Posted by our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson
RR writes: I had planned to discuss funerals in Islamic cultures, but concluded anyone interested could find such information elsewhere. See link to 10 Muslim Funeral Traditions here:
Instead, I want to address concerns about Islam’s conflict with faith-tolerating, secular society. This is not about funerals per se, but it’s waving the flag for freedom in a forum that celebrates choice in the field of secular and religious funerals.
A few years ago, I worked for a time as an expat in the Middle East, where I interviewed for the Catholic Herald the Bishop of Arabia about the struggle to attain the same religious freedoms for Christians in Arab nations that Muslims enjoy elsewhere in the world. A few weeks ago, an Arab friend I met in the region visited me in London, and conversation turned to grief between Islam and the West.
As he drank my wine, he described himself as a moderate-but-observant Muslim who admittedly lapsed on some observances. He said he was offended by the way, since 9/11/01, Islam has been defined by despotism, claiming the West is demonising his faith as purely radical, and thus impeding progress in battling terrorism – effectively consigning us to a state of permanent war with the world’s billion-plus Muslims.
I replied by asking him if he would support the battle against terrorism by speaking out against the uses of the Quran for radical purposes. After all, he perceived himself to be a Muslim who embraced our freedom culture, for whom sharia is a matter of private belief, not public mission. Yet he stuck to the line that the West was inflaming the ‘Arab Street’, and seemed reluctant to link ‘real’ Islam with regarding women as chattel; killing those who apostasise from Islam; institutionalising religious intolerance in society, or regarding Jews as subhuman.
The problem is that while moderate Muslims are a reality, they are often in denial that Islam itself is in conflict with secular society, because it’s not merely a religious doctrine, but is a comprehensive socio-economic and political system whose tenets are fundamentally at odds with democracy.
Almost from the beginning, the West has tempered religion by acknowledging the legitimacy of secular institutions, thus making space for individual freedom.
Like Communism, Islam doesn’t ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ but rather aims to control the state without being subject to it. By insisting on the submission of everything to the will of Allah, they end up with the Taliban, Iranian Mullahs and al Qaeda.
All religions are exclusive, but Islam almost immediately developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law – Allah’s personal word, with orders that need to be fulfilled regardless of place or time. Then there’s Muhammad, a warlord who is nevertheless deemed the perfect human role model.
In his book America Alone, Mark Steyn says we have three options: 1) capitulate to Islam, 2) wage all-out war against it, 3) it undergoes a reformation and enlightenment, retaining its name but eschewing its political substance. With 1) and 2) being unacceptable and horrific, is the best way to achieve 3) accommodation or resistance?
I believe resistance is the best course of action. A concrete theology of moderate Islam does not exist and will have to be created. It will have to be non-literal and reformist, and will have a tough time competing with Islamist ideology, which is anti-constitutional and anti-freedom in many of its core particulars. Instead of letting my friend pretend to be moderate, I’d rather empower him with a clear choice: defend Islamic despotism or man up as a reformer by promoting a coherent, moderate Islam that embraces the West, and in particular the separation of secular public life from privately held religious beliefs.