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February 02, 2006


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Pbb: "just because one has freedom of speech does not give them a license to lampoon a holy figure like Prophet Mohamed . . ." Actually, it means exactly that. It might be wrong, stupid, crude, etc. to use speech in that way, but freedom of speech means the right to offend others, including in their deeply held religious beliefs. Plays, paintings, books, etc. all have criticized Christianity directly and indirectly since at least the 17th Century in the Western World. They're allowed. They may be criticized, ignored, or themselves mocked, but they're part of our landscape.

Eteraz: By natural, I mean regularly and predictably occurring. And I would go further and say that that violence is an outgrowth of religous directives whose most natural interpretation is a call to a certain kind of violence. Now is this somehow possible of being interpreted out of the religion and replaced? Perhaps. But my readings of Qutb and other Salafists fairly persuasively argue that the real Jihad is the Jihad of arms, not just the Jihad against Satan or poverty or whatever.

Kimball Corson

I think the most intellectually honest approach to the worst parts of the Koran is to recognize that they were for an earlier time, violence in the name of religion no longer serves, and other values now replace them, so that they are hereby and herewith formally deemed jettisoned – one by one. While most unlikely, this is the honest approach. To simply ignore them is more probable.

Christianity was weaned from violence when it lost de facto control over government, and Islam can be too, and in a similar fashion. That Islam mandates a theocracy to prevent this only slows the process, not the inevitable end result. Further, such weaning will aid Muslim transition to secular humanism, when Islam is then considered in light of Nietzsche's teachings on Christianity. By the way, Nietzsche does not repudiate the possibility or indeed the likelihood of a supreme being, only one that “walks with me and talks with me” and has the superstructure of a church to "tend to" and “guide” us. And for the same reasons, secular humanism, properly viewed, need be no different.

Kimball Corson

By the way, in light of my last post, is anyone up to writing "The Reformist Koran" and "A Nietzschean Critque of Islam." These would be great projects for a couple of young, scholarly American Muslims.


The endpoint of the Nietzchean critique of Christianity is paganism and an anti-social philosophy based on exagerrated notions of authenticity. Islam doesn't need a Nietzsche or a Martin Luther. It needs and Erasmus or Spinoza, but even there I'm skeptical. What would such a critic make of these passages and those who make rigorous defenses of terrorist Jihad. Because Islam is not merely violent only when it's tied to a political authority, but also as an insurgency. Its status as a plotting minority faith is grounded in its own history, Mohammad and his followers' exile in Medina. So don't hold your breath about the Nietzschean critique. If his numerous blasphemies were well known in the Muslim world I should imagine they might occasion rioting as well.

The Law Fairy

lol -- and here I was thinking Muslims needed a Kierkegaard or Descartes or even a Kant. Perhaps the key is simply that broad upbringing afforded, in general, by "western" society. Exposure to different ideas and lifestyles is precisely the kind of thing that changes even Americans who have sheltered upbringings (myself included). I suspect that if Muslims were exposed to lifestyles wherein women need not cover themselves and walk six paces behind their men, and young boys need not throw away their lives in the hope of attaining saintlike status, complete with however many virgins they're getting these days, then they, like many modern Christians, might begin to question the necessity of violence their leaders have historically urged.

Kimball Corson

Roach writes

“The endpoint of the Nietzchean critique of Christianity is paganism and an anti-social philosophy based on exaggerated notions of authenticity.”

Law Fairy, ever protective of Christianity, likewise dissents from my suggestion, and urges a different, philosophical approach of a type true to one or another earlier philosopher who was a believer in Christianity.

I respond:

Nietzsche’s repudiation of

1. institutionalized religion and its promulgators and protectors,

2. his recognition that a god who can speak to each of us, in light of what is now known and understood philosophically, no longer can effectively really serve us, individually or societally (unless we turn a blind eye on too much, as many still do), and

3. his rejection of a focus on the afterlife – key to both Christianity and Islam – and his recognition that such a focus always comes at the expense of a more vital engagement with our present life,

is not at all anti-social or even paganistic.

More than anything, Nietzsche’s views are life affirming in the here and now, an effective means of removing the religious sludge that presently binds and burdens us, and his views also make way for and are the basis of philosophical humanism, broadly conceived, while still permitting belief in a supreme creator.

Kimball Corson

With Roach's instruction, we are made acutely ware of the Islamic religious sludge that burdens and binds the Muslim people, but we have a serious blind eye in regard to recognizing how Christian religious sludge burdens and binds many Americans and some of our institutions, including the present Administration.

The Law Fairy


I wasn't trying to dissent from you so much as urge a broader view of what's the right way to urge a more progressive understanding of Islam. Like you, I think that, textually speaking, there are a lot of similarities between Christianity and Islam. I'll readily admit I'm not Nietzsche's biggest fan -- and I think one can take bad from his work as well as good, as is true of many philosophers -- but that's not the only reason for my comment. I simply think that one person's Luther is another person's Nietzsche is another person's Kant is another person's Dalai Lama is another person's Camus. I think the key to liberalism is not Nietzscheism so much as it is philosophical open-mindedness. That was the point I was trying to make, though imperfectly.


Just a quick toss of the ball in the face of so many detailed and thought provoking ideas on this controversial topic. I disagree with all the previous writers and agree with them as well, despite my own partisan tendencies. Am I claiming a special form of objectivity? Yes. I believe some if not all (by "all" I mean the recent grouping of posters) of you share this with me (the objectivity if not the claim...I hope not the other way around). I salute you for your civility in the face of deep individual differences while presenting your analyses of the perhaps symbolic issue being discussed. I hope you will find my approach simple but not simple-minded. Some of you have veered from the original discussion...as I perceived it...that being a more or less straightfoward discussion of "free speech," its implications and responsibilities. If I may, I will veer with some of you and make some commentary on the subject of religious texts. Religious adherants often believe in the divine origin/inspiration of the words of (at least) their own beliefs' texts. For example, Torah, New Testament, Koran (ordered chronologically, i.e., in order of their appearance/acceptance). I would like if I may, to pose a question. I do so respectfully, with curiosity, and not at all rhetorically, because I can assure you I do not feel I am in possession of the answer, and certainly not wishing to appear a blaspemer or repudiator. There are phrases, stories, and depictions in each and every of the aforementioned holy works which many reasonable people, even religious people, would agree refer rather harshly to one group of people or the other. And we could bring in scholars who, by extracting from the original languages perhaps, or through demonstration of "context" or by means of some other form of reasoned apologia,find a way to prove that something other than the verbal violence of the generally accepted translation is what is actually meant. It seems that there must be quite an effort made to explain away the often provocative meaning that the "common man" is bound to come away with. My question is a simple one: if these texts are the word of a divine and all-knowing creator, why was the potential for misunderstanding and subsequent violence and suffering not anticipated? Those of you who do not beleive in divine inspiration for these works can answer this with a dismissive flick of the wrist; for you this is a slow pitch down the middle. This is my opening question for religionists. Bob Dylan raised this question in one of his songs years ago.


on nietzsche:

you might be interested to know that my philosophy thesis was on nietzsche and islam.


erasmus, rabelais, spinoza, leibniz, locke and hobbes are all necessary.

the latter two most importantly.

muslim countries need a political theory that successfully integrates islamic ethos and sharia with humanism and enlightenment thinking.

in short, a montesquieu.

you might be heartened to know that recently a number of american-muslim and non-muslim sharia experts and law students rewrote the constitution of mauritius, a tiny islamic nation. the law is still called sharia, but it has been 'overhauled' to reflect modernity (while giving due consideration to local mores).

smaller islamic nations seem more capable and receptive to major changes. though they are at different 'levels.' in bahrain and qatar women are slowly but surely acquiring the right to vote. in kuwait, i believe, they recently earned it. the bigger nations are having a harder time.

this fact: the scope of the polity -- the size of the nation -- is one STARK difference between renaissance and enlightenment europe and modern islamic world. the polities back then were much smaller. more room for experimentation. more room for protection by a temporal power. now for reformers its very hard to have access to a governor or ruler directly. very hard.


Where does al Farabi fit into this?


al farabi is only relevant insofar as to suggest that reason is superior to revelation.

in terms of political philosophy he would qualify as an anti-democracy today. you can thus understand why leo strauss found him so fascinating (and helpful to his agenda). farabi's political views also support oligarchy. again, irrelevant and dangerous today.

like i said, new political philosophy is necessary. it's fine to rely on the old guys to get intellectual legitimacy but the work has to be current.

i haven't forgotten about your quran cites, roach.


Just a quick thought. Al Farabi, the pre-modern philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, etc., all seem to share in this: an overly worldly view, with a quasi-divinized state, and therefore a state authorized to seek the complete good, without qualification, for those that are living. Christianity is important because it separated and subordinated the state to a higher law, the law of God. It also recognized the impossibility of perfection in this world by accepting the permanence of sin, suffering, and discord. So, even in the era of the Two Swords, the political realm was less powerful, less authoritative, and less complete in its account of the good than it could be in the time of Aristotle and Plato. This Christian insight into the world laid the foundations for freedom; because, Christianity and its notions of sin, freedom, will, and worldly subordination to the divine permitted the opening of a realm in which a practical freedom could emerge and then, in time, a philosophy of freedom. That is, it reduced the previously expansive and complete authority of the state over human life and the authority to mandate with force the human good.

Plato, Aristotle, and al Farabi share in the older account. In Islam, "there is no God but Ceasar." But, conversely, there is no "Ceasar" but God. "It is He Who is Sovereign in the heavens and Sovereign in the earth." (Koran 43:84)

We know, as a factual matter, that there are in fact real Ceasars, worldly rulers, with their imperfections. Islam seems to solve this conundrum by providing a detailed account for any such Ceasar and a right of rebellion againstt any Ceasar that does not follow these rules.

Qutb writes, "Thus the Shari'ah which God has given to man to organize his life is also a universal law, as it is related to the general law of the universe and is harmonious with it. This obedience to the Shari'ah becomes a necessity for human beings so that their lives may become harmonious and in tune with the rest of the universe; not only this, but the only way in which harmony can be brought about between the physical laws which are operative in the biological life of a man and the moral laws which govern his voluntary actions is solely through obedience to the Shari'ah. . . .

"Total harmony between human life and the law of the universe is entirely beneficial for mankind, as this is the only guarantee against any kind of discord in life.

"It is necessary that we clarify the point that legislation is not limited only to legal matters, as some people assign this narrow meaning to the Shari'ah. The fact is that attitudes, the way of living, the values, criteria, habits and traditions, are all legislated and affect people. If a particular group of people forges all these chains and imprisons others in them, this will not be a free society. I n such a society some people have the position of authority, while others are subservient to them; hence this society will be backward, and in Islamic terminology is called a 'jahili' society.

"Only Islamic society is unique in this respect, in that the authority belongs to God alone; and man, cutting off his chains of servitude to other human beings, enters into the service of God and thus attains that real and complete freedom which is the focus of human civilization. In this society, the dignity and honor of man are respected according to what God has prescribed. He becomes the representative of God on earth, and his position becomes even higher than that of the angels."

This seems to follow the Christian concept of Two Swords to another extreme: one unified society with a divinely mandating ordering of individual and collective life. Qutb desscribes it as follows: "Islam came with this total guidance and decisive teaching. It came to elevate man above, and release him from, the bonds of the earth and soil, the bonds of flesh and blood-which are also the bonds of the earth and soil."

So maybe Qutb's wrong. I know even other Salafists have their beef with him. But his citations of texts, historical examples, and general consistency make his account might persuasive to me as the authentic expression of Islam. In other words, if I believed in Islamic revelation, I imagine I'd be a Salafist.


salafist was not until recently a pejorative term. indian salafists include sir syed ahmed and muhammad iqbal. who were modernists.

i think the place where salafists went wrong is in their political philosophy.

they assumed that since the only relationship of value is between God and man, and since the Shariah is the laws of God, then the Shariah had to be all-pervasive.

The problem, obviously, was: who would enforce the shariah - they imagined it would have to be an all-pervasive state.

The fact that in the early 20th century the all-pervasive state was well in vogue, only made them believe even more in this proscription.

we have realized through the devastation in europe that an all-pervasive state might be a very efficient killing machine.

as such, what is necessary now is is an islamic political philosophy which can maintain the immutable God-Man (and no intermediary) relationship while providing for a more decentralized (dare I say, even private) rule of Shariah.

There are two ways of doing this.

1. Argue that the Shariah is not all-pervasive; rather its a closed system. Incredible thinkers in Pakistan are working with this theory: renaissance.com.pk

2. Argue that the Quranic notion of "mutual consultation" refers to democracy, such that the Shariah is only legitimate if it comes about through mutual consultation. These people propose the notion that the will of God is co-extensive with the will of the people. (A man named Razi said the same thing in the 13th century).

This is essentially the work I am doing, in a nutshell. I ascribe to prong 1 more than prong 2. I'm more interested in a "check" on the Shariah than I am on finding ways of expanding individuals rights in the Muslim world (largely because the former gets ignored).

Kimball Corson

Because much has been said here, I proceed in steps:

Roach writes:

"My question is a simple one: if these texts are the word of a divine and all-knowing creator, why was the potential for misunderstanding and subsequent violence and suffering not anticipated?"

I respond:

Staying within a Nietzschean perspective, two answers are readily possible, both of which are consistent: (1) divine inspiration is an arrogant, delusional myth we have created to give meaning and importance to something in our lives of our own creation which we value and want others to value for our own selfish reasons, and (2) within the framework of beyond good and evil, who are we to say the consequences of misunderstanding, violence and suffering are "bad" for us, in the sense among many others that what does not kill us only makes us stronger, wiser, smarter. etc. and why should any true deity not understand this and let us make our own messy way and develop within it. Either way, we are left without a god we can understandably worship in the way we wish and holy texts, being wholly human creations, like our laws, may be changed at will by humans to better serve their own perceived needs.

If that is true, as in our bones each of us must truly suspect – for are not our holy texts also riddled with errors and inconsistencies of one or another sort that even we can recognize, sometimes casually and sometimes only by good scholarship, and how could an omniscient god fail to note these problems and correct them -- then the texts wane in importance and we are left to make our way as we choose.

The difficulty is we lack the intellectual and spiritual courage to shoot straight and unerringly to these conclusions and therefore we fumble for a transitional philosophy to ease our way and understanding and help us through. That is the issue currently on the table for both Muslims and Christians alike. What philosophy or political theory can ease our way for the here and now and comfort us until we have the courage to eventually arrive at these conclusions?

Surely, to protect and preserve aspects of us that we cherish in our own minds and hearts, the answer will be significantly different for Muslims and Christians alike, for our social and religious heritages are different and we crave elements of the familiar for each of us. However, we need to understand the exercise is not religiously meaningful in any real sense but is only an interim step in having us move toward the realization of our reality and as an opiate to protect us for now from the dismaying aspects of that reality. Ironically, those philosophers who Roach characterizes as “pre-modern” all seem to implicitly share what he considers this overly worldly view, as they look to community and good governance as the best palliatives, rather than one or another deity system.

From his work on his philosophy thesis on Nietzsche and Islam, eteraz implicitly understands these things well, for he writes that “Muslim countries need a political [or philosophical] theory that successfully integrates Islamic ethos and Sharia with humanism and enlightenment thinking.” He writes that smaller, newer and commensurately less religiously burden countries are able to do this better than larger, older Islamic countries which carry greater such religious burdens. In looking for a mechanism to do this, eteraz observes two basic approaches:

“1. Argue that the Shariah is not all-pervasive; rather its a closed system. Incredible thinkers in Pakistan are working with this theory: renaissance.com.pk
2. Argue that the Quranic notion of "mutual consultation" refers to democracy, such that the Shariah is only legitimate if it comes about through mutual consultation. These people propose the notion that the will of God is co-extensive with the will of the people. (A man named Razi said the same thing in the 13th century).”

But is it not now transparent and implicit what is being done here for Islamic culture, in light of what I have said and what Roach has observed about the pre-modern philosophers he considers “too worldly.” Bridges are being built toward the realization about which I write and in search of an attending humanism and enlightenment.

I suppose this is all as it should be for the here and now.


Roach and Others,

As per my promise, an explanation of those verses.

Before we get to the specific verses, we have to understand how the verses are to be read: The Qur'an has strongly stressed that Muhammad is in continuation of the chain of a select class called 'Messengers (Rasul) of God'. The Qur'an 46: 9. That verse is clear evidence to the effect that Muhammad is a continuation of the chain of prophets and messengers of God. The Quran states that not only the mission and the objective of Muhammad was the same as that of the previous messengers of God but also that the Prophet and his *addressees* were subject to God's laws relating to His messengers and their addressees. Thus, to fully understand the mission, the objective and the various incidents in the life of the Prophet it is imperative that the stipulations of the Qur'an relating to the mission and the laws relating to the carriers of God’s message be kept in mind.

As far as carriers of God’s message go, the Quran uses two designations: 'Nabi' (prophet) and 'Rasul' (messenger). The Quran then states that whether Nabi or Rasul, the purpose for why they were sent was the same: remove all excuse for the disbelief against God in mankind. 4:165. Under both categories, the responsibility is the same.

However, the Qur'an informs us that the consequences, in the life of this world, of accepting or rejecting the call of a messenger (Rasul) are not the same as that of accepting or rejecting the call of a prophet (Nabi). According to the Qur'an, when a messenger (Rasul) is sent toward a people, God, Himself, supervises the deliverance of His message and ensures that there is absolutely no deficiency in the deliverance of this message. 72: 27-28. As a result of this special care in the deliverance of the message, there comes a time when the messenger has delivered his message to the extent that no one is left with any excuse of rejecting it. At this stage, the rejecters join all their forces against the messengers and make their intention of turning them out of their town or even of killing them if they do not desist from proclaiming their message. The Qur'an tells us that the Rasul (messengers), in contrast to Nabi's (prophets), are not merely deliverers of God's message. It tells us that a Rasul, messenger of God, is a sign of God's final justice. When God sends his Rasul, messenger among a people, these people are left with no excuse of rejection. 30: 47. The Quran then concludes that Muhammad was both Nabi and Rasul. As Rasul, he was permitted to engage in acts of retribution and punishment.

Two aspects of this retribution and punishment deserve special attention: Firstly, if the addressees of the messenger are polytheists (Mushrik), if after he has revealed to them the religion of God, and they still reject, they are then sentenced to death, as a punishment of their rejection of the messenger. The Qur'an has presented the people of Noah, Lot, and Moses (referring to the Pharoah) as examples of this category. On the other hand, if the addressees of the messenger are not polytheists, and they, after the messenger's exposition of God's message still reject it, they are then forced to become subservient to the followers of the messenger. At this point I want you to contrast verse 9:5 against verse 9: 29. See how 9:5 is a reference to the polytheists while 9:29 refers to ‘people of the book’ (Christians and Jews)?

This is getting much longer than I intended. Let me cut to the chase.

The verses you cite fall in the category of those verses which are only applicable in the time of Muhammad’s mortal life because he is, as per the Islamic creed, the *last messenger (rasul)*. Since Muslims believe that there is no Rasul after him, it follows that Muslims cannot kill polytheists or exact jizyah from Christians and Jews. The Quran permitted *him* to kill those polytheists who, after hearing his message, still rejected him. On this matter even ‘reformists’ don’t apologize. That’s just how it was: Muhammad was allowed to kill those polytheists who, after hearing him relate their message, still insisted on worshipping idols. However, as far as the Christians and the Jews LIVING IN THE TIME of Muhammad who rejected his message despite hearing it, the Quran permits them to be made to pay the jizyah – to be given dhimmi status. But since one of the conditions to be a Muslim is to state that "Muhammad is the last messenger (Rasul) of God" it follows that people who are engaging in killing polytheists now or trying to exact jizyah from Christians and Jews are trying to usurp the authority the Quran gave only to Muhammad.

In short, the verses you cite are time-bound and not immutable or timeless. OBL would have you and us think that they are applicable for all time, but that would fly in the face of a large part of Islamic Jurisprudence. OBL are misappropriating the authority of Muhammad for their ends. I’m aware of a few major branches of Islamic Law that do not ascribe to the interpretation I have given. Those branches, unfortunately, have been the most successful in the 20th century. This has mostly to do with reasons associated with the social sciences, colonialism, poverty, apathy and so on, not as Islamo-phobes like to suggest because Islam is a closed system or because Islam is naturally evil.

Like I said, my point was only to demonstrate the internal flexibility and fluidity in Islam.

I hope I have succeeded in that. I didn't bother to do all the verses because they all fall into the hermeneutical framework I explained here.



Obviously this is a ‘reading’ of the Quran. A reading of many Muslims. Obviously its not the reading that is in the news. That reading, though purporting to be rooted in tradition, is as out of context as the out of context reading that Islam-bashers impose upon these verses. I told you I do Islamic Law. As such, I’m giving you how a jurist would approach these verses. If you recall, my point was to demonstrate to you that Islam is not naturally or essentially inclined any particular way by showing that the source texts are being read ideologically. In other words, like the other monotheist religions, Islam is fluid as well. In a post on my blog “Caliphate” I make the argument that Islam has in it characteristics that make it more receptive to secular-humanism than Christianity. By going through a few of these verses you find so troublesome, I hope to demonstrate a similar kind of openness about the Quran. Please understand that I have a very busy schedule and only agreed to write upon these verses on the spur of the moment. As such, my answers might be short(er) than I would like them to be.


I imagined you say something along those lines: that the Koranic text and its injunctions of violence are time-specific.

Two questions and criticisms arise, though.

First, the jizya and continued persecution of polytheists continued after Mohammad's deaths. That is, his immediate followers for at least several centuries continued to follow this view that it was for all time.

And, second, this is not such a stretch because the passages do not say, "Mohammad and Mohammad alone may do these things." For example, when the Koran says, "strike off their heads" it's a command to Muslims, not a declaration of Mohammad's rights as a Rasul. Likewise, these obligations are ongoing, e.g., "And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do"; see also "Say to the unbelievers that if they refrain, then whatever they have done before will be forgiven them; but if they turn back, then they know what happened to earlier nations. And fight against them *until there is no oppression and the religion is wholly for God.*" (8:38-40).

So I think your interpretation is certainly one that I wish were true and more widely followed, but I don't know if it shows real fidelity to the text. Not knowing the text as well as you, I concede that it may be a reasonable interpretation and even the right interpretation, but the others seem to be winning the argument not least, perhaps, because they're right and the text supports them in numerous instances.

Kimball Corson

As I have told Eteraz privately, do not misunderstand me or my last post, (which unpopularly enough seems largely beyond what anyone is willing to address here [too many sacred toes stepped on, in all likelihood] -- although it provides too an explanation for why God should "allow" wars pestilence and other human suffering as well, and why perhaps we value life in this iteration, instead of experience, more than perhaps we should). That said, I think Eteraz and his fellow colleagues are doing exactly what needs to be done, and while I appreciate the accuracy and critiques of Roach, reinterpretation in a sensible, credible fashion is truly an imperative and perhaps more of us should try to lend a hand, especially if they have the background for it in this quarter. Above all, any reinterpretation must be quickly and easily understood, if it is to have any prospect and value.

On Nietzsche, I would add a few words. His works cannot be read in isolation from one another. They have to be read and reread as a whole. He is a truly difficult read, but he did not intend himself to be understood by many because of how he wrote and thought and because of his literariness. I truly believe he is the paragon of Western thought, and he clearly knew western thought back past the ancient Greeks and most western literature of value as well. As a philologist and the youngest ever to become a professor in a major European university, his reading scope and skills were virtually unmatched. Indeed, a book of essays recently appeared with the tile, "Why Nietzsche Still?" His prophetic views forward from his time to predict postmodernism and its maladies are unrivaled. It is extremely hard to find a better read than Nietzsche I believe, or more a creative and insightful author, if you have the patience to suspend judgment until you slowly come to understand his styles and the substance of what he saying and repositioning.

Unlike the situation with most authors, to such a rare reader as he sought, Nietzsche allows us to observe how he thinks and advances and refines his thoughts as he goes. But no thanks to the efforts of his sister and too many who can not so read Nietzsche and prefer to quote mine him instead (opportunities for which he gleefully left many for the fools who would take them), he is widely and very badly misunderstood or judged, often on perceived tone or some such other foolish standard. I have spent the better part of the last five years wrestling with his collected works, down to his notes made as a late teenager and I have hardly ever before undertaken a more insightful or useful task, and that includes my three years in law school and almost five in a doctoral program (economics). For now.

Still no takers?

Kimball Corson

Now, to address Eteraz' last posts, I think:

1. the proposed reinterpretation meets the requirements that it can be quickly and easily understood;
2. Roach's critique has force and value;
3. It would be most helpful if we could find something in the holy texts that might come closer to giving Eteraz a ready handle on his theory -- a bit of almost free standing verse, if you will.

But now to step back a bit. Consider the two approaches, Eteraz earlier presented for containing or controlling the Shariah:

“1. Argue that the Shariah is not all-pervasive; rather its a closed system. Incredible thinkers in Pakistan are working with this theory: renaissance.com.pk
2. Argue that the Quranic notion of "mutual consultation" refers to democracy, such that the Shariah is only legitimate if it comes about through mutual consultation. These people propose the notion that the will of God is co-extensive with the will of the people. (A man named Razi said the same thing in the 13th century).”

The problem seems less to contain the Shariah, than to excise or neutralize its more odious provisions, as Roach implicitly suggests. Most behavioral problems can be justified by such text and that is the problem. Also, I do not see 1. and 2. here as really being mutually exclusive, but I put that aside for now.

Perhaps the second approach can be combined with Eteraz’ interpretation that the mandates of violence “are time-specific,” as Roach put it, so that the “mutual consultation” provisions becomes absolutely imperative and fully operative once the last messenger (rasul), Mohammed, has passed on. This makes sense in terms of the sociology of religion as well and, I gather fits also with more contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. Perhaps this is what Eteraz really has in mind, perhaps not. But this would be a start or an approach.

The Law Fairy

eteraz -- I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful post. Much, I suspect, like you, I was raised in an environment that had a particular understanding of our holy book (in my case, the Bible) and believed that any other understanding was heretical and unfaithful to the text. It's taken a lot of years and a lot of personal struggling with my beliefs to reach a point where I can believe the scriptures without being an extremist.

Kimball -- in fairness, your most recent post actually makes it harder for anyone to make any meaningful response to your last post. Unlike you, I haven't studied Nietzsche for years. Like you, I am a lover of philosophy but my specific tastes have tended toward a different track, likely in large part due to my religious upbringing. If you know Nietzsche better than I do, how can I meaningfully dispute his philosophical take on the nature of reality?

I looked over your last post again, however, and I think I've discovered what might trouble some about it. At least, this was for me the most troubling thing. It seems from your post that you view religion as nothing more than a crutch, or an opiate -- essentially, a means to an end. The End is, presumably, a sort of humanistic rational compassion. I won't dispute the goodness of your end -- but it does seem to me that, just like any major religion, you posit that in essence there is only one real End worth seeking. That people may get there however best suits them makes your philosophy most compatible, in my mind, with Hinduism. This is fine -- but the post has an almost arrogant feel to it, as though deeply religious persons are too weak to see things as you do.

I am an avid supporter of religious freedom. At the same time, I am pro-religion. That is not to say that I think I am better or smarter than atheists or agnostics. I do think that they are wrong, meaning incorrect about the nature of reality. Nonetheless, I don't proselytize. I used to, but I eventually realized its futility. I think that non-religious people can often be just as guilty of proselytizing as religious people. The difference is that when you're not selling something that is recognized as "religion" it's not colloquially recognized as prosyletizing. That's why it's somehow more "okay" to demean religion, but not okay to promote it. This is, in my mind, one of the fundamental problems with establishment clause jurisprudence -- but this is neither here nor there.

The point I'm trying to make is, I think, twofold. The first point may perhaps be due to a misunderstanding of either your interpretation of or emphasis on Nietzsche. Nonetheless, here it is: Nietzsche was only one of many gifted philosophers. He was not the only one with insight into the human condition, nor the only one with valuable thoughts to offer on life. That you find him persuasive is fine, and you make some very good points for him -- but he is not the only "good" western philosopher from whose views fundamentalist Muslims might be "appropriately" liberalized.

The second point is a more general one, directed to some extent I think to the entire issue here: we should not be seeking to tear down Islam. For one thing, it is counterproductive. Historically, martyrdom is one of the highest honors a religious person can have bestowed. Beating a religion into the ground only creates martyrs. For another thing, as we have seen here, different Muslims have different understandings of their own religion. That, empirically speaking, Islam retains a more fundamental quality in its practice worldwide does not mean that it is for this reason alone inferior to, or inherently less liberal than, other religions (with the possible exception of Buddhism). Religiously motivied people like myself become understandably uncomfortable when discussions are thrown around debating the social merits of one or another religion. Rather than fearing religious zeal, why can we not embrace it and harness it for good? Isn't that the whole point of religion in the first place?

The Law Fairy

(sorry for the double post -- in reference to Kimball's "most recent post" I meant his post of 11:09 AM)



um, if you understand Arabic grammar, it would be very easy to see that the directives that you keep listing are LIMITED to the people being spoken to. They are constrained within their grammatical structure. I don't have time to give Arabic lessons. But you went to the undergrad with at a place which had one of the greatest Islam minds of the twentieth century. It still retains an excellent Islamic Studies program. I'm sure they'd help you learn Arabic and engage the Quran. The Quran is rife with verses that "address" particular people. Mostly they address Muhammad. Sometimes "O you believers" and sometimes "Mankind". Each of these distinctions make for qualitative differences in the whooooooooole array of law making! The way the address is incorporated in the verse at issue makes it very easy to see that it is Muhammad being spoken to there. It says "O Messenger of God" before the verses. I don't know how much more direct the Quran can be! In other words, Kimball, lets not look at the Quran how we look at the Bible i.e. searching for verses. This is a different text. You won't find free-standing verses. But you will find free-standing linguistic markers -- which are an essential part of the language of the book.

As far as Fidelity to the text? What is fidelity to the text in reading the American constitution? I think you are sophisticated enough to realize that there is no such thing as "fidelity" with a capital F when doing law, which is what we're doing. Even literalism in the American constitution looks outside of the constitution for its bases. Fidelity is always socially constructed. Law is a reaction to social forces.

As far as whether or not jizya or murdering polytheists continued after the death of Muhammad, I have to say, it did, and then say, so what? It's deplorable it happened but I don't see how that's a substantive critique of my position. I'm saying since X, then Y. You are saying, since X, why Z? You can stay locked up in history. I prefer to move forward. It is when I have to start apologizing and distinguishing all post-prophetic actions of all Muslims for all time that I get peeved and pull away from all dialogue as it takes away from meaningful and actual work in the reformulation of fiqh, and the revivification of a genuinely Islamic political theory that works with modernity. Like I said before, please consult Marshal Hodgson's Venture of Islam, and also the PhD candidates at your alma mater. They are excellent sources, I assure you.


warning to kimball:

i think your attraction to the mutual consultation verse in the quran is a bit dangerous. not that it is unexepected. most muslim reformers cling to it to. the reason it is dangerous is because it is just *one* singular verse.

my position: that of looking at the addressees of the verses and distinguishing injunctions based on that methodology takes the whole of the Quran into account. More important, it provides an all-encompassing account of the Quran.

What would you have on your side? One verse or the whole Quran? I think the answer is easy. This is where I part company with a majority of my peers, including Khalid Abu el Fadl.

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