IRAN'S ISLAMIC OUTRAGE
March 17, 2008 --
LAST Friday's election in Iran - like every vote there since the 1979 revo lution - violated fundamental Islamic principles. But, then, so does the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran itself. No one can become a candidate in Iran without the approval of a body known as the Council of Guardians. The regime, in other words, doesn't trust individual Iranian Muslims to uphold Islamic principles in their political choices. Yet the fundamental principle of individual personal responsibility - which can never be abdicated or delegated - is one of the most striking recurring themes in the Koran. Various schools within Islam put different emphases on this duty, but having a council of fallible humans negate the free will of Muslim citizens is totalitarianism - not Islam. Thus, the "Islamic Republic" is neither Islamic nor a republic. The authoritarianism of such institutions as the Council of Guardians is supposedly justified as necessary for preserving "the Islamicity of the state" - a goal that is claimed as another teaching of the Koran. That, too, is false. The claim that a state can be Islamic is false from a religious point of view and has no support in 15 centuries of Islamic history. There is no mention whatsoever of the state in the Koran. Islam does not prescribe any form of government. Rather, the teachings of Mohammed emphasize the community of Muslims and each Muslim's responsibility for conducting public affairs. True, Muslims everywhere, whether a majority or minority of the populace, are bound to observe sharia as a matter of religious obligation. But this can be best achieved when the state is neutral regarding all religious doctrines. Any principle of sharia that has been enacted into state law, simply because it is a principle of sharia, is no longer religious - for Muslims would then be observing the law of the state as such and not freely performing their religious duty as Muslims. (This does not, of course, prevent a Muslim from supporting, say, laws against pornography or prostitution on the basis of his or her moral beliefs. But, then, the same holds for citizens of other faiths.) The notion of an Islamic state is in fact a postcolonial innovation in the thinking of some Muslims - an "import" of a European model of the state and of a totalitarian view of law and public policy. In essence, then, today's Iranian system is no different from the former Soviet and Nazi regimes - or from the Arab nationalist Ba'ath dictatorship in Syria (and formerly in Iraq). That the repression comes in the name of religion doesn't make it any less totalitarian. A true and valid return to Islamic values, in Iran and elsewhere, requires allowing individuals to practice religion unfettered by political leaders who claim to speak in the name of the Divine. This is the clear demand of Muslims everywhere. Consider "Who Speaks for Islam," a survey, published in February by Gallup, of 50,000 Muslims in more than 35 countries. A clear majority of those polled said they don't want religious leaders to draft their constitutions. The survey also confirms that large majorities of Muslims want to protect free speech and reject attacks on civilians as morally wrong. It also found Muslim women demanding equality and respect for their human dignity. Gallup did find a majority of Muslims saying they want sharia to be a source of legislation and religion to have an important role in their societies. Plainly, much great public awareness is needed of such concepts as the inherently secular nature of the state and the critical role of the principles of constitutionalism, human rights and citizenship. Islamic beliefs, as with any other religious and philosophical principles, will unavoidably have some connection with politics. But a proper understanding of the Koran's teachings can regulate that connection - indeed show the necessity for separation of sharia and state. The question is how to transform attitudes of Muslims on these issues. Human-rights advocates should, of course, speak out about the Iranian election and call it what it is - a mockery of democracy. Just as important, however, Muslims must speak out. The "religious" state that the Iran's ruling clique hopes to perpetuate in Iran is, in fact, a form of heresy - completely antithetical to Islam's true teachings. As a Muslim, I demand - and the Koran promises - the right to practice my religion freely.
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im is a law professor at Emory University and author of "Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia."
Monday, March 17, 2008
IRAN'S ISLAMIC OUTRAGE