Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Debate - Ali and Hussein

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ed Hussein debated yesterday evening in London about the way forward for Muslims, first in Europe and then elsewhere. Their positions are, by now, well known. Ali thinks the problem is not the reading of Islam, but the religion itself, which she sees as intrinsically totalitarian. Hussein maintains that it is only by going deep into the traditions of Muslim toleration that adherents can find a way to live within both their faith and the modern world.

I admire Ali's courage and believe that her choice of total rejection must be available to Muslims without their being threatened with a grisly end. However, even from my position of ignorance about Islam, I can see a huge weakness in her argument. It's totally impractical. Islam, whether her reading of it is correct or not, is hardly going to disappear; it means too much to too many people. In addition, there is a growing number of Muslims (Ed Hussein among them) who are both devout and as comfortable as anyone else in today's world, and who are willing to condemn absolutely the tactics and theology of the Jihadis.

However, the proof that Ed Hussein's stance can become less exceptional is needed both in Europe and in, most particularly, in Muslim countries. But in both places, the more fundamentalist positions not only get more air-time (which may be unfair, but does reflect the degree of concern / fear felt by non-Muslims), but seem to be far more attractive to many young people. They've got the allure of the radical, the righteous and the pure that Communism used to have. They're sexier. That's a potent combination.

32 comments:

Hazar Nesimi said...

As always in my past arguments I see both sides. 70 years of repression in Azerbaijan did not diminish values of Islam - because it means too much to people and it is still is a part of culture and ethnic identity (for a billion of people). In this type of argument many things are personal- cruel indignations and torture (she was circumsized, awful!) that Ayyan Hirsi was subjected when young compelled her to become a vociferous critic of Islam. I understand her sources of anger, but it is very personal sometimes. Ed Hussein was from a comfortable background - good Muslim family- but joined a jihadi group to protest against it - so his understanding of Islam is different, when he has grown up. Islam is what it is - but it is also what you make of it. Everyone chooses his path that's okay , but for the West path advanced by her is a disaster. Beware of universal solutions,- they never work. As you say - it all has been tried.

NoolaBeulah said...

I think Ed Hussein's approach will be much more fruitful simply because he's working from within. But you're quite right about universal solutions. I've always like George Bernard Shaw's little motto: The Golden Rule is ... that there is no golden rule.

Riri said...

I think the West are too quick to think that just because in their case they needed to shake off religion by decentralizing power from the Church to reach a degree of intellectual freedom and enlightenment never before dreamt of, other peoples should do the same. In reality, we as Muslims, and am talking about mainstream Muslims (you always get spectrums of people not just a uniform homogeneous group even if they say they adhere to the same beliefs etc), do not feel we need to do that as our religion is very supportive of intellectual pursuits, individual freedoms (within the confinement of society however not complete freedoms) and it recognizes and addresses both spiritual and materialistic needs of Man. This is not my way of interpreting it, anybody who cares to look at the explicit Quranic texts will immediately see that. Islam's egalitarian spirit just charms many. That is why Muslims fail to see why they need to ditch something that in theory at least looks so appealing, especially when contrasted with the purely materialistic Western approach. They look back at the history of Islamic Empire and they see a concrete proof that Islam is not against science, not against other religions and it does not oppress creativity. I think we should all just accept that the only way is to let people find their way by themselves without trying to impose personal views no matter how convinced you are about them. Am saying this to both Muslims and non Muslims. Obviously, people who pose a threat need to be neutralized, they pose a threat to everyone even Muslims. But paint-brushing a whole set of people and their religion based on a tiny minority is unfair to say the least and certainly against Western values even.

NoolaBeulah said...

You may well be right that Islam and a particular reading of the Koran is supportive of the intellect, freedom and other religions. But where is this actually achieved?

Qutb was right when he spoke about the West's schizofrenia. There is a real division, and no-one has been able to find a way to heal it. The problem is that this division led to immense power, which is very difficult to argue against.

You can oppose to this schizofrenia the Oneness of a universe created by God, but that must always be translated into the 'manyness' and messiness of human life. It may just be because I am a product of a schizofrenic culture, but I cannot see how to organise a political system except on the basis of plurality, which means the Oneness of God must be politically marginalised.

I'm not saying that our way is necessarily the only way; the Chinese and the Russians certainly don't think so. But I cannot see another way to safeguard the freedoms that I have been raised in. It may well be that others will see fit to swap those freedoms for some other value. C'est la vie. I just don't want to be there when they do.

Riri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Riri said...

You'll have to illustrate that with some examples Noolabeulah as am not clear what you mean, am not sure what the onness of God has to do with politics, it certainly does not mean onness of ruling party or that ruling party has some divine decree, in fact that would be considered a form of "shirk" in Islam (associating other entities with God). Might you not be confusing Islam with theocracy? We all agree on plurality in politics what am not sure about is how that is in conflict with monotheism? Islamic Law only applies to Muslims, that is again very explicit in the Quran, when somebody declares they are Muslim they already know the code of conduct they should observe, the Quran always addresses "believers" (i.e. those who believe this is a divinely revealed book) when giving instructions on aspects of whorship or basic aspects of jurisprudence. Those who do not believe it is divinely revealed are absolutely free to do as they wish.

NoolaBeulah said...

Islamic Law only applies to Muslims, that is again very explicit in the Quran, when somebody declares they are Muslim they already know the code of conduct they should observe, the Quran always addresses "believers" (i.e. those who believe this is a divinely revealed book) when giving instructions on aspects of whorship or basic aspects of jurisprudence. Those who do not believe it is divinely revealed are absolutely free to do as they wish.

Riri, where does this actually happen? You tell me what the Koran says, and I believe you (I've tried to read it, but didn't get too far), but what really happens in practice?

There is a contradiction between a belief in an absolute truth (One - the word of God) and pluralism. The Catholic Church no longer preaches its divine right to rule, but only because it was battered out of it. It had no choice and it adapted, as any healthy organism will. But the battering took the form of military campaigns and 150 years of conflict.

Judaism, which with its tradition of creative and pluralist interpretation, was the most adapted of all the three; nevertheless, it has never seriously been 'tempted' with absolute power. Israel was a product of Enlightenment thought as much as the Judaic tradition and was set up as a secular state.

I don't know an example of a religious state that is pluralist in a way that I understand the term. Are you talking about a secular state or a religious one; or something in between? What is Algeria?

Riri said...

Are you serious Noolabeulah? I quote: Judaism, which with its tradition of creative and pluralist interpretation, was the most adapted of all the three; nevertheless, it has never seriously been 'tempted' with absolute power. Israel was a product of Enlightenment thought as much as the Judaic tradition and was set up as a secular state.

You gotta be having a laugh mate. We gotta put Judaism in the book of records because it must be the only human grouping that is not "tempted" by power, defo. So you think the State of Israel is a good example of a pluralist government that is centered around a religious identity? How do you understand pluralism exactly?

NoolaBeulah said...

Riri. I honestly was not trying to start an argument about Israel. The point was that it is a state that has at the back of it an Abrahamic religion, but is nevertheless secular, with separation of powers, etc. If it had been founded in any other period of history, that would most likely have not been the case.

However, the larger point is what I would like to remain with. And that is, how close can a state be to a one-God religion and be pluralist? Where it has been done, it is due to a rigid separation of powers. You've been saying that Islamic states could, or should, or might be the exception. Haven't you? How?

NoolaBeulah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NoolaBeulah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NoolaBeulah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Riri said...

OK, wise decision, let's keep out of arguments about Palenstine.

Please define what you mean by pluralism - when I use this term I always refer to political pluralism, is that the case for you too? My larger point that I wish to remain with is that there is no conflict between Islam as a monotheistic faith and political pluralism simply because there is no middle man in Islam and the mosque is certainly not an equivalent to the Christian Church, it has no divine decree as such, it is more like a community centre. It is not the mosque that will govern. We really need to agree on a definition of pluralism to keep the argument within bounds - so go on then what is your definition?

NoolaBeulah said...

Pluralism is the acknowledgement of reality. Every society is made up of many different groups, some of whose wishes and values will come into conflict with each other. A society that recognises this will attempt to accommodate these conflicting views without too heavy a hand. So pluralism is an act of self-restraint on the part of the state or society; it withholds its coercive hand as much as possible.

The above description assumes, however, that there is a centre, a dominant power/group/philosophy - the brain that rules and 'withholds' the hand. Multiculturalism went further than this pluralism by claiming that there should not be that central power, that all groups within the society were of equal validity and that no set of values should have precedence over the others.

This is impractical as well as self-contradictory, and has led to resentment and confusion. Every society needs a central authority, a mixture of tradition and innovation, but a brake on the centrafugal forces that are always present.

Here we come to the point of our discussion: what should be the nature of that central authority? I've been saying that, if we are to ensure pluralism, I can't imagine an authority that is not essentially secular. I say this because one that is religious would be too tempted by the absolute truths that religion teaches, and would tend to slip very easily into authoritarianism. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that this is not the case and that it is possible to have both a religious authority and pluralism. Is that right?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Let me add few points - since we ar
e discussion a central authority.
I am more of cultural relativist here, but I recognize mpracticality of implementation of such a concept in a state. I would like to live in a society - and I agree that current secular version is closest we can get -that is essentially impartial to one's beliefs and attempts to rule through an achieved consensus (not necessarily democratic). However as I reliogisly inclined person would like people to be swayed by my views, it would be natural to wish so. If sufficient number of them do - however then the balance changes in the opposite direction of less secular for it is through majority. The spiritually guided authority to be fair has to be even more attentive and protective of minorites and deviants than the secular state and this is the line that is hard to draw. What I want is a secular state populated by truly believing people. Is that possible? I don't know.

Riri said...

Noolabeulah - I understand where you are coming from. In order for me to explain the Muslim standpoint on secularism, pluralism etc I want you to consider the following points:

- In the world we live in today, Islam is one of the major religions. A lot of people believe in the prophethood of Muhammed (pbuh)

- These people's minds do not reject the possibility of divinely revealed knowledge, they very much believe in a spiritual dimension

- These people know the message of Islam and because they believe in it and also because it offers guidance on ALL aspects of life, including politics and jurisprudence, they understandably want to apply their religion in their lives

- Secularism in its mildest degree separates religion from politics. In Islam, this means ignoring a whole set of Islamic revelation. This is hypocritical and illogical for a believer in Islam. In Christianity, secularism in not a problem because Christianity focusses on spiritual matters, unlike Islam which encompasses spiritual and material matters.

Now, consider Muslim countries, or countries where people are predominantly Muslim. Understandably, they want politicians and the ruling political power to apply Islam in all aspects where there is a clear and unambiguous Koranic text. They do not want secularism, because in their case it will be hypocritical, plus it would (objectively) be second best to Islam anyway.

Now, for minority and non Muslims who happen to live in these countries - will their rights be compromised? As a Muslim, I think that a State based and inspired by Islamic faith can only be egalitarian, even more than modern secularism. Islam is not a denial of reality, the reality of pluralism as you call it, on the contrary, it is a perfect ackowledgement of the conflicting extremes of human nature. An Islamic state does not mean that minorities will be oppressed by subjecting them to Islamic Law regardless of their creed, a secular state will force a person of a certain religion to repress some behaviours or thoughts in public spheres, it annihilates the identity of minorities who do not fit the secular model, Is this an ackowledgement of reality? I think not.

All Muslims believe that if Islam were really applied in all its aspects, the amount of injustice will plummet. Secularism doesn't even come close to matching the potential of a truly Islamic state. Our real problem is that we haven't got a clue how to go about ensuring that whoever gets to power tries to apply Islam. We have tried voting for so called Islamic parties, but unfortunately, some of them have turned out to be worse than all the others put together. There are other points I want to talk about but I do not want to write an essay.

NoolaBeulah said...

"...it offers guidance on ALL aspects of life, including politics and jurisprudence..."

Riri, you can see the problem for us secular westerners in this recipe - it is totalitarianism in its original meaning: affecting "all" parts of life. The 20th Century was the battle between that assumption of absolute truth and the 'reality' that we do not have access to it (so it should never be assumed).

"All Muslims believe that if Islam were really applied in all its aspects, the amount of injustice will plummet. Secularism doesn't even come close to matching the potential of a truly Islamic state."

Christians used to believe this, too. So did the communists. By definition, a society based on an all-encompassing vision will look superior to a liberal one. They always have, and always will. But the biggest difference between them is that liberal society actually exists while the others haven't, don't and won't.

You may claim that Islam is different and superior to the other ideologies I referred to above, but can you cite any cases of where this is demonstrated? I perfectly understand why you might want an alternative to the liberal state (though I can't believe it is because of the 'repressions' it enforces - no other system in history represses less). I can't understand on what basis Islam should be that alternative.

NoolaBeulah said...

"What I want is a secular state populated by truly believing people."

That's exactly how early capitalist states were; the trouble is that they don't stay like that if they are at all economically successful (though the US seems to be an exeption to that).

"The spiritually guided authority to be fair has to be even more attentive and protective of minorites and deviants than the secular state.."

Spiritually guided authorities don't have a particularly good record in this department, unless the minority was economically useful.

Riri said...

Noolabeulah, I understand the secular westerners problem with all religions, let alone Islam which is the current equivalent of a satanic cult in light of what has been going on in the world recently.

What I was trying to explain to you was how Muslims think, my point is that a large section of this planets inhabitants uphold Islamic religious beliefs, they may look unreasonable for the rest of the planet's inhabitants, but to themselves they are being perfectly reasonable because they want to act out their faith and not be hypocritical. Are you telling me that we must somehow embrace secularism just to "fit-in" with the current fashion in politics?

One other point, just because Islam provides guidelines on all aspects of life does not make it necessarily totalitarian, it is true that there are things that are not open to interpretation (like nature of God etc), but other things that are to do with politics, society and in general earthly matters are very much open to interpretation, this is why we believe Islam suits all epochs. I think it is a bit too hasty of you to declare that it will never work given that you admitted not to know a lot about Islam don't you think?

One more thing, nobody is saying Muslims want to impose their laws on the West. It is looking more like the other way round, secularism wants to impose itself on the entire planet, despite its flaws. If you say it suits you, fine. But do you think that means it will suit every culture? Is secularism totalitarian then? Or should it become the norm? You admit that it may not be perfect but then you quickly dismiss any alternative that is based on an inaccessible reality (i.e. divine revelation). You forget that this is only inaccessible to secularists because they reject it by definition. For others, it is as much a reality as anything that can be reached by reason or the senses.

An Islamic empire has existed in the past and it was pretty successful, totalitarian is probably not a term I would associate with it. I don't see how you can be confident that: "(But the biggest difference between them is that) liberal society actually exists while the others haven't, don't and won't"? I don't think you can make such judgements so quickly, because societies exist and disappear in time scales that are much longer than the average life expectancy. You may say judging from History, but then non-liberal societies have existed in the past, they did not last true, but who is to say that liberal societies will not cease to exist in future just like non-liberal ones did in the past?

I will answer your last question in another comment as this one is getting v long already. I just want to conclude by saying this is why I always say we should give each other room to work out solutions for ourselves. I realise it is a very hard exercise especially when survival fears and anxieties kick in, but it is a necessary evil.

Muslims want Islam, secularists want secularism. Let everybody have their pick, what is the problem?

Riri said...

In answer to your question: "I perfectly understand why you might want an alternative to the liberal state (though I can't believe it is because of the 'repressions' it enforces - no other system in history represses less). I can't understand on what basis Islam should be that alternative"

I suggest we do the following in order to make comments as succint as possible:

You list the most attractive advantages a secular/liberal state will offer and which you think will unlikely be superceeded by a non-secular secular state and I will respond to each by giving the Islamic alternative (to the best of my knowldge). How's that?

In your answers, please try to address the following point: how would a secular/liberal state acknowledge the reality of a predominantly Muslim population wanting to live their faith fully even in their political activities (other than denying that it is a "reality" that is).

Hazar Nesimi said...

I think before letting yourself in the discussion, just like philosophers do its better to define what is "secular', and what is 'religious' and what kind of society you are talking about. Should it be based on Quran authority, Sunnah only, which one, etc. And main thing is Who's to decide. I believe the Book and my heart and it will take convincing from other people to let me follow them.There is also a half-way house which is cites religious law in spirit, not in letter (I believe Algeria is like that)

The same with secular society - what is it? Is it complete suppresion of Religion in all walks of life, is it partial one, or is it accomodation of its aspects. how many. Are hijabs ok to be worn in public spaces, prayer books distributed freely. Prostitution legalized. Many practical matters, there. Where to base the authority on public policy. Science? It changes on monthly basis.


Also Riri it is not entirely true that: "In Christianity, secularism in not a problem because Christianity focusses on spiritual matters, unlike Islam which encompasses spiritual and material matters". It is like that now, but Christianity - and even more so Judaism also has rulings for many live's occasions, which come through not direct revelation like in Quran but by "Sunna" of prophets: Moses, Noah, Jesus (see Ten Commandments). The are equivalent to Muslim hadith. This is a ploy those Islam bashers use always to attack Islam - look how good we are, how bad are they, etc. In reality we, three, are not very different.

Riri said...

You are right Nazim. For me religious is the wrong term, when I say Islamic state, I simply mean the aknowledgement and acceptance that established and authentic Islamic sources should have priority when deciding on public policies to do with muslim citizens. This means that people in power (they can be multiple parties, opposition is very much encouraged) will discuss and consult with each other and use all available information at hand (scientific, historical, social you name it) but within the prism of Islamic Law in unambiguous cases when formulating policies. The Islamic tradition of Ijtihad can be used to address ambiguous cases.

By secular I mean the whole spectrum of systems which seek to push aside religious influences from State matters, from its weakest level (separate religion from politics) to its most extreme level (separate religion from life in general).

NoolaBeulah said...

Boy, have we got into a hornet's nest! There are so many important issues raised here that I wonder if we can do them justice at all. I fear not. We would need to be sitting around a table, and I would need to be able to smoke without feeling guilty.

I have never said that a liberal and secular society was ideal - it is not. It's just the best we have come up with. In fact, as a system, it is the studious avoidance of ideals because more often than not, they lead to violence. One of the costs of living in this society, where the whole idea was born, is that I can very rarely have the sort of discussion that we are having. People shy away from politics and religion because it raises such deep feelings. (I was out this evening, and the discussion came round to religion, via the silliness in Sudan. It was me against four, all of whom maintained that religion is either social control or ridiculous, or both. Someone brought in politics; at that, another voice raised against the whole discussion prevailed, and the subject was dropped. This is not the case in Italy, where I had some wonderful arguments, but that may be one of the reasons why that country is ungovernable.)

The advantages of a secular/liberal state?

1. It is successful (ie. it is powerful)
2. It is susceptible to criticism and can change because the people in power change
3. More people have the chance to do something well because the artificial barriers against them all can be critised and brought down
4. It gives room for creative people to create
5. It leaves people alone to live as they wish more than any other system in history
6. It assumes that no-one has exclusive possession of the truth
7. It allows for conflict. In fact, it is built on the assumption that conflict is inevitable and therefore develops the means to resolve it peacefully
8. It can allow beliefs contrary to itself to exist within it
9. It rewards results rather than intentions
10. It places its own ruling institutions under the law, so that the government, the police, etc can be brought to court

Riri said...

1. It is successful (ie. it is powerful)

This is not a specific trait of secularism, there are many systems that can be said to be successful or at least have been so for a decent period of History. It may well be argued that it is successful now, but many would argue that the causality link is not very clear between secularism and overall prosperity of societies, we only know that the most successful countries (economically) at this time of our History happen to be secular. A lot more data is needed to prove the causality link between secularism and success, not least by having more alternative systems to choose from. Furthermore, the definition of “success” is quite relative to cultures. Therefore my answer to that point is – an Islamic State will be successful and powerful (at least according to our definition of success), we’ll just have to figure out how to make it so. We have no wish to discredit any form of human knowledge, and that includes divine revelation. This is only fair, because religion is here to stay, it is part of us - we accept that. In this sense secularism is equivalent to hiding clutter in a cupboard until one clear day the door gives way under the volume of clutter pushing behind it and the whole lot spills on the floor right in the middle of an afternoon tea party full of distinguished guests. Awkward. Secularism is potentially very awkward.

2. It is susceptible to criticism and can change because the people in power change

In an Islamic State, people in power will change as well based on a democratic election process which permits the people to choose between candidates and remove power from those who do not deliver on their promises. Islam is not against democracy nor is it against criticism in the sense that the ruling power is elected by people and they have the right to criticize the ruler, in fact criticism and change of unjust systems is more of an Islamic duty than a right that is primarily incumbent on people. I acknowledge that it is a limitation in Muslim countries that you don’t get a variety of parties which propose differently elaborated programs for boosting economy (for example) in a way that observes Islamic Law (for example charging interest on loans in prohibited in Islam). People are not happy about parties who copy and paste secular policies from the West without analyzing them against an Islamic background basically, because this gives the impression that these parties are not attentive to the people’s needs and beliefs.

3. More people have the chance to do something well because the artificial barriers against them all can be critised and brought down

I do not see how this will be any different in an Islamic state. In fact I don’t understand what you mean by artificial barriers therefore am not going to comment on this.

4. It gives room for creative people to create

Creativity is not restricted by religion, even blasphemy or heresy which is the extreme form of creativity from a religious sense can very well be accommodated in an Islamic state as long as there is an open intellectual environment where everyone can say what they want, but for constructive reasons not just to attract attention or disrespect others. In an Islamic State, I imagine you will have regulations that will not allow you to just attack religion (any religion) on unfounded basis or in a manner that is lacking respect or plain provocative. It makes sense because before resorting to disrespectful attackes, one should request clarifications and explanations, it is only good manners. Islam puts a restriction on “manners” not necessarily on “content”, there are ethics to be observed when engaging in discussion or dialogue. Our model is the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), his way of dealing with criticism and patiently transmitting the message of Islam was exemplary, he has never lacked respect towards anyone, even when people were purposefully rude and nasty towards him (pbuh). So, you will probably not be allowed to say gratuitously disrespectful things without risking to face some form of disciplinary measures. This will be decided by a court of Law based on many factors. Artistic expression is also very much welcome in Islam, but again there are regulations that will apply in public spheres, depravity, sexual exploitation and anything that will generally exploit people’s instincts for quick financial profit under the banner of creativity will probably not be allowed by an Islamic State.

5. It leaves people alone to live as they wish more than any other system in history

No it does not because it prevents religious people from “manifesting” their religiosity by sneering at them if they dare do so. A State that recognizes the dominant religion of its members would be more liberal in this sense, because it would allow everyone to live their life as they want – religious ones according to their religion, others according to their choices. An Islamic State will however not allow certain depraved conduct in public, in all cases that recommend disciplinary measures to be implemented, the Koran always specifies that at least 4 witnesses must exist that visually and directly saw the offensive act taking place (such as fornication in public). I have to say here that while the focus of liberalism is on the individual (everybody is free to act as they wish), the focus of Islam is on communities or societies – everybody is free to do as they please privately, but publicly every care should be taken to avoid public inconvenience, offence or violation of public decency. Everything you do in the privacy of your home is simply between you and Allah Who is all-seeing and Whom we believe we’ll all face on Judgment Day.

Riri said...

6. It assumes that no-one has exclusive possession of the truth

So does Islam, only Allah has exclusive possession of the Truth. We should follow the Koran as far as our understanding goes, but divergence of opinions is inevitable, welcome and healthy, as Muslims, the focus is the “manners” to be observed when dealing with differing opinions, not on suppressing them all together. Secularism on the other hand suppresses any religious views under the pretext that they are not part of its definition of “reality”.

7. It allows for conflict. In fact, it is built on the assumption that conflict is inevitable and therefore develops the means to resolve it peacefully

Same as above, with respect to conflict resolution peacefully, Islam is not against that at all. In fact I would add to peacefully, respectfully. But I must say that in some unpeaceful cases, peaceful measures are not appropriate according to Islam, cases like forceful and illegitimate occupation or when some outside party wages war and commits injustices towards other fellow Muslims in which cases it is the duties of all Muslims to counter-act them and defend themselves even through using force. This loyalty goes beyond Nationalism or Race. As Muslims we have a duty to help and assist our fellow Muslims from any nationality when they are being oppressed or violated. The golden rule is never to transgress or use more violence than is being committed against you by the other side. Generally, in Islam, when we are slapped on one cheek, we are not commanded to turn the other cheek, but we are allowed to (at most) slap back in exactly the same way we have been slapped. However, forgiveness is very much valued when practically feasible, it is valued because it will earn you more reward on Judgment Day on the basis that it is more dignified and has required more patience, perseverance and trust in Allah from your part. In brief, you are free to make your own judgment whether to slap back or forgive and forget under these general guidelines. All Islamic rulings give such room to make value judgments based on the different factors that enter into play.

8. It can allow beliefs contrary to itself to exist within it

Again an Islamic State should have no insecurities about allowing beliefs contrary to Islam to exist within it, simply because beliefs are not a matter of compulsion but also because it is the only way to discover new dimensions to our religion and deepen our faith by discovering new depths in the Qur’an (we believe that the Qur’an is an inexhaustible source of wisdom, it contains many layers of understandings of various depths). If Allah Himself allowed beliefs contrary to His revealed religion to exist, we as Muslims believe that it is not our role to suppress or banish them. We are only responsible for our own actions and as such we want to do what Allah commands us to do in our lives. Others who disbelieve will just have to face the consequences on the Day of Judgment, our responsibility stops at transmitting the Message to them and trying our best to explain it the best we could as well as provide a good example of it in practice through our behaviour. The rest is upon their shoulders, to believe or not to believe that is the question that everyone should endeavour to answer on a purely individual basis after thouroughly examining the facts, the State has no role to play here, except by ensuring that no acts of treason ensue from these beliefs (for example by siding with exterior enemies in order to forcefully and illegitimately impose those beliefs). I think this is common sense and perfectly legitimate.

9. It rewards results rather than intentions

In Islam we believe that only Allah knows people’s intentions, therefore only Him can reward based on intentions. An Islamic State will however be responsible for rewarding good performance by way of encouraging the Good. All Muslims are required to urge others to perform good actions and praise and encourage good deeds. Achievements that are useful and beneficial for society are amongst the best type of good deeds. The State’s responsibility in Islam is to safeguard the community’s best interests and prohibit injustice as much as possible, in this sense it will be responsible for promoting good work ethics among other things that benefit society as a whole

10. It places its own ruling institutions under the law, so that the government, the police, etc can be brought to court

Again, how is that any different to an Islamic State? This is not something invented by secularism, it is simply common sense. Everyone must be accountable to the State’s Law. A State is simply a way for human societies to organize themselves through sets of Laws or Rules, where secularism differs is that this Law does not use any religious scripture as a source, an Islamic State would use the Koran as a source, in addition to other forms of secular human knowledge.

Riri said...

I just want to add, with regards to ideals and how they intice violence - well, OK one approach would be to say let's ban ideals in order to minimize the chance of violence taking place. But that's a bit too dismissive and well, silly because it is a bit like saying I'll ban myself from falling in love in order to minimize the chance of being rejected. 1. You cannot ban ideals, humans need ideals. Secularists chose scientific and materialistic ideals, others do not favour these. 2. You cannot completely avoid violence, even by banning ideals. All you'll be doing is opening way to other sources of violence, in fact isn't banning ideals a form of emotional violence? Violence comes from human frustration, not ideals as such. Besides, idealists/extremists are needed because they are the ones who initiate change. Imagine where science would be were it not for extremist reductionnists and people who hold scientific pursuits as their ideal.

Can we ban some ideals and not others? On what basis would we do that? I think it is meaningless to claim that ideals generate violence. Even if it were so, they generate relatively much more good than violence.

NoolaBeulah said...

I've made some notes below about particular ideas, but there's a fundamental difficulty here. I have tried to restrict myself to what actually exists or has existed. You, however, are talking about something that doesn't and has never existed. You can say, "An Islamic state will be ..." - how can I confirm or contradict that? You can say what you want about a place that doesn't exist.

You may be basing what you say on the Koran, but then others can, and do, find a very different message there. But even if millions of others agreed with your interpretation and it was put down in a constitution, why should it not end up like the Soviet Constitution? That, too, was full of very fine sentiments, and what was the result? Alexander Zinoviev put it like this: The Soviet constitution was a document published so that those who agreed with it could be identified and dealt with.

I respect your diffidence regarding liberal democracy; you see its weaknesses clearly. I think I can understand your desire for something different, something better. It's just that it seems to me that when you move from criticism of one system to the description of the other, you move at the same time from clarity to wish-fulfillment.


"an Islamic State will be successful and powerful (at least according to our definition of success), we’ll just have to figure out how to make it so"
Which is the question I have been asking? How? Who? Where?

"In this sense secularism is equivalent to hiding clutter in a cupboard until one clear day the door gives way under the volume of clutter pushing behind it and the whole lot spills on the floor right in the middle of an afternoon tea party full of distinguished guests."
Very nice simile, but it could be argued that religions generally push much more into the cupboard.

"Islam is not against democracy"
If this is so, why has it never occurred?

"artificial barriers" are prejudices, such as racial ones.

"an open intellectual environment where everyone can say what they want"
There has never been a religiously-based state in which this was true. Why should it happen now?

"No it does not because it prevents religious people from “manifesting” their religiosity by sneering at them if they dare do so."
I was making an historical comparison between systems that have existed or exist. You make an absolute one - that is, people don't (not can't) express their reliosity so freely therefore (is the implication) they are not absolutely free. No, they are not, but I said 'freer'.

"A State that recognizes the dominant religion of its members would be more liberal in this sense, because it would allow everyone to live their life as they want"
That has never been the case. Why should it be so now or in the future?

"Secularism on the other hand suppresses any religious views under the pretext that they are not part of its definition of “reality”."
Can you define suppression? Where and how are religious views suppressed in the West? You've lived in England; tell me about the suppression of religion in England. Dear heavens, Abu Hamza was permitted to preach his version of Islam for 7 years in Finsbury Park. What sort of suppression is that?

"Same as above, with respect to conflict resolution peacefully, Islam is not against that at all. In fact I would add to peacefully, respectfully."
24 words on peaceful resolution and 229 on not-so-peaceful resolution.

"Again an Islamic State should have no insecurities about allowing beliefs contrary to Islam to exist within it"
Please square that with jailing a woman for allowing children to name a teddybear 'Mohammad', or people dying over some cartoons

"It places its own ruling institutions under the law, so that the government, the police, etc can be brought to court

Again, how is that any different to an Islamic State?"
Which Islamic state?

Riri said...

Noolabeulah, I think you raise some very challenging points that you are thanked for as they allow me to descend from my ivory tower and get a sense of reality. You are clearly very practically driven, and you have the advantage of having an existing example to base your argument on. I don’t and that is why what I say comes across as wish-fulfillment. I was trying to theoretically argue that for Muslim countries, there is a real justification for their rejection of secularism as it is interpreted as anti-religious, I suspect this might be the reason why I subconsciously focused on criticizing those aspects of secularism and liberal democracy that are in my view in conflict with religiously inspired morals. I was also hoping to convey the message that there are many misconceptions promoted by the secularists about the Muslim world in general and most (I concede) are helped by the primitive and immature attitude towards criticism that is currently rife in Muslim societies, but my point is that this is not necessarily to do with Islam as a way of life but it is to do with a dangerous tendency to culturize, parochialize and ritualize Islam. I think it looks like you appreciate the motivation behind my criticism but then you argue that it is precisely many of these defects that make the strength of the secular system because they allow it to elegantly minimize the risk of a bloody ideological clash. I agree that that is the main strength of secularism, even we as Muslims envy that particular trait of the secular system no doubt about that, but all am saying is we need more data so to speak before we (as societies not prepared to isolate religion from politics) can decide that Islam has to be excluded from politics if we were to enjoy such a strong power management system as secularism is in this respect. Where we differ is that we do not accept practical examples of the injustices that are being committed in Muslim countries as evidence against Islam as such, while the West clearly accepts them as more than enough evidence. We do not have evidence we will be successful, but we reserve the right to experiment and refine while holding on to our religion. I have tried to put a few thoughts based on your recent comments in list format:

- I accept that when it comes to Islam I am probably quite emotionally biased, so are many Muslims. Nobody can be completely immune to bias. That does not mean we will not be able to evolve some workable compromises that do not necessarily have to push aside our religion from politics. How? I don’t know yet, it is not a single person’s task, a lot of resources need to be mobilized. Do I think these resources are available in modern day Muslim countries? Probably not, or not in sufficient numbers, but again my optimistic side believes we can organize ourselves better as long as there is a real will to do so.

-Evidence: I completely accept that it is practically impossible to provide concrete evidence that a State that accepts religious sources as a source of information in Muslim countries in the way that I dream could be realized and implemented in current globalized environments, because all current evidence existing in Muslim countries points to the contrary. My point was to argue that the starting point for change does not have to be excluding Islam.

-Secularism is good up to a degree: I have no doubt that the UK is one of the more successful secular States, from my own experience I have had the time of my life there, I respect UK values and their immense tolerance for different ideas and cultures. The example you cite of Abu Hamza is quite pertinent. I admit that I may have used the word “suppress” a bit too “liberally”, when I used that word what I had in mind was the more extreme forms of secularism which ban all religious signs or behaviours in public (like what France has done)

-Dangerous Words: What you said about the Soviet Constitution is very interesting. I have not considered wording of a Constitution before, it certainly is an area which will give room to a lot of mis-use and injustice especially when referring to religious scriptures and “fixed truths”. I concede that this might be the most difficult barrier against making a non-secular fair State possible in practice.

-Diverging Priorities: I guess the fundamental difficulty is that we did not agree on our objectives. You want factual concrete examples of where Muslim countries are better than secular states (there are none at present, that is obvious), while I was trying to explain that Muslims are justified in not wanting secularism (especially in its extreme forms of rejecting religion all together). We don’t have any practically viable alternative currently in practice (I understand that this is what you meant by “successful and powerful”) that is true, we do recognize that we have huge problems, but we are not convinced that secularism is the way forward for us.

-Secularist Muslims Exist: It should be observed that Muslims are not a homogeneous entity, some Muslims are convinced that secularism is the way forward, my friend Nazim who comments here is one of these, I think he said earlier that he thinks secularism must be implemented as soon as possible in order to prevent further injustice from taking place in the name of religion. The surprising thing is that when these Muslims of varying opinions sit and talk together, they discover that what they want is very similar except that some call it secularism and some call it other names that include religious references. Concepts are very difficult to deal with in the absence of clear definitions, constructive dialogue and a general consensus on priorities. It is a question of cultural and linguistic nuance.

-GM Foods: (bet I baffled you with this eh?) The main worry for me is that were we to embark blindly on secularism, it is very difficult to foresee the long term consequences on Islam as a religion. Like GM crops and transgenic plants, we know that they offer great possibilities for securing abundant supplies of food, but we have no clue on how they might affect our health and the food chain in the long term. The bottom line is, we do not want to “lose our religion” as REM say and we certainly do not want to end up in an excessively liberal society, it inconveniences our prudishness. Adopting secularism looks a sure and inevitable way to end up in just such a society.

-Cross-roads with a Single Flashing Orange Light: I do not believe for a second that Western societies should retract from their secular ways, that is not what I was trying to say. My main concern is to do with predominantly Muslim countries, they are very much at cross-roads right now, they could blindly follow the secular path despite the flashing Orange light or give themselves a chance to work very hard and think of alternative ways which must exist although they are not clearly sign-posted. I howver agree that a road that leads to a ruling power that is exclusively religious has definitely a permanent red light. We are experiencing outside pressure understandably because we are trying the patience of other more powerful countries, and this is making us quite nervous, whatever we do we need to remain calm, that is crucial.

-On Free Critical Thinking: There is a major problem I recognize exists in societies which uphold “absolute truth” notions and it is the following: Do we have the capacity to think freely and critically as long as we are attached to religious dogmas? This is a very delicate question because it is loaded with explosive words, I risk to blow up in smithereens if I stamp on anyone of them. In my view, contrasting free critical thinking with religious dogmas is a marketing stunt, it paints free critical thinking with a positive light in the very words it uses to describe it relative to religious dogma. It pre-implies that religious thinking can only be dogmatic and inherently repels critical free thinking. I don’t agree with that, for me and many others, thinking that is inspired by religious scriptures can be as free and critical as any other human thinking that is inspired by natural, social or economical phenomena. Plus we should admit that it is a reality that people will have varying ability for critical thinking regardless of whether they uphold religious beliefs or not. Critical thinking is very much a capacity that can be acquired through proper education and studious training, it also depends on socio-economic factors and cultural values. There is a big problem with cultures that do not attach a high value to critical thinking, I admit we do have this cultural problem in modern Muslim societies, but it is a cultural problem not a religious one (or maybe theological would be a more accurate word as religious has become associated with too many negative things).

-Islamic Democracy: Your question was why has an Islamic democracy never occurred, it has though, Turkey is democratic and so is Kuwait and many Muslim countries are willing to move towards democratically elected governing powers. In any case, the non-existence of democracy in many Muslim countries is simply to do with corrupted Governments, not with the fact that they have Muslim populations.

-Peaceful Resolution: Can you give your insight on the peaceful resolution that took place in Iraq recently? People should reserve the right to defend themselves with any means they see fit, including violence when violence is being committed against them. I realize that this is not a "politically correct way", but who cares about political correctness, there are some tough facts of Life that need to be told as unequivocally as possible. How can you peacefully resolve a rape case then?

-Teddybears and Cartoons: Did these stories appear in The Sun or the Daily Mail? I don’t doubt their veracity, they probably did take place but so what? Nobody is denying that we have oppressive regimes and a section of our population has a clear tendency to overreact when it comes to religious criticism. That can be fixed with proper education and raising media awareness, not necessarily with secularism. Many Muslims were humiliated by the cartoons, but they chose to react more constructively by presenting historical facts about the Prophet (pbuh) that clearly show the absurdity and childishness of those cartoons through more civil discourse. It is not their fault they did not make it to prime time telly. As a Muslim, I could provide you with a lot more shocking stories of awful things that happen in Muslim countries, however, you will have to promise to share with me whatever you get for them from the local press. I hope you see that this is not really the subject of our discussion, because there is no disagreement there.

Riri said...

To sum up briefly, I'd say that my personal view is that a system that devalues religion or divine revelation will probably not "catch on" in Muslim countries. However, that does not necessarily mean that other values that may seem superficially unreconciable with religiously inspired thinking (from a purely secular perspective) need be sacrificed. This is the paradigm shift that Muslim countries are facing today.

NoolaBeulah said...

I should say at the start that I do not believe that religion should be suppressed, even the soft forms of suppression that exist in France, which, as far as I know, do not differ that much from those of Turkey and Morocco. France has always been a more avowedly secular state than Britain. Here it was always a matter of unspoken social norms rather than laws. One didn't thrust one's religion on others in political discourse, not because it was illegal, but because that just wasn't the place.

Yet it was always there. One of the things which distinguished the British Left from that of the continent was it was nurtured mostly in non-conformist (non-Church of England) circles. From the chapel pulpit to the trade union podium was but a step; the same man spoke from both, but he didn't mix up the two 'spaces', even if his political convictions were based very firmly on his Bible readings.

The trouble is that this unspoken consensus has broken down. This is due to many factors, among them the social revolution of the Sixties, which undermined all established authority, and globalisation, which has forced many culturally distant groups into ever greater proximity. Thus we are left with a vacuum in the centre and this has led to those reactions to religion that have repelled you so strongly.

You didn't hear such strident denunciations of religion as those of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens a decade ago (except among Marxists). This was partly because there was no need. Religion seemed in permanent decline and people were strangely content to leave the bigger questions to one side. (I'm one of those people; I don't ask about the meaning of my life in absolute terms because I don't think there's an answer to the question - or rather, that by asking the question, you assume that there is a meaning, an assumption that has no justification. My wife thinks differently.) That all changed on September the 11th, 2001.

The point I'm trying to make in so long-winded a way is this: the vehement secularism of today is very recent, and even the decadence you've mentioned is not much older. If you had come here in the 1950s, you would have seen neither of them. Furthermore, old fashioned protestantism, which has something of the stark simplicity of Islam, has only recently lost its influence over politics here (this aspect is, I repeat, Anglo-Saxon, not continental). And the further point I'm struggling towards is that, as I've described above, there is no need to rigidly separate politics and religion. They can work together as they did in the West. How that might work in Islam, I would not dare to suppose.

I haven't addressed your specific points, for which I apologise. But just two things. You've wish that countries or cultures could be left alone to develop in their own way. It won't happen. Not now. No-one gets left alone. The trick is to use it. If you'll excuse the vulgarity: the powerful are always bullies; the weak are always whores, but if they're clever whores, they can one day become bullies too, or at least get less bullied. The other thing is that I'm glad you mentioned Nazim. While I was writing my last response I was thinking that he'll be able to anticipate my every answer because we think in a very similar fashion.

Riri said...

Ta Noolabeulah - insightful comments there. I think you and Nazim both have a larger pile of Historical knowledge than me to fall back on, it may be why you think along similar paths. I tend to think more about people as emotional beings and I think I value Justice maybe to a humanly impractical extent, a bit idealistic perhaps.

Nazim is one of the friends I made while in the UK. You should have seen our discussions over dinners or after a movie. Let's just say he had a tendency to resolve conflict by breaking into a dance, which tendency I resolutely discouraged obviously because it wasn't fair for the argument...(hehehe!)

NoolaBeulah said...

I really must agree with you there - dancing to conclude an argument is completely out of order, and shows a deplorable lack of concern for the seriousness of things. Someone older and wiser should have a word with him. Is this an expression of that Sufi corner of his mind? How does Sufism go down in pubs?