Ground Rules for the Religious Pluralism Club

June 26, 2008

On a regular basis of late, Muslim spokespeople have called for “interfaith dialog”. They evidently want Islam to be viewed as a mainstream religion in a pluralistic world. This fits with a general desire for Islam to be respected by non-Muslims. It’s true that mutual respect is a desirable thing; however, for this to happen, I think it’s important for religious leaders to establish ground rules. Every community needs ground rules so that members can get along with each other, and a pluralistic community of religions is no exception. Here are five simple rules I would propose, based on fairness, which I believe are reasonable prerequisites for joining the club of religious pluralism:

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #1: Anyone Can Leave Any Religion

Oops, it appears that Islam is starting off on the wrong foot by breaking one of the very most important ground rules for fairness amongst religions. According to Sharia, the punishment for leaving Islam is death for men, and either death or life in prison for women (depending on the school of Sharia). Although few Muslim countries today enforce this punishment, vigilante enforcement is such that apostates from Islam fear for their lives, even in the United states. As long as this is the case, Islam is a religion that people can enter but cannot leave without risk. Why should other religions accept Islam when Islam traps its believers, including converts from other faiths, like flies on flypaper?

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #2: Anyone Can Promote Their Religious Beliefs to Anyone Else

Unfortunately, things don’t get any better for Islam here. It naturally follows that if Muslims are not allowed to leave Islam, non-Muslims are not allowed to do anything which might persuade Muslims to leave Islam. Christian missionaries throughout the Muslim world face persecution. In “moderate” Turkey, missionaries are sometimes arrested or deported, even though missionary activity is ostensibly legal. Niyazi Guney, Turkish Ministry of Justice director general of laws, has commented that “Missionaries are more dangerous than terror organizations.” Even in the West, police have been known to support Sharia rules banning non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims though there is no legal basis for it. For example, in Britain, a constable told two preachers they couldn’t preach in a Muslim area. In the US, a Christian preacher at UC Irvine was assaulted by Muslim students, while campus police did nothing.

Even simple religious expression that falls far short of missionary work is banned for non-Muslims under Sharia. Displaying religious symbols and building new places of worship, for example, are forbidden for non-Muslims.

Meanwhile, under Sharia, Muslims are free to promote their faith to non-Muslims all they want, as well as building mosques and displaying Muslim religious symbols, which clearly violates the fairness principle.

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #3: Anyone Can Criticize Any Religion

Hmmm…. Islam just gets further in the hole with this one. As noted by Robert Spencer in this must-read article, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is making a concerted effort, and a successful one, toward shutting down all criticism of Islam. Add to this the efforts of organizations such as CAIR, the MSA, and the MSU, to name a few, and it’s easy to spot a trend.

I would also note that mainstream, traditional interpretations of the Quran are severely critical of non-Islamic faiths, including polytheism, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, any religion with a prophet after Mohammed is widely regarded by Muslims as blasphemous, based on mainstream interpretations of Quran 33:40. How can it be wrong for Islam to be criticized, when Islam’s holy book defames non-Islamic religions? So long as Islam keeps the Quran (and traditional interpretations thereof), fairness dictates that criticism of Islam must be allowed.

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #4: Religions May Not Impose Their Rules by Force of Theocracy

In the past, Christianity was a misbehaver on this one, but this is the twenty first century. No major religion today other than Islam has a political agenda to rule the world. The rules of Sharia are incompatible with the US Constitution and basic norms of individual rights and freedoms in the West. Sharia includes laws which explicitly discriminate against other religions, such as valuing the legal testimony of a non-Muslims as half that of a Muslim. The barbaric punishments prescribed for certain crimes also comes off as unfriendly. Is it any wonder, then, that representatives of Islam have trouble gaining respect from non-Muslims?

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #5: Religions May Not Support Holy War

Yes, it seems people get really annoyed when they or their loved ones are killed for being infidels. That’s just not a good way to get along with others–it makes people testy. Of course, the majority of Muslims have no interest in participating in Jihad warfare. However, Jihad warfare remains, to this day, very much a part of Islamic theology. Where are the mainstream Muslim organizations who denounce Jihad warfare under any circumstances and refute the theological justification for Jihad warfare on Islamic grounds? There do not appear to be any at all. Support for Jihad warfare amongst everyday Muslims remains uncomfortably high, as well.


Only Islam violates all five of these rules for respectful relations with others. Although there are individual Muslims who do want to follow these ground rules, they are not the ones who are “driving the bus” of Islam. Those who call for religious dialog can start by challenging the Muslim world to follow the same general ground rules that other religions today generally follow.

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?