Friday, September 22, 2006

The First Casualty of Religious Intolerance: Religious Criticism part 2

In many, if not most Islamic countries, the mere questioning of Islam of Mohammed is prohibited, often by threat of death.  Is this a corruption of true Islam?

What, then, is an objective inquirer to make of Koranic verses such as:

[5.33] The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement

[5.51] O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.

[9.28] O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise.  [9.29] Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.  [9.30] And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

Or what is to be made of excerpts from Al Bukhari’s Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), the most trusted Islamic compilation available:

From Volume 9:

9:50 (& 4:283) Ali said, "... no Muslim should be killed ... for killing a kafir (disbeliever)." [In other words, killing a non Muslim is not murder, it is holy war.]

9:57 Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’"

In practice we hear on occasion the persecution of persons accused of insulting the Prophet or Islam in Islamic countries.  It would seem to be the case that Muslims routinely oppress the freedom of Muslims more than the Pope ever could.

On the other hand, in Islamic countries, criticism of other religions is abundant and often, it must be said, itis vile.  The criticism extends often beyond theology to the adherents of other theologies.  Is this not true?

Here is an excerpt of a magazine article by columnist Adel Hammoda, found in Al-Ahram, a leading Egyptian newspaper on 10/28/00:

"I thought that my grandfather's story was a fairy tale like the story about the wicked witch who turned children into frogs.  But when I matured and read... I found out that the story of the Jewish blood Matzah is true [and] that all its details are recorded in the Shar'i [Islamic Religious] Courts in Damascus, Aleppo and Hama in 1840.  The French Orientalist Charles Laurand published these details in a book called The Murder of Father Toma and his Servant Ibrahim Amara.  The book was translated to Arabic by Dr. Youssef Nasrallah and published in Cairo in 1898…

“The bestial drive to knead Passover Matzahs with the blood of non-Jews is [confirmed] in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies Arab children who had disappeared being found torn to pieces without a single drop of blood.  The most reasonable explanation is that the blood was taken to be kneaded into the dough of extremist Jews to be used in Matzahs to be devoured during Passover.”

Although the above item was in a large state controlled newspaper, the appearance of hypocrisy has not deterred numerous Egyptian and other Islamists from rejecting the Pope’s apology.

In the West, to be fair, you WILL find criticism of even the prevailing religions – a healthy situation, although not universally appreciated (by fundamentalists and others) as Ms. O’Donnell has discovered.  Once again, we are talking about criticism of the theologies and the demanded behaviors, not of persons of that faith who harm no one.  What we cannot do is move to further inhibit religious criticism; we cannot stay silent about unsupported beliefs that sustain sexism, racial hatred and tyranny of the mind.

We do not need less criticism of religion in this world; we need to get used to it and learn how to do it rationally; indeed we need more!

In a world where no one religion holds a majority, it is mathematically guaranteed that at least half the planet are wrong about their beliefs and are either damned, in need of saving or are wasting their time entirely with their religion!  Don’t MOST of us need to be corrected?  Don’t we need to hear the best arguments on why MOST of us are wrong?

We therefore also need more universally accepted ground rules for this kind of criticism; the do’s and don’ts of religious criticism.

Do not insult classes of persons for their mere affiliation with a group.  This will be difficult for many when scripture often defines non-believers or other believers as immoral or deserving of eternal punishment.

DO use concrete examples in the way of actual scriptural quotes or accepted historical references: the Pope did not; he demonized.

Do not assume that a revealed truth/myth/legend is obviously true, even (or especially) to others. 

DO respect the rules of logic.  Others must understand what is being proposing or proven.

DO allow an evidence-supported criticism of religion that is based on a challenge to facts and logic.

It would almost seem that acceptance of these ground rules is actually the major stumbling block: it is freedom of inquiry and religious opinion that is the issue, not just the beliefs themselves.  The simple act of voicing these reasonable guidelines would reveal the true nature of the problem: a religion can either be comfortable with free inquiry or it is self-admitted to be a tyrannical system afraid of the questions to be asked.  Framed in that manner, would religious leaders betray their cowardice – or face the questions to follow?

The Pope should seize the moment and demand secularism, free inquiry and a challenge to each religion’s revelations; that is, if he has any confidence in the ability of his own beliefs to withstand the same scrutiny.  This challenge would be the very essence of a new enlightenment.

 

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