This article was printed in Aftenposten 2004.10.07
Is fear of Islam justified?
The very last thing Norway and the rest of the world need at this time is a hateful and undifferentiated perception of Islam. What we do need is a rational approach to this religion. It is, therefore, most timely that Dag Herbjørnsrud in Aftenposten (2004.09.10 and 2004.09.19) puts this issue on the agenda: Fear of Islam.
Mr. Herbjørnsrud points to some interesting statistics on progress of democracy and human rights in certain Muslim countries. On this background he draws the conclusion that Islam is consistent with democracy and human rights. Here it appears that Mr. Herbjørnsrud is guilty of a fallacious inference. Whatever opinions Muslim laymen hold are not necessarily concurrent with what Islam teaches. It is precarious that Mr. Herbjørnsrud avoids discussing whether democracy and human rights are compatible with Islam considered as a religious doctrine. This may be due to the fact that it is difficult to generalize about this, since there are various interpretations of Islam. In this regard, I would propose that one discards from consideration the religious extremes: the political jihadism on one side, and the most liberal theologians on the other. Let us rather consider what is mostly called moderate, “mainstream” Islam.
Moderate, ”mainstream” Islam sticks to the traditional, fundamentalist reading of the Koran. As an extension of this it upholds the validity of traditional Islamic law, which is Sharia. It is a mistake (and quite disrespectful towards Muslims) to uphold that Sharia is an “extreme” interpretation of Islam, or that it is detached from the religion. The Koran, the life of Muhammad himself, and the history of his teachings, all bear witness to a profound identification of religion, law, and political power. Sharia is just a systematic expression of these testimonies.
One of the most influential persons within Islam today is Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. He is considered a representative of moderate, “mainstream” Islam. Le Monde recently featured an article about this man, introducing him with the statement: “Had Islam had a Pope, it would have been Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.” The man holds a PhD in Islamic law from the prestigious Al Azhar University in Cairo. He has published more than 130 books, has weekly broadcasts on Al Jazeera, and his speeches are distributed on videos and cassettes all over the world, to mention just a few of his merits. Quaradawi is an ideological and moral guide for millions of modern Muslims.
Quaradawi explicitly advocates the traditional Sharia interpretations: The Koran demands the death penalty for apostasy (rejecting Islam), death penalty for homosexuality, physical punishment or death penalty for blasphemy, and in addition that men have the right, under certain conditions, to beat (though not injure) their wives, and that it is forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. Further, Quaradawi has issued fatwas that legitimizes Palestinian suicide attacks against civilian Jews in Palestine (including the state Israel). Each and every person can find out about these things by herself by going to Al-Quaradawi’s own internet site; the world’s most comprehensive on Islam: islamonline.net, and then search in the “Fatwa Bank”.
Our association with Islam is the most important cultural challenge in the west today. We are all best served by debating with correct references and premises. Viewpoints like those presented by Yusuf al-Quarawadi and other representatives of so-called “moderate Islam”, clearly indicates that defenders of human rights and humanist values faces a formidable challenge. What we need now is a respectful but critical evaluation of Islam.
Jens Tomas Anfindsen, PhD student of Philosophy , editor of HonestThinking.org