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Islam vs. liberty

"Islam vs. liberty" Continued...

Issue: "Remembering 9/11," Sept. 10, 2011

Muslims respect Jesus as one of perhaps 124,000 messengers or prophets Allah has sent, and one of the 25 listed in the Quran, but not as our Redeemer: Since we have no compulsion to sin we have no need of one. Christians know that Jesus was "pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." Muslims ask, How can wounds heal others? Militant Muslims want to pierce others.

In short, Christians want man to be given enough freedom to come close to hanging himself, so that realizing his sin he turns to God. Muslims say man is good but will go wrong if given freedom.

How does this work out in practice for devout Muslims? Since they think we can be sinless if we have strong character and follow all the rules, the rules (mostly taken from the Hadith, which are Muhammad's sayings) are specific.

Let's start with prayer, which is highly rule-driven. Each time of prayer is made up of units containing set sequences of standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating while reciting verses from the Quran or other prayer formulas. The sequences are repeated twice at dawn prayer, three times at sunset prayer, and four times at noon, afternoon, and evening prayers. No deviation allowed.

Other rules emphasize humility, and that's not bad: Islam forbids boasting about good deeds or the contributions made to build a mosque. Muslims are forbidden to build over graves, make them high, put lights over them, or write on them. Men are not to wear gold, and no one is to wear clothes that attract attention.

Some rules are for reasons of health and safety, and those are not bad. Muslims are not to urinate into stagnant water, or defecate on the side of the road or where people draw water. A Muslim is forbidden to hold small stones between two fingers and throw them because this could cause injury to eyes or teeth. A Muslim is not to walk through the marketplace carrying a sharp weapon unless it is properly covered.

Some rules seem designed to build community, and those are not bad. Muslims are not to sit between two people without their permission, or to greet only those they know, because both those known and those unknown should be greeted.

But one problem with a rule-driven religion is that adherents often think the rules will save them. Another is that rules multiply. Many Islamic websites contain numerous, detailed dos and don'ts. For example, one questioner asked a cleric, "Is it permissible to kill insects that may be found in the house, such as ants, cockroaches and the like, by burning them?" The answer was, "If these insects are harmful, they may be killed with insecticides, but not with fire." That's because fire, according to Muhammad, was to be used only on rats, scorpions, crows, kites [like hawks], and mad dogs."

For the devout, the specificity of Islamic law is ferocious. Categories of law codes on the al-islam.org/laws website, which represents the views of Iraq's influential Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussaini Sistani, include specifics on "Pure and Mixed Water, Kurr water, Under-Kurr Water, Running Water, Rain Water, [and] Well Water." Headings under "Things which make a fast void" include "Sexual Intercourse, Istimna (Masturbation), Ascribing Lies to Allah and His Prophet, Letting Dust Reach One's Throat, Immersing One's Head in Water, Enema, [and] Vomiting."

Also, under the heading "Method of Slaughtering Animals," categories include "Conditions of Slaughtering Animals. Method of Slaughtering a Camel, Acts while Slaughtering Animals, Hunting with Weapons, Hunting with a Hunting Dog, Hunting of Fish and Locusts, Rules of Things Allowed to Eat and Drink, Eating Manners, Acts which are unworthy to do while taking a meal, Manners of Drinking Water."

That list only suggests the great multitude of rules. The Quran includes food requirements, rules concerning marriage and divorce, penalties for crimes, and commercial regulations. Islam's many rules seem arbitrary to non-Muslims-but as one website states at the end of its long list, "There are more commands and prohibitions which came for the benefit and happiness of individuals and mankind as a whole."

Muslims ordinarily do not gain from their religion a sense of liberty. They do frequently gain a suspicion of literary and intellectual diversity. For example, many Muslims wonder how the Bible could be an inspired work when many different authors produced it over a period of more than a thousand years. They ask why four separate Gospels tell the story of Christ's life and death: Wouldn't three of the four likely be false? They view the Quran, produced through one mediator, as much more credible.

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