Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.Previous article in this series: December 15, 2004, p. 140.

“And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do: the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”

I Chronicles 12:32

With few exceptions those who are part of the Western democracies would agree that religion and politics should not mix. Much is made of the concept of “separation of church and state.” However, for much of the Islamic world, to propose the separation of the Islamic religion and the state is to risk being labeled an apostate. They favor what is sometimes called Political Islam.

During the past half century Political Islam has become a powerful movement in some countries of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. To a large extent this came about as Islamic leaders filled the power vacuum left behind following the period of post World War II decolonization by the Western powers. The most significant consequence of this movement is the imposition of strict Islamic law (called Shari’a) in many of these states.

For modern-day Issachar to develop in her understanding of what is currently taking place in these countries (events, by the way, that are more and more affecting the whole world), it will be necessary to take a closer look at the Shari’a, its consequences, and the struggles currently taking place in Islamic countries with respect to it.

The Shari’a

Muslims view Shari’a as the path that they must follow. “Since Islam is intended to relate to every part of human behavior, whether individually or corporately, it required the formulation of a law system that could deal with theft, murder, inheritance, marriage, and divorce. All of this gradually emerged through the Law Schools of the eighth and ninth centuries. Although the detailed judgments of the four Law Schools differed in certain respects, there was agreement on the foundation of Shari’a law: Qur’an and Hadith (tradition), Consensus (ijma), and Analogy (qiyas).”1

This in part explains why many Muslims so despise Western democracies. They connect the moral decadence of the West to their form of government. After all, they conclude, moral corruption is exactly what one would expect from a society that is subjected “to manmade laws that (are) the product of deliberation by the electorate or the legislature. The laws of Allah (are) not a matter for majority vote.”2

Sayyid Qutb, sometimes called “the father of modern (Islamic) fundamentalism,” put it this way:

…We must free ourselves from the clutches of jahili society [society ordered according to human laws rather than divine ones, ck]. Our aim is first to change ourselves so that we may later change the society.

A Muslim has no country except that part of the earth where the Shari’a of God is established and human relationships are based on the foundation of relationship with God; a Muslim has no nationality except his belief, which makes him a member of the Muslim community in Dar-ul-Islam [the world of Islam, ck]; a Muslim has no relatives except those who share the belief in God, and thus a bond is established between him and other Believers through their relationship with God.3

So strongly do the likes of Sayyid Qutb feel about the implementation of the Shari’a, they go so far as to declare that Muslim governments that refuse to enforce it are illegitimate. For them, Shari’a is simply a matter of being faithful to Allah’s rule.

Life under the Shari’a

In countries such as Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as it was under the Taliban, we have a window through which we can see the pernicious effects of complete government-enforced Shari’a, which Qutb sees as mandatory for Muslims. Following are a few examples:

-If one is born a Muslim, he must remain one until he dies. “Although the Qu’ran states that ‘there is no compulsion in religion,’ Islamic states often interpret that to mean that ‘there is no competition in religion’ within their borders.”4 The truth is, under Shari’a apostasy is not permitted and in many states is punishable by death. Those brave souls who have left Islam have often done so at great personal cost, even the threat of death. 

-“Under Islamic law … the right hand of a thief is cut off at the wrist. Even if the thief makes restitution and pledges never to steal again, his hand is to be cut off.”5 The punishment is justified since in Muslim communities everyone supposedly is provided for adequately through the giving of alms. The thief therefore must be motivated by greed rather than need. 

-“Shari’a commands beating as the punishment for immorality: one hundred stripes for man and woman (Sura 24:2).”6 Sounds fair enough, however, laws concerning marriage are in many ways based on the master-servant relationship. “Men can beat their wives, although apologists say only a light tap is socially correct. Men get four wives and keep the kids if they divorce one….”7 

-Shari’a also makes it clear that there is no such thing as equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. Only Muslims are allowed full citizenship in an Islamic state. Further, discrimination against non-Muslims abounds. For example in court their testimony carries less weight, and they often receive harsher punishments than Muslims. Consequently blasphemy laws are a constant threat to Christians in Muslim countries since trumped up false charges of blasphemy often stand up in court because of these legal inequities.

In sum, the Shari’a is the primary tool used by Political Islam to control the lives of ordinary Muslims. It prescribes every aspect of both public and private behavior. “(F)rom the amputation of limbs for theft to the stoning of adulterers and killing of apostates … no detail of daily life, public or private, escapes its attention…. Virtually all activity is preordained; one has but to accept Allah’s laws as interpreted by the mullahs and ayatollahs [clerics, ck].”8


Party Strife


However, not all Muslims favor this approach. In fact only part of the Shari’a is enforced in most Muslim countries today. A significant majority of Muslims favor having secular governments rather than theocratic ones in which the complete Shari’a is imposed. Some “distinguish four major groups in the Islamic world: Fundamentalists, who reject democratic values and contemporary Western culture; Traditionalists, who are suspicious of modernity, innovation and change; Modernists, who want the Islamic world to become part of global modernity; and Secularists, who want the Islamic world to accept a division of religion and state.”9

Members of these groups make up the two most influential parties within the Muslim world: Shiites and Sunnis. Very briefly, “…in the wider Muslim world Shiites are a decided minority (with the exception of Iran and Iraq). Known as the dissenters, they broke with more traditional Sunni Muslims in the years following the prophet Muhammad’s death over how to choose his successor. Sunnis favored choosing by consensus while Shiites demanded a successor from the family line. To this day Shiites favor debate and revolution over

consensus politics.”10 Over-simplistically put: the Shiites in general are more anti-West and radical, while the Sunnis tend to be more moderate.

All of which is significant when one considers what is currently happening in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s secular government was able to keep the majority Shiites at bay. However, with Saddam out of the picture and United States’ promoted elections on schedule, one wonders what is to keep Iraq’s Shiite majority party from gaining a majority in the newly elected government and imposing the Shari’a as the Ayatollahs in Iran did after the fall of the Shah? How ironic it would be if U.S. attempts to initiate democracy in the Islamic world instead resulted in contributing to the establishment of Islamic fundamentalism there! An article from the Detroit Free Press presents the situation as follows:

Top Shiite Muslim leaders, who are expected to wield the most power after next month’s parliamentary elections, are locked in a fierce dispute over whether the new Iraq should be a constitution-based democracy or an Iranian-style nation in which clerics reign supreme….

A breakdown was averted when religious parties backed by Iran agreed to expand the number of secularists and religious moderates on the slate….

The debate still simmers and could boil over after the Jan. 30 elections, which will choose a national assembly to draft a new constitution.

Western diplomats are nervous that the Bush administration’s goal of making Iraq a model of Middle Eastern democracy will backfire if Shiite clerics take top posts in the newly elected government. Secular and moderate Shiite politicians fear they will be sidelined if a leadership that favors theocracy is swept into office….

At the core of the debate is a concept known in Arabic as wilayat al-faqih. Literally, it means “custodianship of the jurist.” Practically, it means absolute rule by clerics.

Observers point out that Iran, which strictly follows wilayat al-faqih, would like to export the model to Iraq in hopes of preventing a secular Shiite-run democracy from emboldening reformers in the Islamic republic next door.11

Interestingly, history just may be repeating itself! By undermining the power of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, the United States contributed to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the establishment of Political Islam there. It could be happening again, this time in Iraq.

More interesting still, for Issachar at least, is how this unholy alliance of religion and politics (church and state) is present not only in Islamic countries, but also in the West.

… to be concluded.

1.Peter G. Riddell and Peter Cotterell, Islam in Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003) pp. 51, 52.

2.Robert Spencer, Onward Muslim Soldiers (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003) p. 224.

3.Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, The Mother Mosque Foundation, undated, p. 7.

4.Marvin Olasky, “A Cold War for the 21st century,” World November/December, 2001: p. 19.

5.Olasky, p. 20.

6.Riddell, p. 54.

7.Olasky, p. 20.

8.Roy Brown, “Opposing Political Islam,” Free Inquiry Dec. 2003/Jan. 2004: p. 49.

9.Robert Spencer, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” Human Events 26 April, 2004: p. 16.

10.Mindy Belz, “Iran’s Iraq War,” World 1 May, 2004: p. 29.

11.Hannah Allam, “Debate simmers over Iraq direction,” Detroit Free Press Wednesday, 29 Dec.: A6 & 10.