Islam and Democratic Values
This essay grew out of a discussion at the Australian Politics Forum. The aim behind it was to compile a list of apparent conflicts between Islam and modern democratic values, as seen by the forum's Muslim members. As such, it does not cite traditional sources for its conclusions, but the original discussions between the essay's author and other Muslims.
Islam differs from what most people typically think of as religion in that it doubles as a system of government. Islam is an outright rejection of concepts like freedom, democracy, and human rights, though it is rare for a Muslim to directly acknowledge this and they often attempt to create a different impression. Muslims are commanded to live by the local laws if they are living in a non-Muslim state, but the mechanism for turning a non-Muslim state into a Muslim one is ambiguous. Hostility towards Islam is considered justification for conquest. Such hostility seems inevitable if a large group of people try to undermine our values and system of government. Muslims are forbidden from voting in 'secular' elections, so the overthrow of non-Muslim governments is presumably by force, either external or internal, as soon as they are powerful enough.
The vast majority of the world's Muslims share the interpretation of Islam described below, even though it appears 'extremist' from our perspective.
Freedom and Human Rights
- Freedom: Islam means 'submission'. It is a rejection of individual freedom and human rights. In fact, Hurriyya, the Islamic term corresponding to the word 'freedom', is defined as "perfect slavery to Allah".
- Slavery: Islam permits the enslavement of people captured through military conquest and the children of slaves. In addition, Dhimmis risk slavery for not following a complex and arbitrary set of discriminatory rules. Female slaves become concubines. Slavery was gradually outlawed towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, partly due to pressure from Great Britain, though it still occurs in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, slavery of women has been the last form to die out. Several African states still practice slavery under Islamic law. Many Australian Muslims support slavery.
- Freedom of religion: Islam has spread primarily through military conquest followed up by the denial of freedom of religion. Islam is extremely intolerant of polytheism, non-Abrahamic religions, atheism, agnosticism, or new Islamic 'cults' such as the Ahmadiyya that are based on Islam but claim new prophets since Muhammad. Islam shows limited tolerance towards Christianity and Judaism. The construction or repair of churches, synagogues etc., is banned. Islam encourages a parent to beat a child for not praying. Blasphemy and apostasy attract the death penalty. The sections on apostasy, discrimination, justice, theocracy and blasphemy/free speech outline other ways in which Islam denies people freedom of religion. Any 'cultural heritage' associated with other religions must be destroyed on the grounds that it has no value and may encourage idolatry (e.g. the recent destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan). Muslims consider this a favor to mankind.
- Blasphemy/free speech The penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning. Islam forbids criticism of God, Muhammad or Islam. It also restricts other areas of free speech. Phone sex lines for example would be illegal. The punishment for talking in an effeminate or 'gay' manner by choice (i.e. excluding physical 'defect') is death by stoning.
- Apostasy: The penalty for a Muslim who rejects Islam is death. For Sunnis, this includes Shi'ites. Muslim scholars tried to change this occasionally throughout history (most recently in 1839) so that the death penalty only applied to treasonous apostates. However mainstream Islam still considers the death penalty for apostasy to be correct. Also, since Islam is both a state (or form of government) and a religion, many Muslims consider apostasy itself to be treason.
- Women’s rights: Muslims see no contradiction in stating that men have authority over women and also claiming that men and women are equal under Islam. Muslims often claim that the treatment of women in Islamic cultures is superior. It is frequently claimed that denial of basic rights such as freedom of dress is liberating. Muslims often claim that the downsides associated with personal freedom in the west are actually the purpose of personal freedom – i.e. that women are only allowed to do as they please to facilitate men who want to take advantage of them. Women may be subjected to domestic violence (see separate entry). Wives are expected to ‘hasten to satisfy’ their husbands sexual appetite on demand. Women are not allowed to mix freely with men who are not relatives and must have their husband’s permission to leave the house. Women may not travel without a close male relative or shake hands with a man who is not a close relative. Women are discriminated against in inheritance law, getting half the inheritance of a man (on the grounds that some other man will look after her). Muslim men may marry four wives, including non-Muslims, but a woman can only have a single husband, who must be Muslim. In addition, Muslim men may take female sex slaves and have sex with ‘whatever their right hand possesses’. Islam rejects the concept of a man and woman falling in love and getting married. Rather, an old man may marry a child bride, who is expected to ‘grow to love’ him in humble servitude during the course of the marriage.
- Justice: Islamic courts consider the testimony of non-Muslims to be inferior, on the grounds that non-Muslims are inherently dishonest. A non-Muslim may not testify against a Muslim. Islamic etiquette requires Muslims to extend to other Muslims the benefit of the doubt, to make excuses for them, and to conceal their faults. "Whosoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the Hereafter. Allah will aid a servant (of His) so long as the servant aids his brother." This, combined with other forms of discrimination, would cause problems that further undermine justice and erode the rights of non-Muslims.
- Death Penalty: Islam applies the death penalty to many crimes. These include adultery, incest, apostasy, heresy, paganism etc. Lesser crimes, such as fornication and masturbation, are punished by whipping. Homosexuality is punished the same way as adultery or fornication.
- Collective Punishment: Islam supports the collective punishment of non-Muslims, particularly Jews. This includes slaughtering and expelling entire Jewish tribes in response to crimes against individual Muslims.
- Domestic violence: According to Islam, men have authority over their wives' (and slaves') bodies and do not need their consent to have sex with them. However this is not considered rape and Muslims will deny that Islam permits rape. Muslims will also say that Islam permits them to slap their wife to keep them in line, but will deny that this is domestic violence. Muhammad allowed men to beat their wives until they were 'green' but allegedly there is still disagreement over the extent to which husbands are allowed to beat their wives, ranging from wife beating being ‘permissible but not advisable’ to a husband being permitted to strike his wife with a miswak so as not to leave bruises, but in a sufficiently violent demonstration of anger and frustration to break the woman out of her ‘nasty mood’. Humiliation is also often stated as the goal of domestic violence in Islam. Obviously, once you permit domestic violence, whatever moral limits that are placed on wife beating are bound to be breached in the heat of the moment even by a pious man, and completely ignored by others, especially as the wife must cover her body in public and may not leave the house without the husband’s permission. Absurdly, one legal recourse for a wife who has been beaten beyond ‘legal limits’ is to gain a court order to be allowed to beat her husband in retaliation.
- Discrimination: Christians and Jews are referred to as 'Dhimmis'. Limited tolerance is extended to them, conditional upon a number of seemingly arbitrary discriminatory obligations in the economic, religious and social fields. This is to force Dhimmis into a condition of humiliation, segregation and discrimination, so that even the lowliest Muslim may feel superior to them and thus not feel tempted by their material success. These rules extend to greetings, behavior, clothing, transport, employment, trade, housing etc. Dhimmis risk death or slavery for violating these requirements. All Muslims must serve in the military. The Jizyah will be imposed on non-Muslims, unless they also serve. Limited autonomy in the form of Christian and Jewish civil courts and administrations are allowed, but this is not extended to non-Abrahamic religions. All other types of non-Muslim people are treated far worse.
- Democracy vs Theocracy: Islam requires establishment of theocracy. Democracy is forbidden. Muslims may elect a representative to implement Islamic law, but that representative has no mandate to implement anything other than Islamic law. Candidates are limited to the most learned Islamic Scholars. Islam even forbids the 'Islamic' party of Australia and forbids people from voting for it. Islam also requires the resurrection of the Caliphate, which would mean a return to the bad old days of expansionist military empires trying to take over the world.
- Treason and national allegiance: There is currently no Caliphate, but as soon as one is (re)created, Muslims are required to abandon the countries they live in and move to the Caliphate, which is where their true allegiance lies. This is likely to be in the context of a war between the Caliphate and other nations. If Australia was at war with the Caliphate, Australian Muslims would be required to take up arms against Australia. There is no clear guideline for identifying when this should occur.
- War: Islam requires its followers to establish an empire called a Caliphate. The religion itself is based on Muhammad's rule over his empire. All Muslims are required to return to this empire and to perform military service on its behalf. Islam’s history was dominated by the rise and gradual collapse of a Caliphate. It is only recently that they have been without a ‘homeland’. If an Islamic empire wins a war, it can take all of the land and possessions from the people. The people have a choice of fleeing the land with nothing, remaining with no land or possessions, or becoming slaves to the invaders. Situations like Israel and Northern Ireland, except more extreme, are the norm rather than the exception. Muslims often claim that the empire only spread through self defense, but this is clearly not true. For example, at the height of the empire, Muslims crossed the Mediterranean to join in a war in modern day Spain. After their initial victory, they turned on their one-time allies and slaughtered them also. They then proceeded to conquer the entire peninsula and send raids into modern day France. In dealing with prisoners of war, Islamic doctrine permits a ruler to choose the most profitable or beneficial of four options: killing them, enslavement and possible sale, ransom or pardon. Many Muslims believe that the west has been in a state of war with the Muslims world since the 1920's. Muslims oppose any 'surrender' by Palestinians after losing a war decades ago on the grounds that a military victory by Muslims is imminent. They support peace treaties in this situation, but do not see them as a form of surrender. Rather, they are merely an agreement to temporarily halt the war and restart it later. Any treaty can be broken in this context as Islam encourages deception.
- Racism: Racism is technically against Islam, yet it is widespread, especially among politically active promoters of Islam. Hitler toured the middle east prior to WWII to drum up support for his cause and win allies. He brought the fervent antisemitism with him, which proved very popular with the locals. While the west was repulsed by the consequences of Nazi antisemitism, the Middle East and Muslims held onto it. The Middle East had suffered a similar defeat to Germany, being part of a once glorious empire that slowly crumbled and was eventually dismantled by foreign powers. As always, Jews were an easy scapegoat for their misery. Having a tiny corner of 'their' territory handed over to Jews after WWII fueled the antisemitism among Muslims all over the world, to a far greater extent than the amount of land involved would suggest. Modern conspiracy theories about Jews are rife in the Muslim community and have not progressed very far beyond the crude style promoted by Hitler. Anti-white racism is also common and provides an easy way to blame non-Muslims for the collapse of the Islamic empire and the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
- Love: Islam does not accept the conventional view of love, which is discarded as nothing more than infatuation, which disables reason and logic. Instead, women grow to love the husband who was chosen for them. This love is based around a belief in Islam as the one true religion. For this reason it makes no difference if a girl is married at the age of 6, 12 or 18, or how much older her chosen husband is. Islam facilitates domestic violence, and women are expected to be subservient to their husbands. If she cheats on her chosen husband, she is stoned to death (see adultery below).
- Rape: Rape is permitted in Islam in the same situations that sex is permitted. Where sex is not permitted, rape is punished the same way as consensual sex. Muslims reject the concept of 'consenting adults' and do not consider sex to be consensual unless God (i.e. Islamic law) permits it. Islam requires a wife to satisfy her husband's sexual desires and does not recognize the need for consent based on the wife's choice. Muslim men may have sex with slaves or 'whatever their right hand possesses', however Muslims distinguish between slaves that you have sex with and 'sex slaves', presumably on the grounds that only the owner of the slave may rape her. Women caught through conquest may also be raped. Muslim's consider the rape of their slaves as a 'right' and even go so far as to describe it as liberating for captured women. Rape of a non-Muslim woman under other circumstances is technically illegal under Islam, but the courts discount the testimony of non-Muslims as unreliable. In addition to the punishment for consensual sex, an 'illegal' rapist must also pay a dowry to the victim. If the victim is a slave, the rapist must reimburse for the reduction in value of the slave (presumably to the owner of the slave). This payment must be made regardless of whether the victim is a virgin (though this would presumably have an impact on the value of a slave). Muslims often claim that the low rate of reporting of rape and pedophilia in Islamic societies is evidence of low occurrence, rather than legalization of rape, the difficulties in achieving conviction and the barriers to reporting (many women who report rape often get convicted of sex related crimes).
- Pedophilia: Islam institutionalizes pedophilia in marriage. A pedophile may have up to four prepubescent wives at any time, and as many slave girls as he can get his hands on. He does not have to marry the girls for life but can divorce them and get a new prepubescent wife as soon as they become too mature for his taste. Allegedly, the only caveat on this is that society trusts him not to actually have sex with them until they reach puberty. However, he may live with the girls and move wherever he wants. This, combined with the Islamic requirement for women to cover themselves from head to toe, the dislocation imposed on their lives, and the strict control that men exert over the women they own (e.g. a wife requires her husband's permission to leave the house) means that institutionalized pedophilia is impossible to eradicate within Islamic law. Pedophilia outside of marriage is punishable the same way as consensual sex, however given the severe punishment for this and the pedophile-friendly marriage laws it is likely that many pedophiles will satisfy themselves within the confines of marriage. The legal pursuit of organized extra marital pedophilia would be hampered by the same laws that prevent the discovery of pedophilia within marriage.
- Adultery: The penalty for adultery (extramarital sex) is death by stoning.
- Fornication: The penalty for fornication (premarital sex) is 100 lashes. The penalty may be waived if the fornicators were not given the opportunity to marry before sex (e.g. because they couldn't afford it).
- Homosexuality: The penalty is the same as for adultery or fornication, depending on whether you are married. This would only take place once Australia became a theocracy. Very few gays would actually be executed because 'apparently' homosexuality simply disappears under Islam. That is, it is not driven underground by the death penalty; rather men just stop having sex with each other because they are Muslims.
- Masturbation: Masturbation is forbidden in Islam. The punishment is of a broad category called "ta'zeer". In the later Ottoman times, ta'zeer punishments ranged from fines and mild lashings to short prison terms.
- Polygamy: A man may have up to four wives in addition to concubines (see below). A woman may have only one husband. She only needs one, as he provides whatever she needs. A Muslim man may take a Jewish or Christian wife, but not an atheist one or one from a 'non-Abrahamic' religion. A Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man. Muhammad was permitted roughly 11 wives.
- Sex slaves: In addition to their wives, Muslim men may have sex with female slaves (concubines).
- Alcohol: All intoxicants are forbidden.
- Circumcision: Circumcision of both men and women is practiced under Islam, though there is disagreement over whether it is required, recommended or merely permitted. It is claimed that the extent of female genital mutilation is controlled and those who cut too much off are allegedly punished with death by stoning.
- Clothing: A woman must cover everything except her face and hands. Her clothes must not be too tight fitting, in case her figure can be made out. Penalty???? No answer yet.
- Music: Musical instruments are generally forbidden, as they are 'pure evil'. Some Muslims consider singing to be illegal, while others will accept singing and possibly instruments provided the message of the song is acceptable, and also depending on the occasion (e.g. a wedding).
- Personal hygiene: Muslims are required to remove all of their public hair, but no facial hair.
- Theft: Penalty is getting your hand cut off, unless your circumstances compelled you to steal (e.g. to provide food for your family). Kleptomaniacs would get their hand cut off.
I am still not sure how 'hard' Islam requires its followers to 'lobby' for these changes. There appears to be some confusion on this issue. The general rule seems to be for Muslims to peacefully tolerate modern laws until they are in a powerful enough position to force the adoption of Islamic law.
Muslims who publicly promote Islam appear to be becoming more savvy. The issues above were raised during discussions with a few Muslims on the forum. The list was compiled in response to increasing complexity in the debate and a tendency by promoters of Islam to repeat the same debate and pretend that the above issues had never been raised and that there was no potential conflict between Islam and democratic values. However, after compiling the list, with links to quotes from Muslims on the forum confirming each point, there was an abrupt change in strategy. In discussion with other Muslims, the people involved have been promoting a stronger focus on strategy and propaganda in public discussions with non-Muslims, but have not clarified what that strategy is.
The new strategy seems to involve avoiding the contentious issues altogether. Muslims will respond to the more extreme anti-Islam rants or anything that can make Islam look good, or at least neutral in comparison. They will make equally 'ill considered' anti American or anti-western rants and point to the anti-Islam rants as justification. In contrast, requests for more details on the issues raised above, or any additional issues not mentioned in the list, are either ignored or met with some kind of deflection. These deflections typically involve personal attacks on the intelligence of the person making the request, criticism of the motive of the person making the request (e.g. you are only asking so you can add it to the wiki or so you can mislead people about the answer), a change in topic (usually to current geopolitics) or insisting the question has already been answered. Current geopolitics, usually along the lines of "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", and historical grievances seem to be favorite topic changers. These arguments can be easily made without direct reference to Islam or any of the conflicts outlined above. In fact it can help to steer the argument away from Islam. Questions about Islam that are based on current events are met with the common 'Islam doesn't exist' deflection and a denial of Islam's involvement (e.g. people being stoned to death in the middle east is unrelated to Islamic law that requires stoning people to death because Shariah law is not implemented properly). Issues involving Islam's rules regarding sex usually get the fallacious 'priests rape little boys' response. The net result of these strategies is that promotion or defense of Islam to a savvy audience involves steering the argument away from Islam itself towards mostly political issues. This strategy would probably be attractive to people who oppose their government's foreign policy and are unaware of the political nature of Islam and what it would replace that foreign policy with.
Can Islam Adapt?
It is important not to view Islam, or compare it with other religions, in a historical vacuum. The rampant conservatism in the middle east is no doubt attributable to the longevity of the Ottoman empire. The 'closure of the gates of ijtihad' (cessation of religious inquiry) some time during or after the 10th century no doubt played a role. However this closure was more by consensus than by Qur'anic decree, so ultimately there is nothing ruling out a reopening. Islam requires its followers to contribute productively to any new society they move to. While this may be reassuring for the short term outlook, in the long term it does nothing to rule out a return to military conquest.
On the upside, the abolition of slavery creates a valuable precedent for modern theologists to challenge what seem to be core tenets of Islam. Another factor in favor of change is that Islam has no generally accepted clerical hierarchy or bureaucratic organization. Thus, liberal movements can arise easily within Islam, as is currently happening. The same problem that allows extremists and terrorists to go relatively unchallenged also allows for progressive reform. Inevitably, Islam will undergo significant reform at some point in the future, or drag the rest of the world back into barbarism. It is crucial that the west allow this to happen, and not 'poison the well' by making the Muslim world associate western values with oppression and decadence.
ECtHR and Shari'ah Law
In 2001, nearly two months before the 9/11 attacks, the European Court of Human Rights determined that "the institution of Sharia law and a theocratic regime, were incompatible with the requirements of a democratic society."
On 16 January 1998 the Constitutional Court made an order dissolving the RP on the ground that it had become a "centre of activities against the principle of secularism". It also declared that the RP’s assets were to be transferred by operation of law to the Treasury. The Constitutional Court further held that the public declarations of the RP’s leaders, and in particular Necmettin Erbakan, Sevket Kazan and Ahmet Tekdal, had a direct bearing on the constitutionality of the RP’s activities. Consequently, it imposed a further sanction in the form of a ban on their sitting in Parliament or holding certain other forms of political office for a period of five years.
The Court considered that, when campaigning for changes in legislation or to the legal or constitutional structures of the State, political parties continued to enjoy the protection of the provisions of the Convention and of Article 11 in particular provided they complied with two conditions: (1) the means used to those ends had to be lawful and democratic from all standpoints and (2) the proposed changes had to be compatible with fundamental democratic principles. It necessarily followed that political parties whose leaders incited others to use violence and/or supported political aims that were inconsistent with one or more rules of democracy or sought the destruction of democracy and the suppression of the rights and freedoms it recognized could not rely on the Convention to protect them from sanctions imposed as a result.
The Court held that the sanctions imposed on the applicants could reasonably be considered to meet a pressing social need for the protection of democratic society, since, on the pretext of giving a different meaning to the principle of secularism, the leaders of the Refah Partisi had declared their intention to establish a plurality of legal systems based on differences in religious belief, to institute Islamic law (the Sharia), a system of law that was in marked contrast to the values embodied in the Convention. They had also left in doubt their position regarding recourse to force in order to come to power and, more particularly, to retain power.
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- Can There Be an Islamic Democracy? - David Bukay, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2007, pp. 71-79