You may not have been aware of it until now, but you’re living in the land of Judeo-Christian-Islamic values. That unwieldy phrase is being bandied about by Muslim advocacy groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society and the American Muslim Council. Agha Saeed of the American Muslim Alliance recommends that this phrase trip off tongues “in all venues where we normally talk about Judeo-Christian values, starting with the media, academia, statements by politicians and comments made in churches, synagogues and other places.”
Forgive me if I am somewhat hesitant to jump on this bandwagon. For one thing, the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” has real historical content. Like it or not, the American republic was founded upon values that were derived ultimately from the heritage of the Old and New Testaments. Most of the Founding Fathers were Christians; Jews have participated in American politics in important ways since the Revolutionary War.
Would there have been Muslim Founding Fathers and Muslim political figures throughout American history if there had been a significant Muslim population here at that time? Perhaps. But the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” refers to a specific set of things that are valued. Agha Saeed would have us accept on faith that Islam values essentially the same things, but there is abundant evidence to the contrary — and I am not referring to the depredations of terrorists. I am talking about classic Islamic law: the Sharia.
In principal contrast to the Sharia is a Judeo-Christian value that may seem paradoxical at first glance: secularism. The Bill of Rights forbids the establishment of a religion or any prohibition of “the free exercise thereof.” Contrary to fashionable myth, this provision wasn’t hammered out by unbelievers to give them freedom from believers. Establishing no religion meant that all were free to practice their own. Even Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke who laid the groundwork for secular government worked within a profoundly Christian cultural and intellectual context. In America, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews were able to turn away from their histories of warfare and mistrust and fashion a working polity from the values they shared in common — from Biblical and traditional teachings about the equality of dignity of all people before God.
Where secularism exists in Muslim countries, it was imported from the West; it didn’t emerge from any understanding of the Qur’an or Muslim tradition. Many Muslims, particularly radicals, regard it as illegitimate: Islam provides a model for the ordering of society; why import one from unbelievers? According to Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), an influential Muslim scholar, commentator on the Qur’an, and founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami (Party of Islam), a powerful force in contemporary Pakistani politics, “the purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme.”
He didn’t envision this as a program for Pakistan alone. “Islam requires the earth — not just a portion, but the whole planet — not because the sovereignty over the earth should be wrested from one Nation or several Nations and vested in one particular Nation, but because the entire mankind should benefit from the ideology and welfare programme or what would be truer to say from ‘Islam’ which is the programme of well-being for all humanity.”
Maududi was no eccentric. This is not only the guiding principles of celebrated twentieth-century radicals such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, Sayyid Qutb, Hasan al-Banna, and Abdullah Azzam; it’s also an established view in the Islamic world. It powers Sharia states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, wields immense influence over public policy in Pakistan, Egypt, and elsewhere, and motivates exemplary democrats like Hamas, which spells out its differences with the PLO in its Charter: “Secular thought is diametrically opposed to religious thought. . . . Therefore, in spite of our appreciation for the PLO and its possible transformation in the future, and despite the fact that we do not denigrate its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we cannot substitute it for the Islamic nature of Palestine by adopting secular thought. For the Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion, and anyone who neglects his religion is bound to lose.”
Can non-Muslims live in this Islamic state? Most certainly. “Islamic ‘Jihad,’” Maududi explains with a tolerance that would impress Karen Armstrong, “does not seek to interfere with the faith, ideology, rituals of worship or social customs of the people. It allows them perfect freedom of religious belief and permits them to act according to their creed.”
There’s just one catch: “However,” Maududi continues, “Islamic ‘Jihad’ does not recognize their right to administer State affairs according to a system which, in the view of Islam, is evil.” Likewise Sayyid Qutb. Muslims, says the father of modern Islamic radicalism, must not only preach, but also “strike hard at all those political powers which force people to bow before them and which rule over them, unmindful of the commandments of God, and which prevent people from listening to the preaching and accepting the belief if they wish to do so. After annihilating the tyrannical force, whether it be in a political or a racial form, or in the form of class distinctions within the same race, Islam establishes a new social, economic and political system, in which the concept of the freedom of man is applied in practice.”
“The freedom of man.” Gee, that does sound like a Judeo-Christian value — until you realize that he’s talking about stoning for adultery, amputation for theft, polygamy, concubinage, the subjugation of women, and all the other stipulations of the Sharia, all of which he stoutly defended in his voluminous writings. Like Maududi, Qutb insisted on Islamic tolerance: the freedom of non-Muslims to practice their religions in an Islamic state. But his vision isn’t quite compatible with Western secularism either. Jihad, he explains, “should leave every individual free to accept or reject [Islam], and if someone wants to accept it, it should not prevent him or fight against him. If someone does this [rejects Islam], then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.” Freedom for Qutb meant freedom to obey the Sharia, a freedom enforced by the power of the state. In any case, all this may or may not constitute freedom, but it sure doesn’t have anything to do with Judeo-Christian values.
In light of all this, it’s not so surprising that CAIR’s board chairman, Omar Ahmed, would have said in 1998 that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.” This statement has received renewed publicity lately, resulting in hot denials from CAIR that Ahmed ever said anything like this. Maybe he didn’t. But it’s really no more than a paraphrase of the teachings of Maududi, Qutb, and other radical Muslims, so that that there are many Muslims in the United States today whose beliefs are exactly summed up by this statement. Maududi and Qutb are respected voices whose writings are freely available to American Muslims from numerous online bookstores. Many of them are freshly published in new English translations that are fitted out with prefaces glowing with praise for the great men who wrote them and the enduring relevance of their ideas.
Are we to believe that no American Muslim is reading them? Or that every American Muslim who does read them rejects their rejection of secularism? This is an increasingly important question in light of the fact that the “Judeo-Christian-Islamic values” campaign is not just another exercise in PC wordplay. Muslim groups have announced their intentions to field more candidates than ever in 2004, and to work harder than ever to influence public policy.
Well and good. But will these candidates be so kind as to explain their relationship to the Sharia, and their long-term goals for the United States and its secular Constitution? I am certain that if any of those candidates read this, they will see it as an insult. It is not intended as such. Faced with similar questions about his Catholicism in 1960, John Kennedy didn’t take them as an insult. He knew that even though anti-Catholicism was a pervasive bigotry (albeit not as fashionable then as it is now), there were non-bigots with genuine questions. After all, Pope Pius IX in 1864 did condemn the proposition that “the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.” Whether or not Kennedy’s answer was adequately formulated, he took the question seriously and reaffirmed his commitment to our secular government.
Can Muslim politicians please make the same attempt before asking us to swallow the idea of “Judeo-Christian-Islamic values” whole and unexplained? This is a serious question born out of a serious fact: Islam is the only religion in the world that has a set of detailed legal directives for the ordering of societies, and Muslims around the world are pressing hard in numerous countries to put those directives into practice. Must we blandly assume that that can’t and won’t happen here? Certainly an explicit and definitive renunciation of the Sharia, with its built-in inequalities for woman and non-Muslims and its draconian punishments, would not be too much to ask for. Would it?