Who Deserves Our Sympathy: Embarrassed Muslims or Mutilated Muslims?

July 28, 2008

Recently, the president of the UN Human Rights Council placed a ban on religious debates in their council. As a result, a discussion about stoning women, marriages for girls as young as nine, FGM (female genital mutilation) and honor killings was stifled. All of these practices are based on Islamic law and/or are considered Islamic by those Muslims who practice them. So, in the case of Islam, stifling discussion about religion means stifling discussion about human rights violations.

According to a joint statement prepared by the Association for World Education and the International Humanist and Ethical Union for the UN, 96% of Egyptian women’s genitals are mutilated despite the fact the practice of FGM was outlawed in 1997. Yet the Egyptian UN delegate was only concerned about exposing the link between Islam and FGM, not about the plight of mutilated girls and women. It seems he cares more about protecting Muslims from embarrassment than he cares about protecting Muslims from mutilation.

Similarly, the Muslim delegates seemed to be more concerned about embarrassment than about the victims of honor killings, stonings, and child marriages.

If these issues were more broadly discussed, solutions may be found. This shows that stifling free speech which may offend “religious sensibilities” has real victims, in the form of mutilated and/or dead women, and married little girls. Is it more important to protect Muslims from being embarrassed, or to protect the real victims? Remember this question the next time you read about how important it is not to offend Muslims.


Sharia Utopia Is a Myth Part II: Where Is It?

March 29, 2008

Some Muslims defend Sharia by claiming that it creates a just, moral, ethical society. This is important because the quest for utopia is one reason Muslims are so motivated to impose Sharia, and it’s one of the ways they try to sell it to non-Muslims. According to many Muslims, all problems result from not enough Islam, and the cure is always more Islam. Let’s just examine the evidence of their claims.

To begin with, Muslim claims of Sharia utopia are similar to claims of utopia made by adherents of other totalitarian and authoritarian systems: fascists, Nazis, and communists, for example, have all made the claim that their system would produce a paradise on earth, and none of these have ever produced a utopia. All have created massive amounts of misery, not utopia. Communist countries generally have to keep people from escaping, or their populations would be decimated. The failure of other totalitarian schemes should already make us sceptical of the notion of a Sharia utopia.

I recently received a comment from “theveiledtsunami” who said:

”A society existing under judiciously applied Shariah law would have little to no cime, no homeless people, no unwanted abandoned illegitimate children, no rape…”

I asked Tsunami: You give your vision of a country with Sharia utopia. Please give us an example of one Muslim country, out of the 50, which implements the full Sharia and exemplifies this utopia. Saudi Arabia? Iran? Please give us a specific example so the rest of the world can decide if this kind of utopia is for us. Her reply was:

”Unfortuantely (sic), I know of no country that does, to the absolute letter of the Islamic law.”

The Sharia Utopia Is Fantasy-Based

Since there is not a single Muslim country that exemplifies a Sharia utopia, the concept is fantasy-based. In this series, we will be looking at the qualities of Muslims’ utopian dream point by point.

Is the Problem Sharia, Or Its Implementation?

Muslims sometimes claim that any problems with Sharia result from flaws of its implementation, not from Sharia itself. This would be a fair claim–if there were any evidence for it. There are times in which cultural factors do play a role, as in honor killings and female genital mutilation. However, even in these instances, there are foundational Islamic texts that give support to the practices, and the perpetrators generally view their behavior as Islamic. If these practices were antithetical to Islam, why has Islam failed to eliminate them after 1400 years? Why are these practices carried out in various Islamic cultures, not just in one tribal area?

A better argument could be made that some of the most livable Muslim countries owe their positive qualities to the fact that their local culture has survived sufficiently to give them some protection from the worst aspects of Sharia. The best Muslim countries are the ones with the least Sharia.

Sharia has a poor historical record, as well. The Islamic Golden Age is a myth. Historically, as in modern times, life under Muslim rule was best when Islam was weakest and least orthodox, and when Islam failed to smother the positive cultural qualities remaining from pre-Islamic times.

It is true that there can be a distinction between written religious dogma and the actual practice of a religion, but both belong to the religion. The practice of a religion is effectively determined by its followers. If large numbers of Muslims support honor killings and/or female genital mutilation and they say this is Islamic, then for them, it is. There are Christian practices that have no basis, or scanty basis, in the Christian Bible (e.g. Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter, et al), but they are so widely accepted among Christians that for practical purposes, these practices are indeed Christian.


Sharia Utopia Is a Myth Part 1: Muslim Countries Among Most Corrupt

March 14, 2008

Transparency International publishes a Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking of 179 countries for corruption. In their most recent report (2007), there are no Muslim countries in the top 10 (least corrupt) countries. There are none in the top 20. There are none in the top 30. The least corrupt Muslim country on the list is Qatar, number 32, which means that 31 non-Muslim countries are less corrupt than the least corrupt Muslim country.

Looking at the most corrupt countries, 16 of the bottom 34 are Muslim: Somalia (the very worst), Iraq, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Chad, Afganistan, Guinea, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Guinea-Bissau. To give you an idea of just how corrupt these countries are, they are ranked worse than Russia!

Where’s the utopia? The reason this is important is that Islamists often justify Sharia by arguing it creates a utopian society. Why, then, are Muslim countries generally more corrupt than non-Muslim countries, despite having the “benefit” of Sharia and Islam? Muslim countries all have different ways of implementing Sharia, and a very few don’t use much of it if any, but they all share a common belief that Sharia is a valid source of law. If Sharia really were a benefit, you’d think one of them would produce a stunningly honest government.

What is the relationship between Islam and the corruption in Muslim countries?

Islam does not mandate corruption, but there are provisions in Sharia that provide the conditions in which corruption thrives.

Checks on power: According to Transparency International, one factor allowing corrupt practices to flourish is the lack of institutional checks on power. This follows the maxim, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sharia is very authoritarian in nature, concentrating power in the rulers with no orderly process for holding them in check. A Quran verse often quoted to support this authoritarianism is 4:59: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you….” Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law also quotes a Hadith to emphasize the importance of obediance to the Caliph: “Hear and obey, even if the ruler placed over you is an Ethiopian slave with amputated extremities.” (pg. 645) Another Hadith quoted is “Leaders shall rule you after me, the godfearing of them ruling you with godfearingness and the profligate ruling you with wickedness. So listen to them and obey them in everything that is right; for if they do well, it will count for you and for them, and if they do badly, it will count for you and against them.” (pg. 639) A Caliph is supposed to have a list of qualifications which include being an upright person, but “it is valid, if forced to, to resort to the leadership of a corrupt person….” (pg. 642) Although there is currently no Caliphate, this authoritarian framework is in the Quran and seems to be hard for Muslim countries to shake off.

Democracy: In addition, democratic systems are better able to fight corruption. Transparency International states: “In a modern democracy, the power of governing bodies is inherent in the political mandate given by the people. Power is entrusted and it is supposed to be used for the benefit of society at large, and not for the personal benefit of the individual that holds it. Thus corruption – misusing publicly entrusted power for private gain – is inherently contradictory and irreconcilable with democracy. That does not mean, unfortunately, that corruption cannot be found in democratic systems. Temptation remains a challenge anywhere. That is why it is all the more important to put in place control mechanisms and establish systemic hurdles to prevent people from abusing their power, as TI is seeking to do. Such mechanisms are more easily drawn up and introduced in established democratic systems, however, than in newly democratic or non-democratic ones.”

Freedom House lists electoral democracies in the world. Of the 32 least corrupt countries, only 3 are not electoral democracies, and 29 are. Of the 34 most corrupt countries, 24 are not electoral democracies, and 10 are.

Many Muslims believe that Islam is incompatible with democracy. If their views prevail, it is likely that the corruption currently entrenched in their societies will never get a whole lot better. Other Muslims are trying to redefine Islam as a personal religion only, with no political side. If they succeed, political reform in Muslim countries becomes more possible; however, they have a long way to go.

Freedom: There is a very clear inverse relationship between freedom and corruption: the more the freedom, the less the likelihood of corruption, and vice versa. Looking at the Freedom House report, which gives countries a rating for freedom, in combination with the TI corruption report, we find that of the 32 least corrupt countries, only one is Not Free (which is Qatar, number 32 on the list); two are Partly Free (Singapore and probably Hong Kong); and the other 29 are Free, of which 26 have the very best score. (Hong Kong was not in the Freedom House report, so I’m arbitrarily calling it “Partly Free”.) In contrast, of the 34 most corrupt countries, 21 are Not Free, 13 are Partly Free, and not a single one is Free. Freedom and honest government go together, and Muslim countries are decidedly freedom challenged.

Honesty: Another factor I would expect to make a difference is the society’s attitudes toward honesty: a more honest society would, logically, tend to be less corrupt. As we have examined extensively in other contexts, Islam and Sharia do not have an absolute commitment to honesty. Deceit is allowed if it’s for a permissible goal. Oaths can be broken if something better comes along. Truth-telling can be punished if the truth embarasses someone. This is not a winning combination for rooting out corruption. There is no such thing as a completely honest or dishonest society, but there are certainly differences nonetheless.

To be clear, my sole interest in this information is to remove a common argument used to defend Sharia. Many people believe it’s “insensitive” to criticize another culture or religion. That would be fine, unless that culture and/or religion wishes to make us more like them. When that’s the case, as it is with Sharia, scrutiny is in order.


Does Sharia really call for barbaric punishments?

March 6, 2008

Muslim spokespeople sometimes pooh-pooh the association of draconian punishments with Sharia, as though such an association could only come from ignorance. Here’s a recent example from The Sydney Morning Herald:

“The use of the term sharia conjures up images of a brutal, harsh and inhumane legal system, characterized by amputations, beheadings, and stoning to death. In fact these were the very images used as the background to a news report about the lecture [stating Sharia would inevitably be incorporated into the British legal system] delivered by the archbishop.

”With such a grim picture of sharia in our minds, it is little wonder that the call made by the archbishop to consider ways of accommodating sharia law in certain areas of dispute resolution, in particular family law, was received with such animosity.”

The authors could have acknowledged that those “brutal, harsh and inhumane” punishments are written into actual Sharia criminal law, but they did not, choosing instead to call them “[conjured] images”, “a grim picture”. The implication is that they have no relevance to a discussion of Sharia.

So, let’s settle the matter of whether Sharia calls for these “brutal, harsh, and inhumane” punishments. There are four major schools of Sunni Sharia law. They agree about 75% of the time. Sharia has been basically unchanged for about the past 1000 years. There is a difference between Sharia and the laws of various Muslim states. Muslim states can vary in their implementation of Sharia, but this implementation does not change the basic nature of Sharia. There are authoritative legal texts of Islamic law which spell out what Sharia law entails. Here are some quotes from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Shafi’i School):

pg. 613 “THE PENALTY FOR THEFT…. A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam….”

pg. 616 “THE PENALTY FOR HIGHWAY ROBBERY…. If he steals the equivalent of 1.058 grams of gold…, both his right hand and left foot are amputated…. If the highwayman robs and kills, he is killed and then left crucified for three days.”

pg. 610 “THE PENALTY FOR FORNICATION OR SODOMY…. If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death….”

pg. 595 “APOSTASY FROM ISLAM (RIDDA)…. When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.”

pg. 617 “THE PENALTY FOR DRINKING…. The penalty for drinking is to be scourged forty stripes, with hands, sandals, and ends of clothes. It may be administered with a whip, but if the offender dies, an indemnity… is due… for his death.” [This penalty applies only to Muslims.]

In each case, there is also a list of qualifiers for who should be punished. Of course, these punishments are not carried out much of the time today, but they certainly are a part of Sharia. They have never been removed from the books, and they can be enforced at any time and place that Sharia is considered to be a valid source of law.

In addition, there is evidence these barbaric practices are still very much alive. Aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, have found it necessary to have a policy for whether to assist with amputations meted out as punishment in Muslim countries. Stonings are being carried out by the legal system in Nigeria, Iran, and elsewhere.

So tell me, why exactly would we believe those who say they could implement Sharia family law only, without opening the door to the criminal law with its cruel medieval punishments? If we legitimize Sharia as a source of law, what exactly would stop orthodox Muslims from wanting–and indeed, expecting–the whole thing?


Muslims want respect? Here’s how to get it!

March 3, 2008

According to a Gallup poll, most Muslims want the West to “focus on changing its negative view of Muslims and Islam.” They can make this happen. Here’s how:

  • Acknowledge that the negative view that some in the West have towards Islam has been earned by the behavior of many Muslims, as well as the doctrines and texts of Islam itself.
  • Organize rallies well-attended by Muslims supporting freedom of expression even when the expression offends Muslims (e.g. Mohammed cartoons). Promote an “anti-boycott” of Danish products, so the “majority” of Muslims who want freedom of speech can buy Danish to counteract those who do not.
  • Pronounce takfir on any Muslim who believes in death for apostates, jizya tax (extra tax for non-Muslims, specified in Quran 9:29), or the idea that Jihad holy war is ever justified under any circumstances. (”Takfir” means a declaration that a Muslim is no longer a Muslim.)
  • Reform Islam to be something we can respect, rather than asking us to respect it as it is. Throw out the Quran verses that call for violence and hate toward all unbelievers, especially Jews. Renounce the idea that Mohammed as portrayed in Islamic holy texts was a person that anyone should emulate today.
  • Renounce Islamic Supremacy. Express your outrage every time a Muslim organization demands special privileges for Muslims, whether it’s time off for prayers, taxi cab drivers’ exemption from carrying guide dogs or alcohol, or special facilities for foot washing.

It’s great that Muslims want respect; now they just need to earn it.

[Commented at Culture Matters.]


Revolutionary Revision of the Hadith in Turkey?

February 28, 2008

[Update: Reports of Turkey’s revision plans may have been exaggerated.]

According to the BBC, Turkey’s “Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith….” The Hadith are oral traditions about Mohammed and his cohorts, certain collections of which are generally regarded as sacred by Muslims. Here are a few noteworthy items:

  • The Turks apparently want the Hadith to support their efforts at creating a modern, secular democracy.
  • They are claiming that in their reform, they are actually returning to an original Islam (a claim which may be subject to debate).
  • They are rejecting the doctrine of abrogation (later, violent verses of the Quran replacing the earlier, peaceful verses).
  • They want to end Islamic justification for honor killings and female genital mutilation.
  • It is theoretically possible their efforts could result in a radically reformed version of Sharia, or even an official doctrine of non-Sharia. We’ll see.
  • This is the only instance I’m aware of in which Muslims with this degree of official authority have admitted problems within Islam to this extent. This in itself is a welcome step in the right direction.

And here are some issues that are not discussed in this article:

  • Time will tell how the rest of the Muslim world will respond to this reform. Let’s not expect a sudden utopia.
  • Their reform may turn out to be a worthwhile one, we don’t know yet. However, even if it does, it is quite possible that it will be used by Islamists as taqiyya. The Islamists can say, “See! Sharia’s not so bad,” to sell the West on Sharia, and then do “bait and switch” on us. We need to stay vigilant with those pesky Islamists (or, more accurately, we need to become vigilant in the first place.)
  • From this article, it is difficult to see how their approach can neutralize the many problems in the Quran, such as the calls for Jihad, Jizya tax (extra tax on non-Muslims), and massive Jew hatred.

It is good to see a sign of progress, even if it’s too soon to break out the champagne.


Memo to Muslims: If You Enjoy Freedom, Take a Stand Against Sharia

February 28, 2008

Don’t be a victim of Sharia. If you are a Muslim in the West who appreciates the individual rights and freedoms you have enjoyed under a secular government, this memo is for you.

As you may be aware, many Muslims are Islamists, pushing for Sharia to be implemented in the West. If they succeed, you will be among their first victims.

Here’s how Sharia victimizes Muslims

  • All Muslims lose freedom of expression. In a Muslim country, Muslims are not free to criticize Islamic doctrines such as Sharia. There are individual cases of people who get by with it, but there are also many who are punished. The path of history is littered with the corpses of executed Muslim reformers, and to this day, certain sects deemed heretical are heavily persecuted.
  • All Muslims lose freedom of conscience. In the West, we take for granted the fact that people can choose to be a member of any religion or non-religion. This is of great value to people of any faith; first, because they can worship as they choose free of persecution; and second, because their faith has more meaning since they personally choose it, rather than faith being forced on them. Under Sharia, non-Muslims (at least, those of the Book) retain the right to follow their conscience as low-class dhimmis, but Muslims have no right to follow their conscience. They must be Muslims, without considering other faiths and making an actual choice in the matter.
  • Muslim women lose basic rights. Under Sharia, Muslim women are treated as minors their whole lives, and worse. They are always under the protection of their fathers, brothers, husbands and/or sons. They may be married off at a very young age, even before puberty, with no say. Their testimony counts as half that of a Muslim man’s in court. Their inheritance is half that of a Muslim man’s. They can only prove rape with four pious male witnesses; otherwise, to allege rape could get them punished for illicit sex, which is the woman’s fault. There’s no such thing as rape in the context of marriage. Wife-beating is clearly sanctioned in the Koran. A man can divorce his wife by saying “I divorce you”, in which case he has custody rights; a woman cannot divorce her husband. Although it is legal, at least in some circumstances, for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman, the reverse is not legal. Abortion is most likely illegal. Then there’s the headscarf (burqa, hijab, et al), which may seem like the least of their worries, but under Sharia it can be a symbol of Islamic domination of women.
  • Gay Muslims lose basic rights. In the West, reasonable people may disagree on what rights specifically gays should have; gays themselves disagree over this question. However, we can all come together in agreement that they should not be killed. This is not true under Sharia.

In addition to the four ways Muslims are victimized by Sharia I’ve listed above, I believe there’s also another way Muslims are harmed by Sharia. This is a subjective opinion, for which there is no proof, nor can there be. I believe that spiritually, Muslims are harmed if they support a system that harms others. So, all the Sharia provisions that discriminate against non-Muslims are spiritually harmful to Muslims who support Sharia. As I said, this is an opinion for which I have no proof, nor will I make any effort to defend it; it’s up to the reader to agree or disagree as a matter of conscience.

If you don’t want Sharia, take a stand against it!

Organize against Sharia. The Islamists are very well organized and well funded. They like to give the impression that they represent all Muslims, including you. Therefore, the more Muslims there are in a country, the more power Islamist groups claim. The very fact that you are a Muslim gives Islamist groups more power, even if you disagree with everything they say, unless you organize against them.

A good start would be to join an anti-Sharia, pro-freedom organization such as American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The more members they have, the more power they have.

Take a stand against every imposition of Sharia, from hate speech laws banning criticism of Islam to laws requiring special accommodation for Muslim sensibilities. The forces pushing for Sharia want the whole ball of Sharia wax, and will not stop with a few measures. In the beginning stages, Islamists push forward laws which put Islam on a level higher than other religions, to create a consciousness of Islamic superiority; however, don’t be lulled into complacency by measures that seem to benefit Muslims. Once Islam is established as superior and Sharia as a source of law, from there the Islamists are in a position to implement the rest of Sharia, a bit at a time.

Speak out anonymously on the internet. You are in a unique position to damage the Islamists’ talking points by pointing out the fact that Sharia victimizes Muslims, too, not just non-Muslims. If Muslims do not speak out against Sharia, some non-Muslims begin to say, “Well, if they really want Sharia, we could just give them Sharia.” (I suggest doing a little research into internet privacy to protect yourself before launching in.)

One thing you may already be aware of: taking steps to oppose Sharia is not necessarily good for your health. Many who do so receive occasional or constant death threats. However, giving in to fear tactics would not make the problem go away–it would only get worse. It’s up to everyone who values freedom, regardless of our religions, to find ways of opposing Sharia that have risk levels we can live with.