Features

Brutality and dictatorship: How Islam affects society

Islam & Terrorism

Issue: "Islam and teroris," Oct. 27, 2001

These basic differences in theology have implications not only for individuals but for society as a whole. Let's look at five in particular.

Christianity by its very nature is about the one and the many, monotheism with a trinity. Muslims think there is a tension in holding firmly to both, and they are right. That tension has pushed Christians to build a society that emphasizes both unity and diversity and in that way reflects the Trinity.

Muslims often find diversity suspicious. For example, they are suspicious of the many different authors who produced the Bible over a period of more than a thousand years. They look amiss at the story of Christ's life and death being given in four separate Gospels: If there are four separate accounts they must all be false. The Quran, seen as having come through one mediator over 23 years, is much more credible.

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The emphasis on tawhid-making everything united-has huge cultural implications. Abraham questioned God about the destruction of Sodom, but the word islam means "submission," period. This carries over into a reluctance to accept the legitimacy of critics. Salman Rushdie had to hide to preserve his life, and a host of other critics of Islam have been shot or knifed. Concerning intellectual liberty in Muslim countries, Hisham Kassem of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said, "It's not safe to think in this part of the world."

Although the Quran states that "there is no compulsion in religion," Islamic states often interpret that to mean that "there is no competition in religion" within their borders. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Egypt are among the countries blasted by the State Department's year 2000 Report on International Religious Freedom. In hard-core Muslim countries, any Muslim who violates tawhid by becoming a Christian may forfeit his life, family, or property. In several "moderate" Muslim countries, churches are allowed behind walls within which Bibles and church bulletins must remain.

The emphasis on unicity also has governmental implications. Without a sense of original sin, Lord Acton's idea that (among humans) power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely does not arise. A system of checks and balances seems redundant, and dictators abound. Originally, Islamic countries had no separation between religious and civil law, between Islam and the state, and that is the way radical Muslims want things to be once again. According to this thinking, Islamic societies should not shape laws to fit their specific histories; they are to submit.

Because Islam in many ways trains people not to govern themselves but to be governed by dictates, Muslim countries almost always are run by dictators. Those rulers have had much in common with the rulers of Marxist countries. It's not surprising that Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other countries in the 1960s turned away from the United States even though the United States successfully pressured British, French, and Israeli forces to withdraw from the Suez Canal in 1956. It's not surprising now that terrorists from Marxist remnants and radical Islam work well together.

The father-son relationship that exists between God and redeemed man in Christianity, as opposed to the master-servant relationship of Islam, also has its tensions. Fathers face conflicting impulses: Do you hug a child with a mild injury or do you tell him to be a man? That leads to a creative tension between soft and hard in Christianity, a tension that comes out in the compassionate conservative goal of being tough-minded but tender-hearted, a tension between God's holiness and God's mercy that is resolved through Christ's sacrifice.

That tension does not exist in Islam, with its master-servant relationship. Nor does Islam understand compassion-suffering with the poor-in the way that Christianity does. Jesus tasted hostility from men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, to endure overwhelming loss, and to then be killed (see my column on p. 66). Muhammad encountered opposition but died in his bed, with wives ministering to him.

In Christianity, the church is the bride of Christ, who gave His life for her; husbands are to love their wives enough to die for them. The husband-wife relationship in Islam also mirrors its theology, which means marriage is in many ways a master-servant relationship. Men can beat their wives, although Muslim apologists say only a light tap is socially correct. Men get four wives and keep the kids if they divorce one; Muslim apologists defend polygamy by pointing to American adultery and trophy wives, but our cultural embarrassments do not justify institutionalized humiliation. Genital mutilation, although not in the Quran, is practiced on one in five Muslim girls.

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