Tag: islam


Review: Islamic Theology, Constitutionalism, and the State

islamic-theologyIslamic Theology, Constitutionalism, and the State
Lucas Wick


A wide array of thinkers have wondered, or proposed, the “modernization” of Islam into a form that can support a constitutional republic (or in modern parlance, a constitutional democracy; we have unfortunately long since lost the sense of the words republic and democracy). In many minds, Christianity and Islam are generally about the same in beliefs and tenor; the main difference between the two being the Reformation and Enlightment, which taught Christians to separate themselves from the state, and to temper their belief in the face of the public good.

This narrative underlies much of the modern world’s thinking on “the Middle East problem,” or perhaps the “radical Islam problem.” If we just somehow give ear to the moderates in Islam, the religion can go through its own “enlightenment,” and come to grips with the modern world. A singular irony embedded in this view is the idea that Islam carried civilization through the “Dark Ages,” as they’re mistakenly called, and into the Enlightenment. So somehow the religion that is most responsible for the Enlightenment needs enlightenment, and the religion that was dragged, kicking and screaming, through the Enlightenment is in a position to bring Islam forward into the light. Or something like that.

Ironies aside, what are the prospects for “reforming” Islam in this way? The book under review considers one element of the constitutional republic formula, the constitution. Can an Islamic nation actually create and hold to a constitution in the Western sense of the word? As the author says —

The frequent attention paid to tolerant intellectuals disguises, in my view, a not-inconsiderable Eurocentric arrogance which suggests that Muslims would really like to imitate Western ideals but are only prevented by their lack of education and their commitment to an antiquated worldview. Western ideas are raised to the level of a normative horizon, and any programs that contradict that ideal are immediately dismissed as inauthentic manifestations of Islam. The conviction is unconsciously conveyed that the historical development of the West represents the universal historical paradigm that must sooner or later emerge in all parts of the world. It is furthermore insinuated that the Islamic world needs a transformation comparable to the Protestant Reformation in order to leap successfully into the modern age. To this end, grotesque historical comparisons have sometimes been made to a need for an Islamic Luther. -Kindle locations 2381-2396

The author begins by tracing the history of constitutional government, pinning the source of the movement on the demand that citizens be free from arbitrary arrest — in fact, the author states that this singular right has the side effect of creating religious freedom, in that people cannot be arrested and imprisoned without some form of just cause. This view seems to be a bit backwards — certainly being free from arbitrary arrest is a large leap forward, but if the law under which people are arrested and imprisoned is as arbitrary as the arrest powers before any such reform, this is a distinction without a difference. Narrowing and making consistent reasons for arresting someone seem to be as important as the process of arrest in the development of a government by law.

The Founding Fathers are given their rightful due in the narrative told in the first chapter of the book for taking the theories created by the political thinkers they followed and turning them into a practical framework on which a government could be hung (at least for a little while, as it turns out). This first chapter on the history of constitutionalism in Europe contains a lengthy, and useful, discussion of secularization and the separation of the Church and state.

The development of constitutions in Islamic nations is the subject of the next chapter. The author shows that each time a constitution was implemented in an Islamic nation, it was either imposed by an outside force, or imposed as a sort of reformation onto the nation from a small group within with nation. There is no instance of a constitutional movement arising “natively,” as with the European nations. Why is this?

The fourth chapter undertakes to answer this question by examining theology in Islam. The author relies on a wide swath of Islamic thinkers and scholars in this investigation. These are not what most modern political thinkers might consider “moderate” Islamic thinkers, but the author makes the case that these are the thinkers who most influence the modern Ilsamic world, and hence should be the ones we listen to when considering the topic at hand. This chapter shows the answer to the question left hanging at the end of the last chapter — why doesn’t Islam have a history of creating constitutions and constitutional movements — is anchored in Islamic theology.

Islamic theology, the author argues, devalues reason in the face of revelation. While Christianity, through it’s struggle with Greek philosophy and Jewish Rabbinical thought, had to come to grips with some merger of reason and revelation, Islamic theology has never truly integrated these two realms of thought.

Skepticism about the power of reason and a negative attitude toward philosophical projects ended the efforts of the mu‘tazila and led to serious reactions toward the thought of Rāzi and Ibn Roshd. An intellectual investigation of the background of faith no longer seemed needed; faith alone would suffice. -Kindle locations 1991-1994

Al-Ash‘ari, the critic of reason, concluded that he saw no desirable way of divine learning in the kalam— only a field of intellectual exercise to be used in an emergency. The believer should stay away from that as far as possible and not strive for intellectual comprehension. -Kindle locations 2015-2018

In Christianity and Judaism, for instance, God as Creator calls on Adam to name the animals. In this act, God calls on humans to interact with His creation through reason, providing a path to the secularization of reason outside the immediately religious sphere. Islam has no such separation.

In chapter five, the relationship between modern political though and Islamic theology is traced. This chapter, synthesizing the background of constitutionality and theology, drives hom the point that constitutionalism in a Western (perhaps Christian) sense is not possible within the framework of Islamic thought. A specific example is considered in the original thread of the book, religious freedom. Can religious freedom truly exist within an Islamic nation? The author argues that while other religions can be tolerated under Islam, the basic Stoic view that men are to be treated equally simply because they are men is missing within Islam. As such, religious freedom in the sense implied by Western constitutionalism simply cannot exist.

The author concludes this work by examining selected Uluma in the context of political modernity, and a final conclusion chapter bringing all the various threads together.

Overall, this is a well argued and documented work around modern forms of law and Islam. The author does make some interesting leaps at the very beginning, leaps that are hard to support from within the context of history and the original writings of those who developed Christian political thought and constitutionalism itself. These have little effect on the overall flow of the argument, in the end, however.


Take them at their word

Perhaps more attention should have been paid to a remark he made in his third 2012 presidential debate with Mitt Romney. There, his language altered slightly. “But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” he said. Indeed, it appears that issue will be another president’s problem, long after Obama is out of office. -Free Beacon


Waiting for the ACLU…

There’s a ton of lawsuits right there in that one video. Will they sue? Or is this homosexual crusade more about anti-Christian bigotry than it is about “gay rights?”

There are, however, some homosexual folk who get what is going on, and are speaking out. How long they will last before being subjected to a five minute hate is an ongoing question.


Laying Claim to America

Several incidents in the last week have been completely misunderstood by most observers — primarily because the concepts involved in them are completely outside the modern American’s experience, and generally at the very edge of our belief systems. There is, in most ancient religions, a direct tie between territory controlled and the strength of their god. As an example, in 1 Kings 20, the Syrian army has come to destroy Judah, and is soundly defeated in the area surrounding Jerusalem, a very hilly territory indeed. The king of Syria asks his advisors what went wrong, to which they reply:

And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” -1 Kings 20:23

While a few religions have lost this element (most particularly those which tie the physical world to evil, and dispensational Christianity), many have not. For instance, while it’s buried in much Covenant Theology, the concept still rises to the top, often expressed as part of the anti-Israel movement, and tinged with Antisemitism. Another “modern” religion which has not lost this tie between territory and their god’s honor is Islam. Which leads us to the two specific incidents in question.

For the first time in the history of the United States, a Muslim prayer was offered at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. This might seem like a minor point, just another act of multiculturalism, but within the context of Islamic belief, and it’s very specific tie between Allah’s power and the control of territory, this act will likely be seen as “claiming the United States for Islam,” in the eyes of many Muslims. Praying in the prime church in the core of the political power of the United States provides a powerful symbol of weakness for someone who equates territory with power or honor.

While it might seem unrelated, the second incident is very important in this very same way.

Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus. Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast. –The Turkish President, quoted from Truth Revolt

There is more than Islamic triumphalism in this statement — there is also the underlying logic of, “he who discovers it, owns it.” As America and the Soviet Union competed to plant a flag on the Moon, and the European nations competed to plant flags on various islands and coastlines in North and South America, so is the President of Turkey laying claim “by right of discovery” to the United States. That he wants to make certain this fiction is taught in the schools throughout Turkey is an important indicator of the path the Muslim world believes is their next point of conquest. Laying a legal foundation is an important element in the process.

But without understanding the Islamic mindset — particularly the radical Islamisist part of the Islamic spectrum of thought — we would simply misread these signs as multi-culti or just people who tend to rewrite history to favor their own party.


Little Green Book Thinking

On the 10th of September, the President of the United States stood in front of a camera and read the words on his teleprompter. His teleprompter told him to say:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.


Commentary Magazine has an excellent piece up on the hubris of an American President declaring what is Islamic and what is not, and the implications to national security. But reading these words (I almost never watch television, unless I’m sitting in an airport terminal or some other place where the things are unavoidable) brought to mind C.S. Lewis and the Little Green Book.

You see, Lewis taught literature. In the midst of those studies, he ran across a book that was widely used in British schools. The authors of this book explained a particular person saying, “this waterfall is sublime,” as meaning the speaker is describing, not the waterfall, but the state of his emotions. When looking at the waterfall, the book explained, the speaker felt sublime. He applied his feelings to the waterfall, thus making the statement in question.

The point Lewis made in all of this is that transferring the meaning of the word from the object to the emotions of the speaker ultimately destroys — not only language, but thought itself. Transferring the meaning of the word into the emotional realm of the speaker cuts short the process of thinking through the actual question at hand: is this waterfall truly sublime? If you ask that question, then you must ask a thousand more — what does sublime mean? how can you apply the word to a waterfall? what properties might make a waterfall sublime? has the speaker correctly identified the properties of sublime in the waterfall?

Transferring the meaning from the waterfall to the emotions of the speaker only allows us to answer one question: Is the speaker really having sublime feelings? Since we cannot truly judge the answer to this question, then we are left without anything to say on the topic. All thoughts, all words, become statements about internal conditions, and hence language, other than saying, “I feel thus,” ceases.

We find, in the President’s statement, just this sort of mushy, nonsensical, thinking. “I’ve decided this terrorist organization does not represent Islam; they are wrong in identifying themselves as such.” This statement was not made after a deep consideration of Islamic theology, Muslim practice, or anything else — for there is no such conversation within the Muslim world. If a Christian group were to behead three or four people in the name of Christ, you would quickly see not only condemnation, but also a picking apart of their theology, explaining just why and how they’re reading the Scriptures incorrectly, and how they should correctly read the Scriptures. The answers might not all be the same, but there would be answers nonetheless.

There is no such discussion in the Muslim world.

Instead, the President gives a mealy mouthed excuse: because no real religion would kill innocents. In other words, the President has reached into his heart and decided that he feels real religions would not kill innocent people. Rather than doing the hard work of determining where these terror groups are wrong, and confronting them with their incorrect theology, founded in their own sacred writings, the President brings forth a true feeling from his heart of hearts. He confronts an external reality by simply refusing to deal with it, instead turning to a description of an internal state of emotion as his factual basis.

What was it Lewis said? This entire process would create “men without chests.” Or rather, the superman would turn out to have nothing but emotions, and no solid basis on which to judge reality at all — because the very act of judgment would be considered harsh and…

Are there any more apt words to describe our modern political culture than “men without chests?” Men who just “know” what is right and what is wrong, and avoid doing the hard work of proving it in the real world, but rather rely on their emotions to guide them?



Islamic Theology: Week 1

I’m teaching on Islamic theology proper, and how it compares to Christian theology proper, in my Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF) class (Coach’s Corner) this week and next. I’m posting the first week’s outline here, and will post next week’s outline next week, after I’ve covered the material in class.

2014-08-04 Islamic Theology 01


The Progressive War on Moderate Islam

Running our eyes across the Middle East and Africa, it seems like the world has been lit on fire – and the flame isn’t going to go out any time soon. A short overview of all the wars going on in the name of Islam can be found on this handy dandy map:


Taken from this article detailing the many conflicts centered on Islam around the world. But even the map misses a few. “Palestine,” anyone (oh, that’s right, since Jews are involved there, all the problems must be the fault of Israel — or so our modern anti-Semetic meme goes)? Or what about the problems in France and Britain with Muslim populations that have cropped up in recent years? Honor killings in Texas? What is fascinating about this situation is the studied surprise and befuddlement of our professional chattering classes (otherwise known as the mainstream media).

Why should the progressive left work so hard at ignoring Islamic atrocities? Why is the progressive wing of our culture so focused on finding anything — anything — to talk about that Islam’s role in all of this? The answer seems to lie in a war on reality itself. Even the concept that there are “moderate Muslims” has now come under attack as being a form of “Islamophobia,” or the fear of Muslims. As Nathan Lean says,

Brigitte Gabriel, for instance, told the Australian Jewish News in 2008, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim,” meaning “moderates” must be only those who don’t practice their religion. … That’s the problem with this “moderate Muslim” nonsense: it empowers anti-Muslim activists by implying that the degree to which a Muslim digests their religious faith is indicative of their status as a potential terrorist. Thus, “moderately” subscribing to the teachings of the Quran is OK, but should they cross over into the world of daily prayers, Friday afternoons at the mosque, and, God forbid, Ramadan, they’re suddenly flirting with extremism. That way of thinking is predicated on the unfounded notion that pious religious orthodoxy necessarily entails Muslims behaving badly. –The New Republic

In other words, to simply point out the fact that the Qur’an, in its original text and intent, does, in fact, encourage the killing of those who do not subscribe to Islamic belief, is to be an Islamophobic. Whether or not there are countering sections of the Qur’an, and how those sections are handled in combination with the more deadly parts is not the question, apparently. Any attempt to separate those Muslims who have come to terms with the uglier parts of the Qur’an, and found their significance in something other than as current commandments to faithful followers of Allah, and those who have not, is, according to this view, simply hate.

What’s lost in the shuffle here is that Christianity an Judaism have both gone through just this sort of internal thinking. While not all Christians agree, at least the Dispensational camp of Christianity has come out with a reasonable set of answers as to why the commandments from the Tanach that resulted in death and destruction at Jericho doesn’t apply to Christians today.

Islam, on the other hand, isn’t allowed to pass through this phase of its thinking. Rather, there are only two camps: those who take Islam seriously, and those who are Islamophobic. Any doubt of the sincerity of any particular Muslim can be based on nothing less than either pure hate or racism.

It won’t do, of course. There are, at least, in general, two large groups of Muslims out there — those who take the more bloodthirsty parts of the Qur’an as current assignments from Allah, and those who don’t. To believe anything less is to assign those Muslims struggling with just this issue to the trash bin of history — to say that they do not exist, and never can. It is to lump in Friday prayers with the jihad of the sword, to impose on Islam itself a false unity that simply doesn’t exist.

No matter how much I disagree with Islamic theology, and no matter my conviction that Christianity is the only true explanation of God, and the Bible the only true revelation from God, I still side with, and cheer on, the Muslims who are struggling with these issues. That I recognize that such Muslims exists doesn’t make me hateful, or racist. It just means I can see the reality before me.

On the other hand, the left — in declaring the term “moderate Muslim” off limits — is warring with reality itself, and imposing a future onto Islam from outside that Islam, itself, should rightly reject. But then again — the progressive left has ever and always been at war with reality. Why should this effort to ban the “moderate Muslim” be any different?

© Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved