Thursday, October 02, 2014

Islam's Ethical Ambiguity?

In "The Ambiguity of Islam" (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1, 2009), James V. Schall comments on Islam's ethical ambiguity (and grounds it in theological voluntarism):
Basically, if it could, Islam would convert the world, one way or another, by peace or by war, as precisely the "will" of Allah . . . . [Islam] really has little place for anything else, except when Islam cannot prevent . . . [the] presence [of non-Islamic things] . . . . [Unfortunately, w]e really have no idea what we are up against [with Islam] unless we take a careful look at what is held theologically and what has happened historically in the Muslim world and its understanding of the world outside itself, which it calls the sphere of war. The [theological] voluntarism of Islamic thought enables it, apparently, to justify means of advancement that are by any reasonable or democratic standard immoral. Indeed, as Benedict noted in his "Regensburg Lecture," this voluntarism and its invalidity stands at the intellectual root of Islam's self-understanding.
What does Schall mean by the "ambiguity of Islam? He lets Father Samir Khalil Samir, "an Egyptian Jesuit, an advisor in the Holy See, with roots in Cairo, Beirut and Rome," tell us succinctly:
When some [Muslim] fanatics kill children, women, and men in the name of pure and authentic Islam, or in the name of the Qur'an or of the Muslim tradition, nobody can tell them: 'You are not true and authentic Muslims.' All they can say is: 'Your reading of Islam is not ours.' And this is the ambiguity of Islam, from its beginning to our present day: violence is a part of it, although it is also possible to choose tolerance; tolerance is a part of it, but it is also possible to choose violence. (Samir Khalil Samir, 111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir on Islam and the West, page 71)
From the perspective of Schall and Samir, Islam thus appears ethically dualistic, able to justify both violence and nonviolence. Are they right?

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