Monday, July 26, 2010

Ibn Warraq: Distinguishing Islams (and Christianities)

Ibn Warraq

In "Modernity and the Muslims," a panel discussion whose transcript is published in City Journal (Vol. 20, Nr. 3, July 15, 2010), ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq offers an interesting threefold distinction of Islam, which he borrows from the great scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis:
I like to make a distinction that I actually owe to Bernard Lewis; oddly enough, Lewis, to my knowledge, has never made use of it. It’s a very useful distinction that he made between Islam One, Two, and Three. Islam One is what's in the Koran, what the Prophet Mohammed did and enjoyed. Islam Two is the sharia and the theological construct that we call Islam, as developed by the theologians over the centuries. Islam Three is Islamic civilization, which is what Muslims actually did do as opposed to what they should have done, what actually happened in Islamic history. Often Islam Three -- that is, Islamic civilization -- was far more tolerant than what Islam One and Two demanded. For example, until very recently, Islamic society (Islam Three) was far more tolerant about homosexuality than the West was, whereas Islam One and Islam Two more firmly condemned it. There are several ambiguous passages in the Koran, but certainly Islam Two, the sharia, condemns homosexuality.

Islamic history has never been a relentless series of theocratic governments; it has varied from century to century, ruler to ruler. Sometimes it has been very intolerant, and sometimes it has been very tolerant. Just look at some of the poets who were given free rein -- for example, al-Mahawi, an Iraqi who was certainly an agnostic and very probably an atheist, but he was very critical. He was left alone; no one bothered him, so this is witness to the period of tolerance. This is, for me, the best way to approach the situation. For example, some of the terrorists are taking literally what is in the Koran. There are all sorts of intolerant passages in the Koran about killing infidels and not taking Jews and Christians as friends. It’s undeniably there, and you can't get away from it. Chapter four in the Koran: you can't get away from the fact that it gives men the power to beat women. It's no good pretending that somehow the real Islam is tolerant, the real Islam is feminist, and so on. There is a great deal of confusion because people do not want to tarnish with the same brush a billion believers. We don't want to be too crude in our defamation. We don't want to call all Muslims terrorists, so the best way is this distinction between Islam One, Two, Three.
This is a useful analytical distinction offering a schema for understanding the reputed tolerance of Islam. It truly has been tolerant, at times, if one is speaking of "Islam Three," Islamic civilization.

Civilizations are broader than the religions upon which they are founded -- to draw upon Samuel Huntington's theory for a moment --and can be far more tolerant as a consequence. Western civilization, for instance, is broader than Christianity, for it has integrated Graeco-Roman thought and culture with biblical faith.

By analogy to Ibn Warraq's use of a threefold distinction, one could do the same with Christianity:
Christianity One: Bible

Christianity Two: Theology

Christianity Three: Civilization
This is useful for comparison to the threefold distinction of Islam:
Islam One: Qur'an

Islam Two: Shariah

Islam Three: Civilization
By comparing these two schemas, we notice a striking difference. Islam Two, which is shariah, i.e., Islamic law, plays a different role in Islamic civilization than Christianity Two, i.e., theology, does in Western civilization. Ideally, for the Muslim, shariah ought to be the law of Islamic civilization. By contrast, theology does not specify a system of law for Western civilization, which draws instead upon pagan sources, whether one considers Roman law or common law.

Theology concerns what one ought to believe, and proper belief cannot be imposed but relies on persuasion. Law concerns how one ought to behave, and proper behavior can be imposed through force.

Huntington speaks of the clash of civilizations, and he finds clear evidence especially of the clash between Islamic civilization and those non-Islamic civilizations that share its "bloody borders." Others, such as Judith Miller, speak of Islamic civilization being at war with itself, a sort of civil war taking place before our eyes. These are not mutually exclusive views. Islamists, taking the Qur'an and shariah very seriously, will always work to impose Islamic law upon Islamic civilization -- even as they will also advocate Islam's dominance over non-Islamic civilizations.

An identical dialectic is at work in both struggles, for most Islamists consider force legitimate where persuasion does not work.

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At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading here for some time now. And (dare I say "Finally") I witness a post that succinctly sums this thing up pretty neatly.

Outstanding post Jeffery.


At 12:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK, but it's mainly Ibn Warraq . . . or maybe Bernard Lewis.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Thugbawi said...

Thanks you so much. The differentiation of the three Islams is absolutely critical.

I had read this but couldn't remember where to find it. I am so glad you posted this.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome.

Jeffery Hodges

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