If it is it doesn't matter

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Response to Ali and LouLou

I got several important responses to my questions from both of you. Particularly here http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=22177206&postID=114314175910216253

I'd like to look a little closer at what each of you said here, and then maybe take another post to respond to your other comments.

Ali, your comments are interesting and important, but not fully responsive. While I did mention the problem with civil authorities moving against 'barbarous practices' my complaint was far more that Islam has not succeeded, or attempted, to extirpate them in the process of Islamizing a society. Here, i will use a comparison to Christianity. Christianity has shown itself remarkably flexible and able to absorb certain types of local customs and to "Christianize them." (Christmas, for example, local pagan heroes turned into Christian saints, and many other examples.) But I can think of very few places where they would permit a newly Christianized pagan society to retain 'local customs' that were, in Christian eyes, immoral and against the basic principles of Christianity. To take an extreme example, certainly no society would have been permitted to maintain human -- or even animal -- sacrifices. Some people would argue that Christianity was too strict in abolishing pagan customs of dress, of sexuality, the classic picture of the tribe dressing in muumuus instead of, as previous, having little shame about their bodies. Yet Islam, despite a tendency in many places to extirpate a culture's preIslamic history, has never attempted to proclaim such practices as haram. Pork is haram, alcohol is eliminated (supposedly), but honor killings are not, and in fact, as I pointed out, actions like these, like female genital mutilation, like slavery, like forced marriages, like the idea that being raped is shameful, are in fact, protected by the clerics. (Some civil authorities HAVE attempted to wipe them out, but over the stong and usually successful opposition of Islam as expressed by the local clerics.)

Why has Islam, in this and so many ways, simply failed to 'make men better'? Christianity, with all its faults HAS done this in many ways. Few of us would enjoy living in a true pagan or barbarian society -- despite the occasional romantic fictions about such places.

Loulou, you make much the same case, with a number of interesting additions. (Btw, I was under the impression that the 'millet' system referred to groups of 'people of the book' such as Christians and Jews who were allowed to exist as separate societies within Islam -- provided they paid the requisite tax -- and not to tribal or ethnic groupings.)

You make a number of othe rimportant comments, but those will have to wait until (hopefully) tomorrow to discuss, since it is getting late, I lose an hour to daylight savings, and i'm losing coherence as well.


Blogger LouLou said...

"Btw, I was under the impression that the 'millet' system referred to groups of 'people of the book' such as Christians and Jews who were allowed to exist as separate societies within Islam -- provided they paid the requisite tax -- and not to tribal or ethnic groupings.)"

The millet system refers to a system where the State as represented by the Caliph or Sultan has no direct relationship with individuals. It deals with self-regulating, self-financing communities(religious/cultural/ethnic) through their leaders. The communities were guaranteed no state interference in their local affairs. In return they pledged allegiance to the state by not contesting the ruling dynasty's claim to power & paying taxes. The difference between Muslim & non-Muslim millets was in the system of taxation - Muslims paid zakat & various sadaqas & non-Muslims paid jizyah. Non-Muslim millets did not have to respond to a call for Jihad(military service) from the state while Muslim millets did.

The term 'millet' didn't come into use until the Ottoman Empire. Before that they were known as tawa'if(sects), tribes(qaba'il) etc...

The theory behind this was that the state should not be burdened with local matters & should be left free to concentrate on maintaining unity, preventing fitna(civil war) & expansion in the name of the spread of the faith.

After the Prophethood, I don't think there was any significant period of history where Islam existed as a monolithic religious ideology. The word Islam came to mean a loose ideological framework where you declared that there is one God, Mohamed is his Prophet, the Quran is his Message & the Caliph was the Prince of the Faithful & then you did pretty much what you wanted - or what your particular cultural/religious school wanted.

I've often heard it argued that Islam's problem is not so much with democracy as with nationhood itself - the concept of the state imposing unified standards of behavior that interfere with what -for so long - has been considered 'internal' or 'family' matters. You can see evidence of this in modern conflicts like the ones that exist in Iraq or Lebanon. Simply put individuals owe more allegiance to their tribes/sect than to their nation. This has its roots in the fact that for example Shia Muslims have always been ruled from Qom or Kerbala. And so until today you find a phenomenon like Lebanese Shia being more loyal to Iran than to Lebanon. And Iraqi Shia taking orders from Iran in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war.

People don't think of themselves as individuals. They think of themselves as Arabs, Kurds, Shia, Sunna, Druze, Christians etc...And so the interests of their group & maintaining their culture become more important to them than their individual rights.I think we are the most culturally paranoid people on earth.

Now whether this is consistent with Islam as a theology or whether this was what the Prophet would have wanted is another debate altogether. My point is that what you're dealing with today is much more complex than a few religious scripts here or there.

And it's not helpful to attack Islam when you're attacking a particular practice like honor killings. The highest estimate I've come across for honor killings is 5000 per year. The vast majority of Muslims in the world don't practice or believe in honor killings. To you Islam is honor killings. To them it's their cultural/religious identity. What you're doing is alienating a lot of people who are not implicated in what you're trying to condemn(honor killings/terrorism/etc..). And I don't see how that helps the debate.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Lameen Souag said...

You claim that "Pork is haram, alcohol is eliminated (supposedly), but honor killings are not..."

Dunno why I even bother commenting, but - obviously "honor killings" are haram. There's no need for some special law to deal with them; they constitute murder, and are banned as such. For a fatwa to this effect (for the benefit of anyone who somehow fails to notice this elementary point), see:


For a medieval jurist making the very same point, try:


The reduced penalties for honor killings in many countries' penal codes often derive, as a matter of fact, from the Code Napoleon.

6:13 AM  

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