Friday, November 23, 2007

On Islam's Capacity to Evolve

I recently came across a January 2005 article in The Atlantic entitled "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Islam" by Sage Stossel. It is a flashback on whether "democracy [can] take root in a predominantly Islamic part of the world". It is an overview of Atlantic contributions on the topic from the early to the late twentieth century. The highlight of the article is the conclusion:
How democracy will fare in a region where the West is viewed by many with hostility and suspicion remains to be seen. But as [Toby] Lester points out, "Islam became one of the world's great religions in part because of its openness to social change and new ideas." If Islam can rediscover its innate capacity to evolve and adapt without losing its essential identity, then perhaps its followers may realize that Islam is in fact better equipped to encounter the West in a peaceful and enriching way than is currently imagined.

The best mechanism to revive the Muslim world is to rediscover this "openness to social change and new ideas". And in this paragraph, the point that is most interesting, is that to fight Islamic extremism, it is not necessary to fight Islam itself. By reviving an important, now forgotten, aspect of Islam (that of openness to change, and new ideas and challenges) "without loosing Islam's essential identity" is the easiest path to defeating extremism and making liberty and democracy of value among Muslims without offending their religious sensibilities.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Islam & Suicide Attacks

It is very sad to hear many people believe that Islam condones suicide attacks. I find this very odd for several reasons.

Firstly, suicide itself is never condoned in Islam. Taking one's own life is a big no-no:
Destroy not yourselves. Surely God is ever merciful to you. Qur'an 4:29

Secondly, there are instructions in the Qur'an that specifically prohibit terrorism (i.e., the killing of non-combat forces in battle, and by extension, in peace), and that promotes non-violence:
Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Qur'an 5:32

Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous- (the righteous are) those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good. Qur'an 3:133–134

Invite all to the way of thy God with wisdom and beautiful preaching. And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For thy God knows best who have strayed from his path and who receive guidance. And if you do respond to an attack, respond no worse than they did. But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course. Be patient- for your patience is from God . . . Indeed, God is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good. Qur'an 16:125-128

O You who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for God can best protect both. Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do. Qur'an 4:135

To those who persevere in doing good is a reward more than in measure. No darkness nor shame shall cover their faces. They are companions of the garden where they will live forever. But those who have earned evil will have a reward like evil. Humiliation will cover their faces. They will have no defender from God. Qur'an 10:26-27

The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for God does not love those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong done to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice, for such there will be a penalty grievous. Qur'an 42:40-43

Thirdly, it is important to point out that suicide attacks are not a Muslim invention. See this for an informal introduction to the history of suicide attacks.

Finally, has there been Islamic suicide attacks before the use of the terror tactic (unfortunately, in the name of Islam) in the Holy Land, which started a only a few decades ago? If there has been consistent use of suicide attacks by Muslims throughout the 1400 year history of Islam, then one may claim that suicide attacks are condoned by Islam (whether wars conducted in the name of Islam are justified or not is a different story --wars are not equivalent to suicide attacks, but that will have to be addressed in another thread*). But the fact remains that suicide attacks in Islam is a very modern phenomenon, that is increasingly being used by Islamist terrorists.

Watch this portion of a debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Constitutionalist Republican nominee for President Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (as well as Larry Abraham and Doug Casey) at the Freedom Fest 2007 (specifically, see minute 7 onwards). I think the Congressman has it exactly right. But note that his explanation does not approve of terror tactics. It only explains what motivates the terrorists. The whole thing can be found here. This is a very interesting debate to watch.

And this discussion between Congressman Paul and Michael Scheuer is also very relevant to what motivates the extremists. It was a follow up of a Republican Party debate that preceded by a few days.

Related to this topic are the article's found at the Minaret of Freedom, and the website Muslims Against Terrorism.

The moral of the post:

(1) Terrorists who use Islam to justify their terror crimes are abusing the message of the Qur'an. They will use language taken out context from the Qur'an, and ignore the verses and arguments provided above that proves them dead wrong.

(2) There are those in the West who believe that the blame should entirely be placed on Islam as the core evil. To prove this, they essentially commit the same mistake that the terrorists fall into, which is to ignore the verses and guidelines from Islamic jurisprudence that clearly indicate that terrorism can not be condoned by Islam. I believe they do so out of sincere ignorance of Islamic theology. By blaming Islam, they may alienate a lot of "moderate" Muslims (alienating them does not imply that they themselves become terrorists; on the contrary, they may be less interested in helping in the war on extremism, which is, I believe, what we observe among many moderate Muslims today). However, by noting the above evidence and using it, those who want to fight the War on Terror can instead use Islam to fight the jihadis ideologically by showing them that their tactics are not justified. This does not rule out the option of taking action against criminals and terrorists who commit terror crimes.

* Since I brought this issue up, the rules of engagement in war were summarized by the Prophet of Islam in this quote:
Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.

For a brief introduction to Islamic military jurisprudence, see this Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Muhammad Asad

Hit and Run's commenter kolohe has recently asked me a few interesting questions about Islam. In the discussion, kolohe pointed me to a translation of the Qur'an by Dawood. Having not read that particular translation, I suggested that Muhammad Asad's commentary is probably way better. Admiring Asad myself, I gave kolohe some background about Asad that I thought to share with readers of Islamolibertarianism. Here it is:

I would rather trust Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an. I haven't read it, but I have read his Road to Mecca, which also gives great insight into the synergy between wahabism and the House of Saud. The book itself reads like a national geographic story. His writing is very elegant and reads like a story.

Asad's personal story (which he tells in The road to Mecca) is very interesting --way more interesting than T. E. Lawrence's. He was born Leopold Weiss (to a long line of rabbis) in 1900 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, led an intellectual (somewhat hedonistic) life in Germany and wrote for the Frankfurter Zeitung. At some point he decided to visit his uncle in the Holy Land, at which point he discovered Arab culture, and Islam.

His journeys are very interesting. Toping it all, he helped in the founding of Pakistan (!!!) and represented it in the UN for some time. He moved to Spain and died there in 1992. One of his more interesting views is that in Islam, the veil is not mandatory. Other than that he is religiously mainstream and is probably the best person to present the story of Islam to the West. More can be found here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Are you a Libertarian?

There is only one rule in Libertarianism. If you agree with it, then you are a libertarian. This one rule is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It states:
no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, nor to delegate its initiation.

Are you a Libertarian?

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