Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Problem with Quoting the Qur'an

Professor Robert George

Professor Robert George of Princeton University, who recently gave the 18th Annual Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs in Philadelphia on October 6, 2014, has posted that lecture - "The State Of International Religious Freedom and Why It Matters" - online through FPRI's E-Notes (November 2014):
[A]uthenticity and integrity are directly threatened whenever there is coercion or compulsion in matters of faith or belief. Indeed, coercion does not produce genuine conviction, but merely pretense and lack of authenticity. A coerced faith is no faith at all. So, as the Qu'ran says, "there can be no compulsion in religion."

Compulsion may cause a person to manifest the outward signs of belief or unbelief, but it cannot produce the interior acts of intellect and will that constitute genuine faith. Therefore, it is essential that freedom of religion include the right to hold any belief or none at all, to change one's beliefs and religious affiliation, to bear witness to these beliefs in public as well as private, and corporately as well as individually, and to act on one's religiously-inspired convictions about justice and the common good in carrying out the duties of citizenship. And it is vital that religious liberty's full protections be extended to those whose answers to life's deepest questions reject belief in the transcendent.
Professor George is right, of course, that there should be no compulsion in religion. Unfortunately, he cannot draw upon the Qur'an for support since that peaceful verse has been abrogated by the many so-called "sword verses." Perhaps he even knows this, but is using the opportunity to note the implication of forcing a religion upon someone: hypocrisy. He goes on to condemn the Islamic State as yet another instance of modern totalitarianism:
No civilized religion - certainly no creed in the tradition of ethical monotheism - including Islam, ever stood in principle, as the Nazis and Communists did, and as the "Islamic State" does today, for what amounts to sheer, unadulterated nihilism - the idea that any and every means - torture, rape, prostitution, drug sales, the slaughter of innocent children and defenseless elderly people, genocide - may be carried out in the cause of regional hegemony and, ultimately, world domination. No world religion ever granted any human being, group, or government the permanent right in principle to flout any rule, break any law, or commit any atrocity at will. In other words, the struggle we face is not that of one religion against another, nor of religion against humanity. Rather, it is a struggle that pits lawlessness and tyranny against basic decency and dignity. And in this struggle, reformers must be applauded for their resolute stand not only to reform and clarify from within, but to stand against the hijacking of Islam by those driven by the same impulse that drove the likes of Hitler and Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot. They must rip away radical Islamism's religious mask - revealing its idolatrous soul before the world.
Brave words. But is Professor George right? What if Islamism, including that of the Islamic State, is not extremism at the margins of Islam, but simply radicalism at Islam's core? What if the Qur'an, the hadith, and the sunnah indeed offer support for what Professor George calls "sheer, unadulterated nihilism"?

What then?

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