Islamic Law: Democracy’s new Communism

Religion is a difficult, divisive subject for most people.  The earliest evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods so it’s not like it’s a new issue.

English: Mao's official portrait at Tiananmen ...Fighting either for, or against religion has sparked genocidal wars:
For the religious there was 3 Million in the Crusades (Christian vs Muslim), 3-11 million in the Roman’s 30 Years Holy War (Protestants vs Catholic), French Wars of Religion (Protestants vs Catholic) 3 million in the Nigerian Civil War (Christian vs Muslim) and of course the ongoing atrocities across the Middle East particularly since the final collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s (Sunni Muslim vs Shia Muslim).

Sociopathic communists have been no better:  over 16m against “old religion and beliefs” in China under Máo Zédōng (毛泽东) and of course historians still diverge on the religious nature of Nazism but it wasn’t a war sanctioned by the catholic church – with 10m lives lost in WW2 .

Democracy took hundreds of years to develop and did so on the back of horrific human casualties.  It was able to develop most quickly in colonialist countries like the US, Canada and Australia because they were able to oppress the decentralized native communities and create a clean slate to completely control land, thought and political ideology.  On the other hand, Europe took thousands of years to find steady peace.  Even in America, it was only in the early 1800’s that politics and the governance of the country was legally and constitutionally separated from religion.

So, once the democratic system became the Western World’s poster child for progress and freedom, all other political or politico-religious ideologies became a threat.   The first major threat came in the form of Communism – creating a major divide in relations between Russia, China and America, which has still not healed.

The next thing many Western leaders (in particular France and Germany) see as a threat to democratic ideology within their countries is Islam.  Not necessarily in the form terrorism, but in the form of religiously powered political pressure whose goal is to take control of the state.  Why?  Because true Islam controls the state through Sharia Law with rules on everything including the governance of crime, politics and economics (as an example – where banks charging interest is illegal).

burkiniThe sentiment of a threat seems to be shared by the citizens of Germany and France with 68% of French nationals stating they saw Islam as a concern or threat to their way of life and 51% of Germans saying the same.  It seems the fear rises in direct proportion to the numbers of those with Islamic faith in the community (7% of France’s population is Islamic). In response, the French government has banned all wearing of religious artifacts in schools including the Hijab (signed into law by Jacques Chirac), has banned Burkinis at swimming pools and there are calls to now also ban the Hijab at universities.  Just last week a German court ruled that Islamic girls must attend swimming lessons with boys at school but they can wear a Burkini.  But these political leaders are strong right wing conservative politicians, right?  Wrong.  French Prime Minister François Hollande is very much from the left side of politics.

Now, whether all these fears are founded or not is an interesting question.  The facts are that the fear can only become founded when:

1.  There is (or on current trajectory of change there will be) a proportion of any one country’s population large enough to support the democratic election of a new government who has the power to change that country’s constitution and laws.  We may not like to hear that change is inevitable, but change has been occurring for thousands of years.

2.  That population actually wishes for a change in government and wishes Sharia Law to be instated.  A study of over 38,000 muslims found that support for Sharia law was high across all countries (even up to 40% in the US), however the implementation of the law was divided on certain controversial issues such as polgamy, choice in wearing of the hijab, enjoyment of music/dance and severe punishment for religious defection.   However, by the very support of Sharia law, the expectation is that certain elements of religious basis rule would be enforced across all members of society, regardless of religious persuasion.  Homosexuality and the consumption of alcohol were overwhelmingly viewed as immoral – so we could say that under the current thought, if Sharia law were ever instated on a formerly democratic society, at the very least each of those actions would be made illegal and a punishable crime.

The Roman empire collapsed, the Gauls wiped out almost all of England’s original population in 900AD, and 200 years ago homosexuality was punishable by death.  So to assume that change of this scale is not possible, is to deny history has ever happened.  After all, many of the Roman Empire churches built across the Middle East were converted to Mosques during the Ottoman empire.  And if you think that humanity has only ever gone “forward”, not “backward” in terms of human rights – think again.  Late Roman Empire, the Greeks and even some Chinese dynasties were very free when it came to homosexuality before they fell to larger forces, and before the rise of the Catholic church, paganism worshipped the power women rather than subordinating them as was subsequently done throughout Europe’s religious history.

English: The name of الله Allāh, written in Ar...

English: The name of الله Allāh, written in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, if we accept that change is an inevitable part of the evolution of humanity, then sure, it’s possible that Islam and Sharia law could topple Democracy as the next world-wide ideological power – because unlike Communism which was taken up by elites and forced upon citizens, Islam grows within the citizens themselves.  But by the time this change happened, would anyone really care?

If high birth rates are the true biological indicator of long-term survival for humanity (putting aside for the moment the impact of the population on the Earth’s finite resources), then it is possible that through both birth into the Islamic faith, immigration and falling birth rates of Western countries, there would be a point in the next 100-200 years at which a significant portion of French or German society was of Islamic faith.  At that point, a rewriting of constitutions and return to Sharia law would be inevitable, and in fact, would be welcomed by most citizens anyway since the entire psychological make up of the population would have changed.  I mean, 500 years ago – it would have been psychologically unimaginable for Europeans to accept the idea that women could vote or have property ownership or a say in their destiny through marriage and work: so the passage of time effectively breeds out certain viewpoints.

Some might say it wouldn’t be too bad anyway – there are scientifically studied psychological benefits to being religious.  An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts.

In Australia, 2% of the population is Islamic – so while there has been some tension in the past (for instance in 2006 when Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly sparked public outrage when he compared women to uncovered meat in a reference to the occurrence rape) – the tension has not mounted to become a federal political issue.

Danny - Rise up AustraliaBut new to the political arena is The Rise Up Australia party, whose leader talks about the failure of Multiculturalism (quoting British MP David Cameron) and used the 2013 election campaign to begin its campaign to “enlighten” Australians about the failure of Multiculturalism in their own country.  But given the leader of Rise Up is a sprightly young Indian man – listeners would get the distinct impression what the party is referring to is not “failure of Multiculturalism”, but in fact a “fear of Islam”.

Views from the left may say that it is important to be tolerant and accepting toward other religions and cultures, a sentiment I can identify with.  But what of the moral dilemma of a religion where that tolerance is not returned?

Some of my family (my Auntie, Uncle and two cousins) all converted to Islam over 10 years ago – so I’ve taken a lot of time to carefully consider this question including reading of the Qur’an, speaking with my Islamic friends, family and business colleagues across India and UAE, reading Hadiths and more.

I love my cousins dearly and I visit them often, but I cannot deny the fact that there are core parts of their faith that fundamentally oppose certain freedoms that I, and most inhabitants of any democratic society, strongly believe in (even if they don’t realise it because they have never had those freedoms challenged).

The good
Like all religions, at its core is generally a message of peace, love, generosity and mercy – and for the vast majority who live in the faith, they are peaceful and respectful.

The interesting and the downright concerning
The concerning bits are less related to the Qur’an and more related to the Hadiths and Sharia Law.  The Hadiths are what Muslims believe to be the words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed.  200 years after their prophet died, Islamic scholars wanted to put together a practical guide to help people of Islamic faith to live their lives “like Mohammad”.  So they sent out thousands of volunteers to go and collect information about his words and deeds.  Over 200,000 of these were collected and it took over 20 years to put together the Hadiths, which also underpin Sharia law.  There are a number of different collections and Sunni and Shia justice systems refer to different parts of these for their implementation of the law.  Whatever the relative truth of the true origin of Islam, the Sharia Law, Hadiths and the Qur’an provide an extremely strong foundation and framework of behavioural guidance for those of the Islamic faith, which in turn increases the “stickiness” of the religion – and is what some countries experience as “the inability to integrate”.

Some examples:

  • Hadith’s state that Mohammed never listened to music or danced (except to a particular drum).  As a result, strict Sunni Muslims are not allowed to dance or listen to music.
  • At the time of Mohammed war was an inevitable part of life.  Many men were lost at war and women left without financial support, so polygamy became the best solution for the time…but it has now continued to modern times as part of a culture.
  • In Sharia law, women are seen as being emotional beings and as a result, Sharia law requires that two women must be a witness to a crime in financial or business transactions for it to be admitted as evidence in court.
  • Islam in its purest form absolutely rejects any other god, way of thinking, and change or reinterpretation as the entire Qur’an is the word of God/Allah.
  • Sharia law acknowledges that men are susceptible to the temptation of the flesh, and so requires the complete covering of women (the amount of coverage depends on the sub sect), women must be segregated from men and cannot ever touch or be in the same room alone with anyone other than their brothers, father or husband.
  • Sharia law requires that a woman may not have sexual relations out of wedlock. In Saudi Arabia many women do not approach authorities if they have been raped as if they do, they can be charged and put in jail for having sexual relations out of wedlock.
  • Marriages are arranged.
  • Banks are banned from charging interest on loans.
  • Homosexuality is a punishable crime (punishable by death in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania).
  • Only Halal animal products can be eaten: where the animal’s throat is slit while facing toward Mecca. Some argue this is more humane than electrocuting the animal first.
  • Those who leave or renounce the religion can be punished, including put to death.

Like any religion that exists within the freedom of expression based protections of a democratic society, Muslims in Australia can choose just how closely to follow these rules.  However, in a country under Sharia law (like Saudi Arabia), all these rules become automatically enforced by the justice system.

So here we have a moral dilemma.  Can we tolerate intolerance?  Western democracies legally accept equality of race and sex, and have increasingly come to accept homosexuality in the last 50 years.  So how, when couched in the arms of freedom of religious expression, can it logically provide a free pass to turn back the clock on those leaps forward in equality?  If not, at what point would measures be taken?  And what measures would they be?

The Middle East, Northern Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia and parts of India have the greatest percentages of Muslim populations, so it is there that Western leaders look to attempt “measures” and control the “problem” before it hits their shores in the form of immigration.

Sunni and Shia muslims by country

Sunni and Shia muslims by country

UK, US and French meddling in the Middle East since they partitioned off the Ottoman Empire between 1988 and 1922 shows that continued efforts to stop Middle East self determination by attempting to control governments only exacerbates the disillusionment and anger of citizens toward the Western world and the ideology behind democracy and capitalism – despite the fact that the actions local citizens see perpetrated by Western government or military establishments is not democracy at all.

Empire mongering was still the rule of the day back in early last century, so the the actions of Western governments at that time were less driven by fear and more by the need to extend the reach of their influence of power and control.  Again, not a new concept to those in the Middle East who have consistently been ruled by other powers throughout history including the Greeks through Alexander the Great , the Romans and the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.

Instability in the region began to increase after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, partly as a result of these botched empire building efforts by Western countries, partly because the Ottoman Empire had been effective in its controlling rule, but left a void and cross pollination of religion and culture that immediately began to divide once that rule was no longer in place.

Perhaps now the damage has been done, Western powers (in particular the US and UK) see ongoing instability as their ultimate national security strategy.  When countries are too busy fighting, they cannot amass any level of political force against the West.  And given the hatred that their own actions have cultivated in the Middle East – if power were to rise, the West should rightly fear the repercussions of those actions over the last century.

Some would argue self determination is the answer – and this could, over time, end the civil violence which is often between a secular installed government verses the rule of the people who are overwhelmingly of Muslim Sunni faith (not including Iran where Shia is predominant).  But it would also be naive to suggest that self-determination would end in the kind of democratic rule that the West has chosen.  Democracy is not a natural human state.  If it were, we would have seen the democratic system of government dominating throughout history – but we have not.  Saudia Arabia stands almost alone among countries in the Middle East in its steadfast ability to avoid foreign rule – not just in modern times, but also throughout history.  In large part this is due to its geographic position and landscape providing a barrier to military invasion.  So this country can be seen as an example of what a stable Middle East might look like if civil war ended: highly educated and technologically capable, generally introverted, strong rejection of tolerance toward multiple religious ideas, and controlling of public thought, actions and expression through the enforcement of Sharia Law across all levels of government and society.  This does not mean “bad” in all things, but it does mean “different” in many.

In Australia, we find these questions confronting.  They are confronting because they challenge our natural welcoming of new ideas, people and ways of thinking.

Right now, this is not a dilemma that Australians need to face given the demographic make up of our population.  But who knows, it may be a challenge that our children, or their children will need to confront and decide on.  If so, I do not envy that world and those leaders.

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