"A clerical court in Iran sentenced to death a prominent
scholar and close ally of President Khatami, the latest blow to political
reformers. Hashem Aghajari is also to be whipped." - Wall Street
Journal, Friday, November 8, 2002, "What's News - World-Wide"
"Hindu-Muslim clashes wound 14 in the flashpoint Indian state
of Gujarat on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. More
than 1,000 died in violence there last year." - Wall Street Journal,
Friday, November 8, 2002, "What's News - World-Wide" page 1.
Headline: "In His Desert Tent, Wired Saudi Prince Monitors U.S.
Billionaire Investor Alwaleed Mulls the Bush Mandate; Kisses from
Supplicants."- Wall Street Journal, Friday, "What's News
- World-Wide" page 1.
Headline: "Arafat angrily rejects call to expel him." "A
finger-wagging Yasser Arafat warned yesterday [Tuesday, November 13,
2002] against any attempt to send him into exile ...
"Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafatand that this
is my land and the land of my grand-grand-grand-grand-fathers,"
he said on the steps of his offices in the West Bank town of Ramallah,
just north of Jerusalem." - Bucks County Courier Times, Thursday,
November 14, 2002, 5A.
This paper identifies a list of important secular sources that
are essential for a study of Islam and its interaction with the
modern world. More importantly, these sources provide basic understanding
of how Islam "works on the street." As a reader, I need
assistance in making sense of news, and the media is of little help,
because interpretations of modern Islam require an understanding
of its past in order to make sense of its goals. In addition to
the books I note, additional interpretative works are noted in the
footnotes and commended to your attention. In a modest sense, this
paper serves only as an invitation to some fascinating reading and
interpretations of Islam. My goals in writing this paper are four-fold.
First, I have sought books that attempt to understand Islam within
the context of its past, in its present forms, and to attempt to
make sense of its future as a political and religious enterprise.
Second, I have deliberately left ample time for your contribution
to the subject, because a genuine and fruitful conversation about
books and ideas that deal with Islam is more stimulating than for
me to speak incessantly. Though my approach is not typical in proceedings
such as this, I am open to a fruitful discussion if you are a willing
Third, in the course of reading about Islam in the
non-theological literature, I became interested in what is referred
to as fundamentalism. I believe the term fundamentalism is not an
accurate one, for reasons I discuss in a footnote, but I prefer
to describe Islamic extremists or radicals, though I recognize both
"extremist" and "radicalism" may be understand
in a pejorative sense by some Muslims. The terms seem to fit better
Fourth, I have read and continue to read non-theological authors
and authorities on Islam for two reasons.
First, to limit one's reading to biblical and theological analyses
of Islam is to draw a too narrow circle around one's research, especially
so, because Islam is multifaceted and is as much a political as
a religious force.
Second, after the tragic events of September 11, 2002 - - the destruction
of the World Trade Center towers, a wing of the Pentagon and the
fate of the passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93-
- I began to draw from other perspectives and disciplines in order
to place Islam in a modern context. This is what I have attempted
to do with this presentation, "Islam: Non-Theological Perspectives".
So let us begin.
V.S. Naipaul'sAmong the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1982) and
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1995)
constitute admirable introductions to the subject of Islam. Because
of the constraints of time, however, I am unable to present any
passages from Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted
Peoples (1995), other than note for his second book, Naipaul received
the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
In Among the Believers, the first book, Naipaul's keen eye and listening
skills explore the unsettled ferment in four nations where Islam
is the majority faith: Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In preparation for writing Among the Believers, Naipaul spent seven
months on the road to discover the "real" Islam.
While one does not always believe publisher's blurbs on dust jackets,
in the case of Among the Believers, the claims for the book are
V.S. Naipaul. . . explores the life, the culture and the current
ferment inside four nations of Islam: Iran, where the hysteria and
rage of revolution continues; Pakistan, tragically underdeveloped
thirty-two years after its founding as a homeland for the Muslims
of India; Malaysia, governed by Muslims but economically dominated
by the Chinese who constitute half of the population; Indonesia,
confused about both its Muslim and its national roots, confused
by the rule of four regimes (two foreign) in less than forty years.
Naipaul depicts an Islamic world at odds with the modern world,
fueled only by an implacable determination to believe.
With this overview in mind, what follows, then, is a lengthy conversation
between Naipaul and a Pakistani. The extended conversation becomes
a magnificent summary of the great themes touching numerous aspects
of Islam in its contemporary setting in Pakistan. In the discussion,
the reader begins to understand one what bases Islam and how engages
the modern world.
Naipaul's insight into Islam on the street approach helps us understand
the implications of today's headlines and news reports.
Among the Believers
"At lunch Nusrat said, "Give me your advice. Should I
stay here? Or should I got to the West?"
"What would you do there?"
"I could a master's in mass communications in America."
"I wouldn't teach. I would travel and write. Travel and write."
"What would you write about/"
"Various things. Afterwards I could get a job with some international
body as an expert in the third-world media."
"What would you do if you stayed here?"
"I would go into advertising."
"But it's so dishonest."
"Is it more dishonest than what you do now?"
"How much would you get in an advertising agency?"
"Four thousand." Four hundred dollars. " Now I get
two thousand. But I wouldn't like it. You may not like the Morning
News, but I am a free man on it. I couldn't do public relations.
Don't you think that someone like me should go into third-world
media? Do you think the Americans and Canadians should be travelling
around talking to us about third-world media?"
"Yes. They know what newspapers should do. You wouldn't be
able to tell us much."
"Why do you say that?"
"You've told me yourself that Islam and the hereafter are the
most important things to you."
"How small you make us feel."
I had momentarily -- a number of irritations coming together: the
political virulence of his newspaper, his wish both to remain Islamic
and to exploit the tolerance and openness of another civilization
- - I had momentarily allowed myself to be aggressive with him.
I felt guilty.
But his rebuke was not a rebuke at all. He believed in the ideal
of an Islamic state; he felt that Pakistan fell short of that ideal
and deserved the disregard which had read into my words. The Islamic
ideal was the theme of a 1951 book, Pakistan as an Islamic State,
which he had brought as a gift for me. It would help me to understand
Pakistan, he said. And the book showed me that thirty years before,
the Islamic idea has been as vague, as much a statement of impractical
intent and muddled history (with interim worldly corruption), as
it was now. The Islamic state, I read, was like a high-flying kite,
invisible in the mist. "I cannot see it, but something is tugging."
Remember Nusrat. Six months later, when I returned to Karachi and
wondered whom I should look up, I thought first of Nusrat. I found
him changed. That bubbling, intelligent man had gone grey. The Islam
he wished to served had pushed him deep in paranoia; and I regretted
more than ever that momentary impulse of aggression towards him,
who after all knew only Pakistan.
Nusrat had spoken to the black-capped man in the registry about
Islamic laws. I thought they were laws that had yet to be brought
in. I didn't know that seven months before, a set of ten Islamic
laws had been passed by the military government: laws about Islamic
courts and Koranic taxes on wealth and agricultural produce, together
with laws about drinking, theft, and illicit sex. These last were
hardly laws; they were more about punishments.
Drinking was to be punished by eight stripes. The punishment for
illicit sex, for an adult Muslim, was to "be stoned to death
at a public place"; for a non-Muslim, a hundred-stripe public
whipping, with the possibility of death for rape. "The punishment
of stoning to dead was awarded under section 5 or section 6 shall
be executed in the following manner, namely: Such of the witnesses
who deposed against the convict as may be available shall start
stoning him and, while stoning is being carried on, he may be shot,
whereupon stoning and shooting shall be stopped."
For theft-- above a certain amount (above the value of 4.457 grams
of gold), and not theft by a close relative, a servant, or a guest,
and not theft of "wild grass, fish, bird, dog, pig, intoxicant,
musical instrument, or perishable foodstuffs for the preservation
of which provision does not exist" -- for theft outside these
circumstances the punishment for a first offense was the amputation
- - "carried out by an authorized medical officer" - -
of the right hand "from the joint of the wrist"; for a
second offense, the amputation of the left foot "up to the
ankle"; for the third offense, imprisonment for life. There
was to be no amputation "when the left hand or the left thumb
or at least two fingers of the left hand or the right foot of the
offender was either missing or unserviceable."
Generally, for many offense, there was to be a lot of whipping,
and "The Execution of the Punishment of Whipping Ordinance,
1979" laid down the rules. "The whip, excluding the handle,
shall be of one piece only and preferably be made of leather, or
a cane, or a branch of a tree, having no knob or joint on it, and
its length and thickness shall not exceed 1.22 meters [about 50
inches in length] and 1.25 cm. [about a half-inch] respectively."
Whipping, if it was likely to cause death, was to be spread out
or postponed. A pregnant woman was to be whipped "two months
after the birth of the child or a miscarriage, as the case may be."
The weather had to be considered. "If. . . the weather is too
cold or too hot, the execution shall be postponed until the weather
has become normal." The decencies were to be observed. "Such
clothes of the convict should be left on the body of the convict
as are required by the injunctions of Islam to be put on."
Men were to be whipped standing, women sitting. From the 1951 book
Nusrat gave me, it seem that almost as soon as Pakistan had been
established, pious people had begun to chat about stoning to death
and cutting off hands: "classical" punishments to be worked
toward as part of a far-off Islamic ideal, when men became again
as pure as (in his fantasy) they had been at the beginning of Islam.
It couldn't be said that that had happened in Pakistan; but from
Hamid Ali, M.A., M.Ed., LL.B., the editor of Combined Set of Islamic
Laws, 1979 (the book I have used here), there was a more than legal
welcome to the new laws. They made the nation "proud."
Outsiders had "wrong notions" about Islam. "Islam
is a system aimed at bringing about a welfare, progressive and forward
looking society." It ensured "fair play"; its principles
were for all time; its penalties were meant "to purge the society
as a whole."
But if I hadn't so far been aware of these laws, it was because
in the seven months they had been in force they hadn't been applied.
One case had caused a scandal. A pir or holy man in a provincial
town had been charged with raping the thirteen-year old daughter
of one of his followers. The case against him couldn't get far in
the sessions court because the new Islamic law under which he was
tried required four witnesses to act.
Why four witnesses? This wen back to a famous incident in the Arabian
desert during one of the Prophet's early military adventures, in
626 or 627, when the new faith was just about establishing itself,
reducing small hostile communities, one by one. The Prophet's favorite
wife, Aisha, then perhaps thirteen, had for some reason been left
behind by the caravan one evening. She didn't join it again until
the morning, and then in the company of a handsome young soldier.
There was an uproar among the Prophet's companions. Ali, the Prophet's
cousin, thought the Prophet should get rid of Alisa.
The Prophet - - now in his mid-fifties - - was distressed of days.
But Allah intervened; the Prophet had a revelation that Aisha was
innocent; that four witnesses were needed to prove adultery; that
people spreading unfounded rumours about adultery deserved eighty
For a visitor in the Pakistan Times - - defending the government
against accusations of Islamic slacking, and criticizing the mullahs
who had advised the government about Islamic laws - - the law about
rape was faulty and absurd ("because the act is never performed
in public") and was based on a misreading of the Koran. The
Prophet's revelation was about "lewdness" and feminine
lewdness specifically. It couldn't be said to refer to rape. So
it didn't require four witnesses. Ordinary witnesses would have
sufficed; even medical evidence might have been offered. Who, Islamically
speaking, was right? The mullahs, sticking literally to the most
applicable revelation in the Koran? Or the Pakistan Times man, bending
that revelation a little to make it fit the case, and giving a modern
extension to the idea of witness? It was easy to state the Koranic
punishment; it was another matter to work out the law. To work out
the law, with only historical, geographical, and cultural (and sometimes
folksy) particularities of the Koran as a guide, was to become entangled
in textual-religious-sectarian disputes of this kind, and very quickly
get away from the idea of equity.
The Pakistan Times man could not hide his rage about the mullahs.
They were politically ambitious; they had "shrewdly entrapped"
the government by framing laws that couldn't work and then blaming
the government for not operating these laws: they had divided Islam
into conflicting sects and made Islam a mockery. The answer was
to go by to the holy book. Do that, and "we will find light
all around. But once we wriggle out of the Koran, there is nothing
but darkness and confusion in store for us."
But was it as easy as that? To raise just one point: how old was
Aisha when she married the fifty-year old Prophet? Was she six or
nine or nineteen? Did she, as one tender story, take her dolls and
toys to the Prophet's tent? The Koran doesn't help. Aisha's age
has be worked out from other sources. The question was gone into
at length one Friday sabbath in the Pakistan Times; and the question
is of more than historical interested, because Aisha's age of marriage
- - and there were nine different opinions - - can fix the legal
marriage age for girls.
In Islam, and especially the Islam of the fundamentalists , precedent
is all. The principles of the Prophet - - as divined from the Koran
and the approved traditions - - are for all time. They can be extended
to cover all disciplines. The Prophet was reported to have said
that the best Muslims were going to be his contemporaries, the second
best the generation after, and so on, the decline continuing till
the end of time. Can that be read as a condemnation of "Darwinism"?
It is what the new, educated fundamentalists say. And it is at once
sound faith, and part of their rage against the civilization that
encircles them and which they as a community despair of mastering.
In the fundamentalist scheme the world constantly decays and has
constantly to be re-created. The only function of the intellect
is to assist that re-creation. It reinterprets the texts; it re-established
divine precedent. So history has to serve theology, law is separated
from the idea of equity. and learning separated from learning. The
doctrine has it attractions. To the student from the University
of Karachi, from perhaps a provincial or peasant background, the
old faith comes more easily than any newfangled academic discipline.
So fundamentalism takes root in the universities, and to deny education
can become the approved educated act. In the days of Muslim glory
Islam opened itself to the learning of the world. Now fundamentalism
provides an intellectual thermostat, set low. It equalizes, comforts,
shelters, and preserves.
"In this way the faith pervades everything, and it is possible
to understand what fundamentalists mean whey they say that Islam
is a complete way of life. But what is said about Islam is true,
and perhaps truer, of other religions - -Hinduism or Buddhism or
lesser tribal faiths - - that at an early stage of their history
were also complete cultures, self-contained and more or less isolated, with institutions, manners,
and beliefs making a whole.
"The Islamic fundamentalist wish to work back to such whole,
for them a God-given whole, but with the tool of faith alone - -
belief, religious practices and rituals. It is like a wish - - with
intellect suppressed or limited, the historical sense falsified
- - to work back from the abstract to the concrete, and to set up
the tribal walls again. It is to see to re-create something like
a tribal or city-state that - - except in theological fantasy -
- never was. The Koran is not the statue book of a settled golden
age; it is the mystical and oracular record of an extended upheaval
widening out from the Prophet to his tribe in Arabia. Arabia was
full of movement: Islam, with all its Jewish and Christian elements,
was always mixed, eclectic, developing. Almost as soon as the Prophet
made his community secure he sought to subdue his enemies. It was
during a military march in the fifth year of the Muslim era that
Aisha spent the night alone in the desert.
"The West, or universal civilization it leads, is emotionally
rejected. It undermines; it threatens. But at the same time it is
needed for its machines, goods, medicines, warplanes, the remittances
from the emigrants, the hospitals that might have a cure for calcium
deficiency, the universities that will provide master's degrees
in mass media. All of the rejection of the West is contained within
the assumption that there will always exist out there a living,
creative civilization, oddly neutral, open to all to appeal to.
Rejection, therefore, is not absolute rejection. It is also, for
the community as a whole, a way of ceasing to strive intellectually.
It is to be parasitic; parasitism is one of the unacknowledged fruits
of fundamentalism. And the emigrants pour out from the land of faith:
thirty thousand Pakistanis shipped by the manpower-export experts
in West Berlin alone, to claim the political asylum meant for the
people of East Germany.
"The patron saint of Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan was
Maulana Maudoodi. He opposed the idea of the separate Indian Muslim
state because he felt that the Muslim were not pure enough for such
a state. He felt that God should be the lawgiver, and, offering
ecstasy of this sort rather than a practical programme, he became
the focus of millenarian passion. He campaigned for Islamic laws
without stating what those laws should be.
"He died while I was in Pakistan. But he didn't die in Pakistan:
the news of his death came from Boston. At the end of his long and
cantankerous life the maulana had gone against his high principles.
He had gone to a Boston hospital to look for health; he had at the
very end entrusted himself to the skill and science of the civilization
he had tried to shield his followers from. He had sought, as someone
said to me (not all Pakistanis are fundamentalists), to reap where
he had not wanted his people to sow. Of the maulana it might be
said that he had gone to his well-deserved place in heaven by way
of Boston, and that he went at least part of the way by Boeing.
'If we seek guidance from the Koran,'" the writer in the Pakistan
Times said, "'we will find the light all around.'" The
mullahs' laws about whipping and stoning to death had come to nothing,
but the Islamic social order was still possible in Pakistan. A new
"methodology" was needed. Bypass the mullahs; do away
with the religious sects, give up the attend to mix Islam, based
on the sovereignty of Allah, with Western democracy, based on the
sovereignty of the people; do away with the political parties.
"The political advice was followed within weeks. The elections
that had been promised were scrapped. But the state had to be governed,
the people had to be policed. Public floggings were decreed, and
there was no nonsense this time about eyewitnesses. The army sent
out whipping vans to the bazaars: instant law, Islam on wheels.
"Step by step, out of its Islamic striving, Pakistan had undone
the rule of law it had inherited from the British, and replaced
it with nothing."
Seventeen years later, or in 1995, Naipaul visited Indonesia, Iran,
Pakistan, and Malaysia. He reports on the lands where descendents
of Muslim converts, mostly non-Arabs as in the case of Indonesia
and Malaysia, lived and where the dreams of Islamic purity, a return
to faithful observance of the Koran, clash with realities of economic,
political and often other religious traditions.
The Prologue to Beyond Beliefsets forth Naipaul's reasons for writing
the second book.
This book is about people. It is not a book of opinion. It is a
book of stories. The stories were collected during five months of
travel in 1995 in four non-Arab Muslim countries - - Indonesia,
Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia. So there is a context and a theme.
Islam is in its origins an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who
is Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience
or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert's worldview
alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is
Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he become,
whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert
has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for
societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain
unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People
develop fantasies about who and what they are, and in the Islam
of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism.
These countries can easily be set on the boil.
Antony Black's The History of Islamic Political Thought Antony Black's
The History of Islamic Political Thought prepares the reader to
wrestle with Islam fundamentalism. His contribution to the discussion
merits our attention, because he traces the history of Islamic political
thought from the Prophet to the present. Though I believe the use
of the word "fundamentalism" is not an accurate usage
of the word, violating its original meaning and ripping the word
from its original context, however, I will not quibble. Fortunately, Black is informative and
insightful when it comes to understanding the thrust` of modern
Islam in its most extreme and radical forms.
"Questions facing Islamic political thought today"is an
important section in Professor Black's book. The section's strength
is that he offers a timely summary of the different questions Westerners
ask and the questions upper most in the mind of Muslims.
But when he "softens" his interpretation of Islam in the
modern world by claiming in the past, until two or so centuries
ago, "Western Christianity" championed many of the same
practices we, in the modern West, find objectionable in contemporary
features of Islam, he is either misinformed or na´ve or attempting
to placate his Muslim friends.
Regardless, his critique of Islam and the West merits our most thoughtful
Questions Facing Islamic Political Thought Today
"For most Westerners, the main issues today are Islam's relationship
to liberal democracy and international order. Many Muslim might
see the implementation of justice, including specific precepts of
the Shari'a, as more important. Many Christians and Marxists might
take a similar view, substituting for the Shari'a specific precepts
of the Bible, or social and economic rights.
"The principles of popular sovereignty and the rule of law
are supported by the great majority of Islamic thinkers, fundamentalist
as well as modernist, but only in very general terms. What precisely
they mean by these, and how they would see them be implemented,
is of less clear. This is precisely the crux of the matter.
"Behind these general observations lies the simple but basic
fact that Muslims as Muslims have a different starting point from
Western liberals. Basically they are non-humanist: that is, for
all but the most radically liberal and Westernized Muslims, people
only become legitimate persons by being Muslims, or adherents of
some other revealed monotheistic faith with a revealed moral code.
Until a century or two ago, much of the same was true for inhabitants
of the Christian West, if you substitute the priority of Christianity
for that of Islam. This, to start with, fundamentally alters one's
view of citizenship.
"Secondly, what is above all else important to a Muslim as
a Muslim is that the law of God should be observed, by oneself and,
so far as possible, others. How this is achieved is of secondary
importance. This gives a very different set of political priorities.
It means that human rights, liberties, the rule of law and democratic
procedure, however important they may be, are of second worth. So
far as democratic procedures are concerned, the same might also
have been said of inhabitants of the Christian West up to a couple
of centuries ago (one might be tempted to say, until it ceased being
in a full sense the Christian West). But human rights, liberties
and the rule of law have become fundamental and incontrovertible
principles in Western society (however often they are neglected
in practice, particularly with regard to outsiders). This, I would
contend, is due not so much to Christianity but to ancient Stoicism
and similar philosophies which have for centuries permeated Western
"One must see these points together with a third point, which
strikes anyone who has studied the history of Islamic political
thought, namely the overwhelming tradition, in practice and in theory,
of dynastic monarchical government, limited (only) by the Shari'a.
Alternative forms and practices have only come onto the agenda in
the Islamic world since, and one is forced to conclude, because
it became subject to Western influence. (Of course, something broadly
similar might be said about other non-European political cultures
today). What this means is that the tendency towards one-man rule,
whether in the form of hereditary monarchy or of 'dictatorship'
(meaning government by one person in the name of some principle
or common interest), is not accidental but written into the political
culture of many if not all parts of the Islamic world (though Iran
and Turkey now provide exceptions). In other words, such regimes
are held to be legitimate because they exist, provide some form
of 'law and order', and encourage or sanction the implementation
of Islamic justice (the Shari'a). It seems to be, quite surprising
in view of much recent American propaganda, that the only serious
exception is Iran.
"Having said that, let us make the following further observations.
First, among Muslims generally, everyone including rulers is held
to be subject to the rule of law; but this may only mean that they
must adhere to the Shari'a. It is generally assumed that a ruler
should be elected, or, if he is not, that there should be clear
evidence of his popular support. In most predominantly Muslim countries,
there is an elected representative assembly. This can be legitimised
by the Islamic norms of shura (consultation) and ijma (consensus).
Few would oppose democracy itself in the name of Islam. For example,
'political power . . . is neither valid nor exercisable except by
and on behalf o the community through the process of (shura, consultation).
No-one is authorized to . . . rule by personal discretion' (Islamic
Council of Europe 1980 and 1981). The Islamic Council of Europe
also made political participation a right and a duty, based on hisba
[overseeing public morals, especially in trade]. "Putting this
in the context of what was said above, the point is that a variety
of forms of dictatorship are not ruled out by the value dominant
in much of Muslim political culture (although they may nowadays
be considered imperfect and disapproved of by man) so long as they
do not infringe on the fundamental values of Islam (belief in God,
the prophecy of Muhammad, the Shari'a). Here, let us also note that,
quite apart from mainstream political culture, fundamentalists,
in particular, emphasis leadership among with shura (consultation).
There is an 'incessant quest for a charismatic chief' (amir, military
commander, ruler), who would rule by virtue of his personal qualities:
'in general, the more radical the party, the more central the figure
of the amir'. Such a person would be a religious as well as a political
leader. This springs out of another monarchical element in Islamic
culture, namely the belief that certain individuals (analogous to
Muhammad himself, albeit acknowledged to be of lower status) are
from time to time inspired, or chosen, by God to lead the community.
Such persons are recognized not by popular vote but by the religious
criteria of piety, virtue, personal presence and the like.
"Fundamentalists explicitly quality popular sovereignty, and
the authority of elected representatives, by the sovereignty (al-hakimiyya:
absolute rulership) of God. In theology, again, all theists would
agree. But Islamic fundamentalists employ the theory of divine sovereignty
in a special way. First, they emphasis the need for representatives
to be properly qualified, that is to have certain more and intellectual
qualities that are regarded as desirable on religious grounds. One
finds a broadly similar idea in John Stuart Mill and T.S. Eliot.
In practice, it easily leads to subordination of elected governments
to a self-appointed religious elite, in the case of Iran.
"Second, the legislative scope of parliament is limited by
the Shari'a for the obvious reason that this is a divinely legislated
code. For example, Turabi believes that 'an Islamic order of government
is essential a form of representative democracy', but he qualifies
this in a remarkable way: 'an Islamic government is not strictly
speaking a direct government of and by the people; it is a government
of Shari'a. But (he goes on) 'in a substantial sense, it is a popular
government since the Shari'a represents the convictions of the people
and, therefore, their direct will. This limitation on what a representative
body can do is to guarantee the supremacy of the religious will
of the community. This is a fairly typical statement. It obviously
has the effect of removing real authority from democratic elections.
It reinterprets the Western idea of democracy in an interestingly
Rousseauistway, and so reunites it with the Islamic ideal.
"The question of course is, how and by whom is the Shari'a
to be interpreted? How are we to know what 'the religious will of
the community' is? This is, characteristically, left unanswered.
A Christian might hold similar view, but her/she would be more likely
to leave the interpretation of religious Right, at least in a political
context, to the individual voter. An issue like abortion, however,
provides an exception in some countries.
"Finally, on constitutional matters, Islamic political though
as a whole, both modernist and fundamentalist, is characterised
by a remarkable lack of detail. The Muslim Brethren said that they
would leave the 'specifics' to 'time, place and the needs of the
people'. For Qutb, it may be said, 'the form of government
based on the principles of Islam is not of vital importance. In
theory, it is a matter of indifference
whether the Islamic
state has a republican or other form of government.' For him, 'the
goodness of the state does not depend on its institutions but
on its underlying principles.' Fundamentalists tend to dismiss the
details of constitutions and governmental procedures - - the stuff
of practical politics - - as 'futile arguments about mere technicalities'.
Choureiri comments that 'this aversion to discuss concrete politics
has become the hallmark of contemporary Islamic radicalism.
The role played by Outb's negative approach in this respect was
undoubtedly the most decisive factor. V.S. Naipaul captures this
in his record of interviews in the Islamic world, conducted just
after the 1979 revolution, when expectations were are their highest
and the fundamentalists project at its peak:
The late twentieth-century Islam appeared to raise political issues.But
it had the flaw of its origins - - the flaw that ran right through
Islamic history: to the political issues it raised it offered no
political or practical solution. It offered only the faith. It offered
only the Prophet, who would settle everything - - but who had ceased
to exist. This political Islam was rage, anarchy.
Similarly, Ayubi comments, 'one may search the manifestoes of the
Muslim Brethren or the Iranian clerics for a detailed description
of what an Islamic state or an Islamic economy should look like,
but such a search will be in vain' (p. 42). This is partly due to
the implicit belief that moral principles and virtue of those in
power are what really matter; that, once these are settled, everything
else will fall into place. The result is that when people speak
of popular sovereignty and the rule of law, one cannot always be
clear whether it is a serious proposition or a rhetorical device.
In the section that follows, Black explains, "Liberty as a
social and political norm has entered Islamic political thought
only during the last 150 years or so and in response to European
influence. The progress of liberal values in generally depends,
partly through not wholly, upon the separation between religion
and the polity. But, for both traditional Islamic thinkers and fundamentalists,
the function of the state must include enforcement of religious
values in public life; this is stated time after time as the state's
most serious, indeed its only duty . . .
'A state which does not take interest in establishing virtue and
eradicating vice and in which adultery, drinking . . . obscene literature,
indecent films . . . immoral display of beauty, promiscuous mingling
of women and men, co-education, etc. flourish without let or hindrance
cannot be called an Islamic state.' [He cites Khomeini as one source
for this estimate of the proper role of the state and religion.]
. . . . . .
Equality "traditionally has meant by [the term an] equality
among male Muslims. This raises the question of human rights in
an Islamic state or in a state with a Muslim majority. Zubaida observes
that 'Islam has no specific doctrine of human rights', but that
Muslims have endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1948) and have found it fully compatible with Islamic doctrine;
indeed, they have claimed that Islam got there first. One strength
of Islamic moral culture has certainly been the informal exercise
of moral duties regardless of the state. But, once again, the real
issue is how rights are applied in detail, and, of course, to whom.
"On the whole, the greater the influence of traditional Islam,
or of fundamentalism, the more restricted women are, and the more
difficult is the situation of non-Muslims, especially non-theists.
Many modernists, but among fundamentalists only Turabi, have championed
equality of women in marriage, including monogamy and an equal right
to divorce, and the equality of women in education."
Black continues his interpretation of Islam and its engagement with
the modern world, that is, the West, by noting that "the rights
of non-Muslims have received less attention in the West, for obvious reasons
of political correctness. But this is no less a serious matter;
it is a matter of life and death. The prospects for political, or
even legal, equality for non-Muslims are tied in with the people's
perception of their political and social identity."
The Christian or humanist seems to have more difficulty than a Muslim
in detaching citizenship from religious or non-religious affiliation,
according to Black. The divergence goes back to historical origins
and first principles, which he notes on page 10 of this book. In
effect, Christianity started as an alien society and detached itself
from the state; Islam took over political society. The authoritative
texts of the two faiths, Black argues, reflect this difference.
Until an intellectual revolution, a revolution equivalent to the
Reformation of the sixteenth century in Western Christianity, occurs
in Islam, things will not change.
It is against the background provided so helpfully by Naipaul and
Black that enables a reader to make sense of a story that appeared
in a recent issue of The Economist.
The Economist carries a story dealing with American born members
of Al-Qaeda.The story line reads: American born members of Islamic
extremist groups have shed their American citizenship in order to
serve Islam either overseas or to assist terrorists in the United
Perhaps it was an oversight on my part, but in countries where "political
correctness" tends to obfuscate issues and in lands in which
"tolerance" is carried to extreme ends, stories such a
this one are buried in news rooms. If so, then the press or media
are highly selective, as a noted novelist had discovered.
United Press International reports in its October 9, 2002, 14:15
news dispatch that Oriana Fallaci, 72, an Italian novelist, was
in the dock in Paris.
Her offense? Fallaci's best-selling book in Italy and France, Rage
and Pride,is a work in which she characterizes Muslims as "vile
creatures who urinated in baptisteries" and "multiply
like rats." This recent work by the celebrated author is what
she calls "a sermon." She pulls no punches when she challenges
bureaucrats and politicians who refuse to enforce the laws of their
country or defend its citizens against the encroachment of Muslims
who do not want to assimilate. Most notably, she speaks harshly
of the leaders of Italy, and leaders of other once major European
nations, who fold under the pressure of political correctness and
other fads, and do not enforce their laws. On this issue, Fallaci
is not willing to retreat, however, in spite of pressure to capitulate
to the prevailing winds of cultural abandonment.
Because of her outspoken remarks in this new book, an anti-racist
group petitioned a French court to ban the book from publication.
Unwilling to go that far - - banning the book! - - , The Human Rights
Leaguesimply wants to have disclaimers appended to The Rage and
the Pride because, the petitioners to the court claim, the disparaging
passages do not reflect the Muslim religion accurately.
However, one must asks, Are Fallaci's observations and description
of Muslim behavior in European cities or elsewhere an inaccurate
depiction? Does she speak the truth?
After reading The Rage and the Pride and reading Naipaul's Among
the Believers, she indeed finds Islam repulsive, but Naipaul expresses
his disdain more softly. He, too, is not impressed for reasons obvious
to any intelligent person. As for Fallaci's severe criticisms and
trenchant and bold and brash commentary, one justifies it on the
basis that she has seen Islam in action in her many years of travel
as a journalist and novelist.
Equally important is the fact that though she was raised a Roman
Catholic, she now is an atheist, but, in some sense, remains a devout
cultural Roman Catholic, which explains her outrage. Furthermore,
because of her past religious upbringing, she asks the Pope to act
like a Pope and defend the Church against this alien religion.
In retrospect, these two seemingly disparate episodes - - Al-Qaeda
in Lackawanna, New York, and Oriana Fallaci in a Paris dock - -
provide a context for reading Robert Spencer's book.
Robert Spencer's Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions about the
World's Fastest-Growing Faithtackles a wide range of subjectsthat
gives the reader a new means of assessing Islam within the words
of the Koran.
Spencer, a student of Islam for twenty years, apparently has read
ever-important book on the subject, or so it appears, including
the Koran. In this impressive synthesis, he demonstrates how the
interplay of social forces that drive the extremist and terrorist
movements in Islam are encouraged not only by passages in the Koran
but, he adds, how the Koran and among the extremist religious leaders,
become deadly in the modern world.
Toward the end of his work, however, Spencer concludes the West
may have lost its will to resist this powerful religious-political
force, a horrible idea in my estimation. Spencer's lament certainly
fits what Fallaci preaches about toward the end of The Rage and
Although the Spencer's text is may be read as largely explanatory
or interpretative of events that are accumulating on an almost daily
basis, I have also included in footnotes important texts that illuminate
or explain the historical context.
The question that keeps returning in my mind is a simple one: "Will
the real Islam please stand up?" However, an answer to that
question is not as simple as the question is, because the record
of Islam's dealing with the world, historically speaking, is sometimes
clear, sometimes ambiguous. The ambiguity appears to fall on a fault
line between the Arab forms of Islam and the Islam of non-Arab countries.
Some Closing and Personal Observations
The audience for this annual meeting will welcome abundance of presentations
on Islam and other non-Christian or world religions, and with the
context of biblical and theological understandings. These are important
Nevertheless, I believe those of evangelical persuasion have the
duty to read widely non-theological authors, who in the course of
the travels and research provide other perspectives on Islam, and
fill in the gaps that make us aware what Islam is.
Yet, in offering this limited portrait of Islam, it may be that
like in France, the subject of Islam and of Muslims may be considered
in poor taste if authors, who have conducted field or academic research,
provide an unflattering portrait of the practical side of Islam.
However, most of my experiences during brief excursions in the Middle
East do not fit the expectations of political correctness, though
on some occasions I have met some Christian Arabs and a few Muslims
who are genuine and decent.
For now, in American governmental circles, Islam remains a protected
issue, as it does in many American and European universities and
among some American denominations. Naively, we desperately want
to believe Muslims are like us, that is, they are totally peaceful
in all its dealings.
While many Muslims are, there are those who are absolutely rigid
and unyielding belief in Islam's superiority over all religions
and their allegiance to the demands of citizenship in nation-states
is of no consequence. This Islam becomes unavoidably part religion,
part politics, as Black makes clear.
When Islam achieves a status in a state or culture the call for
all people to submit becomes unrelenting and powerful. And when
Islam enjoys majority status in a land or state and is able to dictate
the rules of the state, the practice of Islam among those peoples
becomes compulsory or failure to convert to Islam places the non-believer
Quite naturally, my interest in Islam was revived as a result of
September 11, 2001. Much earlier in college, however, I remember
my first encounter with a Muslim came when, as a pledge to a fraternity
in a small Methodist college in Texas, I met Greg M., an Iraqi.
Greg M. and I were two of ten pledges in the spring of 1954.
We were on a field trip - a pledge event! - when Greg, a young Muslim
from Baghdad, voiced a threat against one of the fraternity members
who he believed as mistreating him. Greg M. literally shouted, "'If
I ever get you back to Iraq, I will kill you.'"
The offense, minor in nature and something these Texas boys and
Protestant Christians did not find offensive even when it happened
to them, too, was minor in nature. But that instructive moment was
filed in my memory, and remembrance of that incident during 1954
surfaced when September 11 unfolded, forty-seven years later.
Then, in 1968, a year almost to the day after the Six-Day War in
which Israel whipped the combined forces of five countries, I was
a member of the Princeton Seminary Study Tour of the Bible Lands.
Our tour took us to Lebanon (before the Civil War that began in
1971), to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to Israel (the 1948 state
and the newly worn territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem),
to Egypt and finally to Greece.
Among the many vivid memories of this trip, however, one memory
surfaced again when the events of September 11 unfolded. Our party
went to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. In twenty years, the Jews had brought
a sense of biblical restoration to the land - - trees were planted
and growing and the modern roads were paved and the Negev was reclaimed
in whole or part.
These details are merely suggestive of the modernization the Jewish
State undertook with its establishment. But also the State of Israel
brought the modern world of sanitation, health, and economy to the
Arab peoples who resided within its borders. But the denouement
came on the day our party took to a day trip to Masada near the
Dead Sea. We left Jerusalem and began our descent toward Jericho,
not that long ago before June 1967, when Jericho was an Arab town
and under the administration of King Hussein of Jordan.
In one year's time, the Bedouin, whose flocks and herds grazed on
the hills of the Judean Wilderness, were able to draw water from
a faucet rather than drawing water from other sources. Why hadn't
the King of Jordan provided water, I asked myself.
The old and modern and the ancient and the contemporary ways were
meeting in what we take for granted: water piped to the location.
Since 1984, I have not visited Israel and I do not know what transformations
the Palestinian Liberation Organizationand Yasser Arafat have brought
to Gaza and those enclaves on the West Bank that are under control
of the PLO. My expectation is they have stopped material progress
in its tracks.
But events of September 11, 2001 cannot be divorced from the ongoing
violence that engulfs the Middle East, especially within the State
of Israel. As Islamic terrorism spreads its tentacles around the
world, touching Indonesia and Bali, and threatens other nations,
including the Europeans as well, we must view Islam as seamless
robe in spite of the desire to think otherwise.
This is not a time for sentiment or unreciprocated good will.
James A. Glasscock, H.R.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
5 Sherwood Drive
Fallsington, PA 19054-2607
Web Page: Longdrycreek.com
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