Contra Judaism and Christianity, Islam’s history never compelled Muslim religious leaders to re-examine their basic assumptions concerning power and faith. Moreover, Islamic religio-political doctrine does not recognize individual liberties, even as an abstraction. The independent existence of objective universal truths is not acknowledged by normative Islamic doctrine. Unless decreed to be so by a notoriously mercurial Allah, nothing is either good or evil. Murder, even today, is merely forbidden by Allah in the Koran, it isn’t innately immoral. Thus, as Islamic legal historian N.J. Coulson (d. 1986) observed:
The stress … throughout the entire Sharia, lies upon the duty of the individual to act in accordance with the divine injunctions; and since the continuous application of these injunctions is declared the purpose of the political authority, the jurists did not visualize any conflict between the ruler and the ruled.
The Islamic understanding of “freedom,” or hurriyya, is — as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) the lionized “Greatest Sufi Master,” expressed it — “perfect slavery.” And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis’ perhaps metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the “master” and his human “slaves.”
Bernard Lewis, in his Encyclopedia of Islam analysis of hurriyya, discusses this concept in the latter phases of the Ottoman Empire, through the mid-20th century era. After highlighting a few “cautious” or “conservative” (Lewis’ characterization) reformers and their writings, Lewis maintains:
There is still no idea that the subjects have any right to share in the formation or conduct of government — to political freedom, or citizenship, in the sense which underlies the development of political thought in the West. While conservative reformers talked of freedom under law, and some Muslim rulers even experimented with councils and assemblies government was in fact becoming more and not less arbitrary …
Lewis also makes the important point that Western colonialism ameliorated this chronic situation:
During the period of British and French domination, individual freedom was never much of an issue. Though often limited and sometimes suspended, it was on the whole more extensive and better protected than either before or after. [emphasis added]
And Lewis concludes his entry by observing that Islamic societies forsook even their inchoate democratic experiments:
In the final revulsion against the West, Western democracy too was rejected as a fraud and a delusion, of no value to Muslims.
Elsewhere, writing contemporaneously (i.e., in 1955) on democratic institutions in the Islamic Middle East, Lewis conceded that at least “equality and fraternity” between Muslims were accepted. But even here Lewis included a major caveat with regard to “liberty,” whose Islamic formulation might never resemble John Stuart Mill’s conception in “On Liberty,” punctuated by a reference to Alice in Wonderland making plain Lewis’ assessment of the likely superficial (at best) outcome of Muslim democratization efforts:
Perhaps it may be possible to extend them beyond it [the Muslim community] adding a redefined liberty [emphasis added], to make a new kind of democracy. Only “the question is” as Alice remarked, “whether you can [emphasis in original] make words mean so many different things.”
American constitutional and governmental models, specifically, were ignored, and ultimately, Lewis viewed this immediate post-World War II era of democratic experimentation by Muslim societies as an objective failure, with the possible exception of developments, at that time, in Turkey:
The machinery which works well in the West may not work in other countries. Except perhaps in Turkey, our kind of democracy appears to have failed in the Muslim Middle East.
This pessimistic, if apposite 1955 assessment is all the more remarkable, in retrospect, over a half-century later, because Lewis was critiquing what turned out to have been the Muslim world’s high water mark towards creating indigenous, democratic institutions, and societies.
Seeing Sharia’s Resurgence — Muslim Acknowledgement, Popular Sentiment, and Fears
Wael B. Hallaq, former James McGill Professor of Islamic Law at McGill University (and currently the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University), has acknowledged that a “fundamental feature” of traditional Islam’s resurgence:
… is the constant and consistent popular call to restore the Sharia (which he identifies as “the religious law of Islam”) … The call dominates the discourse of modern Muslims, and the tracts, pamphlets and books expounding this call are legion.
Hallaq further maintains that:
During the past two and a half decades, this call has grown ever more forceful, generating religious movements, a vast amount of literature, and affecting world politics. There is no doubt that Islamic law today is a significant cornerstone in the reaffirmation of Islamic identity, not only as a matter of positive law but also, and more importantly, as the foundation of a cultural uniqueness. Indeed, for many of today’s Muslims, to live by Islamic law is not merely a legal issue, but one that is distinctly psychological.
Of course, being a champion of the “post-colonial”, pseudo-academic drivel popularized by the late Edward Said, Hallaq, as an axiom, blames Western imperialist bogeymen, almost exclusively (if mindlessly) for this intrinsic Muslim — and Islamic — Sharia “revival” phenomenon.
The 20th century, starting by the mid-1920s, witnessed sincere, but ultimately doomed secularization experiments aimed at de-politicizing, if not de-sacralizing the Sharia in Republican Turkey, Iran, and later, Pakistan. Secular autocrats — Ataturk in Republican Turkey, the Pahlavi Shahs in Iran — made brutal attempts to abrogate the primacy of the Sharia’s legal jurisdiction altogether, while largely secular Pakistani ruling elites attempted to use an extraordinarily elastic interpretation of traditional “ijtihad,” or deductive Islamic legal reasoning, combined with historical apologetics, to forge a “modernist Sharia,” ostensibly comporting with Western human rights standards. Inevitably, however, consistent with the deep-seated, conservative Islamic religious sentiments of the Muslim masses in all these countries, traditional Sharia has re-emerged, triumphant. Even Turkey, literally within a decade of Ataturk’s death in 1938, began its inexorable Islamic resurgence, as chronicled with striking prescience by historian Uriel Heyd, in 1968. By the end of the 1970s, Iran was fully “restored” to a Shiite theocracy, and Pakistan a de facto Sunni Sharia state, while the burgeoning influence of Turkey’s pious Muslim masses — already apparent then — has culminated in the popular election of fundamentalist, Sharia-supporting regimes under Erbakan, and subsequently his acolyte, Erdogan.
Repeated survey data from the world’s largest Muslim nations, and even Muslim communities within the West, as well as the ongoing, aggressive Organization of the Islamic Conference campaign to constrain all international human rights within an overarching “Sharia-complaint” framework, make plain that the traditional Islamic jihad imperative to impose the Sharia, globally, is a disturbing present day reality.
Polling data released April 24, 2007 from a rigorously conducted face-to-face University of Maryland/ WorldPublicOpinion.org interview survey of 4384 Muslims conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007 — 1000 Moroccans, 1000 Egyptians, 1243 Pakistanis, and 1141 Indonesians — revealed that 65.2% of those interviewed-almost 2/3, hardly a “fringe minority” — desired this outcome (i.e., “To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate”), including 49% of “moderate” Indonesian Muslims. The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a totalitarian Caliphate was strongly suggested by a concordant result: 65.5% of this Muslim sample approved the proposition “To require a strict [emphasis added] application of Sharia law in every Islamic country.” More recent follow-up surveys reported by the same polling group February 25, 2009 confirmed these 2006/2007 findings, as have subsequent data published independently by Pew (12/2/10).
Such irredentist attitudes are shared to an alarming extent by an important Muslim immigrant community in the West — British Muslims. A poll of 600 British Muslim college students revealed that one-third support killing in the name of Islam, while 40 percent want the Sharia to replace British law. And Sharia indoctrination of British Muslim youth begins well before college entry. A BBC Panorama investigation has revealed the presence in Britain of 40 “weekend schools” attended by some 5000 Muslim children aged 6-18. These schools teach the British Muslim youth who attend them, for example, traditional Islamic motifs of Jew-hatred, and mutilating Sharia punishments — as per the Saudi National Curriculum — under the rubric of “Saudi Students Clubs and Schools in the UK and Ireland.” These BBC revelations validate prescient warnings made almost two decades earlier by the late respected British scholar of Islam, Dr. Mervyn Hiskett, in Some to Mecca Turn to Pray. Hiskett noted then (i.e., in 1993) the prevailing opinion among leaders of the British Muslim community that unless Muslim immigrants to Britain were allowed unrestrained access to Islamic Law, Sharia, in all aspects, Britain was to be regarded, Dar-al-Harb, or the House of War, i.e., the target of jihadism. Citing what he characterized as “a more urbane but some may consider ominous statement of the Muslim intention to brook no opposition,” Hiskett quoted Zaki Badawi (d. 2006), a Muslim scholar, and former Director of the Islamic Cultural Center, London, who was made an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 2004, and also appointed by The Duke of Castro as a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Francis I. Incidentally Badawi, an Egyptian Muslim, never became a British subject although he had lived in the country for more than 30 years, and had received all manner of honors there. Badawi opined:
A proseltyzing religion cannot stand still. It can either expand or contract. Islam endeavors to expand in Britain. Islam is a universal religion. It aims at bringing its message to all corners of the earth. It hopes that one day the whole humanity will be one Muslim community, the “Umma.”
The “urbane,” “moderate” Muslim Badawi’s “vision” for British society — so recently deemed unthinkable — now seems eminently plausible, as Britain appears well on its way to full integration into the obscurantist Muslim umma, rife with traditional Islamic Jew-hatred, and all other aspects of Sharia-sanctioned, totalitarian barbarity.