‘Heaven On Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law’ – A Critique.

February 10, 2016

kadatI confess that I am only at the very beginning of Sadakat Kadri’s book ‘Heaven on Earth; A Journey Through Shari’a Law‘ and yet on every page of the opening chapters, I find myself compelled to comment.

Kadri presents a time period before the Qur’an as much in need of revolutionary ideas. Infanticide if the child was female is the norm, stoning of those accused on flimsy evidence is rampant. Pre-Islamic Arabia is a cruel and divided land, for Kadat. And yet, when the similar cruelties of the religion that rapidly took over the area, and the dictates of its leader are highlighted, Kadri seems to excuse the most grotesque behaviour. For example, Kadri writes:

“The criminal justice provisions instituted at this time, as reflected in the text of the Qur’an were straightforward enough. God required humanity to punish four sins, known as haddood. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same crime was punishable by 80 strokes. The gravest crime, the ‘waging of war against Islam or spreading disorder in the land’, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.”

– We must take from this, the dangerous idea – belonging to a faith that is taught to children – that God believes chopping someone’s limbs off is the morally correct way to handle theft. That physically harming someone, is morally better than stealing someone’s property. After such a gruesome back catalogue of violent attacks upon the individual, and the unquestioned assumption of religious supremacy over the individual, a page later Kadri bizarrely writes:

“Torture, which was routine under the Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Qur’an.”

– It takes an extraordinary mind to note that hands were ordered to be put on blocks and chopped off, for theft, and to follow that note up with a denial of torture. I suspect the one receiving a double amputation, or being decapitated may consider themselves tortured. One may claim that it was the context of time, that believers nowadays know better, but that of course requires dismissing the fact that this is all conceived by a divine rule giver who transcends time, and so is supposedly morally superior to not only Muhammad 1400 years ago, but also believers today. Context of time is irrelevant when dealing with a time-transcending being.

Kadri goes on to note that whilst stoning to death for illicit sex is prescribed in the Qur’an, it is actually progressive insomuch as it makes the penalty far harder to impose than that which came before. Kadri relates a story of Muhammad and an adulterer, quoting an Islamic criminal law book from the 20th century:

“Calling a spade a spade, (the Prophet asked) ‘Did you **** her? Ma’iz said ‘yes’. He asked ‘Like the kohl stick disappears into the kohl container and the bucket into the well?’ He answered ‘Yes’. Then he asked ‘Do you know what zina means?’ He said ‘Yes, I did with her unlawfully what a man does with his wife lawfully’. Then the Prophet asked ‘What do you intend with these words?’ He answered ‘That you purify me’. Then he ordered him to be stoned.”

– This vicious story, a story of a man who died from rocks being hurled at him by a man who claims (not proves) to be a messenger of god thus permitting himself the right to decide who lives and dies. A story of stoning human beings considered less morally questionable than having sex with someone you’re not married to, is a story that Kadri spends the next two pages making excuses for. For example, he says:

“Pious Muslims see only extraordinary restraint on the Prophet’s part, and they often point out additional signs of his mercy; the fact that he made no attempt to track down the woman concerned, for example. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who focus on nothing but the outcome. But a single perspective on a controversial event never makes for balance…”

– It is difficult to know where to begin with this. Perhaps at the point where just a few pages earlier, Kadri highlights Muhammad’s forward thinking policy that ‘the killing of a single person was meanwhile tantamount to the killing of the whole of humanity’ apparently negated a few moments later, by his order to stone a man to death. Or perhaps that the point where Kadri implies that those who praise Muhammad for ‘extraordinary restraint’ for not slaughtering the woman involved also are of a similar short sightedness with those of us who ‘focus on nothing but the outcome’. The outcome in this instance, is the taking of the life of a human being, for having consensual sex with someone. Focusing on anything else is to relegate the life of that human being, to less as important as the philosophical reasoning behind it. Focusing on anything else is to accept without question a man’s self imposed right to decide who lives and dies based on the delusional supremacy of his own beliefs. Kadri clearly thinks that those of us who focus on that, on murder, are short sighted. I would argue that those who focus on anything other than that murder, or try to trivialise that murder, the brainwashing of a young man to believe he need be punished for sex, and the brutal order to stone him, is not only short sighted, it excuses cruelty. Kadri continues his excuses:

“…. and as soon as other hadiths are taken into account, a subtler picture begins to emerge. One of them states that the execution divided Muslims into two camps, and another has Muhammad asking the killers of Ma’iz ‘Why did you not leave him alone? He might have repented and been forgiven by God’. At least two more suggest that Ma’iz’s real offence was not illicit sex, but indiscretion. One contemporary was heard to ruminate many years later that the young man had been punished only because he insisted on telling everyone he was guilty.”

– Far from a ‘subtler picture’ emerging, we simply change the reasons for murdering a man from having sex, to saying he’s had sex. As if this is any more of a legitimate reason to end the life of another human being with rocks. Either way, we are given clear evidence that Islam was never simply reserved as a guide to how to live one’s life, to better oneself, a spiritual system of inner peace. It was always a system of control, because it decided who does and doesn’t deserve to be murdered by other believers. A political system, like liberalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, and thus open to all the criticisms that all other systems of power must be open to.

But for now, I will continue to make my way through Kadri’s book, fully in the knowledge that he begins from the premise that Muhammad’s cruelty can be excused if we simply focus on other things, and just not question the relationship between a man of his time, a transcendent god, and binding moral laws anchored to 1400 years ago. A tactic that continues to permit some from turning their heads to religious supremacy and the dangers of idolising moral squabbles from centuries ago.

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The birth of liberty…

February 2, 2016

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

It may seem peculiar to some that the word ‘Christendom‘ is no longer used except in the context of historical analysis. We don’t use it to describe Christian supremacy in Uganda or elsewhere in Africa, strangely. ‘The Muslim world‘ is still a term that summarises not an Islamic romanticised ‘Ummah‘ but countries with Islam built into its framework and its institutions, in much the same way (though applied a little differently – Islam certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of Papal power) that ‘Christendom‘ once worked.

Christianity as a Theocratic power, it may be said, is a victim of its own oppressive nature, with ‘Christendom‘ a term that died with the Enlightenment in Europe. The 16th century saw Martin Luther pin his 95 theses to a University door in Germany, sparking a vast revolution against Papal authority, it encouraged the printing of criticisms, and most importantly for our purposes here, the right – in many cases – to read the Bible in one’s native language rather than have it read out in Latin, thus allowing the individual the right to think about the text for themselves. Whilst this wasn’t a freedom – an unintended consequence from the deeply oppressive mind of Luther – that came without its oppressive caveats (Acts of Uniformity, by the very term, aren’t exactly freedom inducing), it sparked a movement toward the breaking down of oppressive barriers, and the freeing of the individual that eventually gave us the Enlightenment, with all its emphasis on free expression, representative government, secular constitutions, science, and rationalism. Christian Theocracy died because humans are born free.

It is an often repeated phrase, that Man is ‘born free’ – indeed the UN Declaration of Human Rights begins its very first article with it – but the implication & significance is seldom discussed, so I thought I’d elaborate here.

The liberal proposition is clear, though often confused by cultural relativists; empower the individual, not the group. It is that simple. We do not sacrifice the individual on the alter of culture. Cultural norms are not worth protecting, if they harm the individual. Cultural relativists tend to act as if protecting the cultural norms or religious dictates – especially if those cultures or religions are perceived to be a victim of Western bullying (a curious tactic employed by several people on the BBC’s Sunday morning The Big Questions this past week to disguise deeply unpleasant beliefs) – of oppressive societies is worth more than individuals within those cultures or religious theocracies whose freedom is chained to the beliefs of others. Indeed, the  premise of any religious control of other people (and cultural relativists who defend the principle) – be they non-believers, ex-believers, women, or the LGBT community – is ownership of the individual. And that’s a concept that seems wholly illegitimate to me.

Let me explain the basis for the liberal proposition. Above I note that we rely on the premise of empowering the individual over the group. Why is that, what makes you right, and where does the very premise come from, you might ask. Let’s take you, the reader, as the example. It must be clear to all that you were not born naturally attached to any ideological framework of power. This is not a ‘Western value‘, it is a universally observed truth, because the opposite is not only unproven, lacking any form of evidence, but it is also quite obviously absurd. Indeed to claim the opposite is to claim an ideology preceded humanity, and is intrinsically a part of each individual, not only that, but a controlling part. That the individual must submit to the rules of that ideology that preceded humanity without definitive proof of its reality, is as close to the definition of irrationality as I may ever be made aware of. To claim such a grotesque absurdity requires not simply your individual belief, but as much proof as 1+1=2. Further, it implies that we can all argue the same, if we simply precede an ideological demand with “My god says…”. To argue for your own privilege based on your belief (not proof) is to argue for everyone else’s privilege to treat you the same according to their belief. To prevent the other from doing the same to you, requires oppression. It is a Hobbesian state of perpetual war. It is therefore not only irrational, it is irresponsible and dangerous, whilst having the joyful effect of advertising your belief as psychopathic. What makes me right? Well, I concede that I might be entirely wrong, I might be born intrinsically attached to a single ideological framework that I am compelled to submit but in my evil rebelliousness I have chosen not to, sinning my way through life as I do. I concede it is a possibility, but I’m yet to encounter a convincing (or even basic) argument to imply that humans are not born endowed with liberty.

The birth of liberty, is the liberty of birth. From that basic truth, springs progression; the right to free expression, the right to freedom of conscience and belief, the right to love whomever you fall in love with regardless of gender, the right to the pursuit of happiness regardless of gender or ethnicity, the right to your property over your own person. To argue that anyone must be compelled to follow, or be judged by the dictates of your religion, first requires you to prove that your presumed right to ownership over another individual is factually based and inescapable (which of course, is untrue of any ideology). Otherwise, it is meaningless and can be dismissed as such.

Liberalism is the equalising of all, according to the clear principle that no one is born naturally superior to anyone else. It frees all to participate in society – regardless of natural human distinctions like sexuality, gender, ethnicity – whilst allowing all the right to a private existence free from oppressive barriers erected by others for the love of their supernatural sky man. It is the spring from which creativity, innovation, love, democracy, and plurality shoot. It recognises our evolutionary nature as both a group species, and individuals within groups, and it aims to free the individual to participate as fully as possible within the group, to develop our own ideas, to express ourselves, to debate openly, to be happy and free, right up until the individual seeks to harm the same natural freedoms for others.

The history of the past 500 years of Christian power in Europe and the United States has been one in which the barriers erected by that power have slowly eroded, to reveal humans in a much more natural state of being. We have progressed more since the Enlightenment, than at any time in our history. This is how a grown up, civilised society operates. Liberals must not excuse illiberal cultural norms, for the sake of opposing Western colonialism, because we recognise that illiberal cultural norms – in so much as they chain the individual – is a form of colonialism itself. And so It isn’t that I believe ‘Western culture‘ to be supreme, it is that I recognise any society that trends toward liberation of the individual more than it trends toward oppression, to be supreme.