Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Separation of Church and State

JZ argues…

Separation of Church and State is a both a fiction and an undesirable element of any political system. This was shown by the practices of the Islamic empires of the Middle Ages. Currently, the United States government prides itself on having a non-theocratic system of government that creates a neutral government and tolerance for numerous religious groups. However, this is simply a fiction. Everyone understands that strong, organized Christian organizations have a huge influence on the Republican party in America. Furthermore, Democrats are now trying to show that they are equally religious in their decisions in order to win over voters. This suggests that the churches in American do have influence over politicians and that the people want it that way.

Now I am sure that some of you “wise fools” (sophomores) will argue that this is not a single Church but influence from many churches. However, all of these churches have a commonality of Christianity. This was recently seen when our first Muslim representative was elected to office. When he was sworn in, he brought a copy of the Quran. There was a national outcry that he brought a book that was not a part of the political traditions in America since its inception. This showed how strongly one religious faith does influence the way that we do politics in America.

Now, I am sure that many of you will argue that a theocracy or mixing of the religious faiths is impossible because of the multiple religious groups in the country. However, the Ottoman empire was able to deal with this while establishing a single faith that centered their empire. They would establish local millets or communities that could be led and centered around their religious faiths. These communities were allowed to have their own leaders, cultures, and laws as long as they showed ultimate respect and deference to the Sultan. The Sultan hardly ever interfered with the local communities except on issues of taxes for the empire. These communities did have to pay a head tax or jizya. But, they paid this tax in order to substitute for military service that they could not give since they weren’t Muslim. In contrast to European countries, Muslims, Christians and Jews generally lived in peace under this system. And, the empire had a focused belief system that united its vast different elements.

Such a system seemed to provide for both the needed consistent values of the empire and a recognition of religious reality. In this system, it was recognized that people cannot make decisions without a religious background.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Islamic Origins

JZ argues…

Well, here is a little shout out to all of my Catholic, Judaeo-Christian friends out there. Now, I know that you have all grown up in the Christian bubble here on the West side of the world. However, I would like to open up your holy minds and hearts to another major monotheistic tradition that has existed for the last seven hundred years. Lately, its gotten a little bit of a bad rap due to a few “incidents” that have happened in the world. However, I would like to argue that Islam is a relatively peaceful religion that stresses human rights and justice in its teachings and origins.

First off, you need to understand the original context for the religion of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad grew up on the Arabian peninsula at a time of the Bedouin tribes. Each tribe had its own god or spirit and believed that its spirituality was superior to all others. The only way to keep peace between the tribes was to build a temple to all of the pagan gods in Mecca. This temple, or Ka’aba housed statues that represented all of the pagan gods. Here, the tribes would meet once a year to trade in peace. However, outside of Mecca, the tribes were fiercely independent, competitive and war like.

Women and the poor were given harsh treatment in this society. The poor were all together ignored and allowed to simply beg from one city to the next. Most tribes treated the poor, who had no land or animals, as objects to be ignored. Women fared even worse. Women were seen as complete property of families. Girls were traded from one family to the next as dowries for marriages. Unwanted daughters were often eliminated by burying them in the desert after birth.

Then, along came Muhammad and his received revelation of the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed to have received a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. This revelation stated that there was only one God, Allah, who would unite all of the tribes. This undermined the Bedouin belief in polytheism. The Qur’an called for justice in the treatment of the poor, women and innocent life.

Muhammad returned from his retreat in the mountains and called for both unity amongst the tribes and a more moral treatment of the lowest members of the Arabian societies. The leaders of the Bedouin tribes saw Muhammad as a threat because he wanted to end the multiple gods that gave them their power. Also, he called for an end of the obsession with materialism thus ending their power and wealth. The leaders forced Muhammad into exile and he fled to Yathrib that was later named Medina.

Muhammad only became war like when the leaders of these tribes began to attack Medina. They saw that Muhammad had gathered too many followers. After several battles, Muhammad gained enough followers to return to Mecca where he easily captured the city. According to the customs of the day, he should have allowed his military to destroy the city, take the riches, rape women, and sell the survivors into slavery. Rather, he commanded them to respect the property of others, treat the women with respect, and destroy nothing. The only violence to property was Muhammad’s destruction of the statues of the gods inside of the Ka’ba. He kept the Ka’aba itself but made it into a shrine to the god of Islam, Allah.

There is an obvious question that should arise then. Why does Islam participate in all of the violence that we see today if its origins were relatively peaceful? Could it be due to the effects of the Crusades? Do we remember that Christian soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and murdered Jewish and Islamic people inside? Could it be due to the West’s interference in the Middle East? Remember, the US propped up Saddam Hussein in power during the 1980s. We still provide the weapons and aid that keeps the government of Saudi Arabia in power. And, they are just as brutal as Saddam or the Taliban to their women. Is it possible that our cultural values cause the misperceptions in the Middle East? We do seem to promote a culture that simply believes in power, acquisition of wealth, and the use of sex for any pleasurable experience.

How else do you explain the problems of violence and terrorism in the Middle East?