By Ayushman Jamwal
No matter what the proponents of Islam and Christianity believe, it is a challenge to call a faith peaceful when the good and evil receive sanction from the same scripture. Punishment for apostasy and homosexuality, curtailing the rights of women, and slavery — while the peaceful proponents of both faiths can identify religious tenets against them, there are others belonging to the same faith who can find religious authorization for them.
The stark contrast emerges when we consider how the medieval practices sanctioned by faiths are implemented by political authorities.
Islam is the only religion that operates as a genuine theocracy in some countries. These nations, primarily in the Middle East, have dismal human rights records regarding minorities and the rights of women. There are 13 Muslim nations where apostasy is punishable by death.
Even in democratic Islamic nations like Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death. In nations like Saudi Arabia, there are serious constraints on the freedom of expression. Women can’t drive, and face restrictions over employment and ownership rights. The tribal politics perpetuated by the Islamic faith finds its most telling manifestation in ISIS, which aims to establish a Caliphate –- a medieval Islamic state — to practice the same brand of extremist religion most of the world is trying hard to sideline.
Those who argue that Islam is a peaceful faith, one that ensures social justice, tend to espouse that virtue when protected under liberal democracies. What often gets missed is that Muslims in liberal democracies are able to practice the positive elements of their faith under the protection of secular laws.
These laws protect the same Muslims from the negative elements of their faith, something they cannot deny as multiple cases of discrimination and violence in Muslim nations are authorized by Islamic law.
Consider the rights of women. If a woman is denied the right to seek out employment, if she is denied the right to choose whom to marry, what to wear, or when and how to move around in public, she can go to the police and achieve justice. But in a Muslim nation, where Sharia is the law of the land, authorities will, of course, uphold the law and deny justice to the same woman.
Similarly, if someone speaks up against a tenet of an ideology or faith in liberal democracies and receives threats, they, too, can seek protection of the law. In Muslim nations, the same authorities will be required by law to punish someone who criticizes the Islamic faith.
Regardless of their faith, citizens of a secular and democratic nation are ensured specific legal and human rights.
The conundrum arises when peaceful Muslims claim that social justice ensured in secular democracies is also ensured by Islamic scripture. But those who commit human rights atrocities also justify their actions with scripture.
When the world witnesses how the word of God is implemented in Muslim states, it becomes difficult to understand the same faith as peaceful and progressive. Moreover, there is usually a ‘no comments’ retort when these peaceful Muslims in liberal democracies are asked if they would ever live in the nations dominated by Islamic law.
Christianity was once similarly considered a dogmatic political power in the Western world.
The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the persecution of scientists are dark chapters in human history, where faith was used to divide and suppress and political power was exercised by the pope and cardinals. But Christianity witnessed a reformation from within, where communities challenged the dogma, and over time, established a spiritual, and to a great extent, genuine form of faith, creating a more direct link between Man and God.
The reformation created the Protestant faith and a series of other Christian sects, which understood faith as a celebration of life and God, not submission to a higher authority.
The erosion of religious authority in the West laid the foundation for the establishment of secular laws. As God stepped back during the establishment of nation-states, enshrining civil rights in laws became the calling card of humanists and revolutionaries around the world.
This internal reformation in Christian societies had the effect of a spiritual overhaul in Christianity.
Same-sex rights, which is the new civil rights struggle of the 21st century, has been championed by traditional Catholic communities, namely Ireland voting unanimously in favor of same sex marriage. Even Pope Francis has softened his stance on same sex relationships, focusing on celebrating the universal human emotion of love. We seldom, if ever, see such a push toward universal human rights in Islamic nations or from Muslim leaders.
Religious-political authorities have moved ahead with the times erasing restrictions on civil liberties, while in the Middle East these restrictions are alive and kicking as they are sanctioned by Islamic scripture. We must realize that elements like the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups that draw their ideology from Scripture cannot operate with impunity in the West, yet the worst and most horrific elements of the world they imagine does exist in some regards in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
Islam needs its own Reformation to combat the discrimination and brutality that has darkly stained the image of the faith in the 21st century. That is the only way that Islamic societies will be able to put a leash on theocracies and scrap the medieval ideas that prevent them from joining the civilized world.
Ayushman Jamwal is a senior editor for CNN/IBN (Indian Broadcasting Network), headquartered in a suburbs near of New Delhi. He is a well known blogger and commentator on Indian politics, international relations and social issues.