Should the West Tolerate Islam?
by James M. Arlandosn, Ph.D.
said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my legs.”
that beliefs and practices that do not harm us monetarily or physically can be
what cost? How far do we take tolerance?
to those complicated questions is found in another Jefferson document.
Declaration of Independence proclaims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created
equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
answer is not as simple as it first appears, for how do we apply those three
self-evident truths to an aggressive religion like Islam?
Three Universal Rights
universal rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have penetrated
our psyche whether we acknowledge them or not. By them, we can discern which
rules in shariah are harmful or harmless. So let’s unpack the three rights.
appears at first glance to be so subjective and so open to a wide
interpretation that it is impossible to nail down. However, it is not as
subjective as it first appears. At bottom, it depends on life and liberty.
means functioning in excellence and fullness, living to the highest potential
and freedom. If one’s life and liberty is restricted and oppressed, then one
cannot be happy, even if he thinks he is.
happiness means that an individual creates his own utopia, as he lives in society
and follows basic laws, like honoring contracts and respecting other people’s
property and person. The government does not create utopia for him. Government
is formed to ensure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Government clears the path and creates a safe environment for people to be free
and have a high quality of life and pursue their own happiness, as they define
liberty, though they have a subjective feel to them, are not entirely
subjective. Extreme behavior or policies do not lead to life and liberty,
whether an individual or an entire society believes this or not, and whether a
religious system teaches the opposite — they do lead to life and liberty and
happiness. Despite their belief or religious system, when an act or policy does
not actually promote life and
liberty, then a person cannot be happy by definition, because happiness is
built on life and liberty.
living under oppression, religious or atheistic, cannot be free and have a high
quality of life; therefore, he cannot be happy, even if he thinks he is. He is not the best judge of what happiness is because
he does not have a broad perspective.
examples can be tricky. Sometimes we all sense people choose self-imposed
oppression and restriction (e.g. the headscarf), but this does not harm society
at large, so their choice can be tolerated. Other examples, however, are obviously
bad, because they oppress all or many in society (e.g. the second-class jizyah or submission tax), so those shariah laws
should not be tolerated.
gets revelations that tell his followers how to dress, how to believe, and how
to pray. A prophet can teach these things, if he wants. He’s within his
political right of religious freedom. If people choose freely to follow them and are allowed freely to walk away from them, then the religious laws do not pick
the pockets or breaks the legs of the larger society. These religious rules can
be done in private or at the mosque (or church or synagogue).
strong case can be made that an extremely large number of religious laws also
restricts life and liberty excessively, and therefore they do not lead to the
pursuit of happiness. Nonetheless, these religious laws that do not harm the
larger society monetarily or physically can be tolerated.
the same revelator gets an allegedly divine message that orders him to impose,
by government decree or armed struggle, these beliefs on everyone or to restrict
and punish nonconformist beliefs, then religious freedom is not promoted, and
this harms society. His religion picks our pockets and breaks our legs.
certainly a religious theocracy does not create utopia for all of society, to make people conform to a theocrat’s
vision of the ideal world. A theocracy works overtime to remove all
imperfections. That is why sexual sins are turned into crimes. If corporal
punishments need to be applied, even up to execution, then so be it. Those
imperfections must be removed. But a theocracy breaks our legs and picks our
small-scale example is a woman who believes that wearing a veil that covers her face, except the eye slit (either a burqa or niqab), makes her happy. That’s part of her utopia. Who are we to
interfere in her pursuit of happiness? Never mind that vitamin deficiencies can
happen from underexposure to the sun, as the article on the veil in this series
documents. Though she may not (yet) have come to the realization that a burqa or niqab is an extreme restriction on her liberty and highest quality
of life, it still is such a restriction, objectively speaking. Deception does
exist, which can be defined as believing or thinking you are right, while in
reality you are wrong. And beliefs can be wrong.
if she still freely chooses to wear a
burqa or niqab and can freely
choose not to wear it, then her belief should be tolerated.
someone wants to persuade her with words alone, not by force or government
fiat, then he can try. But her personal liberty must be respected, after the
if a government passes laws that force all
women to wear certain religious clothes, then these laws are unjust, because
they violate liberty, and violated liberty does not lead to the highest quality
of life. And a degraded life does not add up to happiness — or the pursuit of
it. In such a repressive environment, individuals cannot create their personal
utopia as they define it.
example of how shariah restricts life and liberty: shariah today still imposes
a submission tax on Jews or Christians or other religious
minorities who refuse to join Islam. Defenders of this policy say that it is
designed to offer them protection for the privilege of living under Islam.
second-class submission tax based on religion violates the principles laid out
in the Declaration of Independence. It does indeed harm us monetarily and
legally. Everyone should be equal before the law; no one is to be discriminated
against because he or she may be a religious minority living in an Islamic
And now we
can judge that this Islamic rule about a religious submission tax is a bad one,
for it is incompatible with the progress of humanity. The tax degrades the life
and liberty of Jews and Christians and other religious minorities because they
become second-class citizens and are deprived of some of their lawful earnings
by a specialized religion tax, just for them. When their life and liberty are restricted,
they cannot pursue happiness, as they define it.
foundation of advanced societies is equality before the law. But Islam teaches
a religious hierarchy before its shariah tax law.
reason Americans fought the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was to free ourselves
from taxes imposed on us without our consent. Why would we consent to a
second-class religious submission tax, even if the government claims it came
from Allah himself?
these examples, the general principle is Jefferson’s: if an act or policy does
not harm us monetarily or physically, then it should be allowed. But if it does
harm us in those two ways (or is on the verge of doing so), then it should not
shariah laws listed in Thirty Bad Shariah Laws — however culturally insensitive it may seem to hear — need to be rejected,
because they are aggressive and oppressive, not peaceful or benign. These
practices are themselves intolerant or fail to respect all humans with full
extreme and thus deny life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore,
these harmful shariah laws are wrong. They (should) have expiration dates on
them — back in the seventh century.
need to be sensitive about benign customs like prayer, diet (e.g. not eating
pork), reading or carrying a holy book in public, washing properly, or wearing
a headscarf, even a burka or niqab. None of these things break our
legs or pick out pockets.
must not be hypersensitive about excessive and harsh shariah rules that we can
judge by these three principles — life and liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. By those standards many of shariah rules come up short. We must pass
judgment on them.
The West is
accused of arrogance, and maybe the charge is sometimes valid. However, the
refusal to learn from the West is also a sign of arrogance. We have learned our
lesson about our three rights, after centuries of mistakes.
genuinely reforms on these matters and follows the ten suggestions of reform and builds up a long track record,
intellectual elites in the USA and elsewhere around the world must use extreme
caution in assuming that shariah is perfectly harmless or is just
misunderstood. They must not form any policy, write any school curriculum,
issue any ruling, or pass any law based on or referencing shariah. Islam must
bend towards us, not we to it.
must stick to or return to the Declaration’s three principles, which guides (or
should guide) the USA and has served us so well: life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness. Our civilization will stand on them.
civilization will also stand by our outspoken courage to promote them, even if
they deny shariah, even if they appear
intolerant. But our civilization shall fall by our cowardly silence.
James M. Arlandson, Ph.D., has written a book: Women, Class, and Society in
Early Christianity. He has recently completed a series on The Sword in Early Christianity
and Islam. This article is taken from Towards a Reform
of Islamic Shariah Law? posted at jihadwatch.org.
Articles in the Series (on site)
7. Free Speech
Marital, Domestic and Women’s Issues
Sexual “Crimes” and Punishments
More Punishments (off site)
And See (off
 I am not referring to a woman wearing a veil that
covers her entire face, except for the eye slit, in situations like driving a
car or taking official photo IDs. The woman needs to compromise, because she
potentially puts larger society in jeopardy.