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Conversion from Islam:

Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa — described by Agence France Press as "Egypt's official religious advisor" wrote last week in a Newsweek/Washington Post "On Faith" forum:

The essential question before us is can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can, because the Quran says, "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion," [Quran, 109:6], and, "Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve," [Quran, 18:29], and, "There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error," [Quran, 2:256].

These verses from the Quran discuss a freedom that God affords all people. But from a religious perspective, the act of abandoning one's religion is a sin punishable by God on the Day of Judgment. If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment. If, however, the crime of undermining the foundations of the society is added to the sin of apostasy, then the case must be referred to a judicial system whose role is to protect the integrity of the society. Otherwise, the matter is left until the Day of Judgment, and it is not to be dealt with in the life of this world. It is an issue of conscience, and it is between the individual and God. In the life of this world, "There is no compulsion in religion," in the life of this world, "Unto you your religion and unto me my religion," and in the life of this world, "He who wills believes and he who wills disbelieves," while bearing in mind that God will punish this sin on the Day of Judgment, unless it is combined with an attempt to undermine the stability of the society, in which case it is the society that holds them to account, not Islam.

All religions have doctrinal points that define what it is to be an adherent of that religion. These are divine injunctions that form the basis of every religion, but they are not a means for imposing a certain system of belief on others by force. According to Islam, it is not permitted for Muslims to reject their faith, so if a Muslim were to leave Islam and adopt another religion, they would thereby be committing a sin in the eyes of Islam. Religious belief and practice is a personal matter, and society only intervenes when that personal matter becomes public and threatens the well-being of its members.

In some cases, this sin of the individual may also represent a greater break with the commonly held values of a society in an attempt to undermine its foundations or even attack its citizenry. Depending on the circumstances, this may reach the level of a crime of sedition against one's society. Penalizing this sedition may be at odds with some conceptions of freedom that would go so far as to ensure people the freedom to destroy the society in which they live. This is a freedom that we do not allow since preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms. This was the basis of the Islamic perspective on apostasy when committed at certain times and under certain circumstances.

This was in turn picked up by Agence France Press and reprinted in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the Gulf News now reports something different:

Egypt's top cleric yesterday denied in a statement that he had said a Muslim can give up his faith without punishment.

Ali Goma'a, the mufti of Egypt, was quoted as saying in a posting on a Washington Post-Newsweek forum that Muslims are free to change their faith and this is a matter between an individual and God.

"What I actually said is that Islam prohibits a Muslim from changing his religion and that apostasy is a crime, which must be punished," Goma'a said.

The alleged fatwa coincides with an uproar over the case of 12 Egyptians who converted to Islam from Christianity and now want to re-embrace Christianity....

Commentator Ali Eteraz (a fairly left-wing lawyer, if I read his profile correctly) tries to reconcile the two at The Guardian's site:

Conversation with Gomaa's people reveals that his actual quote given to the [Gulf News] newspaper was: "This disobedience can, in some of its manifestations, embody a departure from the general norms ... and a kind of crime that would necessitate punishment."

This direct turn-around, (or guarded qualification if one accepts Gomaa's version of what he said), appeared curious to many. What happened? Does Dr Gomaa think that an apostate should be punished, or does he not?

A close read of Gomaa's Newsweek opinion shows that the answer is "both". The opinion is a serious bit of legal reasoning. On one hand Gomaa indeed eliminates the death penalty for apostasy in Islamic law (by citing Quranic verses dealing with freedom of conscience), which is a major event. However, on the other hand, he grants to the Egyptian "judicial system" the authority to prosecute certain apostates — those that leave Islam in "public" — for the "crime of undermining the foundations of society". He ends up proposing a new criminal cause of action called "sedition against one's society". Sedition is not an Islamic term. It is a secular term that does not exist in the Quran.

Is it the case that Gomaa found a way to affirm penalising public apostasy via the back door? Yes, he did. The question is, why did he use a back door at all? Like thousands of Islamic jurists in the past, he could have easily said that Islam requires punishing apostates and be done with it. Yet he didn't do that. He first said that Islam was against penalising private apostasy, and he then moved to penalise public apostasy because it was a social (and not religious) problem.

Why go to all these lengths?

Simple: Muslim leaders are no longer relying upon religious law — "because God said so" — to justify their religious ends. Instead, they are coming up with what we western lawyers call "value-neutral terminology." I saw this in Pakistan's Women's Protection Bill last year. In order to pull rape cases out of the Shariah courts, reformers created new secular crimes to replace what used to be Shariah crimes. They did so even though the new secular crimes did not qualitatively differ from old religious crimes (ie "fornication" was renamed "lewdness"). This was smart. "Fornication" is a Quranic term backed by Islamic law but "lewdness" is a value-neutral term with no fixed meaning except what a contemporary criminal court decides (and in Pakistan's case, the criminal courts are secular). If, and when, a law against "lewdness" is abolished, abolition wouldn't be considered an assault on religion as it was never a religious term to begin with.

This sort of transubstantiation of religious ideas into secular terminology is the west's original contribution to government, and the backbone of liberalism. Starting at the Enlightenment, western leaders took their appeals to God or religious law, out of lawmaking (even if they secretly did wish to satisfy God or religious law). Even at the height of conservatism in the US, when proposing legislation, the most fundamentalist Christian Congressperson will not invoke Jesus. His or her faith might certainly inform his positions but the Congressperson will seek non-religious ways of winning the argument: patriotism, commerce, public health, or social good. This is what Gomaa is doing with apostasy.

Certainly none of us agree with Gomaa that apostasy be classified as sedition, or even be punished at all; but we must at least appreciate that he tried to assert his position in an explicitly non-religious manner.

Gomaa's Newsweek opinion does not directly advance the rights of apostates as western newspapers initially thought. In political terms it doesn't help apostates at all. It is, however, an opinion that starts, just barely, to separate religion from state. Such a trend will lead to Muslim fundamentalists in the future having to justify their imposition on non-Muslims in "secular" or "value-neutral" terms. That creates a much more even playing-field for non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries. Further, by taking the imprimatur of Islam out of the discussion, and leaving the crime to be defined by the state, Gomaa, one of the top Islamic scholars in Egypt, has deferred a religious question to Mubarak (and in the future, one hopes to Egyptian democrats). In other words, he has "rendered unto Caesar" - which is a nascent version of separation of religion from state.

Muslims like Gomaa, by pulling Islam out of political debates, can, and are, creating the conditions for liberalism. We should celebrate that while remembering that they will not work at a pace dictated by us in the west.

I'm not sure whether Eteraz's analysis is correct, and whether Gomaa is changing his position or was incompletely quoted by the Gulf News; but I thought I'd pass along this interesting story. Thanks to the Becket Fund for the pointer to the Gulf News and Agence France Press pieces.

rfg:
All religions consider apostasy or heresy to be wrong, if not criminal (in the strict sense of being against the law). The only difference betwen between the mufti of Egypt and the local clergy in the United States is that our clergy do not have the power of the state at their service to compel obedience, criminalize, and punish apostates or heretics. Their punishment must wait until after their passing, instead of right now.

BTW, Mr. Eteraz does not spend enough time monitoring political debate in the US. If he did, he could not state that "Even at the height of conservatism in the US, when proposing legislation, the most fundamentalist Christian Congressperson will not invoke Jesus."

Maybe not on the floor of the Congress, but surely a lot of the time on the stump.
7.26.2007 3:01pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
Maybe not on the floor of the Congress

Actually, yes, even there. See, e.g., Sen. James Inhofe (R - Okla.):

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe#U.S._support_for_Israel
7.26.2007 3:32pm
Steve2:

Penalizing this sedition may be at odds with some conceptions of freedom that would go so far as to ensure people the freedom to destroy the society in which they live. This is a freedom that we do not allow since preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms.

Is there a more frightening and dangerous mindset for a political figure, which I think Grand Mufti Gomaa qualifies as, to have? I'm hard-pressed to think of one.
7.26.2007 3:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Well, Islam may not reform at a pace dictated by us. It would be silly to expect it would.
The question is whether Islam will reform at a pace which will not necessitate a horrendous conflict.
7.26.2007 3:47pm
Michael B (mail):
rfg, the 20th century was rife and riven with ideological fundamentalists, most of whom didn't bother with the legislative process unless one counts a bullet to the head as an aspect of that process. Clearly, "the only difference" between you and adherents of Pol Pot, Mao, Uncle Joe or Uncle Ho (none of whom thought kindly of apostasy and heresy) is that you don't have the power of the state behind you. As for contemporary forms of political apostasy, Joe Lieberman comes to mind or, as a class, black conservatives.
7.26.2007 3:51pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
It's well to remember that St. Peter, among others, was not an apostate, since Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish law, not to repudiate it. Likewise, perforce, a modern Jew who becomes a Christian is not an apostate.

That's your understanding; it sure ain't mine. Jesus [sic -- his name was Joshua] does not fulfill any of the traditional understandings of what the Jewish messiah would be. Thus, I disagree strongly with your words.
7.26.2007 4:06pm
bittern (mail):
Interesting. Thanks for putting that up, EV.
7.26.2007 4:15pm
Waldensian (mail):

That's your understanding; it sure ain't mine. Jesus [sic -- his name was Joshua] does not fulfill any of the traditional understandings of what the Jewish messiah would be. Thus, I disagree strongly with your words.

And I disagree strongly with both of you. I think this is an example of the classic game, "My Imaginary Friend is Better Than Yours."
7.26.2007 4:25pm
Jaime non-Lawyer:
Another possibility is that he wrote what he thought a western audience would want to hear.
7.26.2007 4:27pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
I'm willing to (tentatively) take this at face-value as a positive step. Replacing unilateral "spiritual" rules and norms with temporal ones is always a Good Thing.

As it stood, conversion from Islam was a crime just because -- case closed. Now it's a crime because it may "undermine the foundations of society". This point can now be pressed: does it really undermine the society as feared?

In this country we replaced moral prohibitions on interracial marriage with societal norms. Some interracial couples got married. The sky didn't fall. And so the prohibition has been (legally) removed, and the stigma is fading. Here's hoping the same course will ensue in Egypt.
7.26.2007 4:36pm
DiverDan (mail):
Steve2 comments:


Penalizing this sedition may be at odds with some conceptions of freedom that would go so far as to ensure people the freedom to destroy the society in which they live. This is a freedom that we do not allow since preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms.


Is there a more frightening and dangerous mindset for a political figure, which I think Grand Mufti Gomaa qualifies as, to have? I'm hard-pressed to think of one.


Isn't that "dangerous mindset" precisely the same mindset that lead FDR to require the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II? And precisely the same mindset that resulted in a majority of the Supreme Court to uphold that Executive Order in United States v. Korematsu? I agree that it is a terribly dangerous mindset, but don't get so arrogant that you believe we Americans are above that sort of thing. Indeed, Gomaa's application of that tenet is arguably a lot more civilized than our own, as he would only punish people for their own voluntary actions, while we used the "preservation of society" rationale to justify punishing people solely because of an accident of birth.
7.26.2007 4:38pm
Steve2:
@ John:


Now it's a crime because it may "undermine the foundations of society". This point can now be pressed: does it really undermine the society as feared?

Also, can now press the point, "Even if it undermines society, what's wrong with that?"

@ DiverDan:

I agree that it is a terribly dangerous mindset, but don't get so arrogant that you believe we Americans are above that sort of thing.

I don't believe Americans are above it, not at all. Even laying aside the racist example of internment and Korematsu and similar history, in my mind the idea that "preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms" is embraced pretty strongly by a present-day mainstream U.S. political party.
7.26.2007 4:47pm
Houston Lawyer:
It's well to remember that St. Peter, among others, was not an apostate, since Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish law, not to repudiate it.

Since the Jewish religion was allowed in the Roman Empire, I believe Paul made the point in front of the Romans that it was his belief that Jesus came to fulfill Jewish law. Therefore, any dispute among Paul's followers and followers of traditional Jewish beliefs was just that, a dispute among Jews about their religion. Therefore Paul couldn't be punished for preaching an unauthorized religion.

Jews are free to disagree, but the Romans wouldn't care enough about the particlars to do anything about it.
7.26.2007 4:51pm
JWG:
To "rfg":

Wikipedia disagrees with your statement, "All religions consider apostasy or heresy to be wrong, if not criminal (in the strict sense of being against the law)", with respect to Hinduism and Buddhism.

As for the main thrust of the post, I am not sure if Ali Eteraz is carrying water for Gomaa or not. How can we ascertain if he is or not bringing in a Trojan Horse?
7.26.2007 5:03pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Not to be an alarmist here, but it appears that being an alarmist is to be more or less asleep, considering what has happened in the last few years, or centuries.
There have been school programs, apparently as a matter of Saudi-funded ed-school curricula, which use pretend-to-be-a-Muslim exercises as a cultural thing. You know. Just like they always do pretend to be a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian (in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood)exercises in el ed.
It is also pretty clear that saying a simple prayer--prescribed at least in one of these programs--makes you a Muslim. So the kid thinks nothing of it and shows up at church on Sunday. Legally, according to Islam, he's an apostate. Since a Jewish community center was shot up by a Muslim last year before, blessedly, Mel Gibson's drunken rant allowed the MSM to ignore the case, it would be reasonable to presume there are other whackjobs out there. The attempted murder by SUV at, I think UNC comes to mind.
Anybody want to bet there is no possibility one of the whack jobs could be looking at one of those classes?
I know. I'm crazy. Just like the guy who predicted the highjacking of airliners one day in September. Boy, was he a nutcase.
The insistence on ostriching that Islam is merely a religion and not a prescription for the organizing of all aspects of life, by force if necessary, is unseemly.

Yeah, we should be reminded of Calvin in Zurich. There's the real threat.
7.26.2007 5:05pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
"preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms"

Both major parties agree with that. Certainly the Demoncats do in the case of compulsory government education.
7.26.2007 5:42pm
BobH (mail):
So a person is born with his/her religion, and can't change? That makes religion a birth defect.
7.26.2007 6:50pm
jvarisco (www):
"Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior."

It's good to see our friends in Massachusetts are such fans of religious freedom.
7.26.2007 6:55pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Varisco:

That's only half the story. Go back a few hundred years and those behaviors merited execution in colonial Mass.
7.26.2007 7:11pm
whit:
"The only difference betwen between the mufti of Egypt and the local clergy in the United States is that our clergy do not have the power of the state at their service to compel obedience, criminalize, and punish apostates or heretics."

in your opinion, which is of course not supported by evidence.

this is more of the ridiculous "equivalence" game that people (invariably of the leftist sort) play when comparing islam (specifically radical islam) with the west (and our majority religions.

you assume (w/o evidence) that our local clergy "want the power of the state at their service to compel obedience, criminalize, and punish apostates and heretics"

and your evidence for this is what? the ONLY difference?

amazing ignorance of the clergy, and of christianity (as practiced in the west), judaism, and NON-radical islam.

simply put, it's religious bigotry on your part to claim that this is the desire of western clergy.

fwiw, i know priests, rabbis, bishops, etc. i do not know one who would want this power or would want to punish apostates.

but in your (lack of understanding) the ONLY difference between the clergy in the west and the mufti of egypt are that the STATE protects us from their desire to prosecute, persectute, etc. all apostates and non-believers.

how laughable.

also, please show me all the evidence that clergy in the west have supported electing legislators and overturning the constitutional amendments such that they could use the state to punish apostates and heretics.

i'll stand by (rolls eyes)
7.26.2007 7:59pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Whit,

I know your comment wasn't directed at me. And I don't believe that religious conservatives, except for the most extreme Reconstructionist types, desire to punish heretics. That being said, such is only because the Christian religion has transformed and enlighted. Texts in both the Bible and the Koran support such punishments of heretics. And over three-hundred years ago "Christian Nations" did indeed punish religious dissenters, with biblical texts and arguments to support their position, like Islam presently does today.
7.26.2007 8:32pm
rfg:
Mr. Whit:

I must apologize for having been unclear. I was referring to the treatment of apostasy and heresy, not to all else.

Now, for the record, I did not state nor did I mean that all clergy in the US WANT the power of the state in order to punish apostates or unbelievers.

What I said was that they DO NOT HAVE the power, in contrast to other places (i.e. Afganistan, etc) where the dominant religion does. Whether our clergy wants that power is another issue. Currently, I know of none that do.

When you consider that Islam and the various Christian religions (among others) all make the clam that theirs is the only way to salvation, One could make (and people have made) the claim that it is not only moral but right to compel belief. (Which reminds me of my mother claiming that "you don't like it, but it's good for you", but I digress...)

In the curent political climate in the US, apostasy is punished by expelling the ofender, and that's all they can do. Catholics excommunicate, Church of Christ withdraws fellowhip, etc. In the past, that was not the case, with Massachussets punishing Quaker missionaries, etc.

I again repeat that I have no knowlegde of religious figures wanting to overturn the first amendment. I know of quite a few who want to foist their morality on me, but that is a different matter.

I did not say that "but in your (lack of understanding) the ONLY difference between the clergy in the west and the mufti of egypt are that the STATE protects us from their desire to prosecute, persectute, etc. all apostates and non-believers."

However, since theocracies tend to use the power of the state to punish unbelief, I am glad that the state does protect me from those who might wish to do so.

On a final note, I again wish to apologize for upsetting you. I did not feel that what I said would generate such a personal attack. I should have been more careful in my phrasing, and I will in the future, secure in the knowledge that someone out there will point out my errors, but hopeflly with a little less venom.

Mr. JWG:

Again, my apologies. I know little or nothing of eastern religions, and my ignorance betrayed me into error.
7.26.2007 8:53pm
rfg:
Mr. Michael B:

I was not talking about totalitarian regimes. While they share some elements in common with many religions, I do not consider them a religion, although I've heard some good arguments to the contrary.

I'm not sure how we got there from here...
7.26.2007 9:00pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Check out the Mass. Body of Liberties to see just how different the Christian religion was before the Enlightenment. The Reconstructionists might seem, to our 21 Century sentiments, kooks. But what they advocate is the way Christian Commonwealths used to operate pre-Founding. Where they err is when they try to confute the pre-Founding colonial orders with what when down between 1776-1789.

Gary North is the only Reconstructionist who understands the US Constitution is an anti-theocratic document.

The Founding Fathers, as men of the Enlightenment, were religious liberals and completely at odds with the way all colonies except Rhode Island dealt with religion and govt. in their founding colonial charters of earlier generations.


94. Capitall Laws.

1.

Deut. 13. 6, 10.

Deut. 17. 2, 6.

Ex. 22. 20.

If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

2.

Ex. 22. 18.

Lev. 20. 27.

Dut. 18. 10.

If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

3.

Lev. 24. 15, 16.

If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.
7.26.2007 9:12pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Even laying aside the racist example of internment and Korematsu and similar history, in my mind the idea that "preservation of the society takes precedence over personal freedoms" is embraced pretty strongly by a present-day mainstream U.S. political party.
Yup! Preserving the values of decency and fairness requires laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religious, national origin, and sexual orientation.

Oh, that wasn't the "present-day mainstream U.S. political party" you meant?
7.26.2007 9:22pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Jon Rowe writes:

Check out the Mass. Body of Liberties to see just how different the Christian religion was before the Enlightenment. The Reconstructionists might seem, to our 21 Century sentiments, kooks. But what they advocate is the way Christian Commonwealths used to operate pre-Founding. Where they err is when they try to confute the pre-Founding colonial orders with what when down between 1776-1789.
Except that Massachusetts didn't really change all that much during the Revolution. Look at the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution--it does not just allow a state establishment of religion, it requires the state legislature to pass mandatory church attendance laws. The change that you are looking for--from Christian Commonwealth to nineteenth century liberalism--took place in different states at different times. Some places were starting to make this transition in the latter part of the Articles of Confederation period; other states did not make it until well into the early Republic. Maryland, for example, didn't allow Jews to hold public office until 1809, and then, only "religious Jews" qualified.

The laws imposing Christian morality (laws against sodomy, for example) remained on the books well past the early Republic period. The penalties were often reduced--Maryland knocking down the sodomy punishment from death to ten years sometime in the early nineteenth century--but many aspects of "Christian commonwealth" survived into the twentieth century, often softened and broadened to something more like "Judeo-Christian commonwealth."
7.26.2007 9:28pm
Michael B (mail):
rfg, the primary point was not to address totalitarian regimes, it was to contrast one form of fundamentalism (Christian) with another (ideological). The totalitarian theme evidences itself as a matter of course, as a natural outgrowth of those ideological fundamentalists and their utopian (central state, cf. theocratic state). As to how we got there, the underlying theme being addressed is the authorized and agreed upon power of the state (and which underlying tenets/maxims the state receives its authority and power from, in a manner that the society in question can exist in relative comity, both internally and externally). That is, essentially and generally, what the primary post addresses.
7.26.2007 9:56pm
Michael B (mail):
"... such is only because the Christian religion has transformed and enlighted." Jon Rowe

How has the "Christian religion" transformed? The most basic orthodox tenets have not changed (among which tenets include a God vs. State dualism, cf. Islam's seeming God/State monism). You likely intend to address social/political institutions, such as historical tendencies to form theocratic forms of governance among colonists? Of the Enlightenment and being "enlightened," the primary progenitors of classical liberal political institutions, such as John Locke (checks and balances, private property, consent of the governed) and Montesquieu (separation of powers), were decided advocates of Christianity specifically and religion in general. That obviously doesn't mean they advocated theocracy or were provincial and narrow in their outlook, much to the contrary.

"... like Islam presently does today."

"Like," as in similar, or equivalent? It's a facile statement. What does "like" mean, more specifically? E.g., where are the John Lockes among Islam? Where is their underlying dualism, or something which sufficiently proximates such a dualism, such that a non-theocratic, non-totalitarian and non-dictatorical form of governance can be conceived in a manner that does not abridge Islam's most basic tenets, such as it's seeming social/religious monism?

All that is intended in a probing rather than a sum certain or narrow manner, but predictably rounding up the usual suspects (those bad Christians) fails to address the most basic and constructive need: what underlying social/political tenets can a society and nation positively agree upon? Put in negative terms vis-a-vis Islam (and again, in a rhetorical/probing manner), is there a God/State monism inherent within Islam's most basic tenets in such a manner that erosions are likely to forever undercut efforts at establishing more beneficial, more positively conceived forms of governance? (E.g., is Turkey, presently, such an example? I don't believe it is, but there are indications nonetheless.)
7.26.2007 10:15pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"Like," as in similar, or equivalent?

The example I used I think was quite clear -- the Mass. Body of Liberties from 1641 which put men to death for worshipping false gods, practicing witchcraft and blasphemy. The point was we no longer do these things in Western nations, and even our most conservative Christian leaders generally don't call for these things. But Islam presently does. And Christianity -- and Christian leaders -- used to.

As for the John Locke of Islam -- I would agree with you, Islam needs a Locke (and I might add, a Voltaire).

I'm not an expert in the Koran, but the above post by Volokh shows there to be Koranic text which might support religion liberty.

"Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion," [Quran, 109:6], and, "Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve," [Quran, 18:29], and, "There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error," [Quran, 2:256].
7.26.2007 10:55pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Of the Enlightenment and being "enlightened," the primary progenitors of classical liberal political institutions, such as John Locke (checks and balances, private property, consent of the governed) and Montesquieu (separation of powers), were decided advocates of Christianity specifically and religion in general. That obviously doesn't mean they advocated theocracy or were provincial and narrow in their outlook, much to the contrary.


That's true. I've never studied Montesquieu's religion in detail (I think he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed?) and there is great debate over just how "Christian" Locke was. Most cautious experts conclude he was, like Milton and Newton, a closeted Arian heretic (whether Arians are "real Christian" is as debatable a proposition as whether Mormons are Christian).

Our key Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, and a few others) were essentially slightly evolved Lockeans. They advocated "religion" in general and thought Christianity might have an advantage over other religions, not because such was the exclusive way to God, but because Jesus' moral teachings were the best the world had seen. Their approach to religion was essentially civic -- religion was good because of its utilitarian effect -- the way it promoted morality; most, perhaps all religions, including non-Judeo-Christian ones, were valid because they all promoted virtue (they explicitly included Islam as a "sound" religion). Yet, Christianity might be better (a comparative term, insinuating other religions can still be "good" or "valid,") but only because of the superiority of Jesus' moral teachings, not because of His claim as the second person in the Trinity (which the key Founders tended to disbelieve) or as the only valid path to God (ditto).

That said, they believed the rights of conscience were unalienable. And men of whatever religion (or no religion) equally possessed such unalienable rights of conscience.

Whether states could promote the Christian religion or demand church attendance depended on whether such qualified as coerced religious conscience which the Founders believed violated natural right -- or the Declaration of Independence.

Adams and Washington were more likely to believe such "mild" and "equitable" Establishments promoting Christianity didn't violate natural right (but they demanded non-Christians be entitled to some kind of exemption or accomodation from laws that specifically demanded support of a religion in which they didn't believe). Jefferson and Madison were more likely to demand something closer to strict separation, at least when it came to using govt. funds for religion.

So just government could promote "religion" to the extent that it didn't violate the natural rights of conscience which all men equally possess.

I think the first step in transforming Islam is to get them to recognize that men of all religions have an unalienable natural right of conscience and that just governments recognize such.

I've read the Bible. And little in it suggests that men have an unalienable natural right to liberty of conscience (or to worship as they choose) as the liberal democrats (our key Founders and the philosophers they followed) argued. If the Bible and the Christian religion can be reconciled with liberal democracy, I'm optimistic that Islam can too.
7.26.2007 11:28pm
rfg:
Mr. Micheal B:

Thanks for your explanation. You are entirely correct, totalitarianism is the natural outgrowth of any rigid fundamentalism, which by its very nature cannot tolerate diversity or change.

As to your other point, I have found that Chrisian theology now encompasses such divergent points of view that it is impossible to accurately speak of a single "Christian" religion.
7.26.2007 11:31pm
neurodoc:
If Islam's clerical leadership really is trying to take followers in the direction of liberalsm, and they all continue down that path together at the present rate of speed, then perhaps in 200 years or so non-Muslims and Muslims may be able to share this plantet peacebly. In the meantime, Heaven help the non-Muslim West and Egyptian Copts, a very persecuted minority in their own country.
7.27.2007 1:53am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Richard Aubrey sez: 'Well, Islam may not reform at a pace dictated by us. It would be silly to expect it would.
The question is whether Islam will reform at a pace which will not necessitate a horrendous conflict' and richard is more or less endorsed by neurodoc.

Too true. As long ago as the 1920s (according to Albert Hourani, "Arabic Thought in the Age of Liberalism"), there was a move to separate apostasy into two categories: private, for which the liberals were willing to let well enough alone; and oppositional or flagrant, for which the response was pretty much per Gomaa.

So in about 90 years, the opinion of the ulama has either advanced not at all, or even (depending upon how you read this legist's not too clear statement) retreated.

I think Eteraz' take is wishful thinking. This has nothing to do with secularizing Sharia. It's all about waffling and weaseling so that charges -- entirely justified -- of medieval obscurantism seem to be unfair.

If governments under the Islamic thumb want to show that they have advanced as far as the mid-19th century on the religious tolerance issue, all they have to do is allow non-Islamic missionaries to operate in their jurisdictions.

Not one does, I believe. Even the sultan of the Ottoman Empire did so, in Lebanon, in the mid-19th century, although only under western pressure.
7.27.2007 3:39am
Gary McGath (www):
The simplest explanation is that Gomaa reversed himself because he was threatened.
7.27.2007 11:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I think we should spend more time on colonial Massachusetts--I offered Calvin's Zurich but nobody's taken me up on that--so we can pretend that nothing's happening today that would cause us to think of stuff that needed to be done.
You know, we can make BS comparisons and pretend that a law in effect three and a half centuries ago is just as much of a threat as what is happening now.
Is "ostrich" a verb yet?
7.27.2007 12:34pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Richard,

I think you missed my point which was let's try to encourage Islam to reform and enlighten. If Christianity, which used to behave like Islam does today, can, so perhaps Islam can too. We already see a cleric trying to find Koranic textual support in favor of religious liberty. Let's be on his side as opposed to trying make all of Islam our enemies. 1 billion Muslims aren't going to go away or all convert to Christianity.
7.27.2007 1:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Jon Rowe.
Fine. So if we do that, we can do it better by not wasting time on the Christians-were-just-as-bad schtick, as viscerally satisfying as it might be. Right? Because it has no relevance to today, at all. At all.
Because we need to worry about today.
That Christianity reformed means religion can reform. Doesn't mean it must, or will in a given period.
One billion Muslims might, if they can't get control of their fanatics, find themselves considerably short of one billion some fine afternoon. And that would probably be the quickest, if not the nicest, way to promote a serious attitude change.
The talk of moderate Muslims is useless. A moderate Muslim is one who is moderately Muslim. Half way between the fanatical whack jobs on one end and the slackers on the other end who show up at the mosque on the Islamic versions of Christmas and Easter.
There is no necessary connection between the, say, 85% (within one standard deviation of the middle) Muslims and what we really need, which are moderates who happen to be Muslim.
The connection needs to be demonstrated.
Just for grins. Once we decide that 85% of the Muslims are moderate, that means 7.5% are immoderate ranging to violent jihadists, and 7.5% are sloppy and hardly care.
So, the first 7.5%....
After the Canadians busted the plot to take over Parliament, behead the PM on live tv and then blow the place up, a poll found that 12% of Muslims didn't have a problem with that. 12% is more than 7.5%. It also calculated to about 84,000 people.
About ten percent of Indonesian Muslims polled said they thought the Bali bombing was a justified reaction to attacks on the faith. That means they conflate the faith with the slo-mo genocide on East Timor. The Aussies led the UN op to stop it, and that was the terrs' stated reason for the bombing. Also the bombing of the UN mission in Iraq, as the head there had been the UN guy in charge of the East Timor effort.
Ten percent is more than 7.5%.
How many American Muslims go to Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosques? If American Muslims were all moderate and stuff, those places would be empty and the services would be taking place in rented facilities until the folks could build their own place.
Check out the Tulsa mosque. Interesting story.
So I'll admit, in the anything-can-happen meaning, that Islam can substantially reform in the way we need it to. That's not the issue. The issue is, will it be in time?
7.27.2007 1:44pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe, you are doing little more than using terms and tropes that fit your preconceived view of things. One may as well say something on the order of, "if secularist ideologues can reform, putting the murderous hecatombs of the 20th century behind them and live more pluralistically, embody more genuine forms of tolerance, then perhaps Islam can as well." Sounds nice, but it doesn't say much that's very appreciable; such comparisons reflect little, they are tendentious, stylized ways of conceiving the world in a manner that comports with some preconceptions, they fail to plumb more meaningfully.
7.27.2007 4:00pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Jon Rowe, you are doing little more than using terms and tropes that fit your preconceived view of things.

No. I'm citing historical facts. It's a fact that Calvin's Geneva had Servetus burned at the state for denying the Trinity; it's a fact that John Winthrop's Mass. and most other colonies founded in the 1600s which thought of themselves as "Christian Commonwealths" had laws on the books that merited execution for not worshipping the right way; and it's a fact that most other notable Christian thinkers, like Augustine or Aquinas supported punishments like death for heresy. And it's a fact that the Christian religion reformed and that most conservative fundamentalists/evangelicals/Catholics no longer support these things.

You clearly have a problem with the history of the Christian religion.
7.27.2007 7:24pm
whit:
"know your comment wasn't directed at me. And I don't believe that religious conservatives, except for the most extreme Reconstructionist types, desire to punish heretics. That being said, such is only because the Christian religion has transformed and enlighted. Texts in both the Bible and the Koran support such punishments of heretics."

two points. first of all i never said that clergy (and churches) of all sorts don't have the desire and right to punish apostates and heretics. of COURSE they do. they can excommunicate etc. that is a FAR FAR FAR cry from saying they want the GOVERNMENT to prosecute/persecute people for being a heretic/apostate.

of course EVERY church has the right and it's perfectly understandable that they would want to retain internal control over membership, over firing and hiring of clergy and over excommunication/expulsion of people who express viewpoints or do actions contrary to their rules. churches are VOLUNTARY organizations. nobody forces you to belong and nobody has a right to belong to a church that wants to force them out due to heresy, apostasy etc.

also, EVERYBODY knows that jews, christians etc. USED to use the force of the state to do everything up to and including murder people for heresy and apostasy

so WHAT?

the entire point that many on the left miss (and that others have made) is that christianity etc. has gone through a REFORMATION. this is now. we are talkign about christianity, judaism etc. NOW and islam NOW. not X many years ago.

another common meme. "well the christian church used to..." again, lets deal with reality. current reality.

christians, jews etc. (except for extremely isolated and powerless exceptions who are in an infinitessimally small minority) no longer kill people, hang them, burn them, etc. for apostacy/heresy, etc.

MUSLIMS (specifically radical muslims who # in the millions) DO.

christians did not riot and murder over serrano's piss christ. muslims DID riot and murder over cartoons.

etc. etc. etc.

and their "mainstream" religious leaders PRAISED and promoted this. please show me the examples of leaders of the christian church or jewish church that called for scorcese to be executed for directing "the last temptation of christ".

drawing equivalencies is absurd.

MODERN christians jews etc. do NOT want what the OP claimed they want nor do they engage in such practices.

even in the vatican, which is a christian state run by the church, there is no chance of you being murdered/stoned etc. for walking around with a koran or talmud, for wearing a yamulke, or for discussing your religion in a public place with another and trying to convince him why jesus isn't the messiah or whatever.

i double dog dare you to walk around any # of muslim countries with a big-a** cross around your neck, holding a bible and with a "jesus is lord" t-shirt loudly discussing with your buddy why islam is wrong about mohammed being a prophet.

so lets cut out the ridiculous tendency to say "well they are the same". because they aren't

the poster was wrong, and i pointed this out. christian and jewish leaders do NOT want the govt. to prosecute and/or torture/kill people who convert out of their religion, who criticize their religion, etc.

there is a distinct difference here. let's not pretend it doesn't exist
7.27.2007 7:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Folks: Could I ask that people (1) skip two lines between each paragraph, and (2) capitalize sentences? My sense is that this makes the text considerably easier to read (in case 2, if only because the format is more familiar, though possibly for other reasons as well).
7.27.2007 8:01pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Whit. Good post. But you miss the essential point: People are more comfortable talking about history because they are not called to do anything about it. Plus, it gives some of them an excuse to bash Christianity.

Is "OSTRICH" a verb yet?
7.27.2007 11:48pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Read and watch this and still tell me that overzealous fundamentalist Christian faith isn't still a problem. If you do, then you are the one with your head in the sand.
7.27.2007 11:58pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

Yes, religion and politics, where trenchant, acerbic critiques are suppose to be, according to the bylaws of PC orthodoxy and heterodoxy, a one-way street. Well fasten your seatbelt, I'm going to turn it into a two-way street. Thankfully, we have the Left to exhibit their own bizarre blend of fides et ratio, such as it is. I'll address Blumenthal's contempt once only, but will not get bogged down in it. I'll address it topically, as follows:

There are large segments of Christians, from a sizeable portion of evangelicals and pentecostals and some others, who in fact address teleological and eschatological topics associated with biblical prophecy and related themes. That is, simply put, what they do to one degree or another. However, they do not, at least not that I've ever evidenced or heard of, associate such themes with calls for military/political action in order to "speed up" what they perceive as prophetic, future events. Indeed, Hagee himself early in Blumenthal's video, pointedly decries such nonsense.

Further, the last time I recall viewing Hagee on tv was appx. a couple years ago or more, where Hagee spoke as a Christian fideist certainly, but he was evenhanded and deliberate, well reasoned and temperate, and he primarily introduced Netanyahu, who was a guest speaker that day and who spoke in simple descriptive terms concerning Israel's situation, not at all in religiously infused or exaggerated terms. You may not like Pastor Hagee and a large segment of the Christian community, you may even feel highly hostile and suspicious and contemptibly toward them and their beliefs, but they do not register in the descriptive manner Blumenthal attempts to forward. Lest we fail to appreciate Blumenthal's intent, he leads and sneers with such "subtle" descriptions of Christians and allies of Hagee as "minions," he refers to the "Christian right" - virtually a code term for neo-fascists, he refers to a "call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory," he notes associations with AIPAC and the "potent Israel Lobby," he glibly refers to "suffer[ing] the torture of eternal damnation" and other b.s., etc., etc., etc.)

Yes Max Blumenthal, your contempt registers; it wouldn't register any more if you put it in neon lights.

Are there simplistic and offensive views, theologically and otherwise, expressed by simple Christians in the pews. Yes, of course there are. There are two-billion-plus Christians in the world and obviously they come freighted with their own background and various views, from simplistic to highly articulate and profound; it has always been that way and presumably always will be. There are stultifyingly simplistic views expressed by ideologues of every stripe, whether religious, areligioius or anti-religious ideologues and believers. But Blumenthal's abundant sneers and presumption rely upon denying what Hagee actually states, then quoting some admittedly and imo far too simple Christians among Hagee's congregation. So what? Such simple congregants don't pull the levers in the halls of congress, they are humble people, often expressing themselves elaborately and with some presumption and in a manner that reflects the fact they are out of their depth. But that's what many people, many among the hoipolloi, do when the subject is religion or when the subject is not religion.

Blumenthal sneers, he denies what people say and supplants it with his presumptive "real truth," his spin, he sneers again, he then overly leverages what some common and humble people in the pews have to say, then he sneers yet again and spins it in a manner that reflects his own program. I can pull quotes from both religious and anti-religious ideologues from various centuries quite readily and find similarly presumptuous and "out of their depth" opinions on a wide variety of subjects. The Left, from the French Revolution and Robespierre and forward to our own era comes to mind as one particularly rich source of material; apologetics offered and intellectual rationalizations offered for some of the most bloody eras of the last two centuries. In other words the congregants and pew-sitters of the Left are even more outrageous and presumptuous than anything Blumenthal offers with his own presumption and profound contempt vis-a-vis Hagee's congregants.

Physician, heal thyself.

Lead by example, preach to your own flock and convert them to more temperate views and expressions (Bush/Blair=Stalin/Hitler, 9/11 truthers from Rosie O'Donnell to university professors, Michael Moore's laughable F-9/11, Al Gore presuming to speak for the "scientific consensus," etc., etc.). Once you devote yourself to and accomplish that, directing your concerns in the direction of contemporary, ideological fundamentalists on the Left, then we'll have cause to listen to you preach to those worrisome Christian fundamentalists.

As such, you and Max Blumenthal and others have your work cut out for you for a long time to come.
7.28.2007 3:25am
Michael B (mail):
"You clearly have a problem with the history of the Christian religion." Jon Rowe

Oh good grief, eminently predictable. You seem a bit defensive and presumptuous, but no, you miss, entirely, the import and focus of what was stated. I have a problem with facile and too self-assurred parallels and analogies. My focus was on the validity of the parallel you're drawing and the import it carries into the existing situation, the degree to which it is valid. For example I cited the dualism inherent in the very founding of Christianity (and I'd argue Judaism as well) and contrasted that foundational dualism with what appears to be a monism within Islam, wherein the other worldly (ideality, the "religious") and the this worldly (the social/political/cultural) are telescoped into one another, thus the confusion/obscuring of secular vs. religious authority, comprehending authority, elucidating it, being another topic that was previously emphasized.

Additionally, I pointedly noted that I'm attempting to ask questions, to probe, rather than offering definitive conclusions/answers (contrasting with your own style). For example I previously stated: "... [what preceded] is intended in a probing rather than a sum certain or narrow manner, but predictably rounding up the usual suspects (those bad Christians) fails to address the most basic and constructive need: what underlying social/political tenets can a society and nation positively agree upon?"

You appear to have a problem either with 1) criticisms as such or 2) better comprehending what was said in the first place. (If you believe something to be "clear," then at least quote the person so it's more clear what you're arguing against in the first place.)

And perhaps, additionally, you have a problem with the comparison drawn with the secular ideologues, with ideological fundamentalists, of the 20th century. Additionally still, perhaps you have a problem with acknowledging profoundly beneficient and fundamental aspects of Christianity and Judeo/Christian tenets which have helped to form societal and civilizational foundations, especially so within the Athens/Jerusalem tension. In large part that's where my line of inquiry concerning John Locke and Montesquieu was directed. It's not entirely clear that you have a problem in this area, but its a valid set of issues which your approach serves to gloss over with some rather facile strokes of the pen.
7.28.2007 3:50am
Brian K (mail):
How about attempts in some public schools to mandate prayer with a punishment for not praying? Or firing teachers who refuse to teach creationism in public schools? Or do these for some reason not count as christians using the government to enforce their religion?
7.28.2007 12:39pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

You may not like Pastor Hagee and a large segment of the Christian community, you may even feel highly hostile and suspicious and contemptibly toward them and their beliefs, but they do not register in the descriptive manner Blumenthal attempts to forward.


John Hagee is a religious lunatic of the highest order.
7.28.2007 1:13pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
And Gomaa isn't?

He's the freakin' Moslem pope.
7.28.2007 2:49pm
neurodoc:
He's the freakin' Moslem pope.

There is, of course, no "Moslem pope," that is a supreme religious leader for all followers of Islam. If there were one, it might be easier for non-Muslims to deal with the Islamic world.
7.28.2007 3:30pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
When it comes to elucidating doctrine, Gomaa stands in the same position, and operates in a similar way, as the Roman pope.

'Mufti' isn't some empty title, and he is supposed to reflect the sentiment of the ulama. When a mufti doesn't, then he gets ousted (unlike a Catholic pope).

Until Gomaa gets ousted, his statement can and should be considered definitive.
7.28.2007 4:24pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Okay. So the DoD and Homeland Security should start sniffing around Christian seminaries?

I repeat, this crap is of interest solely because it's safer. As Theo van Gogh found out.
7.28.2007 5:04pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
No homeland security shoudn't start sniffing around Christian seminaries. The point is fundamentalist Christians have their own "softer" religious lunatics. They won't cut your head off for insulting their religion. But I'd be scared to all Hell if Mr. Armageddon Hagee had access to "the button."
7.28.2007 5:10pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
And how likely do you assess that as being? Compared to, say, the equivalent nut in Pakistan?
7.28.2007 7:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Harry. As I keep saying, worrying publicly about the equivalent nut in Pakistan is likely to get your head cut off. So, if you can't keep your mouth shut, you worry about some obscure Christian nutcase, or some half-millenia-gone Christian doctrine.
7.28.2007 11:37pm