At work I am currently researching and writing a book on Islamic Finance. The main feature of this is a prohibition on the charging or receiving of interest on money loaned or borrowed is known to many and Islam remains the only coherent religious/political system to have an almost fully worked out financial system. The system that has been created found its modern origin in Egypt in the mid-1960s and is now ‘managed’ by the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) based in Bahrain in the Middle-East.
In researching the book I have become much more familiar with the ideas behind the Islamic politico-religious system and I have certainly developed a better appreciation of Sharia than many commentators. There is much to be said for many of the elements contained within Sharia which is not just a religious system but a fully worked out ‘Way of Life’ – the literal meaning of Sharia.
I do however have several problems with the system as well – notwithstanding the tendency of a significant minority to preach a violent form of Jihad. Many of those so-called ‘Muslims’ we see carrying out atrocities and proudly claiming that they are doing the work of an all-powerful God of mercy and justice are nothing more than murderous psychopaths. Why the all powerful and merciful god that they follow has need of such vile followers they themselves are unwilling to explain. But that is dragging from the point I wish to make in this post.
Under Sharia within an Islamic Republic (the early caliphs were effectively undisputed dynastic monarchs) there is no concept of the separation of religion and state – the state is religious and religion has created the Islamic state. There is a powerful social system that ensures that all good Muslims worship five times a day, pay their taxes (zakat) and fast during the month of Ramadan to name but a few of the obligations. It is this religious state (theocracy is the correct term as the religious authorities as well as approving the laws, approve all candidates competing in democratic elections)
The fact that one can live in an Islamic state without being Muslim does however not allow you to behave as if you weren’t a Muslim in several ways (you can worship in your own churches, however). This has been clearly demonstrated in two news pieces over the last week.
The first story comes from Algeria, where the government has arrested several Berber tribesmen for eating and drinking in public during the month of Ramadan. The tribesmen have always maintained a secular outlook and there is some history between the government and the group. However, the situation has worsened as there are some Christian families where members have suffered the same fate. Not fasting in a public space, even when you’re not a Muslim, has been deemed an insult to Islam and for that you can be arrested. This is not a call for non-Muslims to break the law but rather to highlight that such laws actually exist. Indeed, it is illegal to declare oneself atheist in several Islamic states.
The second story for me clearly demonstrates the fear of non-conformist ideas within Islamic states. The website belonging to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) has been blocked in Pakistan. This has the effect of blocking one of the most popular sites for the discussion of secular ideas and illustrates again the difficulty some formulations of Islam have with alternative ideas or those that run counter to the requirements of the government (for which you must read the religion of Islam).
If Islam is a good idea it will survive on its own merits – just like any idea. People should be free to believe what they wish so long as it doesn’t interfere with those who don’t believe in the same thing – unfortunately Islam under an Islamic state doesn’t see things that way at all. Use your religion to do good in the world and don’t poke it uninvited into the lives of others.
Don’t slam the door in the face of people to whom you claim to want to bring happiness.