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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - David Forte

RealClearPolitics - Articles - David Forte

Last Build Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2006 00:22:01 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Islam's Trajectory

Fri, 25 Aug 2006 00:22:01 -0600

There are in fact Christians in Afghanistan. They're a tiny minority, but they do number in the thousands. Virtually all of them were or are the offspring of converts from Islam. And so they fear. There is no public Christian church in Afghanistan; Christians must worship secretly in their homes or within the diplomatic compound. This is no Saudi Arabia; this is a country freed from a gross tyranny by an army from a Christian land. And now this is a democratic country in which Christians fear for their lives. It is events like this that have begun to turn Americans against the notion of Islam as a religion worthy of respect. After 9/11, George Bush famously said "Islam is a religion of peace," and there is a strong moderate and spiritual strain in Islam that would affirm this. But Americans have seen so much going on in the name of Islam that their attitude toward it has shifted. The constitution of Afghanistan stipulates that it shall abide by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief." But the Afghan constitution also says "No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." How can such a contradiction be negotiated? There is a great mystery in Islam. Islam should have been the first civilization to have abandoned slavery; it was the last. Islam should have been the first to establish complete religious liberty; today, non-Muslims suffer egregious persecution in Muslim lands. Islam should have been the first to establish social equality for women. Instead, women who stray outside the family's code of behavior are murdered with impunity. Islam should have been the foremost civilization to observe the humanitarian laws of war, but its empires have been no different from others; some claim they have been worse. Today Muslims slaughter innocent civilians precisely because they are innocent. The founder of every great religion sets its message off on a trajectory into the world that is carried through history. But the followers of religion, being human, inevitably deflect the trajectory from its original path. The Old Testament, especially in its prophetic literature, is to a large extent a narrative of a people being called back to the path set for them by God. The Protestant Reformation changed the trajectory of Christianity and itself set off a thousand attempts at righting the Reformation's trajectory. Catholicism's counterreformation, or as Catholics prefer to call it, the Catholic Reformation, was a frank acknowledgment that the Church had strayed from the direction set for it by Christ. In fact, looking at modern times, John Paul II's pontificate was itself so historically seminal because it refocused the Church in the world on the trajectory first begun in the early church by Peter. To understand a religion's sense of its identity, we must focus on its founding documents and traditions and on its developing sense of itself. We must get a hold of its animating ethos. The founding documents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all been subjected to historical criticism. But for their adherents, they are real and truly derived from divinity. To understand a religion's place in history, therefore, we must appreciate how the faithful see their sacred documents. As observers, we must accept them in that sense as a historical given. As we take the Quran, as most moderate educated Muslims interpret it, we find the following: Christians and Jews are respected as Abrahamic brothers in faith and will enjoy the favor of God on the last day. There is no compulsion in faith for any person. A person who abjures Islam will suffer God's disapproval, but may not be harmed in this world. Non-Muslims can practice their religion and receive protection upon the payment of tribute, the standard mechanism for a subject population in ancient imperial times. In pre-Islamic Arabia, most women lived at the sufferance of their husbands and male [...]