There are good reasons to believe that the violence over the Danish cartoons is more political than religious. Syria seems to be playing a major role, and the Syrian government cares far less about defending Islam than securing its own power. Iran may be using the cartoons to draw attention away from its nuclear ambitions.
But it is also true that the most radical strain of Islam is spreading rapidly, and with it has spread the observance of Shari’ah. It is Shari’ah that is so exquisitely sensitive about protecting the reputation of Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
Shari’ah is a system of religious laws based on the Qur’an, the Hadith and other Islamic texts. Proponents of Shari’ah claim that it creates communities that are more faithful to the heart and soul of Islam. To outside observers, Shari’ah enforces, sometimes violently, an ancient code of justice and absolute respect for Islamic customs, both on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The claim that representations of Mohammed are blasphemous are found in Shari’ah, not in the Qur’an. According to Encyclopedia of the Orient, “…calling the Sharia ‘law’ can be misleading, as Sharia extends beyond law. Sharia is the totality of religious, political, social, domestic and private life. Sharia is primarily meant for all Muslims, but applies to a certain extent also for people living inside a Muslim society.”
Shari’ah also prescribes punishments for moral sin and criminal behavior: adultery must be punished by stoning or flogging, stealing must be punished by cutting off a hand.
In an interview with Christianity Today, Paul Marshall, author of Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari’ah Law talks about two different views of what Shari’ah means.
For many Muslims, the term Shari’ah has a very broad sense that the country should be governed in a way that God wants. … I use the term extreme Shari’ah for the sorts of things that happen in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Pakistan—people getting accused of blasphemy or stoned for adultery, and so on.
Marshall sees Shari’ah spreading, mostly to the poorest Muslim countries.
[T]he vast majority of Muslims in the world live in Africa and Asia, not in the Middle East. Their views on Islam are not very precise. They don’t read the Qur’an; they can’t read it. … But radical Islamic preachers, especially from the Gulf, especially funded by Saudi Arabia, are coming in. They’ve built mosques. They’re providing people, imams, scholarships. And so you’re getting an increasing radicalization in these populations that beforehand were more or less theologically illiterate. People are telling them, “If you want to be a true Muslim, a good Muslim, a proper Muslim, this is what you should do.”
And with the spread of Shari’ah, the rights of women and minorities, including religious minorities like Christians, have been drastically curtailed.
[T]hey changed the criminal code. They changed the law of evidence within the courts so that evidence from men and women was given different weight. They segregated public transportation systems so that unmarried men and women could not travel together, and so on. It’s a quantum leap in the expression of Islam. … Christians [living under Shari’ah] are often accused of blasphemy against Islam or of criticizing Islam. The pressure becomes very bad indeed. You get a community that is isolated and marginalized. Preaching the gospel to a Muslim is very strongly forbidden. That can get you killed.
In Canada, England, France and western nations where Muslims have not assimilated into the culture, Islamic communities have often insisted on self-rule under Shari’ah. Some governments have turned a blind eye to the harsh treatment of Muslim women, especially, believing that silence is the best way to maintain a fragile peace with their growing Muslim populations.
Because of the uproar over the Danish cartoons, many American newspapers have instituted policies that effectively bind them to Shari’ah principles of respect for Islam, a rather amazing concession for a secular institution. My own newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, published the following in its Wednesday edition:
To knowingly publish something that is inflammatory and has incited violence elsewhere would be irresponsible. There is no courage in doing so merely because a free press affords us the opportunity. Consequently, the Arizona Daily Star will not publish Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. —John M Humenik, publisher and editor
On one level, respect for religion is a sensible policy. But for a free press to censor itself because it doesn’t want to inflame the passions of religious believers leads me to wonder what might be next. Will newspapers stop publishing photos of Muslim women unless they are properly covered in a burqa?
As a Christian, I have a deep respect for other religious beliefs. I respect the search for God’s truth and revelation that Muslims and members of other faiths demonstrate in their religious practices.
As a Christian, I believe that only in Jesus Christ has God redeemed humanity. The teachings of Mohammed are very difficult to accept when read beside the teachings of Jesus. As Islam wants to convert the world to the teachings of Mohammed, too often by violence, I want to introduce the world to the person of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb and Son of God.
Christianity has been the bedrock upon which western democracy has been built. If Shari’ah gains a foothold here in the west, it will undermine our most cherished principals of equal justice, equal rights, and liberty for all.
Photo credit: Michigan Public Radio