Monday 11 February 2008

Academic theologians creating Islamic disquiet

The Purview and the voice

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict XVI are superb intellectuals and formidable theologians – it would be far from me to suggest with my little learning and experience the ability advice on any matter that decides to offer an additional erudite perspective on their pronouncements.

However, I can recall that when the Pope gave an academic lecture at Regensburg University in September 2006 entitled Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections; he touched on a topic that should probably entertain the purview of the learned but not the voice of the powerful.

Debate and reason

There, he alluded to the seventh conversation between a Byzantine Emperor and a Persian scholar on the subject of the truth of Christianity and Islam.

Emperor Manuel II Paleologus said “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

This was a conversation recorded in the 14th Century and I am sure the Persian scholar would have reasoned intelligently and probably answered with views and ideas that validate Islam and Muhammad positively whilst trying to broaden the view of the Emperor to an enlightened perspective of Islam.

Unfortunately, very few would have taken time to put this all in context of the 14th Century conversation or the academic lecture of the 21st Century.

Whilst that question or statement should have offered the opportunity for those most concerned to reflect and offer a “gospel” of Mohammedanism that makes that view insignificant, many rose to the gathering of the mob and gave credence to that contention.

Stirring troubled waters

The wisdom of the Pope in giving voice to a latent view of the violence of Islam is still a matter for debate and history; in the end, he was able to placate the offended and make peace with those who mattered.

Lessons should have been learnt from the fact that Christian leaders are better suited to commentary on their areas of specialisation than on their appreciation, understanding or even ignorance of other religions where they hold no offices.

For Sharia Law relevance

Whoever the advisors of the Archbishop of Canterbury are, they surely must be pensioned off because in an academic lecture - Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective - delivered to lawyers in London preceded by an interview (BBC audio) on Radio 4’s World at One the archbishop did touch on viewing aspects of Islamic law in a favourable light but it has created another set of unintended consequences.

It is quite revealing not a squeak has been heard from any of the major Anglican Archbishops in England in support of Dr. Rowan Williams, he might just weather this storm with the voice of support from the Presbyterian Prime Minister .

Considering the furore this has created, this great knight of the Anglican faith might just fall on his sword.

Allowances of the law for conscience

One cannot dispute the fact that certain aspects of conscience or conscientious inclinations by reason of religious belief are given the benefit of exception from legal duress in civil law.

However, the primacy of civil law must remain when a conflict arises that either removes the premise of equality before the law or religious law allows for illegal or unlawful actions.

Sharia law might be used to settle disputes for adherents of that faith but in cases where the female sex does not have equal access, evidence and representation before those courts; it becomes incompatible to existence in broad Western democratic societies as the interviewer stated when chatting to the Archbishop.

The popular Sharia view is scary

Obviously, the concern that has drawn the greatest opprobrium has been the vision of the more dramatic Sharia law judgements that include floggings, amputations and beheadings – these definitely have no place in the Western criminal justice systems, they should for all intents and purposes of a modern civilised world be consigned to history.

Meting out those punishments are considered deterrents that instil fear in the general populace acting as an opiate of contrived civility though they are as cruel and as barbaric as anything dragged out of the darkest ages.

Failed to convey understanding

Dr. Williams whilst understanding these complexities in his interview failed to demonstrate those differences clearly enough for people to appreciate the facts and temper their reactions to the possible visitation of the presumed evils of Sharia on our liberal Western comforts.

As one commentator stated on one of the Daily Telegraph columns; it is amazing that a man whose job it is to be clearly understood failed to convey understanding that he has become so misunderstood and left many seriously displeased.

Like smart person knows well to stick to their own knitting; the leaders of the church should stick to matters that concern the church and stop peering over the wall into mosques with academic lectures that get delivered to select audiences but create an unedifying rumpus amongst the masses.

If he survives, the grace of God with the munificence of Allah does abound towards him, he might find mercy but he would need to do a lot for the forgiveness of men. I, for one can see their points but the wisdom in giving voice to issues that can be so easily hijacked, misinterpreted and manipulated for unintended ulterior ends leaves one rather suspect of their good judgement.

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