This past week has provided two glaring examples of the pitfalls of allowing that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” as per the new constitutions of the vox populi elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. With major input from the U.S. State Department, both constitutions installed Islam as the official state religion and made ancient Islamic religious law, Shari’a, a primary guiding source for these legal systems. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy noted, the constitutions,
…also contained some human rights provisions, which is what…enthusiasts said we should be focusing on rather than all that nettlesome religio-cultural stuff…The State Department maintained that it [the Afghanistan constitution] also contained strong human rights provisions and was thus becoming a framework for the emergence of a peaceful and vibrant democracy
With grim predictability, an Afghan Muslim convert from Islam to Christianity, Abdul Rahman, was arrested, charged with “apostasizing” from Islam, and according to the March 19, 2006 statement of the presiding judge, Ansarullah Mawlavezada, faces the death penalty. Apostasizing from Islam to any other religion is punishable by death under the Shari’a. And as Ibn Warraq described in his unique study of Muslim apostates, the Shari’a mandates often fill in the “lacunae” of Islamic constitutions regarding punishment for apostasy from Islam. Mr. Mawlavezada explained that, although, “We are not against any particular religion in the world...in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law…[apostasy from Islam] is an attack on Islam. ... The prosecutor is asking for the death penalty.” In an effort, one assumes, to convey his “Islamic reasonableness”, the Afghan prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, further noted “…that he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman changed his religion back to Islam, but the defendant refused.”
According to a March 16, 2006 report from a London-based gay rights group, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the supreme religious authority for Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq and an icon for Shi’a worldwide, has apparently decreed that gays and lesbians should be put to death “in the worst manner possible”. Confirmation of this claim is provided at Sistani’s own official website, specifically this page, item 5, from a question and answer section, which translates:
Q: What is the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism?
A: Forbidden. Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible.*
Al-Sistani has been lionized as a moderate healing force in Iraq, worthy of consideration for a Nobel Peace Prize (such informal “nominations” coming from across the political spectrum, i.e., both the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, and National Review’s Richard Lowry). His frank “ruling” which sanctions the brutal murder of homosexuals, in conjunction with the good Ayatollah’s earlier pronouncements on the debasing uncleanliness of non-Muslims (i.e., his adherence to the orthodox Shi’ite doctrine of najis) might dampen his Nobel prospects—although one can’t be too sure in our moribund contemporary world.
Analyses of the debacles over the drafting of the Iraq Constitution and the delayed seating of Iraq’s elected Parliamentary government, ignore the fact that Iraqis have in fact tread this path before—with distressing results, culminating in massacres of the Assyrian Christians, and later the hideous Baghdad pogrom of its Jewish population in 1941. British Arabist S. A. Morrison wrote a revealing “hopeful” analysis in1935 which, even after the Assyrian massacres of 1933-34, smacks of delusional apologetics, particularly viewed in light of Iraq’s subsequent history, through 2006. Morrison’s essay was written following great expense of British blood and treasure, and more than a decade of military occupation. His conclusions (S.A. Morrison, “Religious Liberty in Iraq”, Moslem World, 1935, p. 128) regarding the British involvement in the “creation” of Iraq, sound depressingly familiar in light of the present U.S. predicament:
Iraq is moving steadily forward towards the modern conception of the State, with a single judicial and legislative system, unaffected by considerations of religion or nationality. The Millet system (i.e., the system of Ottoman dhimmitude), still survives but its scope is definitely limited. Even the Assyrian tragedy (a brutal series of murderous pogroms during which Iraqi Kurdish and Arab Muslims killed thousands of Assyrian Christians) of 1933 does not shake our faith in the essential progress that has been made. The Government is endeavoring to carry out faithfully the undertakings it has given, even when these run directly counter to the long cherished provisions of the Shari'a Law. But it is not easy; it cannot be easy in the very nature of the case, for the common people quickly to adjust their minds to the new legal situation, and to eradicate from their outlook the results covering many centuries of a system which implies the superiority of Islam over the non-Moslem minority groups. The legal guarantees of liberty and equality represent the goal towards which country is moving, rather than the expression of the present thoughts and wishes of the population. The movement, however, is in the right direction, and it may yet prove possible for Islam to disentangle religious faith from political status and privilege.
Clearly more than 70 years later, the Iraqi people still cannot seem “..to eradicate from their outlook the results covering many centuries of a system which implies the superiority of Islam over the non-Moslem minority groups…”, while Iraqi Islam remains unable to “...disentangle religious faith from political status and privilege.”
These disturbing current events—a prosecution for “apostasy” in Afghanistan, with a potential death sentence imposed, and the sanctioning of the brutal murder of homosexuals by Iraq’s most influential “moderate” cleric—are entirely consistent with the Shari’a. They underscore how Islamic societies must embrace the pluralistic spirit of the Western Enlightenment if they are to be meaningfully reformed. Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi’s observations are particularly apposite, and reveal what our objectives for Afghanistan and Iraq should be:
In the context of religious tolerance-and I write this as a Muslim- there can be no place…for Shari’a …Shari’a is diametrically opposed to secular constitutions formulated by the people… I hold out for the superiority of common sense over religious faith (i.e., absolute religious precepts); individual human rights (i.e., not collective human rights); secular democracy based on the separation of religion from politics; a universally accepted pluralism; and a mutually accepted secular tolerance. The acceptance of these values is the foundation of a civil society.
[*I have had this translation of the original Arabic vetted and confirmed independently by three scholars of written Arabic.]
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