Legislating Morality: Comparing Islam and Christianity

[FYI, this is only the last couple pages of a ten page paper, in which I establish the fact that I am aware of the diversity of views within both the Muslim and Christian community, and therefore do not presume to speak for the whole of each religion]

[also FYI, I loved writing this paper, a lot. 18 hours, a lot]

Political philosopher Sayyed Qutb is one of the most famous Muslim intellectuals to emerge from his faith and is very well known for his views on the role of Islam in politics. In his book Islam and Universal Peace, he calls Islam "the religion of unity in this great universe." Coupled with this religion of unity he presents an equally "unified ideology to confront life and its problems, an ideology that will solidify our strength against our foreign and domestic enemies." Sayyed saw peace as the ultimate, unifying goal coming first to the individual conscience, then in the home, then in society, and finally resulting in world peace. One might call "peace" his faith's ultimate moral principle. The way to achieve peace, according to Sayyed, is by adhering to the legislation set forth by the Islamic state which proceeds directly from God who is the "Supreme Legislator." It is in the application of God's law that the Muslim community achieves justice, and Sayyed contends that "Islam is a complete system. One cannot enforce a part of Islamic law and neglect another for then it would not be Islam." It would seem, then, according to Sayyed Qutb, that Islam and the law cannot be separated. An example of this indivisibility can be seen in Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws which say that "whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life." Upon the adoption of secular or dual legal systems in Islamic countries, the very things, spirituality and the law, that Sayyed said should not be separated have been pulled apart.
This fusing of law and religion rings a bell in the mind of all who have opened the pages of the Bible's Old Testament. This inseparability takes its most memorable form in the daily workings of the Israelites, whose whole lives were directed by laws said to proceed directly from the mouth of God. The Israelites were God's "chosen people," and though they often forgot, they were obligated to perform certain rites and practices to honor the God who went before them. The Christian should remember that the Israelite tradition is his ancestry, with the concurrent realization that this is no longer the way God requires man to live. It is absolutely imperative in the development of a Christian's political philosophy that he discovers the nature and origin of this change from a religion united with the law to a religion seen as a separate entity from the law. The change can be seen to occur around the same time Jews began to interact with a man named Jesus. This man came to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, proclaiming that he had come to fulfill the law. In Matthew 5:17, he proclaims, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." How is it that a law can be fulfilled? He fulfilled "the law and the prophets", synonymous with the Scriptures, by bringing them the meaning and the motivation that they were waiting for. Jesus seemingly called his followers to an even higher law: the law of love. When asked by the Pharisees, "'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus replied, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." This law of love was even more difficult to practice than various acts because it implied a distinct attitude of love within one's heart coupled with the action. Whereas in the Jewish community law was a series of practices that centered mainly on the concept of justice and on doing what was right, Jesus came and revamped this sort of legalistic motivation by creating a space for the deference of justice in order that love, often seen in the form of grace, might triumph. This is seen in the culminating act of his life—his unjust death on the cross—that through his death and resurrection he might bring life to those who would come to believe in him and accept this gift of love.
And so Christians live, live in accordance with Jesus' revolutionary words, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Christians live in response to his death and resurrection which were the ultimate example of this transformation. This transformation from law to love does not abolish law, but it most certainly does not use the law to achieve its ultimate purpose—a change in human hearts. After all, can the law legislate the motivation of love in all of one's actions? Perhaps this is why when asked about tax laws, Jesus tells the people to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." The law desires specific actions, but God desires a change in the heart of man that is then manifested in his actions.
This Christian attitude toward Caesar, or governmental power in general, lies in sharp contrast to the Muslim attitude toward “Caesar.” In the Muslim faith, "Caesar" legislates morality using the Koran as the ultimate rule of law in the same way that in the Jewish tradition the Torah, gives man a rule of law. The origin of this huge gap between Christian political philosophy and Islamic political philosophy can ultimately be seen in the person of Jesus Christ. "In Christianity, the word of God (logos) becomes Christ; in Islam it becomes the Koran." Islam and Christianity both have a wide range of views on how involved the legal system should be in this process of incorporating ethics into daily living, but when the specific doctrines of the two religions are taken at face value, the law plays a distinctly less important role in the life of a Christian. How could it ever appropriately legislate the human heart, where true transformation must occur in response to the grace it has been given. The logical next question then is, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" To which Paul responds, "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?...For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." In essence, in order for Christians to fully "legislate morality," they would need to be God, or at the very least an omniscient being, capable of knowing every thought and motivation of man. Since this is quite impossible, God remains the judge, and man is subject to His law first. In the same way, Muslims are subject to God's law first, but God's law is seen in the form of sharia law as laid out in the Koran. The "legislation of morality" matters to a greater extent in the life of a Muslim, a person much more interested in peace and unity achieved through justice which is most often, realized through governmental enactment of this sharia law.

1 comment:

Christiana said...

Boy I'm proud of you.

This is fantastic, Annie! If it were for my class, you'd get an A++.

Miss your sweet face.