Democracy and Islam
Democracy asserts the right of the people to write the laws under which
they shall live. Islamist dissenters reply that God has already pre-empted
"[The 45-minute tape] warned of attacks against anyone taking part in the elections, saying that the concept of the
people as 'the source of power' that should be obeyed was 'infidelity itself,' and death was the punishment for Muslim 'apostates.'...He [Zarqawi]
said 'the big US lie called democracy' was un-Islamic and that several principles underpinning democracy — majority rule, freedom of belief
and the separation of state and religion — flouted the tenets of Islam, whereby God, not the people, is the ultimate authority."
(AFP, 'Zarqawi tape declares all-out war on Iraq vote,' Sunday January 23, 2005).
Osama bin Laden concurs: "You are the nation who, rather than ruling
by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent
your own laws as you will and desire...You flee from the embarrassing question
posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation,
grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities
of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge
of the laws which govern their lives?" (bin Laden Letter, November 24, 2002).
Shi'ite extremists share this disdain for democracy:
"'Democracy, freedom, and human rights have no place' in Islam, said Mesbah Yazdi, who heads Shia Taliban, in a speech reprinted in Rooz,
an online Iranian news website." ('No place for democracy and human rights in Islam, says Qom theologian,'
Since the Koran does not present a consecutive and well-ordered set of
laws, but rather an ad hoc assemblage, sharia
(Islamic law), in its details, is subject to endless dispute. Mohammed's
improvisations left a jumble: Rape is a capital crime, but a successful
prosecution requires four male witnesses to the act. Thus rape might as
well be decriminalized. But the concept, for all its difficulties,
remains the popular centerpiece of the Islamic fundamentalist agenda.
The Muslim world broke free of European colonialism on the ground before leaving
the West behind in the mind: many of these former colonies retained
secular western law codes upon liberation. Since the mid-twentieth century, pressure
has been building for adoption of sharia in place of the law codes
that are the legacy of Western influence. This genuinely popular movement
has won electoral victories, notably in Algeria and Palestine, without
being able to consolidate its gains. Leaders encompassing the political
spectrum have felt the pressure and endeavored to co-opt this growing force.
When Colonel Muammar Khadafi published his Little Green Book, critics complained
that the only thing Islamic about the book was the cover color; since then
he has 'got religion.' Another leftist, Saddam Hussein, was obliged to
concede to this movement restricted liquor sales.
Certain of our 'key allies in the war on terror' already groan under sharia, as
oppressive a law code as has yet been devised, including Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia. The 'moderate' Saudi royal family bestows upon its grateful subjects
not only full sharia, but has also conceded to Osama bin Laden his principal
demand, the withdrawal of American troops from sacred Saudi soil. Islamic
fundamentalism does not seek to advance individual liberty or civil rights.
For example, abandoning Islam is a capital crime under sharia. Thus protecting
the "free exercise" of religion, as does the First Amendment,
is incompatible with sharia. This flaw is inherent in the Muslim fundamentalist
enterprise: because the self-styled prophet Mohammed was no champion of
human rights, so neither are his faithful followers today.
Another front is now opening to the triumph of Islamic fundamentalism:
Iraq, where American firepower overthrew the prior secular leftist regime.
Twice in two elections, Ayatollah al-Sistani's candidate slate gained power.
President Bush could not stop singing his own praises for this great triumph of "liberty."
But Muslim fundamentalism does not seek to advance liberty. One must wonder
what the American President who decriminalized 'water-boarding' understands
"liberty" to mean; certainly his understanding differs from that
of the Founding Fathers, who wrote into the Constitution a prohibition
of cruel and unusual punishment. If Mr. Bush sought to subject the United
States to an Islamic fundamentalist regime, the U.S. Constitution would
stand in his way, prohibiting as it does any religious establishment. Tragically
nothing stands in the way of his plunging foreigners into this darkness.
"To insult a brother Muslim is sinful; to kill him is unbelief."
"Al-Ahnaf b. Qays set off with his weapons. Meeting him, Abu Bakra
asked him where he was heading. 'I am going to the help of the Prophet's
cousin,' he said. 'But,' rejoined the other, 'I heard the Prophet himself
say, "Any two Muslims who take up arms against each other will both
land in Hell."'" (Bukhari, Fitan, quoted p. 39, An Introduction
to the Hadith, John Burton).
Conservative Muslims object in particular to acts of Islamist terror which
kill Muslims. But who is a Muslim? This is the $64 question. All who confess
that there is one God and Mohammed is His prophet? No so to Muslim fundamentalists,
whose thinking on this point looks back to Ibn Taymiyya, a medieval theologian,
who taught that "a ruler who did not enforce sharia or exhibit scrupulous
personal piety would be no better than an apostate, and under Islamic law,
Muslims were obligated to rebel against such a leader." ('The Age
of Sacred Terror,' Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, p. 48.) By this criterion,
a ruler who does not enforce sharia, such as Saddam Hussein, is not counted
a Muslim. Neither are these 'fruit inspectors' cold to the idea of overthrowing such a ruler.
Indeed to be a Muslim fundamentalist is to be the pope of one's own private
religion, excommunicating dissenters at will. Neither does the calculation
that many Muslims perished in the World Trade Center diminish their joy
in their triumph.
Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the Congress which declares war.
In the Muslim polity, who holds that power? Is the answer, 'anyone at
all:' an independently wealthy dilettante like Osama bin Laden who
dabbles in theology has just as much right to declare war as anyone
else? To the religious right, there is no doubt of the legitimacy of bin Laden's declaration of war:
"Well, February of 1998 there was a declared fatwa, the
declaration of war. A fatwa is a binding contract by the caliphate
or by the leaders. In this case it was by the sheikhs, Sheikh Osama
Mohammed bin Laden, and the ones from Bangladesh and Egypt, and they
declared war on America." (Liberty Seminary President Ergun Caner, on the Zola Leavitt
In the eyes of the religious right, there are two kinds of
Muslims: 1.) those who voice no quibble and no qualm that bin
Laden's holy war is the genuine article, whose casualties receive the
advertised Koranic reward, and 2.) those who have
never read the Koran and the hadith or prefer to ignore or disbelieve those
documents. Really? The question of political authority
in Islam is a vexed one. But no serious case can be made that the power
to declare war, holy or otherwise, belongs to any random private person, no
more under the Muslim polity than under our own system. If I were to post a notice on my web-site that
the U.S. is now at war with Senegal, no state of war exists. Should I
protest, 'Surely you know most Christians are not pacifists; most
believe some version of 'just war' theory,' this would not prove the
U.S. was at war with Senegal, because one of the points of 'just war'
theory is that war can only be declared by lawful authority. Bin Laden's lack
of standing and legitimacy is a major issue
for those Muslims who deplore his actions.
All states aspire to monopolize violence. The power to wage war
is jealously guarded. Can it really be believed there is a polity,
under which in excess of one billion human beings live, where any
rich dilettante can declare war at his whim, and drag the whole
society after him? That more than an inconsiderable number of
Muslims look to Osama bin Laden for guidance is a testimony to the poor
character formation produced by this works-oriented yet
lackadaisical religion. Nevertheless the majority of Muslims perceive a lack of
legitimacy. Not so the religious right, however, who have made this man
the caliph. There is no doubt in their minds that bin Laden has
the authority to declare holy war; and, willing or not, the whole
society must follow him, a man with no office:
"And high jihad simply means,
when there has been a signed fatwa, a signed ruling,
that declaration of holy war, that you are then
obliged, as one who is an adherent,— you are obliged to
fight holy war, against a stated enemy, or a stated
infidel. In this case, the fatwa signed was February 23,
1998. And when that fatwa was signed, by Osama bin
Mohammed bin Laden, Fasul Rahman, al Zawahiri, all the rest of them,—
when they signed the fatwa, it obliged a huge segment of Muslims, specifically the
Saudi region, but also to those, as we now know, in
Afghanistan, and the Pakistan in ulema.
"Here they are. They have to
fight. If you are obliged to fight and you do
not fight, quite frankly you are putting yourself in danger of hell-fire."
(Former President of Liberty
Seminary, Ergun Caner, on the Faith and Family broadcast
Really? It "obliged a huge segment of Muslims"? Some people want war,
and will spout whatever creative story tends toward that outcome; whatever it takes to promote "this grand
experiment of our President." However in real life, there remains some expectation that war
will be proclaimed by a legitimate ruler:
"Allah's Apostle said, 'There is no Hijra (i.e.
migration) (from Mecca to Medina) after the Conquest (of Mecca), but
Jihad and good intention remain; and if you are called (by the
Muslim ruler) for fighting, go forth immediately.' (Hadith Sahih
Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 42).
The fighter should be "called;" he does not report for duty
unbidden. Unfortunately enough Muslims agree with Ergun Caner's legal analysis,
and share in his propensity for forming a self-created world, to make
this world the rest of us share a very dangerous place. There is a broad
middle ground in the Muslim world, inhabited by clerics like the
Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed
Tantawi, who said, "Extremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad
is allowed in Islam to defend one's land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and
extremism is like the earth and the sky." (BBC
News online, 11 July, 2003). Who speaks for Islam? Al Azhar University, or
the Republican Party? This view-point, taken to its logical
conclusion, has led some to renounce the U.S. Constitution
with its protection of religious liberty:
"Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of
America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is
for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the
overthrow of the American government." (Bryan Fischer,
'No more mosques, period,' Date: 8/10/2010 10:06:05 AM).
Unfortunately the greater threat to American liberty comes, not from the jihadists, but from
those who imagine they are combating jihadists by depriving American Muslims of their constitutional
rights. In a similar vein to these Christian anti-Muslim authors are the
atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who agitate for war
against Islamic states. They differ from the authors already discussed
in that they hate all theists, not only Muslims: