Islam Symposium Part II: The Question of Individual Freedom
By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Welcome back to our Islam Symposium. In the first section of this three part series, our guests discussed the ingredients of the Islamic religion that provide, arguably, a foundation for either peace or violence. Today, we continue the discussion by exploring, among other things, the freedom of personal choice and democratic rights in general.
Once again, joining us are: Ibn Warraq, the author of Why I am Not a Muslim; Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR); Robert Spencer, an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation and author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith; and As`ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus, and adjunct professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New War on Terrorism.
 Gentlemen, if today’s terrorism is not an outgrowth of Islam and if it gives Islam a "bad name", and therefore even defames Islam, why isn’t the outcry from the Muslim world much more vehement? Where are all of the mass demonstrations of angry Muslims shouting and denouncing Bin Laden for slandering Islam?
AbuKhalil: Why should Arabs and Muslims always dance to US tunes? So Arabs and Muslims are only humans if they respond to US orders for demonstrations only on issues that the US decides on? In the Middle East, people widely and uniformly condemn the Sep. 11 attacks, so they do not feel the need to keep reiterating their stance to appease anti-Muslim bigots like Falwell, Robertson, and F. Graham.
People mourn their own more than they mourn other people; Americans are not demonstrating against the killing of people in the Congo, and similarly Muslims and Arabs are also guilty of opting to express their sorrow first for the death of their own people: in Iraq and in Palestine.
Ideally, we all should protest the killing of innocent people anywhere around the world, but unfortunately nationalism affects how we react to deaths of people. Was it Melvill who said: the spilling of one American drop of blood shatters the earth? And for Muslims to respond to US invitations of condemnations is for them to accept guilt, or to place themselves on the defensive.
YOU also have to understand that many Muslims and Arabs are now scared and intimidated, and not likely to express their views either in support or in opposition to the US. The place has not been an oasis of debate and open discussion recently.
Spencer: It is not mourning or displays of emotion that are needed. It is evidence that Muslims are among the people working to eradicate terrorism. Americans haven't placed Muslims on the defensive; Osama bin Laden has. Americans didn't dance in the streets in the Middle East when the Twin Towers went down; Muslims did. CAIR and other American Muslim groups want non-Muslims to accept that Islam condemns terrorism. Is it asking people to dance to a US tune to ask them to show evidence of that condemnation -- and not just with anti-terrorist words, which were supplied in abundance by the suspected terrorist group Global Relief Foundation and the suspected terrorist leader Sami Al-Arian, but with anti-terrorist actions?
If I were an American Muslim I would be doing all I could to eradicate terrorism from Islam and the world at large. But instead CAIR and others are protesting anti-terrorism efforts as discrimination -- even to the extent of misrepresentation, as when they blamed Ashcroft for the Hajj terror alert instead of al-Qaeda. Ashcroft didn't link the Hajj to terror; al-Qaeda did.
Warraq: Todayìs terrorism IS an outgrowth of Islam. Second, there has been a greater willingness among certain Muslims to question their religion and values. Why has it not been even greater is a difficult question. Some of the reasons may be i) deep anti-Americanism ii) as David Pryce-Jones argued, Islamic society is culture of shame and honour hence an unwillingness to criticize Islam publicly and an even greater unwillingness to criticize it in front of non-Muslims iii) or perhaps as one Arab student said to me with pride after 9/11. "Now you know what we Arabs are capable of " iv) most Muslim societies are undemocratic, where open and free discussions are rare, difficult and dangerous.
AbuKhalil: Warraq resorts to the most discarded clichés and dogmas of the most classical of orientalist tendencies. Witness him quote the authority of David Pryce-Jones, a certified enemy of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims and who in his book The Closed Circle does not shy away from generalizations and insults about Arabs and Muslims, which totally explains why he would please Warraq.
Warraq is an interesting case: a person who is only offended by sexism and intolerance within Islam, but not within Christianity and Judaism, which explains why fundamentalist Christians are very pleased with him.
He would have more credibility if he objects courageously to all religions, and to all fundamentalists. But then again, he wants to keep being invited to the White House. He knows the rules of the game. His discussion of shame and honor is laughable: people used to write this stuff back in the 1950s. If he knows anything about the history of Arab-Islamic civilization, he would know that many did not care about shame and honor, and many were punished for such courage. As many Jews and Christians were also punished for their courage within their religions.
Ayloush: Let me once and for all set the record straight for people who might have questions on where Muslims stand regarding the horrific terrorist attacks on our country on September 11th. In one loud and united voice, Muslims have condemned the attacks: within two hours after the attacks, a coalition of the largest American Muslim organizations consisting of CAIR, the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council and the Muslim Public Affairs Council issued a joint statement condemning the terrorist attacks and offering "condolences to the families of those who were killed or injured... No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.'' Muslims from all over the world echoed these sentiments. (See: http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm) Islamic scholars all over the world strongly condemned this terrorist attack and stated that such actions are in total contradiction to Islamic teachings.
The reason we did not see the whole populations coming out in masses is because while most sympathized with us, the American people, they are busy dealing with their own version of Sep. 11 tragedies.
In Palestine, in the last two years, over 2,300 Palestinians have lost their lives under harsh Israeli occupation, that is equivalent to 200,000 persons (about 66 Sep. 11 attacks) relative to our population. In Iraq, Iraqis
have to mourn the death of over 10,000 a month due to the UN economic sanctions imposed by our government, that's equivalent to 140,000 persons (about 45 Sep. 11 attacks) a MONTH relative to our population. (This does not even include the deaths caused by Saddam's ruthless regime)
The point is while this is our first time to face such a horrible tragedy, let's remember that other parts of the world have their tragedies which require our attention too. When was the last time we came out in masses to show outrage about our government's policies in support of those injustices in Palestine and Iraq?
 Christians and Jews are aware that the verses in their sacred texts can be subjected to textual analysis and critical evaluation. Islam, meanwhile, teaches that the Qur’an is the final and literal word of Allah, preserved in heaven for all eternity. So, if someone suggests that certain Qur’anic verses should be understood in "the context of their time" and not be taken seriously, isn’t this not only offensive, but actually heretical to Islam?
Warraq: It is very difficult to make generalizations about the entire Muslim world with its billion inhabitants. Most Muslims do not even understand a word of the Koran since their mother tongue is not Arabic; even Arabs themselves have difficulties because the language of the Koran is a difficult variety of Classical Arabic which is different from the various vernaculars .
So only a small number of Muslims would be involved in discussions about whether certain verses should be understood in their historical context. What usually happens is that certain passages in the Koran are simply ignored; only a few Islamic countries actually practice the cruel and unusual punishments prescribed in the Koran for adultery, and theft; doctors, for example, in Pakistan refused to amputate the limbs of thieves. Theologically speaking, the historical context argument is not admissible in Islam.
AbuKhalil: After telling us all sorts of assumptions about Islam and Muslims, Warraq is suddenly careful here, remembering that indeed not all Muslims follow all verses of the Quran, and that many do indeed ignore its commands. A late moment of awakening for our selective secularist.
In any case, the premise of the question is flawed theologically. The word "fundamentalism" came out early in the 20th century to refer to Protestant groups in the US which adhere to the literal interpretation of the biblical word. In Islam, there is much more flexibility, although Islam admittedly has it share of fanatics.
Unlike Warraq, who takes the highly uncourageous (in the West) stance of rejecting "barbarism" and fanaticism but only in Islam, I reject sexism, intolerance, exclusivism, fundamentalism, fanaticism in Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Islam for example strictly prohibits alcohol consumption, and yet alcohol consumption is widely enjoyed throughout the Middle East, and this will shock those who think that Muslims follow the Qur'anic word strictly. I do not mean to brag, but I was born to a Muslim family with a long line of alcoholics.
Spencer: As'ad's answer is flawed logically. "Fundamentalism" wasn't mentioned in the question. Nor does the fact that many Muslims don't obey the Qur'an prove anything. I'm worried about the ones who do. Until As'ad can show us that NO Muslim takes the Qur'an seriously, Islam will continue to produce people who think it part of their religious duty to make war against unbelievers. Because the traditional Muslim view is that all of the Qur'an (except for verses abrogated by other passages) is valid for all times: including the verse "Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" (Sura 9:5). Slay them, that is, if they refuse to convert to Islam or submit to second-class citizen status under Islamic rule.
AbuKhalil: Look at the language used: "Traditional Muslim view". Which traditional Muslim view? The Four Sunni Muslim Schools of Jurisprudence? Or the richly diverse Shi’ite Schools which give so much powers of interpretations to many schools? Enough generalizations already.
Spencer: The traditional Muslim view articulated by yes, all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, as well as Sahih Muslim, Sahih Bukhari, Sunan Abu Dawud, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Khaldun, Muhammad Muhsin Khan, S. K. Malik, and the others I have quoted. All say that fighting against unbelievers is the Qur'an's final word on this matter. You must know enough of Islamic history and theology to know that I could quote many others saying the same thing, including Averroes, al-Ghazzali, numerous Shi'ites, etc.
You blithely ignored all these citations and then accuse me of trafficking in generalizations. Why don't you stop blustering and posturing and engage in honest discourse?
Ayloush: Spencer wants to re-interpret the Qur’an to advance his bigotry. The verse which he quoted to defame Islam deals with a historic incident in which hostile pagan Arab tribes violated a signed non-aggression treaty with Muslims. When those pagans killed many innocent Muslims in a surprise attack, God gave the Muslims the right to retaliate and punish the attackers. Even then, God says in the rest of the verse that if they repent then let them free without punishment because God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful. The following verses explain it even more:
"Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first to assault you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is God Whom you should more justly fear, if you believe!" (9:13)
Anyway, why would anyone expect any fairness in presenting Islam from an Islamophobe? It is like asking an anti-Semite to tell us about the Jews and Judaism.
As for the question asked, Islam is probably one of the first religions to establish a scientific process for timely textual analysis and interpretation, a process known as Ijtihad. According to Muslim scholars, religious opinions (Fatwas) are subject to change with respect to time and place. While Islam defines a set of permanent tenets dealing mainly with articles of faith, moral values, individual and communal rights, and rituals of worship, it allows for much flexibility for the shape or form for many of the rules and laws dealing with society, politics, economics, and other aspect of life. The basic rule is that laws should bring prosperity and welfare to society in the guidance of the Islamic values.
Spencer: I've quoted Muslim scholars repeatedly to show that I’m not advancing any personal interpretation of the Qur’an, but merely reporting on a common (but not the only) Muslim understanding.
Ibn Kathir says that the verse I quoted above, Sura 9:5, "abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater." Ibn Juzayy agrees that one of the functions of Sura 9:5 is "abrogating every peace treaty in the Qur’an." That means war is the Qur’an’s last word.
Ahmad Von Denffer calls Ibn Kathir’s commentary of the "better-known" and "more valuable books of tafsir . . . of greatest importance to Muslims." Other Muslim scholars add that "the majority of the Muslim Ummah in the world today consider it to be the best available source of understanding of the Qur’anic text."
Yusuf Patel says that "some claimed [this verse] referred to the Banu Khuza’a who were the allies of the Prophet slain by the Banu Bakr" -- in other words, that only that group of unbelievers should be fought, not all. But Patel adds: "Ibn Juzayy adds to it a general meaning and Ibn Kathir also held this view. Therefore this is a promise of victory for the Muslims over the Kuffar [unbelievers]."
Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, Von Denffer, and Patel are Muslim scholars: two medieval, two modern. Yet when I quote them I am Islamophobic? A "phobia" is not a hatred but a fear, and I am not afraid of you and your campaign of smears and intimidation. By smearing people who raise honest questions about Islam instead of facing the roots of terrorism and working to eradicate them, you are paving the way for the ultimate triumph of the terrorist version of Islam.
Ayloush: The verses that I quoted are self-explanatory. And even Ibn Katheer whom you selectively quoted said in his interpretation that Muslims did not have any obligations to the idol worshippers after they broke the treaty with the Muslims by attacking them. He also adds that God clearly orders Muslims in verse 48:26 to keep the terms of the treaties with those who kept their terms. That's absolute fairness. Were we wrong in declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor attack? Were we supposed to sit and wait for the second attack?
 There are those who argue that an Islamic society can allow freedom and democracy. In a future and hypothetical "liberal" Muslim society, will a woman be able to exercize her free will and, if she so chooses, be notoriously sexually promiscuous – without fear of physical harm or persecution by the authorities? I am not saying that I personally champion this behaviour, but if the answer to this question is "no," and despite all the potential "justified" reasons that might support this "no", could a critic observe that our two civilizations’ definition of "freedom" is totally different? After all, is it not a given that personal freedoms are intricately interwoven with fundamental democratic political freedoms?
AbuKhalil: The question of course betrays the sexism of the questioner. Note how female freedoms are equated with "sexually promiscuous" behavior. Freedom is freedom, of course. And please, let us not approach the subject by comparing an Ideal West with an Actual East. In the US, some 30 percent of women are victims at least once in a lifetime to domestic violence. So we are hardly in a position to preach. Yes, I believe that Islam is compatible with any political arrangement (democratic or tyrannical) because it is largely silent on the political order question. So millions of Muslims (including fundamentalist and pious Muslims) reside in the freest countries of the world (Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, etc) and nobody every questions their Islam because they live in secular societies. So if a women could be Muslim in Sweden why cannot she be equally Muslim in a free Egypt?
Interlocutor: The sexism of the questioner? The question equates female freedoms with sexual promiscuity? One second here. For all anyone knows, I just might idealize Mother Theresa -- and lifelong chastity and celibacy. So, instead of turning this on me, let us suppose that I vehemently oppose and frown on the hypothetical woman’s sexual behaviour in the previous question. Let us even assume that I am morally appalled and outraged. Nonetheless, I still recognize that it is none of my business, because one of this woman’s freedoms in a true democratic society is to conduct herself how she wants to in the matters of her private life. So, aside from demonizing the questioner, whose disposition is irrelevant in terms of this woman’s right to live her life as she wants to, please answer the specific question Prof. AbuKhalil: could this woman live free from fear of persecution in a Muslim society?
Abukhalil: For me, a debate is a debate with all, including the questioner. And I do not think that women's freedoms should in any way be reduced to matters of sexual "promiscuity." In fact, as a militant feminist I reject the very concept of "promiscuity" altogether and think that sexual behaviour of women (no sex or lot of sex) should be irrelevant. And you mentioned Mother Theresa: that is a good example: If mother Theresa was who she is, but is also known for having a lot of sex, I doubt that she would have the acclaim (undeserved in my opinion) that she had in her lifetime. In specific answer to your question, yes there ARE in actuality "promiscuous" Muslim women, and they manage to keep their heads on their shoulders. In the village in South Lebanon where my family comes from, there was a married woman who carried on an open affair with a much younger doctor, and they traveled together.
Interlocutor: South Lebanon?? Forgive me please, but I am not so sure that South Lebanon is a great example of the norms in Muslim Arab society. In places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, such "open" behaviour of this married woman would bring grave punishment. And so I return to the question again: can women be free to engage in their own choices, whether we approve of them or not, in Muslim Arab society without fear of punishment?
Abukhalil: Typical ploy of Westerners who are hostile to Islam and Arabs. They prefer to use only examples from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Let me surprise: Yes, I stand by the South Lebanon example. It is a far representative place of Islam than Saudi Arabia. Most Muslims live under conditions of flexibility, and pragmatism, and not austerity and legal imposition of the kind found in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and even Iran (which is more open than many Arab Gulf states, ironically, but that is a matter for U.S. foreign policy) are extreme cases, and not the norms. Most Muslims live in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Egypt, etc. And yes, many manage to have illicit sex and stay alive, you only hear about the legal cases of the exception when the oppressive state wants to make an example.
Interlocutor: Thank you Prof. AbuKhalil, I am actually quite aware of where most Muslims live. I still somehow can’t get my specific question answered. Nonetheless, I am especially intrigued with the part of your answer that boasts that many Muslims "manage to have illicit sex and stay alive." Are we sure that this is very reassuring? Doesn’t the gravity of this issue rest in the fact that this has to be said at all? Shouldn’t our concern be for those human beings in that part of the world who don’t manage and who do not remain unharmed or, as you choose the word, alive?
Spencer: Sorry, but I doubt that any Muslim would hold up South Lebanon as a model Islamic society. It's well known in Saudi Arabia that Beirut is where you go when you want to sin -- i.e., a dangerous place for pious Muslims. This question is really about the freedom NOT to be a Muslim in Muslim societies. And that freedom is tenuous at best and non-existent in some places (chiefly our friend and ally Saudi Arabia). It is interesting to note that the Turkish secular state was established by Ataturk (who was a great criminal in his own right) in an atmosphere of virtual war against Islam, and that ALL secular states in the House of Islam are under constant pressure from a sizable contingent of Muslims who believe that no state has any legitimacy unless it is ordered according to the Sharia. Your South Lebanese married woman would be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, Muslim Nigeria, Iran (until quite recently), and many other Islamic bastions. In "moderate" Dubai she would just be jailed, as was the Frenchwoman Touria Tiouli who was falsely accused of fornication.
AbuKhalil: Let me give a lesson of geography to Spencer: Beirut is not in South Lebanon, South Lebanon in relative terms is a place of traditionalism, and my example still holds. The notion that they would be punished in countries you mentioned, attest that the foes of Islam and Arabs are only obsessed with the extreme exceptions, and are not out to find the truth or the correct representative data.This is like saying that because some Churches are still anti-Semitic, it means that all of Christianity is anti-Semitic. And whatever laws that are imposed in Saudi Arabia or Iran should be blamed on the unelected rulers of those countries, and not on the religion or culture of that place.
Spencer: Thank you, As'ad. In attempting to keep my answers as brief as possible I dropped a transitional "also" from the sentence about Beirut that would have separated it from the "South Lebanon" reference. In my many discussions with Christian Arabs whose homes were bulldozed and lands seized by Muslims, I have become well acquainted with the location of Beirut and the general geography of Lebanon.
Anyway, are you denying that the laws of Saudi Arabia and Iran are based on the Sharia, which is generally fixed in content and available to be enforced anytime, anywhere, by a Muslim government that chooses to do so and has the power to do so? Thus these are not exceptions at all, but the rule wherever the Sharia is the rule. It's interesting also that I mentioned Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iran and Dubai, and in your reply you refer only to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yet the other two places show that the provisions of the Sharia are universal.
Ayloush: Firstly, I think it is crucial at this point to emphasize that Islam’s respect for freedoms and human dignity is well established in its religious texts and commentaries. When one early Muslim was asked to define the mission of Islam, he described it as a movement to liberate human beings from physical, spiritual, and intellectual oppression.
Secondly, your question indicates an existing misperception and bias about Islam. Let me ask you the same type of question. In our very own USA, will a woman be able to exercise her free will and be nude or notoriously sexually promiscuous in public if she so desires – without fear of physical harm or persecution by the authorities? The answer is NO. This lady will probably end up in jail for indecent exposure. Why? Because no society will allow anyone to break the laws passed by the majority. I am sure that our hypothetical notoriously sexually promiscuous lady might think that our existing laws infringe on her freedoms, but well, this is the wish of the majority in our society. Similarly, a prostitute from Nevada might face a big surprise if she tries to practice gambling or prostitution activities in California! Does that make the "definition of freedom between the peoples of Nevada and California totally different?"
Just because the majority in one country or area chooses to live according to laws that are different than ours, it does not turn us into incompatible civilizations. It is unfair, and quite chauvinistic, to rate and judge other societies and cultures solely relative to our understanding and values. We do not hold a monopoly on absolute values. We need to learn, understand, and respect other cultures.
Spencer: Mr. Ayloush, at last we all agree. The original question was "could a critic observe that our two civilizations’ definition of "freedom" is totally different?" You have just answered in the affirmative. And indeed, the situation of most women in the US is quite different from that in, say, Pakistan. According to Amnesty International, "According to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, over 90% of married women report being kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were dissatisfied by their cooking or cleaning, or when the women had 'failed' to bear a child or had given birth to a girl instead of a boy."
I am all for respecting other cultures but I am sure you join me in deploring this. Now please tell us what you are doing to eradicate the influence on such men of Sura 4:34: "Good women are therefore obedient . . . and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them." Please explain how can this behavior be eradicated when the Qur'an sanctions it. I am well aware of the Muslim interpreters who warn men to beat their wives only lightly, but of course "lightly" to one man might mean something quite different from what it means to another. This is hardly liberation "from physical, spiritual, and intellectual oppression." Please tell us how it can be eradicated from Islam. And remember: pointing out domestic violence in the West doesn't answer the question. To point to another person's sins doesn't justify your own!
Ayloush: No I am sorry, we do not agree on this one. Human rights are absolute to all, regardless of race, gender, and religion. And while this concept is relatively more recent for us in the West (since the French Revolution), it is a well-established topic in Islamic laws and practices, for the last 1400 years. Unfortunately, many of the present Muslim majority countries replaced those laws with French or British colonialist laws; hence, denying most of those rights to their populations. No one (maybe except Spencer) would hold Islam responsible for this.
Additionally, Muslims are ordered to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad in the way he conducted his life. He never hit any of his wives and he actually condemned those who did. He was described as a caring and loving husband and father. Past and present scholars point to this and take a very strong position against those immoral men who abuse their wives.
Attributing today’s abuse of women in certain poor societies to Islam is not un-expected from someone like Mr. Spencer. Would you attribute the same abuse in our countries to the Bible that says:
1 Timothy 2:11-14 "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression."
Or to the Orthodox Jewish prayer for men:
"Blessed be God King of the universe that You has not made me a woman."
All such text is never a green light to commit any violence against women. Bad people will use any excuse to commit their evil.
Interlocutor: It remains a mystery to me why it is so hard for me to get my simple question answered. Let me try this again: Hussam, with all due respect, I am not talking about prostitution, nor about indecent exposure. I am asking, once again: if a woman decides, with her own conscience, that she would like to start having consenting sex with other adults, male or female, in the privacy of their own homes, and she does this a lot, and it becomes common knowledge, and everyone knows, will this woman be safe from the fear of persecution from the state in any Muslim society that faithfully abides by Sharia Law? Yes or no? I do not need to hear anything about how there is "oppression" in the West as well. I just want my specific question answered please.
Secondly, is it not simply crucial that we do judge other cultures? If a man can be acquitted in a court of law for murdering a woman in a country where the culture will exonerate him if the woman "dishonoured" his name, do we not have the right to say this is wrong? If a woman is imprisoned or killed because of accusations of "adultery", do we not have a right to say this is wrong? If a young girl's clitoris is chopped off in a culture that believes it is "cleaner" and "healthier" for a girl to be clitoris-free, do we not have a right, and an obligation, to judge that culture? If black people cannot go into certain public places in a society because the culture segregates blacks to certain subordinate spheres, do we not have a right to say this is wrong?
There are certain inherent truths, no? Hussam, is my suspicion correct that you defend Islam on the assumption of cultural relativism, and yet lose all interest in cultural relativism when it comes to judging Western society?
Please deal with both parts in this somewhat long-winded question.
Ayloush: In the specific scenario that you presented, this lady will not be punished for fornication (unless she has invited four persons who are willing to testify against her about the actual sexual intercourse.) In Islam, punishment is the last resort to protect society. Islam’s main focus is on prevention and on building morals in people. Punishment’s role is to deter. For example, Islamic law bans the use of drugs and alcohol, but it will not punish someone who commits this "sin" if it is done in the privacy of one’s home without trying to promote it to others. Evidence collected by means of spying is not permissible in an Islamic court.
But the problem that I have with your question is that you refuse to give Islamic societies the right to legislate what is morally acceptable or not. Islam holds and promotes universal values that protect human rights (Muslims and no-Muslims alike) with regard to the right for dignity, justice, healthcare, privacy, and personal property, the freedom of speech and religion. No human law can be passed to deny or undermine those God-given rights. However, laws can be passed to regulate the implementation of those rights, as it is the case in every country. In our country for example, while we have the freedom of speech, it is illegal to slander others. While we have the freedom of speech, public nudity or marijuana smoking can throw you in jail. While we have the freedom to choose a job, prostitution is still illegal in most states. While we have the freedom of religion, even the simple building of a church is subject to the approval of the "impacted" neighbors. We also regulate liquor stores next to schools, level of alcohol in the blood of drivers, image content on television, types of punishment for murderers, etc. This is not illogical nor unfair. Societies have the right to have a say in running their affairs.
And you are correct, we have the right to judge and criticize other cultures when they violate the universal human rights, as in the examples you picked. Murdering innocent people, racism, and injustice should never be acceptable, even if a culture tolerates it. But when a cultural difference is not a violation of such human rights, we have to respect it and appreciate our diversity.
Spencer: Unless she has "invited four persons to testify against her"? Are you serious? Most often, I must note, these witnesses are not invited by the lady. Also, I note with interest that you have herewith granted my earlier points about women's rights and the crime of the four witnesses requirement. Moreover, I am fully aware that in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere testimony of spies HAS been admitted in the prosecution of drinkers.
"Human rights" in an Islamic context can mean something quite different from what it means in the West, as the Iranian UN Ambassador a few years ago, Sa’id Raja’i-Khorassani, explained. He said that the very concept of human rights was ‘a Judeo-Christian invention,’ foreign to Islam. Khomeini assailed the Shah's approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of his "most despicable sins." I am aware that this is not the perspective of every Muslim. But has this perspective been eradicated from Islam?
Ayloush: This perspective was never part of Islam to begin with. The UN ambassador is entitled to his own views. Moreover, Islam is not at fault for the wrong practices of its followers in Saudi Arabia or any place in the world; a point that seems difficult for you to accept.
Interlocutor: Gentlemen, very sorry, we are out of time again. But everyone will have the chance to defend their positions further and to make more commentary in our next and final round of the Islam Symposium tomorrow. See you then.
To see Part I of the Islam Symposium, CLICK HERE
To see Part III of the Islam Symposium, CLICK HERE
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