Thursday, February 23, 2006

On the horns of a dilemma

The problem is that the civilised solutions to this issue are simply not satisfying enough. The special reverence in which the Prophet (PBUH) is held, demands that the blasphemers be punished according to Sharia, which prescribes the death sentence, and the death sentence alone. However, that is not a feasible option at this point. A Muslim government may emulate the Israeli example of sending in assassins (as it did with Iraqi nuclear scientists), but it would come under tremendous pressure, perhaps too much to expect it to bear. A boycott of Danish goods is questionable: pork is not halal even if it is Pakistani (a few wild pigs are consumed by foreign and local non-Muslims); milk will not become haram just because it is Danish.

The demand for legislation protecting the revered figures of all religions is compatible with the concept of freedom of expression, because it is feasible to place restraints on freedom. However, it could lead to rather odd situations. It might mean, for example, that anyone who claims some form of prophethood within the Abrahamic tradition, as did Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, and Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, founder of the Ahmadi Jamaat, in the 19th century, or even godhead within the Vedic or Buddhist tradition, as did the Maharishi in the 20th, would be as protected as Muhammad (PBUH), Jesus Christ, Buddha or Ram. It might even provoke a spate of declarations of revelation, for the Western understanding of freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and toleration equates these religious leaders with whoever else might make a claim.

It is also not just a matter of hurt feelings. Blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH) is severely punished, even though other forms of abuse, while hurtful, are to be ignored, or merely rebutted. Denials of the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) can be ignored, for example, or debated, but they are not in themselves blasphemous. After all, a non-Muslim by definition is a denier. However, it is reasonably clear that certain mocking or insulting portrayals or epithets are unacceptable, such as the Danish cartoons.

So should Muslims ask for very specific legislation about the person of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)? They can ask, and probably should, but this creates difficulties of its own. The USA was the first state to declare a complete separation between church and state. No religion is to be 'established' in the USA under the First Amendment, in the sense of having special privileges or any superiority over others. To ask it to pass a law specific to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), would technically be asking it to 'establish' Islam.

Here we do see the seeds of a clash of civilisations. The honour of the Prophet (PBUH) is not open to compromise for Muslims. Nor is the prohibition on 'establishing' any religion for Americans of whatever creed. Ask we must. Refuse they must. And pity the poor soul who is both 'we' and 'they'. Muslims hold that they are bound by everlasting and immutable limits, prescribed by the Almighty Himself in the Quran and through the Sunnah. Americans (and the West as a whole) hold that the only absolute is freedom, and any limits are determined by the people, who can change them as they will. These are incompatible.


Gabe said...

Is this Arun from Swarthmore?

Arun said...

Sorry, no.