There isn’t a more dogmatic, more persistent, more stubborn, and more hateful metarecite in Western discourse than the belief that Islam explains all matters when one is dealing with Muslims.
This metanarrative was properly addressed and critiqued in the exceptionally text by French orientalist Maxime Rodinson in “The Fascination with Islam.” In the text Rodinson coined the term “theolocentrism,” which he defined as the practice of attributing all observable phenomenas amongst Muslims to Islam. It is the belief that Muslims do as they do simply because of Islam.
The doctrine is incredibly fallacious. Those who advocate it are more obsessed with Islam than most Muslims. They seek to also find an Islamic motive when no actually exists. Instead of treating Muslims akin to all other people who compromise a diverse community and are actuated by myriad motives, the proponents of theolocentrism would instead prefer to reduce Muslims to a few characteristics and exclusively use Islam as the paradigm.
The person who championed this practice is the orientalist Bernard Lewis who – and, please, read his texts to see this yourself – while discuss contemporary events in Muslim countries by going back to medieval Islamic texts. Instead of understanding the political motives – the yearning for self-determination – that sparks Palestinians resistance, Lewis prefers instead to “find” a reason in something Ibn Sine wrote in Islamic Spain that most Palestinians have never even read.
This tactic is not innocent. It serves to de-legitimize the real grievances that Arabs and Muslims might have. Instead of addressing the injustice of Zionism, of Israeli occupation, of Western footprints in the region and highlight this political causes of angry between East-West, Lewis always offers up Islam as an “explanation.” You see, that way Israel and the West is never wrong. How they be? Lewis makes it out to be that Palestinians are angry not because they are occupied, but, simply, because of atavism within Islam.
So the problem never is “our” policy, but always “their” religion and an effort to have a thoughtful discussion about Israel occupation and American military bases in the region is lost as the chance for introspection is subdued in any effort to always paint Islam as the enemy. Lewis tells us that Arabs and Muslims do not actuate out of any concrete political motives, but, simply, do so because of who they are.
Such racist dogmatism has recently been promoted by the fundamentalist Christian former Senator Rick Santorum. This “self-appointed scholar of Islam” – as Think Progress mocked him – shouted down a student at Harvard once by calling him a Bin Ladin apologist simply because the student challenge the “Buffon’s” thesis.
Recently, he gave a nauseating lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he stated that Americans know to little about Islam and that he was there to teach them. Santorum argued that all Muslims are opposed to democracy because they believe that the Qur’an is the law and thus man-made law is unacceptable.
Of course, this is a talking point only for Islamic fundamentalism – who’s intolerance, ignorance, misogynist, homophobia, and obscurantism Santorum shares – and Muslim have been fighting and dying for democracy before this imbecile was born and those very Muslims often found the United States not as an ally but an opponent. Further, from Turkey to Indonesia hundreds of millions of Muslims live under democratic rule.
Santorum stated that “a democracy could not exist because Mohammed already made the perfect law,” Santorum said. “The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that’s why it is only written in Islamic.”
Written in Islamic? Santorum must have read Lewis’ “The Political Language of Islam,” a fallacious argument because their is no such thing as a political language in Islam. Of course, the Qur’an is written in Arabic, but don’t tell that to this ostensibly learned man. It might shock him to know such a new fact.
Here’s my rebuke to Santorum that Islam and democracy are incompatible by using texts from Islam to prove that they are in this following piece I had previously submitted on reason in Islam, the separation of Mosque and state, and how the Hadith support man-made law:
What role does reason play in Islam? Modern day Muslim extremists criticize the use of reason as a deviation from Islamic belief. To them the phrase “man tamantaqa faqad tazandaqa” (he who uses logic becomes an atheist) is the proper lesson to be learned.
The former shaykh of al-Azhar University, ‘Abdul-Halim Mahmud, strongly advocated against reason: “If people are left to their mind’s [reason], in those issues they will inevitably disagree and disunite into many sects, and they will be in conflict…” He further states that reason must “surrender, submission, subjugation, or, in a more accurate expression, prostration in adoration” to, presumably, religious dogma. He saw Islam and reason as incompatible. [Al-Imam Adb-ul-Halim Mahmud – Al-Islam wa-l ‘Aql (Islam and Reason)].
“Reason failed in finding a mental criterion to measure truth and falsehood in the world of spirit. It also failed in inventing a decisive yardstick to distinguish between truth and falsehood in the transcendental realm. The method of Aristotle has failed, and so has the method of Descartes.” [The Sufi Cause: The Shadhiliyyah School].
Tunisian exiled fundamentalist Rashid al-Ghannushi has called for the removal from philosophical courses all references to rationalists from the Arab/Islamic heritage: Mu’tazilites, Ibn Rushd (Averros), Ibn Sina (Avecinna), and the Ash’arites. To be replaced by modern fundamentalist polemicist like Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Muhamma Qutb.
The weekly publication of Hezbollah (Party of God) states “If reason is separated from shar’ (Islamic jurisprudence), it fails to attain knowledge of the rules of human life . . . because reason is only slightly rich in itself.” [Al’Ahd] (I partly agree with this, though reason can exist separate of Islamic jurisprudence).
The late mufti of Saudi Arabia – Shaykh bin Baz – sees the effects of reason as a “great evil” and believes that the ahl al-kalam (theologians) brought harm to Islamic society because of their employment of reason. The translation of Greek philosophy was a “great evil”. [Fatwa published in Islamic Fatwas published by Beirut publishing house Dar al-Qalam in 1988].
Though the Qur’an, the Hadith and Arab literature all praise reason and even the conservative thinker – who is cited by modern Islamic fundamentalist – Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali employed reason. Al-Ghazali’s famous debate with Ibn Rushd did not seek to refute reason but only disagreed on the conclusions derived from logic and reason. Al-Ghazali stated at the beginning of his book that he undertook the use of reason to refute the arguments of philosophers. [Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers)].
First and foremost: What does the Qur’an say about reason?
Sura Al-Anbiyaa (The Prophets) Ayat 10 – “…will you not use reason.”
Sura Ibrahim (Abraham) Ayat 33 – “And He hath made subject to you the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses; and the Night and the Day hath He (also) made subject to you.”
The laws of nature, of which we need reason to appreciate, are before use for our services by the command of Allah (st).
What about the Hadith?
“The foundations of one’s action is one’s mind.”
“Heaven is made of one hundred ranks, ninety-nine of which are reserved for the people of reason and one for the rest.” [Shihab ad-Din bin Muhammad Abshayhi – Al-Mustatraf fi Kull Fann Mustadhraf (The Novelties in Every Elegant Art)].
What about early figures in the history of Islam?
Ali, the fourth Calipha, praises reason as “the richest of the riches.” [Louis Cheikho – Chrestomathy of Literature)].
Abu Bakr, the early (second I think) convert to Islam and first Calipha, said about reason that it is “the one thing without which our condition would have been like animals, crazies, and children.”
Al-Jahiz, 9th century Islamic scholar who is recognized as one of the best, stated that reason is “the representative of God in man.”
Abu al-Ala al-Ma’arri, the doyen of Arab poets and philosophers, stated “other opinions lie, there is no imam, except reason, guiding day and night.”
So, why is reason important? A belief in reason is needed for free, representative government and at least a quasi-secular state.
Does Islam recognize a separation between “state” and “Mosque”.
The Qur’an is specific in matters dealing with worship (‘ibadat) and transactions (mu’amalat), but the Qur’an is mostly general and concentrates with ethics and the relationship between the believer and Allah. The Qur’an calls on people to “obey God, the Prophet, and those in charge” [Sura An-Nisa – Ayat 59], but the faith is almost moot on the question of politics and there is no ecclesiastical authority in Islam due to the fact the Prophet Muhammad (saw) stated that there is no mediator between Allah and the believer.
Islamic fundamentalists argue that man-made law is harma (sinful) for man is not to decide things on his own, but instead rely on the Qur’an for everything (of course, they mean their interpretation of the Qur’an). But what if the Qur’an is not clear on a matter? Is democratic government then uncalled?
Relaying on the Hadith – the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) – we can appreciate the fact that Islam clearly calls on believers to rely on reason to conduct non-spiritual affairs.
In the Abu al-Husayn Muslim Hadith an incident offers an illustration: Prophet Muhammad (saw) advised his followers to pollinate palm trees. When the trees subsequently dies, Muhammad (saw) expressed astonishment that his followers followed his advise blindly regardless of its wisdom: “Maybe it would have been better for you to refrain from doing it. . . . I am but a human being like you.
If I ordered you in matters dealing with your religion, follow the orders; and if I ordered you to do something based on my opinions, remember that I am but a human being.” In the Ibn Hanbal Hadith, Muhammad (saw) in the same incident is reported to have said: “What is of your earthly matters if for you [to decide], and what is of your religion is for me [to decide].
In the Ibn Majah Hadith – again, in the same event – Muhammad (saw) stated: “You are more knowledgeable in your earthly matters.” Clearly Muhammad (saw) recognized that people are more than capable of crafting “earthly” laws. This Hadith supports the argument for democratization in the Arab/Islamic world. Muhammad (saw) distinguished between his opinions and revelation (wahy), which his followers were free to ignore if there thought they were not based on revelation. This Hadith thus also recognize a separation between “state” and “Mosque”.
But Islamic fundamentalist retort that in any Islamic society, every law must be grounded in the Qur’an and man-made is harma. For the arguments calling for an Islamic government – again, as they interpret it – they cite Sura Al Ma-ida [The Table Spread] Ayat 40: “Knowest thou not that to Allah belongeth the dominion of the Heavens and the earth? He punisheth who He pleaseth, and He forgiveth whom He pleaseth: And Allah hath power over all things.”
All true, but the Sura does not say that man-made law is wrong. No Muslim would dispute that Allah (st) is over all.
The question is whether law guided by personal freedom and reason on earth is permissible, or does Islam address the question of politics?
The question of government in Islam is misunderstand by Islamic fundamentalist because of a misunderstanding of the word Hukum. The term has changed in meaning from the time of the Qur’an to the modern political context of the word. Egyptian jurist Muhammad Sa-id al-Ishmawi and Ali Abd-ul-Raziq, an Egyptian scholar, have traced the origin of the work Hukum and have found that original the term did not mean anything political, but, rather, meant simply judgment (Hukum as a noun still means referee). We can see meaning of the word Hukum through passage in the word, where the word is used several times to refer to judgment.
“Make thee an arbitrator of what is in dispute between them.” Sura An’Nisa (The Women) Ayat 65. Another English translation of the Qur’an translate the word as “judge”, while another as “judgment”. Clearly the term is meant to state Allah being a judge in the spiritual realm and not a call against man-made law.
Islam can be a source of law and in any Islamic country it will – and, personally, should be – but man-made law is compatible with Islam and a necessity in a civilized society.