In the New York Times, Noah Feldman asks, “Can a nation be founded on both Islam and democracy without compromising on human rights and equality?” He has high hopes for Afghanistan’s new constitution, although he acknowledges that its provisions about women’s rights are ambiguous.
About non-Muslim rights he says: “The provision that makes Islam the nation’s official religion also recognizes the right of non-Muslims ‘to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the provisions of law.’ This carefully chosen language might arguably leave room to restrict proselytizing — as, for example, do similar laws in India and Israel — but it nonetheless guarantees individual expression as an inviolable right. (It’s worth noting that the right to change one’s religion is enshrined in the human rights declaration.)”
Unfortunately, Islamic law can’t legitimately be compared to whatever India and Israel say about prosletyzing. “The subject peoples,” according to a manual of Islamic law that carries the endorsement of Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most respected authority, must “pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)” and “are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar); . . . must keep to the side of the street; may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed; are forbidden to openly display wine or pork . . . recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals or feastdays; and are forbidden to build new churches.”
Feldman also mentions Afghanistan’s adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He notes that “One essential provision mandates that the state shall abide by the United Nations Charter, international treaties, all international conventions that Afghanistan has signed and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He also tells us that the new constitution calls for “elimination of traditions contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam.”
What he doesn’t tell us is that those two principles are on a collision course. The human rights declaration does indeed contain the right to change one’s religion, but the Sharia does not. The death penalty for people who leave Islam is rooted in the words of Muhammad: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Sahih Bukhari, volume 9, book 84, no. 57).
Also, there are numerous indications that democracy is going to have a tough time in the Muslim world, just as I predicted: today in Arab News, Fawaz Turki sneers at President Bush’s Wilsonian plans to export democracy:
“A people’s habits of vision — their history, culture, faith, language, literature — codify that people’s immemorial reflexes, the contours of their communal reference . . . President Bush in effect wants Arabs, along with folks elsewhere in the Muslim world, to weld these habits of vision to an idiom appropriated from Jefferson, Locke and Montesquieu. Well, it ain’t gonna happen, fellow, not only because the whole enterprise is degrading for its ethnocentric bias, but because that’s not the way social systems organically evolve and transform.”
Rather, “in the end it will be in the wealth of our own heritage, not in the borrowed dress of other tongues and political traditions that an Arab renaissance will strike root.”
Wonderful. But does that mean more dhimmitude — discrimination, harassment, subjugation — for non-Muslim minorities? After all, that’s the heritage of Islamic law.
That heritage is being asserted now in Malaysia, where the Washington Times reports that “Malaysia’s biggest opposition party yesterday declared its goal of forming an Islamic state, with punishments such as stoning and amputation for criminals and a ban on non-Muslims becoming prime minister.”
They were full of reassurances: “Party leaders tempered the announcement by promising the country’s large non-Muslim minorities they would not lose religious freedoms guaranteed by the constitution or the right to hold other government posts.”
But again, such a reassurance is on a collision course with the law according to which Islamic states have been constituted throughout history, and other political groups in Malaysia are fully aware of that. Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party charged that an Islamic state would create “a new dichotomy between Muslims and non-Muslims. It confirms the worst fears of the non-Muslims in Malaysia. The proposals raised would alter the citizenship rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”
The man knows his Islamic law.