The preliminary theme of Mustafa Akyol’s Liberty Discussion board essay is the well-known or notorious fatwa that the Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced in 1989 in opposition to the novelist Salman Rushdie, creator The Satanic Verses. Khomeini condemned Rushdie, in addition to all of his collaborators, to demise for this e-book’s alleged insult to Islam. Though we now have reached the 30th anniversary of this fatwa and Rushdie has to this point survived its verdict, Akyol reminds us that it’s nonetheless in pressure.
However his essay’s topic is broader than this explicit occasion. Within the first occasion, it issues the overall query of blasphemy, that’s, language insulting to pieties, and the good energy that this cost has amongst modern Muslims. However this query has a nonetheless broader common import. It bears upon the connection between modern Muslims, their states and societies, and fashionable liberal, democratic methods and norms. It is because the latter have as their touchstone freedom of speech—absolute freedom of speech, together with the liberty to blaspheme.
Because of this, Akyol can’t assist however elevate, in various methods, the query of whether or not modern Muslims can, ought to, or will adapt to or undertake fashionable methods and norms, a query which, as he notes, has been on the desk for effectively over 100 years, relationship at a minimal to the times of Muhammad Abduh within the 19th century. To clarify the problems concerned within the Muslim perspective on blasphemy, he’s obliged to debate two features of it: first, the precise, technical standing of blasphemy underneath Muslim legislation, as expounded by the 5 official faculties of Muslim jurisprudence; and second, the extra common function that “honor” and “disgrace” play within the Muslim sensibility as an entire.
The Iranian Revolution Turns 40
In all these respects, Akyol has given us a superb introduction for non-Muslim readers, nonetheless essentially compressed, to the centrality of blasphemy and the problems it raises—points which have usually been on the heart of tensions, to not point out battle, between Muslims and non-Muslims. He goes past mere exposition to think about methods through which circumstances might or might not change sooner or later.
Thus Akyol has introduced us with very giant issues to take care of. The place to start? Maybe it’s best to start the place he does, with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For this month marks not solely the 30th anniversary of Khomeini’s fatwa, however the 40th anniversary of Khomeini’s revolution and founding of the novel Shiite Islamic Republic.
In fact, and as Akyol makes clear, over the past 30 years it isn’t solely Shiites however Sunnis who’ve pronounced denunciations of alleged blasphemies and sought to impact their punishment. Amongst these he cites are the homicide of 12 staff of the French satiric journal Charlie Hebdo in 2015 and the furor in Pakistan over the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian, on blasphemy costs.
However one might say that Khomeini and the Islamic Republic took the lead in selling the problem of blasphemy and have continued to attempt to declare the mantle of management on this regard. Thus some consideration to Khomeini’s intentions in founding each a radical Shiite motion and a radical Shiite state, in addition to his ambitions for each, might shed extra mild on the problem of blasphemy and its wider implications.
Certainly it does, for the novel Shiite motion that Khomeini created was a direct response to essentially the most basic truth of Islam’s current historical past: the big decline of Muslim political and navy energy all over the world and, as necessary, the attendant decline in Muslim world status and honor. This decline, which occurred over the past three centuries, got here in opposition to the background of a interval of some 1,000 years throughout which Muslim polities have been the predominant ones on the earth by a really giant margin. Throughout this ancient times, Muslims may and did take satisfaction from the renown and glory to which Islam laid declare.
The good decline, which could be stated to have reached its absolute nadir after the First World Struggle with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the final nice Muslim political energy, couldn’t assist however be disappointing, in abnormal methods, to Muslim emotions and a wound to Muslim pleasure. However the that means of this trauma was deepened by the truth that prior Muslim success and glory have been understood to be a vindication of Islam’s declare to be the ultimate dispensation that God had made for the entire world and the entire of humanity.
The “Rule of the Jurisprudent”
Khomeini (1902-1989) set about to treatment this example. He and his radical Shiite disciples weren’t the primary fashionable Muslims to take action. They have been preceded by radical Sunni Muslim leaders and their actions, whose final purpose was to determine a brand new and highly effective “Islamic State” that might restore Muslim status by contesting for energy with the modern non-Muslim order of the world. However regardless of the numerical superiority of Sunnis among the many world’s Muslims, Khomeini and his successors proved to be comparatively extra profitable in attaining their targets and emphatically extra direct of their hostility to the prevailing world order.
On the one hand, Khomeini managed to overturn a secularized fashionable regime in a Muslim-majority state, the regime of the shah of Iran, and to create a brand new “Islamic State.” In doing so he may congratulate himself on having “defeated” the Western forces that supported the shah. He additionally managed to beat the opposition of mainstream Shiite custom (of which he was initially an exemplar) to an emphatically Islamic “political” mission. He did so via the promulgation of a brand new theological/political instructing, the “Rule of the Jurisprudent,” and the concrete embodiment of it in his new “Islamic Republic.”
Alternatively, Khomeini’s success supported his ambition to guide the Muslim world as an entire to “export the revolution.” His was a deliberate assault on the prevailing worldwide order, and on “World Vanity,” the modern Iranian time period for the USA—the creator and chief of that order, whose conceitedness consists within the very presumption to guide the world instead of Islam, its correct chief.
It could be true, as some have prompt, that Khomeini’s fatwa in opposition to Rushdie was a tactical transfer designed to deal with the non permanent weak point of the Islamic Republic after its eight-year battle with Iraq. However, the assault on blasphemy was and is the pure complement of the sensibility that informs modern radical Muslim actions, Sunni in addition to Shiite, in addition to a sensibility that impacts Muslims extra typically. Given the overall circumstances of Muslim decline, it’s pure that blasphemy and the disrespect it conveys ought to have turn into a selected focus.
Honor and Disgrace
It’s considerably tough for non-Muslims to understand this sensibility, which Akyol exhibits in his descriptions of the hostile response to Rushdie’s novel as a type of “spiritual nationalism” that’s, as he says, a product of the alienation and humiliation many Muslims really feel residing throughout the fashionable world. In fact, within the first occasion it’s because non-Muslims are hardly more likely to share Muslims’ preoccupation with their relative standing on the earth, or what my buddy Ambassador Husain Haqqani has termed Muslim “eager for previous glory.”
However Akyol provides an additional consideration: a distinction in attitudes concerning “honor” and “disgrace” as such. This, he says, is a distinction not solely between Muslims and non-Muslims however between “East” and “West.” Within the “East,” and definitely amongst Muslims, honor and disgrace play, as a matter of cultural custom, a really nice function, in issues each large and small. Within the “West” they don’t. This appears to me to be true and necessary.
It’s after all the case that individuals within the West nonetheless search to have honor and to keep away from disgrace. Certainly, we generally accord folks honor: for instance women and men in our armed forces, and folks of distinctive achievement in numerous fields of endeavor. However we aren’t obliged to. In Western societies, there’s something that trumps honor: freedom. We regularly really feel obliged (with nonetheless a lot irritation and controversy) to simply accept, if not like, insults to issues we and others maintain pricey—to our our flags, our anthems, our heroes, even to our spiritual beliefs. We might hope deeper and broader reflection upon freedom might result in an appreciation of its increased and fuller expression in dignified conduct, the dignity of a free individual. We might even attempt to promote such an understanding. However we aren’t allowed to dictate it.
Furthermore, this inclination to privilege, if needed, freedom over honor or respect is embodied in our legal guidelines: legal guidelines that uphold the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom of meeting, and finally the total panoply of particular person rights which can be the foundations of liberal democracy and the establishments that are supposed to shield them and provides them expression.
As Akyol signifies, the scenario as regards Muslim legislation is altogether in any other case, no matter the actual college of Muslim legislation to which particular person believers adhere. Disrespect within the type of blasphemy is totally forbidden. Furthermore, Muslim legislation, in addition to ancestral customized, privileges sure understandings of honor in different issues—for instance, household legislation and interactions between households.
This stress between honor and freedom, to which Akyol leads us, seems to be the guts of the matter.
The variations between Muslims and non-Muslims on this regard wouldn’t matter if two circumstances obtained: first, and most clearly, if Muslims and non-Muslims may and did lead utterly separate lives based on their very own understandings of the connection of freedom and honor; second, if Muslims of their separate existence have been totally content material with their lot—content material with the privileged standing of honor and the subordinate standing of freedom, but additionally content material with a diminished place on the earth.
However neither of those circumstances obtains within the modern world. Massive numbers of Muslims are residents of Western nations. Furthermore, the world is now an excessive amount of, as we are saying, interconnected for Muslims and non-Muslims to guide utterly separate lives. Nor are many Muslims, radical or in any other case, content material with their diminished standing on the earth.
“Friction,” as Akyol writes, “between the West’s dedication to free speech and Muslims’ aversion to blasphemy” is unavoidable and “begs to be addressed.” He closes his essay by attempting to deal with that activity and its necessities.
Akyol wish to place a part of the burden on non-Muslims who may make “Muslims really feel at house within the fashionable world somewhat than being ‘otherized’ by that world.” However his process implies, and rightly so, that it’s Muslims who largely insist on their “otherness.” It’s due to this fact fairly applicable for him to focus on the need for and prospects of inner Muslim reform, starting with Muslim jurisprudence and the foundations upon which it rests, specifically the Qur’an and the Sunna of Muhammad.
Rereading, Reinterpreting, Contextualizing the Sacred Texts
Such reform efforts have by now an extended historical past, and Akyol cites necessary figures in these efforts. He additionally provides examples of “reformist” arguments or interpretations, starting with the Qur’an and the Sunna, a few of them of his personal. A extra common mode he delves into is “historicist,” through which the target is to “contextualize” the Qur’an and the Sunna. I’m in some doubt that the jurisprudential and historicist modes are merely distinct—at the very least to guage by the individual Akyol cites because the main “historicizing” scholar, Fazlur Rahman, who occurred to be my trainer. For I understood Professor Rahman to have argued that the Qur’an manifestly expressed itself “contextually” and due to this fact pointed to the longer term want for interpretation from the start.
Nonetheless which may be, and regardless of the lengthy historical past of reform, Akyol signifies that such efforts are removed from coming to fruition, evaluating as he does the current state of the Muslim world to that of the West in 1689, when John Locke printed his Letter on Toleration. One might hope that such efforts will speed up.
Within the meantime, one may pursue a complementary path that Akyol implicitly suggests when he concludes by invoking the time period “dignity.” Such a path entails a rethinking of the that means of “honor,” a that means of which free women and men could possibly be proud. For causes described above, this might not be a nasty concept for non-Muslims, both, particularly Westerners. Maybe on this approach, Muslims and non-Muslims may start to seek out some frequent floor.
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