and Catholicism or even as the essence of the Christian faith you would simply say we don't know what we are talking about.
SPIEGEL: "The West (will stand) against the Rest" wrote Professor Samuel Huntington in his famous book "Clash of Civilizations." Is such a conflict, such a clash inevitable?
Aga Khan: I prefer to talk about a clash of ignorance. There is so much horrible, damaging, dangerous ignorance.
SPIEGEL: Which side is responsible?
Aga Khan: Both. But essentially the Western world. You would think that an educated person in the 21st century should know something about Islam; but you look at education in the Western world and you see that Islamic civilizations have been absent. What is taught about Islam? As far as I know -- nothing. What was known about Shiism before the Iranian revolution? What was known about the radical Sunni Wahhabism before the rise of the Taliban? We need a big educational effort to overcome this. Rather than shouting at each other, we should be learning to listen to each other. In the way we used to do it, by working together, with mutual give-and-take. Together we brought about some of the highest achievements of human civilization. There is a lot to build on. But I think you cannot build on ignorance.
SPIEGEL: Nonethless, it is striking that a particularly large number of Muslim-dominated states figure among the most backward and undemocratic states in the world. Is Islam in need of an era of enlightment? Is the faith even incompatible with democracy as others claim?
Aga Khan: As I said before, one has to be fair. Some of the political leaders have inherited problems that are in no way attributable to the faith. New governance solutions have to be tested and validated over time. Nor do I believe Muslim states are systematically economic underperformers. Some of the fastest growing economies and some of the most successful newly industrialized countries are in the Islamic world. Now concerning democracy: My democratic beliefs do not go back to the Greek or French (thinkers) but to an era 1,400 years ago. These are the principles underlying my religion. During the prophet's life (peace be upon him), there was a systematic consultative political process. And the first imam of the Shiites, Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, emphasized: "No honor is like knowledge, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation."
SPIEGEL: If pluralism, civil society and Islam can coexist harmoniously, as was proven in the past, then why is this so seldom achieved nowadays?
Aga Khan: I think we have a very diverse situation in the Islamic world. Wealthy countries with enormous ressources, newly industrialized countries, extremely poor ones.
SPIEGEL: Not many are functioning democracies.
Aga Khan: People speak about failed states. I do not think that states can fail, but democracies certainly can. The failure of democracy is not specific to the Islamic world. Indeed, about two years ago, the United Nations carried out an in-depth analysis of democracy in South America. About 55 percent of the population in South American states said that they would prefer to live under a paternalistic dictatorship instead of an incompetent or corrupt democracy that is not improving their living condition.
SPIEGEL: Most of your Ismaili constituency lives in states that cannot be called perfect democracies: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. What makes democracies fail?
Aga Khan: I ask myself every day what we can do to sustain the multiple forms of democracy, to make these forms of government work, whether it is in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East.
SPIEGEL: And what do you believe to be the answer?
Aga Khan: I admit that I live in a mood of frustration. What is the point in these areas of the world of carrying out a referendum in a population that essentially cannot read and write? What is the point in testing a constitution with a population that knows no difference between a presidential regime or a constitutional monarchy? Elections, constitutions -- all this is necessary, but not sufficient. I think we have to accept that countries have different histories, different social structures, different needs, so we have to be a great deal more flexible than we have been.
SPIEGEL: Nor is democracy monolithic. The American model of democracy is no panacea for the rest of the world. Has George W. Bush aggrevated the situation with his particular way of bringing democracy to the Middle East? Can the United States still win the war in Iraq?
Aga Khan: I am very, very worried about Iraq. The invasion of Iraq had an impact across the world like nothing before in modern times. The invasion has unleashed every force in the Islamic world, including the relations between the Arabs and non-Arabs and the relationship between the Shia und the Sunni.
SPIEGEL: You mean the war created a new terrorist base and radicalized people?
Aga Khan: Indeed. It mobilized a large number of people across the Islamic world, who before then were not involved, and indeed I think they did not want to be.
SPIEGEL: Do you share the view of the American professor and Islam expert Vali Nasr that the balance of power in the Muslim world is undergoing a decisive shift, that Shiites could become the most influential force from Baghdad to Beirut, that the future of the Middle East will be shaped by wars between different Muslim factions?
Aga Khan: When the invasion of Iraq took place, we were told two things: (that there would be) regime change and democracy. Well, anyone who knew the situation in Iraq, as you did, I did, but what did that mean? That meant a Shia majority; it could not have been otherwise. Anyone who then concludes that the next issue is a Shia majority in Iraq is going to start thinking, What does that mean in the region, what does it mean in the Islamic world, what does it mean in relation to the West? All that was as clear as daylight, you didn't even have to be a Muslim or a scholar to know that.
SPIEGEL: In your opinion, was it pure ignorance and naivete that made the Bush government start the war? Was it really about introducing democracy or a strategic decision about conquering oil fields and military bases?
Aga Khan: I wish I could answer that question.
SPIEGEL: Are you in contact with the religious leaders in Iraq, like Grand Ayatollah Sistani? And with the religious leaders of Iran as well?
Aga Khan: We have frequent contacts with important personalities in both countries.
SPIEGEL: What would it take to get you to go to the region as a mediator?
Aga Khan: This is, at the moment, not one of my priorities. One day maybe, we might consider (participating in the) reconstruction (effort).
SPIEGEL: When you compare the invasion in Iraq with the one in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida worked hand in hand ...
Aga Khan: ... there I see a completely different picture. First of all, the Afghan regime at the time was quasi totally detested by the people; it was equally unpleasant for Sunnis as it was the for Shias and it was totally unacceptable I think just in terms of overall civilized life.
SPIEGEL: Afghanistan is currently being confronted with major problems and the situation seems to be deteriorating by the hour. What went wrong? And what can the West do to make the situation more stable?
Aga Khan: The security situation is indeed very worrying -- it is getting worse, especially in the south. Most of our projects are in the capital and in the north where (the situation) is better but not satisfying. We can supply energy from Tajikistan, we can provide civil services. We try to avoid the danger that certain areas in Afghanistan will be rehabilitated more quickly than others. If this development overlaps with ethnic divides you have another problem. But the main problem is that most people in Afghanistan have not seen an improvement in their daily lives. The process of reconstruction does not seem to be penetrating. We have not succeded in bringing a culture of hope to this country. One of the central lessons I have learned after a half century of working in the developing world is that the replacement of fear by hope is probably the most powerful trampoline of progress.
SPIEGEL: President Karzai is a personal friend of yours. Many people see him as a weak leader, and some call him "Mayor of Kabul" because he is unable to control large parts of the country.
Aga Khan: We should do everything to help him. He has an enomously complex agenda to deal with. He is our best hope. And besides, he is the elected leader and we have to work with the parliament.
SPIEGEL: Even if warlords and a former members of the Taliban are represented in Afghanistan's parliament?
Aga Khan: You either accept the results of democracy or you don't. Otherwise you talk about qualifying democracy.
SPIEGEL: That means the West should deal with the radical Islamist Hamas as well?
Aga Khan: You have to work with whoever the population has elected as long as they are willing to respect what I call cosmopolitan ethics. Now, it's true that Hamas has a record of conflict ...
SPIEGEL: ... of outright terror ...
Aga Khan: ... but it would not be the only time that movements that have such a record make it into parliament, and even end up in charge of government later on. Can I remind you of Jomo Kenyatta and his Mau Mau movement in Kenya, for example, or the ANC in South Africa? Take away the causes of extremism and extremists can come back to a more reasonable political agenda. That change to me is one of the wonderful things about the human race.
SPIEGEL: You know Syria's president, Bashar Assad, very well. You recently visited him again in Damascus. In contrast to the American administration, the German government is trying to get him involved in the Middle East peace process.
Aga Khan: I would like to compliment the German government and others in Europe who have taken the decision to invite President Assad to be a party to the peace process. The process of change from decades of political directionalism is something that needs time, as you saw in East Germany. I think there are many reasons to go out of our way to assist Syria in making the transition from the past to the future.
SPIEGEL: If you look back at the years that have passed since World War II -- the Cold War between the East and the West, the ideological conflict with communism -- would you ever have thought that this conflict could be replaced by one between the West and radical Islamists?
Aga Khan: I beg you, please get away from the concept of a conflict of religion. It is not such a conflict. Nobody will ever convince me that the faith of Islam, that Christianity, that Judaism will fight each other in our times -- they have too much in common. That's why I am talking about this global ethic which unites us all. That's why we are trying to work with the Catholic Church in Portugal on a program aimed at immigant minorities. I am aware of a sense of disaffection with the society that many young Muslims feel because they think that the Western society has the intention of marginalizing or damaging them.
SPIEGEL: The German government just organized a conference with many different Muslim groups and personalities who live in Germany. Do you consider such a forum useful or is it just window dressing?
Aga Khan: We can avoid misunderstandings by having such a forum where people from different faiths consult each other so they understand what really affects them. Once you have committed an offense all you can do is to try and reverse it. Anyone who knows the faith of Islam, for example, would have known that the caricatures of the prohet were profoundly offensive to all Muslims.
SPIEGEL: Again, this whole affair was misused by radical Islamists. They added caricatures much more offensive than the original ones to incite the masses.
Aga Khan: But I am told that there was an internal debate between the editors of that publication and they actually knew what they were doing. They took a risk and somebody should have said to them, Why get into that situation? Now we are talking about civility, which is a completely different concept. If we are talking about civility in a pluralist society, then how do you develop that notion of civility, particularly where there is ignorance. And that's the thing that's worrying. And that's why I get frustrated when I see these situations that go on and on and on. Because I'm not willing to believe that they are all inspired by evil intent.
SPIEGEL: Provocative, sad and distasteful. But the freedom of the press is one of the highest values in our democracy. We have to balance one thing against the other and we will allow non-believers to express even outrageous opinions.
Aga Khan: I think that you are now referring to one of the most difficult problems that we have and I don't know the answer. The industrialized West is highly secularized; the Muslim world is much less secularized and that stems largely from the nature of the faith of Islam, which you know and I know has an intrinsic meshing with everyday life. And that is a scenario where people of goodwill need to think very, very carefully.
SPIEGEL: In some of your speeches you mentioned Kemal Atatürk in a positive context. Turkey followed his path and is one of the very few countries with a predominant Muslim population where there is separation of church and state. Would you like to see others go the same way?
Aga Khan: I am not opposed to secularism as such. But I am opposed to unilateral secularism where the notions of faith and ethics just disappear from society.
SPIEGEL: Your Highness, we thank you for this interview.
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is considered to be the direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad and, as the 49th imam, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims. A minority community within the Muslim faith, the Ismailis include some 20 million members scattered across 25 countries in Central Asia, Europe and Eastern Africa. The Aga Khan himself lives near Paris in Aiglemont Palace. Born near Geneva, the prince grew up in Kenya, Switzerland and London before being educated at Harvard. At the age of 20, he succeeded his grandfather as the Aga Khan, thus becoming a religious leader and the administrator of billions in assets. Fed by his family inheritance and a 10 percent tithing fee from Ismaili Muslims, the Aga Khan channels much of the money into the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world's most important private development aid organizations. The Aga Khan has two sons from his first marriage - - Rahim, 34, and Hussein, 32. He also has a son from his second marriage to the German princess Gabriele zu Leiningen - - six- year- old Ali Mohammed. The Aga Khan must name one of his sons as his successor, but that choice will remain a secret until his death.
The following article illustrates how things can get muddled up if faith becomes a political instrument.
November 16, 2006
Putting Faith Before Politics
By DAVID KUO
SINCE 1992, every national Republican electoral defeat has been accompanied by an obituary for the religious right. Every one of these obituaries has been premature — after these losses, the religious right only grew stronger. After the defeat of President George H. W. Bush in 1992, the conventional wisdom held that Christian evangelicals would be chastened. As one major magazine put it, Mr. Bush’s defeat meant that “time had run out on their crusade to create a Christian America.” Yet in the next two years, the Christian Coalition grew by leaps and bounds; in 1994, it helped usher in the Gingrich revolution.
In 1996, after Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole, Margaret Tutwiler, a Republican strategist, declared that in order for Republicans to win, “We’re going to have to take on the religious nuts.” Two years later, after Republicans failed to gain any ground on Democrats — despite Mr. Clinton’s impeachment — John Zogby, the pollster, concluded that “Christian absolutism” scared voters. Wrong again. Those same Christian “absolutists” helped sweep George W. Bush into office in 2000.
Jesus was resurrected only once. The religious right has been resurrected at least twice in just the past 15 years.
The conventional wisdom about the Democratic thumping of Republicans last week says something a little different about the religious right — that its members are beginning to migrate to the Democratic Party. The statistic that is exciting Democrats the most is that nearly 30 percent of white evangelicals, the true Republican base, voted Democratic. In addition, the red-blue split of weekly churchgoers has narrowed. Commentators are atwitter about the shrinking “God gap.”
Once again, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Yes, it is true that almost 30 percent of white evangelicals voted for the Democrats, up from the 22 percent Senator John Kerry received in the 2004 presidential race. But that 2004 number was aberrantly low. More typical were exit polls from the 1996 Congressional election, where 25 percent of white evangelicals voted for Democrats.
So before rearranging their public policy agenda in hopes of attracting evangelicals, the Democrats would be wise to think twice. There has been a radical change in the attitudes of evangelicals — it’s just not one that will automatically be in the Democrats’ favor.
You see, evangelicals aren’t re-examining their political priorities nearly as much as they are re-examining their spiritual priorities. That could be bad news for both political parties.
John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, the conservative Christian organization that gained notoriety during the 1990s when it represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton, wrote this after the elections: “Modern Christianity, having lost sight of Christ’s teachings, has been co-opted by legalism, materialism and politics. Simply put, it has lost its spirituality.”
He went on, “Whereas Christianity was once synonymous with charity, compassion and love for one’s neighbor, today it is more often equated with partisan politics, anti-homosexual rhetoric and affluent mega-churches.”
Mr. Whitehead is hardly alone. Just before the elections, Gordon MacDonald, an evangelical leader, wrote that he was concerned that some evangelical personalities had been seduced and used by the White House. He worried that the movement might “fragment because it is more identified by a political agenda that seems to be failing and less identified by a commitment to Jesus and his kingdom.”
Certainly, the White House showed the heartlessness of politics in Ted Haggard’s fall. Mr. Haggard had once been welcomed at the White House, relied on to rally other evangelicals and invited to pray with the president.
Yet his downfall provoked only this reaction from a low-level White House spokesman: “He had been on a couple of calls, but was not a weekly participant in those calls. I believe he’s been to the White House one or two times.” To evangelicals who know that this statement was misleading, and know from the Bible what being kicked to the curb looks like, it was a revealing moment about the unchristian behavior politics inspires.
Perhaps that’s why a rift appears to be growing in what was once a strong alliance. Beliefnet.com’s post-election online survey of more than 2,000 people revealed that nearly 40 percent of evangelicals support the idea of a two-year Christian “fast” from intense political activism. Instead of directing their energies toward campaigns, evangelicals would spend their time helping the poor.
Why might such an idea get traction among evangelicals? For practical reasons as well as spiritual ones. Evangelicals are beginning to see the effect of their political involvement on those with whom they hope to share Jesus’ eternal message: non-evangelicals. Tellingly, Beliefnet’s poll showed that nearly 60 percent of non-evangelicals have a more negative view of Jesus because of Christian political involvement; almost 40 percent believe that George W. Bush’s faith has had a negative impact on his presidency.
There is also the matter of the record, which I saw being shaped during my time in the White House. Conservative Christians (like me) were promised that having an evangelical like Mr. Bush in office was a dream come true. Well, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The administration accomplished little that evangelicals really cared about.
Nowhere was this clearer than on the issue of abortion. Despite strong Republican majorities, and his own pro-life stands, Mr. Bush settled for the largely symbolic partial-birth abortion restriction rather than pursuing more substantial change. Then there were the forgotten commitments to give faith-based charities the resources they needed to care for the poor. Evangelicals are not likely to fall for such promises in the future.
Don’t expect conservative Christians in politics to start to disappear, of course. There are those who find the moral force of issues like abortion and gay marriage equal to that of the abolition of slavery — worth pursuing no matter what the risks of politics are for the soul. But the advocates working these special interests may, I think, be far fewer in coming years than in years past. Gay marriage was a less mobilizing force in 2006 than it was in 2004. In Arizona the ballot measure to outlaw it was defeated. The South Dakota abortion ban failed.
We will have to wait until 2008 to see just how deep this evangelical spiritual re-examination goes, and how seductive politics will continue to be to committed Christians. Meanwhile, evangelicals aren’t flocking to the Democratic Party. If anything, they are becoming more truly conservative in their recognition of the negative spiritual consequences of political obsession and of the limitations of government power.
C. S. Lewis once warned that any Christian who uses his faith as a means to a political end would corrupt both his faith and the faith writ large. A lot of Christians are reading C. S. Lewis these days.
David Kuo, the deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2001 to 2003, is the author of “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.”
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Turkish voters to decide between headscarves or a secular state
Muslim nation has long been western-oriented
CanWest News Service
Saturday, July 21, 2007
CREDIT: Fatih Saribas, Reuters
Supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan cheer as they wave the Turkish and AK Party flags, as Erdogan appears on stage during a rally by his ruling AK Party to campaign for Sunday's early parliamentary elections, in Turkey's Black Sea city of Trabzon on Friday.
Turks voting in parliamentary elections Sunday are focused on issues such as how to keep the vibrant economy racing ahead, preventing the rise of Kurdish power in northern Iraq from spilling over into Turkey's Kurdish areas, and whether to continue trying to win membership in the European Union.
But the most emotive issue by far is whether this country of 70 million, which forms a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, should remain secular and western-oriented, as it has been since Kemal Ataturk founded the republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire more than 80 years ago, or draw closer to its Islamist roots.
And if Turkey decides to turn towards Islam, will the staunchly secular Turkish military launch another coup?
Didem Mercan plans to vote for the Republican People's Party, which was founded by Ataturk, because she fears the Islamist connections of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
She worries that, if the AKP wins a second majority in parliament, it could force women to wear headscarves. Clad in blue jeans and a summery blouse, her fingernails painted bright red, the 23-year old communications student is a walking advertisement for her belief that "religion should have no place in my personal life, and I am prepared to fight for that right."
Mesut Topcu, on the other hand, said he intends to vote for the AKP because, since it won power in November 2002, the authorities have stopped hassling men in the deeply conservative Istanbul suburb of Fatih about wearing the skullcaps, baggy trousers and long beards of pious Muslims.
Topcu, an electrical engineer, was unequivocal about the value of headscarves, which remain banned in schools and government offices but are commonly worn by women in Fatih, as are black, Iranian-style full-body chadors. "I am sad for a woman who does not cover herself. She will go to hell on judgment day."
The public expression of such sharp differences in opinion is relatively new in Turkey, but the debate is actually many centuries old.
The country's population is about 98 per cent Muslim, but its history has been profoundly influenced by geography. In the northwest and northeast, Turkey is bordered by Christian Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia, while in the east and south, it sits alongside Muslim Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is also the only Muslim nation in NATO.
Istanbul, Turkey's largest city with a population of 12 million, has always felt the pull of east and west particularly keenly. Famously divided by the Bosporus Strait into European and Asian parts, Constantinople, as it was called until 77 years ago, is home to spectacular mosques and minarets as well as the Orthodox Church's oldest patriarchate.
Although he was Muslim, Ataturk replaced sharia law with a Swiss-style legal system. Women were given the vote, veils were banned, drinking alcohol was permitted, and Latin script replaced Arabic letters.
Many secularists are convinced that some of those fundamental changes are now at risk if the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins another parliamentary majority.
"They are really Islamists and we believe that they wear a mask right now, trying to pretend that they aren't," said architect Eliz Ofil, 25, sitting in a smart cafe, watching huge tankers and freighters from Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and many other countries gingerly navigate the narrow Bosporus artery between the Mediterranean and Black seas.
Metres away, Egeman Bargis, an AKP deputy and Erdogan's chief foreign policy adviser, did not hide his contempt for such views.
"This is not a difference of opinion between Islamists and secularists. It is a difference of opinion between those who want more democracy or less. The opposition has tried at every chance to create tension."
Although some of the AKP's most prominent members have Islamist ties, the party has not spoken much about religion since it emerged as a grassroots movement a few years ago. It has positioned itself on the centre-right and concentrated, with considerable success, on pursuing internationalist economic policies. Turkey's GDP has risen more than seven per cent per year since 2003, per-capita income has more than doubled, and inflation has been reduced to single digits for the first time in decades.
But the AKP crossed a line with the military when it proposed Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a practising Muslim whose wife covers her head, as its choice for president.
In what was dubbed an e-coup, the military derailed the plan last April by posting on its website a warning about a "growing threat" to Turkey's secular practices.
Erdogan's response, however, was to seek a new mandate by calling early parliamentary elections.
There are indications that the military may have misjudged the public mood, or perhaps didn't care what it was.
Polls suggest that the AKP's share of the vote will increase to more than 40 per cent from 34, largely because of a backlash against the military's stance.
Paradoxically, though, although the prime minister's party is more popular than ever in religiously conservative rural areas, and is gaining support in urban areas because of its economic policies, the AKP may actually win fewer seats.
That's because of an awkward electoral system that only allows parties with more than 10 per cent of the vote to have representation in the 550-seat parliament.
By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
July 20, 2007; Page A13
Sunday's parliamentary elections here will make for yet another chapter in the long clash between secularism and Islam in Turkey.
Simmering disputes between partisans on both sides came to a boil with May's presidential elections. Street protests against the ruling and religiously oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its candidate for president encouraged the army chiefs to stage the softest of their "soft coups" -- in this case a midnight Internet missive warning that "some circles . . . disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism." Turkey's highest court, another secular bastion, got the message and followed up with a technical, but patently political, ruling on parliamentary quorums. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily withdrew his candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül (who was assured to win the presidency in a straight parliament vote). To defuse tensions, early parliamentary elections were called and the presidential vote postponed.
None of it was very legitimate and the relief is bound to be temporary. With a wide lead in polls, Mr. Erdogan will almost certainly return and demand to pick the next president and push a constitutional overhaul to give his party a freer hand. The military, long the stewards of Kemal Atatürk's secular Republic, may be tempted to push back, perhaps not so softly this time. Kurdish terrorism in the southeast and the European Union's latest anxiety attack over Turkey's membership bid further complicate the outlook. Yet in spite of the turmoil, Turkey has never been as prosperous or free as it is now, and stands a betting chance of pulling through.
Even secularists acknowledge that Atatürk's 1923 design for modern Turkey -- with its fanatical opposition to religion in public life -- is overdue for an update. The surprise is that the AKP has taken the modernization mantle from them. Aside from well-publicized exceptions such as Mr. Erdogan's thwarted attempt to criminalize adultery, the AKP has made its mark by opening up the economy and by liberalizing laws on women's and Kurdish rights, free speech and civil liberties. And in an unfortunate role reversal, the once pro-Western secular parties have turned against the political and economic reforms demanded by the EU and backed by the AKP.
For a glimpse of the new Turkey, where economic growth has averaged 7% annually since 2001, look around Istanbul. Right off the Bosporus are gleaming business districts, garish nightclubs and bustling street scenes straight out of London or New York. Further inland the lower- and lower-middle class suburbs, called varos, are rising. With a million people in the 1950s, Turkey's commercial hub is today home, officially, to 10 million, but probably far more. Most of the new residents migrated from rural areas.
The old urban order, accustomed to running the country, is unsettled by its new neighbors, their village habits and mores. Ilber Ortayli, the director of the Topkapi palace in Istanbul and a noted historian of the Ottomans, despairs at the sight of "these peasants," whose women tend to cover their heads with scarves and whose men wear moustaches.
The mustachioed Mr. Erdogan, a former businessman and Istanbul mayor, himself emerged from the varos, and later tapped into massive support there for his AKP. The party's pro-business and anti-corruption planks, as well as pledges to loosen restrictions on wearing headscarves that date back to the Republic's early years, play well with this constituency of entrepreneurial and socially-conservative shopkeepers and blue-collar workers -- many of whom lately made the jump into the middle class. The AKP has injected funds for schools along with other goodies into the varos -- Islamist pork, so to speak.
But the AKP is hardly radical in its Islamic orientation. Its leaders were chastened by their brief stints in power in the 1990s; they've adopted and mostly stuck to a liberal agenda this time. The party bridges the traditional and modern world. To claim around 40% in recent polls, the AKP needs to attract its share of secular voters.
In this campaign, AKP leaders are able to claim credit for overseeing the growth of a sophisticated market economy, which like its democracy also makes Turkey unique in the Muslim world. The AKP pushed the most far-reaching privatization in Turkey's history. Corporate, income and sales taxes were cut. Unusually for the region, growth was driven by private consumption and investment, as the government kept a tight lid on its own spending. Turks who work outside the state sector showed their business chops, with exports up three-fold in the last five years. Foreign investment is 10 times the 2002 figure, at $20 billion last year.
Though there is widespread agreement that Turkey is headed in the right economic direction, cultural issues such as the headscarf are the focus of bitter debate. As in Atatürk's model, France, Turkey legislates on women's clothing, banning headscarves in schools and government offices. The AKP claims to want to institute positive rights to let women wear whatever wherever they please. The secularists see a slippery slope to enforced piety if the law is changed.
True enough, more girls in Turkish cities can be seen in headscarves than a decade or two ago. But is this a sign of rising Islamism? Or of Turkey's new economic and social pluralism?
As with much else, gender roles have shifted dramatically so that the headscarf doesn't automatically signal provincialism, submission or lack of education. Secular or not, women are asserting themselves in politics and business. The activist women's NGOs linked to the AKP gave rise to the term "Islamic feminism." Another irony is that the AKP has pushed women's rights further than any government since Atatürk abolished polygamy and Islamist courts. As part of an overhaul of the 1926 Penal Code, the AKP criminalized rape in marriage, eliminated sentence reductions for "honor killings," and ended legal discrimination against non-virgin and unmarried women.
They aren't noted feminists, but the men of AKP knew these changes were popular with women constituents and the EU. "With the new Penal Code," notes a European Stability Initiative report, "Turkey's legislation entered the post-patriarchal era." Needless to say, the secularists who accused the AKP of repressing women at the big protests in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir this spring give them little credit.
Mr. Erdogan makes no secret of wanting to relieve pressure on "social Islam." But secularists charge he secretly wants to implant "political Islam," which in the name of democracy would destroy it.
Anecdotes about alcohol bans in AKP strongholds or teachers bringing religion into classroom made headlines in Turkey's lively press, but are hardly proof of systematic Islamization. Lacking that, secularists fall back on speculation about the AKP's ulterior motives. Orhan Pamuk, who last year won Turkey's first Nobel, for literature, once told me, "Every time there's a political debate in this country we don't discuss what's really happening but what are the hidden intentions."
So what is happening? With the economic and political flowering of recent years has come a cultural and religious one too. According to one recent survey, 61% of Turks call themselves "very" or "quite" religious, compared with 31% in 1999. But Turks are also developing a clearer civic identity separate from Islam. The share of people who describe themselves first as "citizens of Turkey" -- as opposed to ethnic Turks or Muslims -- went up to 34.1% in 2006, from 29.9% seven years ago.
They're souring on political Islam, too. Opposition to the imposition of Shariah (Islamic law) rose from 67.9% in 1999 to 76.2% in 2006, while support for it fell from 21% to 9%. Meanwhile, the overall number of women in headscarves is dropping steadily. This just goes to show that prosperity and democracy tends to secularize without need for coercion.
The last three months have left voters bitter about politics. Mr. Erdogan's thin skin and arrogance can make the general staff look the model of civility; as a bunch, Turkish politicians aren't a pretty lot. But the flexible AKP machine responded to the crisis in the spring by purging 150 of its most hardline MPs from the electoral list and moving the party further into the mainstream. Independents are expected to claim a larger, possibly decisive block of seats. Political compromise is not a bad thing, as long as Turkey doesn't revert back to do-nothing coalition governments.
America can do worse than strongly encourage the Turks to play by democratic rules, especially by keeping the military in the barracks. Continued European engagement on future EU membership -- in jeopardy thanks to Continental politicians unable to think strategically (the latest being France's Nicolas Sarkozy) -- helps guide domestic reforms. Turkey is a crucial NATO state that borders Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus, Balkans and Mideast.
And though not an Arab country -- an important cultural and historical distinction -- Turkey is on a journey toward becoming a mature democratic nation-state that its Mideast neighbors have barely started, but are watching closely. In the past few years, Turks asked hard questions about themselves. Can Turkey stick together if Kurds get minority rights? What if discussion of the 1915 Armenian massacres is opened up? If women wear headscarves in schools? If the army stays out of politics? Most fundamentally, can public space be carved out in a Muslim country for Islam in a way that safeguards the rights of believers and nonbelievers and strengthens democracy in the process?
How unfortunate it would be to fail to get answers, and if this remarkable period in Turkish history were -- in the name of some 1920s-era notion of secularism -- prematurely brought to an end. Such an outcome would lead to the conclusion that Muslim polities are incorrigibly illiberal, unable to stomach real democracy. Though their politics are messy, the Turks give us good reason to believe otherwise.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Nearly 90,000 followers of a hard-line Muslim group packed a stadium in the Indonesian capital Sunday, calling for the creation of an Islamic state.
Hizbut Tahrir, a Sunni organization with an estimated 1 million members, is banned in some Asian and Arab countries, but drew supporters from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to Indonesia for a meeting of the group that is held every two years.
Speeches called for the return of the caliphate, or Islamic statehood, across the Muslim world. The crowd, divided into sections for women and men, roared in support.
"We need to carry this message from every corner from the east to west, so that on judgment day we can be proud," said Salim Frederick of Hizbut Tahrir's English branch.
The freedom of expression that Muslims enjoy in Indonesia is a luxury compared to most other countries, said Hassan Ko Nakata of the Japanese Muslim Association.
High school teacher Erni Tri, 40, said she drove two hours with her husband and three children to attend the prayers, music and speeches in Jakarta.
Hizbut Tahrir "is firm and uncompromising toward un-Islamic cultures," she said. "It is driven by love for Allah and has no hidden agenda to get votes or power."
The group has said it does not support violence to obtain its objective.
Speakers from England and Australia, Imran Waheed and Sheikh Ismail al Wahwah, were deported upon arrival in Indonesia, a spokesman said. It was not immediately clear why they were not allowed to attend.
"Those responsible for this are being paranoid," Ismail Yusanto told reporters. "This has hurt our right of freedom of expression."
Though Hizbut Tahrir's rallies are usually peaceful, the U.S. Embassy last week cautioned its citizens against going near the gathering, noting that some recent demonstrations in Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim nation — have turned violent.
CNN is screening a compelling, six-hour examination of the growing collision between religion and politics next week.
Christiane Amanpour, the network's chief international correspondent, spent months preparing God's Warriors, which will run from Tuesday, Aug. 21 to Thursday, Aug. 23.
It's an examination of millions of Jews, Muslims and Christians who share a deep dissatisfaction with modern, secular society.
"These are people who view the world through a religious prism," says Amanpour. "They want God back in the centre of their lives and it's a battle they say they can't afford to lose."
The series opens Tuesday with God's Jewish Warriors, which looks at settlers who view the occupation of the contested West Bank as fulfilling biblical prophecy. Amanpour also examines the growing alliance between conservative American evangelicals and Israel.
God's Muslim Warriors notes young Muslims in the U.S. are twice as likely as their parents to attend a mosque and to view themselves as Muslims first and Americans second.
For Thursday's final chapter, God's Christian Warriors, Amanpour talked at length with Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, just a week before he died of heart failure in mid-May.
Through his Liberty University, Falwell said he was "trying to raise a generation of young people who will confront the (secular) culture."
Amanpour notes one-third of Americans surveyed want to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools and replace it with creationism.
God's Warriors, which runs at 7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday on CNN (Ch. 29), will interest both those within faith communities and those who view organized religion as a negative force.
August 29, 2007
Turk With Islamic Ties Is Elected President
By SABRINA TAVERNISE and SEBNEM ARSU
ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 28 — An observant Muslim with a background in Islamic politics was voted in on Tuesday as president, breaking an 84-year grip on power by the secular establishment and ushering a new religious middle class from Turkey’s heartland into the center of the staunchly secular state.
Lawmakers approved Abdullah Gul, a 56-year-old economist, with 339 votes, far above the simple majority required in the 550-member Parliament. Two candidates shared another 83 votes. The main party of the secular establishment boycotted the balloting.
The selection of Mr. Gul ended four months of political standoff that began when Turkey’s secular establishment and military, vehemently opposed to his candidacy, blocked it in May, forcing a national election last month.
But Mr. Gul’s party, Justice and Development, refused to back down, and his success was a rare occasion in Turkish history in which a party prevailed against the military.
There was no immediate statement from the military, which has ousted four elected governments since 1960. But its unspoken reaction was frosty: No military commander attended Mr. Gul’s inaugural ceremony, a highly unusual departure from protocol, considering that he is now the commander in chief.
“This is definitely a day when we are turning a page, an important page, in the political history of the country,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul.
“The boundaries have been expanded in favor of civilian democracy,” he added.
As president, Mr. Gul has veto power over legislation. He also has control over hundreds of appointments, particularly to the judiciary. His election places his party in control of most of the Turkish state, with the posts of prime minister, speaker of Parliament and president.
The election upsets the power hierarchy in Turkey, a secular democracy whose citizens are Muslims, by opening up the presidency — an elite secular post that was first occupied by this country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — to a new class of reform-minded leaders from Turkey’s provinces, for decades considered backward by the elite.
His hometown, Kayseri, was decorated with Turkish flags, and a sound system was installed in the city center to broadcast the ceremony and celebration, a scene carried by NTV television as he succeeded Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
But he will have to work to convince skeptical Turks of the country’s western cities that he will also represent them.
“He has on his shoulders a very heavy burden — an Islamist past,” said Baskin Oran, a liberal-minded political science professor who ran unsuccessfully for Parliament as an independent in July. “He has to be twice as careful as a secular statesman.”
In his acceptance speech in Parliament, Mr. Gul emphasized his commitment to Turkey’s secular values. He renewed his pledge to push for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, an effort that he has led tirelessly in his four years as foreign minister.
“Secularism, one of the basic principles of our republic, is a rule of social peace,” he said, dressed in a dark suit and a red tie. “My door will be open to everyone.”
A decade ago, Mr. Gul’s nomination would have been unthinkable: The elite and the military had kept the conservative middle class he comes from away from the center of power, on the grounds that they were the protectors of Ataturk’s legacy. The vote on Tuesday changed that.
Ali Murat Yel, chairman of the sociology department at Fatih University in Istanbul, said the selection of Mr. Gul was comparable in significance to an African-American being elected president in the United States.
“It’s a very important turning point,” Mr. Yel said. “Those people who are the peasants and farmers and petty bourgeoisie always had republican values imposed on them. Now they are rising against it. They are saying, ‘Hey, we are here, and we want our own way.’ ”
Though Turkey’s secular establishment has taken pains to portray Mr. Gul and his close ally, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as inseparable from their Islamic pasts, their supporters argue they have changed dramatically since the early 1990s, when they were members of the overtly Islamic Welfare Party.
“They can sit on the same table as some people who drink alcohol and they drink their Coke, and they would be able to talk to them,” Mr. Yel said. “They have come to terms with the reality of this country.”
Saban Disli, a deputy from Mr. Gul’s party, expressed frustration that no matter what the party did to convince Turks that its leaders had changed their ways, it was impossible to escape the label of Islamist.
“No matter what, there seems to be a sign plastered on our necks and we cannot get rid of it,” he said. “The time has come for people to believe in what they see, not what they hear.”
Most Turks strongly oppose the idea of a religiously oriented government, and the overwhelming portion of Mr. Gul’s constituency voted for his party because they said it had done well running the country, not because its leaders were pious men. Their policies over the past four years in power have reflected a careful respect for secular principles, many say, and have brought an economic boom and rising property values.
Beyond the elite’s desire to stay in power, less privileged Turks have concerns about Mr. Gul’s party, and the debate will now resume over where Islam fits in the building of an equitable society — a question also preoccupying Western democracies.
Thousands of rank-and-file party members are settling into the Turkish bureaucracy, and some Turks worry that a more conservative worldview could begin to affect their secular lifestyles in deeply personal areas, like education for their children.
“We are in uncharted waters,” Mr. Ozel said. “We don’t know how they will run the country. This is not a party that has articulated its world view very clearly.”
Among the early business of Mr. Gul’s party will be rewriting Turkey’s Constitution, to remove the military influences it had absorbed in the military coups.
“It is true that the Constitution needs fundamental changes,” said Akif Hamzacebi, a deputy from the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, but he added that it will probably serve the party’s purposes rather than Turkish society.
But many in Turkey do not agree. Mr. Oran argues that rewriting the Constitution would reserve the party a place in Turkish history books, and says that the fact that Mr. Gul’s wife wears a head scarf is in fact a plus, as her presence will teach Turks to value their differences, instead of using policy to stamp religion out of all public places.
“Ankara will also come to terms that the headscarf is not a gun to be frightened of, but a personal choice to be respected,” said Ahmet Hasyuncu, head of an industrial zone in Kayseri.
The American ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, welcomed Mr. Gul’s election.
As for the military, one apparent effect of the election has been to weaken its hold over politics. On Monday, Yasar Buyukanit, the military’s chief of staff, said in a statement that “centers of evil” were working to erode secularism in Turkey. But the statement did not have the resonance of one in April, and few on Tuesday believed that there was a serious threat of a coup.
“Quite frankly, unless the world goes totally upside down, I don’t see how they could find a context in which they could legitimately intervene,” Mr. Ozel said.
Sabrina Tavernise reported from Baghdad, and Sebnem Arsu from Ankara.
Can Islam support a secular, democratic government?
I need a secular state
By Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im
ALTANTA – To be a Muslim by conviction and free choice – which is the only way one can be a Muslim – I need to live in a secular state. By a secular state, I mean one that is neutral regarding religious doctrine to facilitate genuine piety. The state should not enforce sharia (the religious law of Islam) because compliance should never be coerced by fear or faked to appease state officials. When observed voluntarily, sharia-based values can help shape laws and public policy through the democratic process. But if sharia principles are enacted as state law, the outcome will simply be the political will of the state.
Many Muslims equate secularism with antireligious attitudes. Yet I believe that a secular state can promote genuine religious experience among believers and affirm the role of Islam in public life.
The so-called Islamic state is conceptually incoherent and historically unprecedented. There simply is no scriptural basis for an "Islamic state" to enforce sharia.
The leadership of the prophet Muhammad in Medina is an inspiring model of the values Muslims should strive for in self-governance, transparency, and accountability. But since Muslims believe that there is no prophet after Muhammad, the Medina model cannot be replicated.
There's no precedent for an Islamic state in practice. Historically, rulers sought the support of Islamic scholars and religious leaders to legitimize their authority, but religious authorities needed to maintain their autonomy. This was always a negotiated relationship, not a marriage.
The experience of the vast majority of Muslims across the world today is about struggles for constitutionalism and human rights, economic development and social justice – not about the quest for Islamic states to enforce sharia. The world community must support Muslims in these struggles instead of punishing them for the sins of the extremist fringe of political Islamists.
Muslims and others often blame sharia and Islam for the backwardness and underdevelopment of Islamic societies. This view is inaccurate and unproductive. Such blame shifts responsibility and the ability to change away from Muslims as human agents to abstract forces or causes.
Historical interpretations of sharia that discriminate against women and non-Muslims can and should be reinterpreted and reformed. Without such transformation, state officials cannot be expected or trusted to uphold principles of constitutionalism and human rights. Yet those principles are prerequisites for advocating the necessary transformation. The secular state provides the space for and facilitates both aspects of this dialectic process.
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im is the author of the forthcoming book "Islam and Secular State: Negotiating the future of Sharia."
Burqas and ballots
By Jocelyne Cesari
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Islam is often perceived as a potential threat to democratization. Justifications for this view are grounded in the common view that for Islam there's no separation between politics and religion.
In the West, politics based on individual rights and religion as independent of the state have marked the triumph of a liberal vision of the self within a secularized public arena. It may be argued that no similar movement has taken place in the Muslim world. It may be tempting, then, to infer that the Muslim mind is resistant to secularization. However, the reasons for such resistance are political and contextual and have very little to do with the Koran.
Within the Muslim world, Islam either is a state religion or is under state control. Therefore, the state is almost always the primary agent responsible for the authoritative interpretation of tradition.
As a result, Islamic thought has lost a certain vitality, not only in questions of government, but also on issues of culture and society. Thus it is not that the so-called Muslim mind is naturally resistant to critical thinking, but rather that analysis and judgment have too often been the exclusive prerogative of political authorities.
In fact, recent polls show that Muslims praise democracy as the best political system. At the same time, they acknowledge the importance that sharia, or Islamic law, plays in their lives. This is where misunderstanding often occurs. Sharia does not refer to actual laws but to a set of moral principles and norms that guide Muslims in their personal and social choices.
In the same vein, most Muslims living in Europe and the US appreciate the democratic and secular nature of the states where they reside. With minor exceptions, there is no real attempt by Muslims in the West to change Western political regimes and to establish Islamic states.
This does not mean, however, that all tensions disappear. In other words, even if the caliphate (Islamic government comprising Muslims worldwide) is not really a priority for Muslims in the West, conflicts of interest on values have emerged as illustrated by the Salman Rushdie affair and the head-scarf and cartoon crises. Areas of conflict between interpretations of Islamic tradition and the social norms of secular democracies include the family, the status of women in marriage and divorce, and the education of children.
Thus, Muslims want to be democratic on their own terms. This means that they want religious norms to be visible in their personal, daily lives – even if they live in the West. Moreover, this means that members of democratic, Muslim-majority societies would want religious norms to be acknowledged in public social life.
This raises legitimate concerns about the recognition and freedom of other religious minorities within a social system dominated by Islamic references. Western politicians and intellectuals must acknowledge processes of modernization and democratization that include Islamic references, while striving to protect religious and cultural minorities and guarantee freedom of expression. Without these safeguards, it is impossible to envision any democracy, Islamic or otherwise.
• Jocelyne Cesari is a professor of Islamic studies at Harvard. Her essayappears courtesy of the Common Ground News Service.
The leery Arab street
By Jorgen S. Nielsen
DAMASCUS, SYRIA – Why is it that Muslims appear to find it so difficult to see anything positive in Western secularism?
In some Muslim languages, the discussion is made almost impossible by the fact that the word used for secularism translates into English as "no religion" or "without religion."
Certainly, Muslims do not like a lot of what they see as Western: the loneliness of the individual, the breakdown of the family, the destruction of drug addiction, random violence, recreational sex. Of course, they are not alone in feeling these concerns, and many conclude that the cause is the decline of religion.
In the mid-1920s, the Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Raziq's book "Islam and the Roots of Government" argued that the prophet Muhammad had founded a religion, not a state, so religion should not determine state structures today. The book was immediately condemned and, we are told by most Islamic scholars, is no longer of interest. But it has remained continuously in print since then and can still be bought in Cairo bookshops. So someone must be reading it!
I talked recently with a group of Islamic scholars from one of the more conservative movements in Britain. We got on to the topic of an "Islamic order." Clearly, it was not enough that a government or economic system should call itself Islamic. It had to be Islamic. But what did that mean? That led to things such as social justice, a reliable legal system, personal liberty, equality, popular participation, accountable rulers, etc. One scholar ventured that northern European welfare states were arguably a good deal more "Islamic" than any state in the Muslim world.
If there are such important shared values, why then such mixed feelings about the idea of secularism? Clearly, the attack on secularism is encouraged by the clerics. If religion in its traditional forms is pushed to the margins of public life, what remains for them?
On the Arab street, secularism is often seen as a foreign import, brought in by the colonialists as a way of limiting the power of the Islamic religious institutions that often provided the core of anticolonial resistance. Secular politics is also associated with the military dictatorships that survived in alliance with the opposing powers of the cold-war period.
Today, the only effective challenge to this inheritance comes from the Islamist movements, and people arguing for a secular perspective run the constant danger of being accused of collaboration with the West. It is this twin dynamic that makes it more likely for many to tilt away from modern, pluralistic secularism toward a religious political system.
• Jorgen S. Nielsen is director of the Danish Institute in Damascus. His essay is from the Common Ground News Service.
Political Islam's ethics
By Bill Warner
FRANKLIN, TENN. – Arguing about religion is fruitless, but we can and should talk about politics. Discussion about the relationship between Islam and secularism must be based on an understanding of political Islam and its dualism. What is Islam? Answers from Muslims and Westerners are contradictory and confusing. But the scientific method gives clarity.
Scientific analysis shows that there are two Korans, one written in Mecca (the early part) and the second written in Medina (the later part). The two Korans include contradictions. "You have your religion and I have mine" (109:6) is a far cry from "I shall cast terror in the hearts of the kafirs [non-Muslims]. Strike off their heads…" (8:12). The Koran gives an answer to these contradictions – the later verse is "better" than the earlier verse (2:106). The Koran defines an Islamic logic that is dualistic. In a unitary, scientific logic, if two things contradict each other, then one of them is false. Not so in dualistic logic – both can be true!
Islam divides humanity into two groups: Muslims and kafirs (unbelievers). The doctrine that applies to Muslims is cultural, legal, and religious. The doctrine that applies to kafirs is political. Sixty-seven percent of the Meccan Koran and 51 percent of the Medinan Koran is political. Even the concept of hell is political, not religious. Of the 146 parts of the Koran that refer to hell, only 4 percent deal with morality – such as murder or theft. But 96 percent refer to people who are hellbound if they do not agree with Islam's prophet Muhammad – an intellectual and political position.
Muhammad preached the religion of Islam for 13 years and garnered 150 followers. Then, in Medina, Islam became political, and through jihad, he became the first ruler of all Arabia. Islam succeeded in spreading across the globe largely because it became a form of politics.
The Koran says in 14 verses that a Muslim is not the friend of the kafir. This is pure dualism. The entire world is divided between Islam and the kafirs. The dualism of the Koran has no universal statements about humanity except that every person must submit to political Islam.
Ethics is the membrane between religion and politics. Islam has two sets of ethics. One set is for Muslims and the other set is for kafirs; this is dualistic ethics. A Muslim should not harm another Muslim, but the kafir can be robbed, killed, or cheated to advance Islam. Islamic political dualism is hidden by religion. The "good" verses of the Meccan Koran cover the verses of jihad in the Medinan Koran. Thus religious Islam shields political Islam from examination.
Some Muslims point to Turkey and claim that Islam can have a modern secular government. But authentic Islam and authentic secularism are contradictions. Secularism is made possible only on a foundation of a separation of religion and the state, freedom of conscience, and a universal ethical and legal system. But Muhammad integrated government and religion. Islam by definition means total submission to the will of Allah. And the dualistic logic of the Koran designates one set of ethics and laws for kafirs and another set for believers. Therefore, political Islam precludes secularism.
Bill Warner is director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam.
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Faith will unsettle politics everywhere this century; it will do so least when it is separated from the state
A RELIGIOUS fanatic feels persecuted, goes overseas to fight for his God and then returns home to attempt a bloody act of terrorism. Next week as Britons celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic jihadist, under the Houses of Parliament in 1605, they might reflect how dismally modern the Gunpowder Plot and Europe's wars of religion now seem.
Back in the 20th century, most Western politicians and intellectuals (and even some clerics) assumed religion was becoming marginal to public life; faith was largely treated as an irrelevance in foreign policy. Symptomatically, State Department diaries ignored Muslim holidays until the 1990s. In the 21st century, by contrast, religion is playing a central role. From Nigeria to Sri Lanka, from Chechnya to Baghdad, people have been slain in God's name; and money and volunteers have poured into these regions. Once again, one of the world's great religions has a bloody divide (this time it is Sunnis and Shias, not Catholics and Protestants). And once again zealotry seems all too relevant to foreign policy: America would surely not have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan (and be thinking so actively of striking Iran) had 19 young Muslims not attacked New York and Washington.
It does not stop there. Outside Western Europe, religion has forced itself dramatically into the public square. In 1960 John Kennedy pleaded with Americans to treat his Catholicism as irrelevant; now a born-again Christian sits in the White House and his most likely Democrat replacement wants voters to know she prays. An Islamist party rules once-secular Turkey; Hindu nationalists may return to power in India's next election; ever more children in Israel and Palestine are attending religious schools that tell them that God granted them the whole Holy Land. On present trends, China will become the world's biggest Christian country—and perhaps its biggest Muslim one too. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, not usually a reliable authority on current affairs, got it right in an open letter to George Bush: “Whether we like it or not,” he wrote, “the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty.”
Gunpowder, treason and plot
How frightening (or inspiring) is this prospect? As our special report explains, the idea that religion has re-emerged in public life is to some extent an illusion. It never really went away—certainly not to the extent that French politicians and American college professors imagined. Its new power is mostly the consequence of two changes. The first is the failure of secular creeds: religion's political comeback started during the 1970s, when faith in government everywhere was crumbling. Second, although some theocracies survive in the Islamic world, religion has returned to the stage as a much more democratic, individualistic affair: a bottom-up marketing success, surprisingly in tune with globalisation. Secularism was not as modern as many intellectuals imagined, but pluralism is. Free up religion and ardent believers and ardent atheists both do well.
From a classical liberal point of view, this multiplicity of sects is a good thing. Freedom of conscience is an axiom of liberal thought. If man is a theotropic beast, inclined to believe in a hereafter, it is surely better that he chooses his faith, rather than follows the one his government orders. But that makes religion a complicated force to deal with. In domestic policy, adults who choose to become Pentecostals, Orthodox Jews or Muslim fundamentalists are far less likely to forget those beliefs when it comes to the ballot box. The culture wars that America has grown used to may become a global phenomenon; expect fierce battles about science, in particular.
Abroad, yes, there is a chance of full-blown war of religion between states. A conflagration between Iran and Israel would, alas, be seen as a faith-based conflict by millions; so would war between India and Pakistan. But compared with Guy Fawkes's time, when wars sprang from monarchs throwing their military might at others of different faiths, religious conflict today is the result as much of popular will as of state sponsorship: it is bottom-up, driven by volunteers not conscripts, their activities blessed by rogue preachers not popes, their fury mostly directed at apostates not competing civilisations. Ironically, America, the model for much choice-based religion, has often seemed stuck in the secular era, declaring war on state-sponsored terror, only to discover the main weapon of militant Islamism is often the ballot box.
Start praying now
For politicians doomed to deal with religion, two lessons stand out—one principled, the other pragmatic. The principle is that church and state are best kept separate. Subsidised religion has seldom made sense for either state or church: witness Europe's empty pews. In some cases, separating the two is easy. In private, people can choose to believe that the world was created exactly 6,003 years ago, but teachers should not be allowed to teach children creationism as science. The state should not tell people whether they can wear headscarves, let alone ban “unauthorised” reincarnation (as China did recently in Tibet). But the line is not always easy to draw: this paper disapproves of publicly financed faith schools, especially ones that discriminate against non-believers, but it also believes in giving poor parents more choice—and in American cities the main alternative to public schools is Catholic ones.
The religion that invades the public square most overtly is Islam: it affords secular power the least respect, teaching that the primary unit of society is the umma, the international brotherhood of believers. At its most theocratic, it forces people to follow sharia laws, sometimes with barbaric penalties. Yet Islam can clearly co-exist with a modern liberal state. For all its failures in the Arab world, democracy has taken root in Malaysia and Indonesia. America's Muslims worship freely and respect its secular constitution—a success the United States should make more of in its foreign policy. But the test case will be Turkey, a secular state currently ruled by Islamists whose progress is being watched with nervous attention.
The pragmatic lesson concerns those wars of religion. Partly because of their obsession with keeping church and state separate, Western powers (and religious leaders) have been too reluctant to look for faith-driven solutions to religious conflicts. Many of those struggles, notably the Middle East, began as secular tribal disputes. Now that they have a religious component they are much harder to solve: if God granted you the West Bank, you are less likely to trade it. “Inter-faith dialogue” may sound a wishy-washy concept; but it is a more realistic idea than presenting a secular peace to competing faiths without the backing of religious leaders. Priests and pastors condemned violence from both sides in Northern Ireland; that has not really happened in the Holy Land.
Atheists and agnostics hate the fact, but these days religion is an inescapable part of politics. Although it is not the state's business “to make windows into men's souls”, it is part of the government's job to prevent grievances from stirring into bloodshed, and fanatics from guiding policy. But it isn't easy. Catholics did not get back into Parliament for 224 years after the Gunpowder Plot. Unless politicians learn to take account of religious feelings and to draw a firm line between church and state, the new wars of religion may prove as intractable
There is universal consensus that Muslim dictatorships, supported by the west, are the root of evil. They destroy political culture, kill extra-judicially and their repression foments violence.
The primary opponents of these dictators are the populist Islamists. They want to vote; except after voting they want to appoint an extra-constitutional body of clerics to strike down legislation they do not approve of.
Faced with only these two options - dictators or elected theocrats - in Muslim majority countries, the usual reaction by westerners is to throw their hands up in frustration and opt for apathy or give into a militaristic pessimism. These are both uninformed reactions. They fail to take into account the future of Islamic reform, which lies with the emergence of a post-Islamist political order in the Muslim majority world.
Post-Islamism is at hand because a new crop of Muslims have figured out how to reconcile liberal democracy with Islam. Upon doing so, they give up on creating religious organisations devoted to "da'wa" (Islamic evangelism) and move towards becoming organised as civil-political parties with platforms based on equality and pluralism. Incidentally, part of the credit for the popularity of post-Islamism goes to the theocratic Islamists. In their eagerness to merge religion with politics, they thought the result would be religion. Instead, the devout middle class realised that religion alone could not provide for their social concerns. Post-Islamism, thus, is the recognition that while religion may provide salvation in the next life, politics is what provides for welfare in this one. It is, at its barest, politics subsuming religion.
Today, post-Islamist groups are at work in various Muslim majority countries, including Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. These parties look to Germany's Christian Democratic Union as a model.
Egypt's premier post-Islamist party (pdf) is called Center Party (Hizb ul-Wasat). It was founded in 1996, breaking away from the Muslim Brotherhood due to various factors. The reasons for the split included: the Brotherhood's unwillingness to accept non-Muslims as members of the party or as citizens of Egypt, unwillingness to cease splitting the world between the "Abode of War" and "Abode of Islam", and unwillingness to change their focus away from Islamic evangelism. Although Wasat calls itself an Islamic party, it is open to Christians and secularists. In fact, Rafiq Habib, a Protestant intellectual in Egypt, was among its founding members, and is on its five man board of operations. After a 10-year battle, Wasat was officially recognised as a political party in 2007.
One way to assure that Wasat is not Islamism in disguise is to note how much opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood it has faced, which went so far as to petition the hated Mubarak regime to not legalise it.
The fundamental point that makes Wasat post-Islamist is that instead of defining Islam as a religion, it defines Islam as a culture, or civilisation, which is inclusive of minorities. Thinking of Islam as a culture is similar to how certain people in the west refer to the west as "Judeo-Christian" while still leaving room for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists to practise freely therein.
Further, the Wasat Party's platform assures the separation of powers, rejects religious or gender-based discrimination, explicitly calls for pluralism and equality between men and women, and makes space for unions and syndicates. Most importantly, unlike the Brotherhood's platform it does not set up an extra-constitutional body of clerics who can veto legislation (like they do in Iran). Oddly, having laid out such a liberal platform, Wasat insists that it will still uphold the sharia, a claim that has been described as "lip service." For example, the Cairo Times stated in 1998 that Wasat considers "people rather than scripture as the ultimate source of authority".
While Wasat's location and its face-off against the Muslim Brotherhood make it the most intriguing of the post-Islamist groups, it is not the most successful. That designation belongs to Turkey's ruling AKP Party, which, just as Wasat, originated by breaking away from a fundamentalist Islamist organisation.
Comprehensive analyses of the AKP positions vis a vis the three important benchmarks - women, the west and Israel - show that its breakaway from traditional Islamists has been clear and conclusive, and that it is nothing like the traditional Islamists such as the Brotherhood. For example, one of the first things that the AKP declared upon its election in 2002, as reported by the New York Times, was that "secularism is the protector of all beliefs and religions. We are the guarantors of this secularism, and our management will clearly prove that." Certainly western liberals will be dissatisfied that in terms of social and economic policy AKP is center-right, but the dissatisfaction ought not be any different than that felt when a conservative in Paris or Rome comes to power.
Pakistan, in the form of Tehreek i Insaf Party, is also showing signs of developing a post-Islamist alternative, though there it is in its infancy. It has emerged only during the Musharraf years, led by cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. One of the most notable elements about it is that while it is grounded in Islam, it rejects Wahhabism (opting for "Sufism") and further, in its manifesto explicitly rejects having any "parallel" legal system in the country, which is a reference to the sharia courts in Pakistan that currently co-exist with the secular courts.
Tehreek's other innovative solutions include, free education for women, legislation against sexual harrassment and setting aside 33% of the seats in all legislative assemblies for women. It justifies all of these by citing principles of Islamic welfare.
Interestingly, just as the Wasat has antagonised the Brotherhood in Egypt, Tehreek has criticised (link in Urdu) Pakistan's hardline Islamist organisations for collusion with anti-democratic forces. This again shows that post-Islamists are more concerned with the democratic pie than appeasing Islamists. While Tehreek is nascent, it should be monitored closely, because it has increasing support among Pakistan's youth and expatriate communities. It should be remembered that it took Turkey's AKP party barely 10 years from formation to become the ruling party.
Today, political Islam is entering its third generation. The first round was revolutionary and violent. The second round, still with us, became more methodical but was still domination-oriented and supremacist. The third round - the post-Islamist push - is committed to the democratic process and has ceased to think of itself as a religious movement, instead adopting a civil-political platform. A paper (pdf) presented at the University of Virginia sets forth an interesting link between economic patterns and the post-Islamist push, stating that "economic liberalisation strengthens and expands the devout middle classes" who then push for "moderation in political Islam for they believe that democracy, rule of law, and a limited state would serve their interests betters". If this is true, then it means that the way for the west to challenge traditional domination-oriented Islamists like Jamat e Islami and the Brotherhood is to engage citizens in business, paving the way for post-Islamism.
When post-Islamist groups come to power, they will be social conservatives focused on family and spirituality (though not Wahhabism). On the issue of religion in politics, a post-Islamist politician will sound somewhere between John Edwards and Mike Huckabee. In their foreign policy they will reject intrusions upon their sovereignty from all foreign groups, including on one hand Nato and other western coalitions, and on the other, al-Qaida and the Taliban. However, they will generally abide by international norms and not launch themselves into international conflicts, finding them to be fiscally and socially expensive. This makes sense because their largest support comes from the middle classes. Their biggest trouble will be local and national rebel groups, whether it's Kurd separatists, al-Qaida or the Taliban. Finally, just as Europe's Christian democratic parties gave birth to liberal democrats, it is likely that after consolidating power, post-Islamic parties will create space for openly secular parties to gain more traction.
As a conclusion to this seven-part series, I'd like to submit that since 2001 we have devoted far too much time to the Islamic reform cult of personality. Faced with an increasingly complicated world, the time for heightened sophistication is now. Structural and political discussions - for example, about separation of mosque and state, the making of a Muslim left, the ideas of Muslim secularists, the debate over Islamic liberal democracy and the emergence of a post-Islamist Islam - are a completely overlooked part of this thing called "Islamic reform". The true and original goal of Islamic reform was to help voiceless Muslims and minorities. The social transformation necessary for creating such a landscape requires acknowledging that Islamic reform is at its heart a political, not merely religious, project.
This article is the last in a series by Ali Eteraz on Islamic reform:
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