Islam and Democracy: Still Oil and Water

In a column last year, I discussed ex-Muslim “apostates” like Nonie Darwish who claim that democracy in the Western sense is impossible in Muslim-dominated countries, because Islamic “sharia” laws must always take precedence over other laws. Coups d’etat and dictatorships can bring temporary respite, as happened especially in Turkey, but there is always a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction among observant Muslims with relatively “secular” rulers like Kemal Ataturk, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, and Moammar Gaddafi in Libya.

There is a distant analogy for this Islamic “primacy of sharia” in Christianity, beginning with the Peter’s response to the authorities who demanded that he stop preaching about Christ: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) This pattern is found throughout Christian history – Christians refusing to worship pagan gods; Christians executed for refusing to say the formula, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”; Christian pacifists refusing to go to war; and, at present, various Christian entities resisting the Obama administration’s HHS mandates on contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients.

Similarly, “following sharia,” for observant Muslims, connotes “obeying God rather than men.” But the meaning is very different. It ignores norms that have developed in Western Christian civilization regarding slavery, the rights of women and children, and the freedom of religion. Sharia, when Muslims are in power, requires the subordination of Jews and Christians and other unbelievers; the right of sexual slavery and child brides for men; minimal legal status for all unbelievers and women (even Muslim women); the illegality of Christian churches and overt Christian symbols such as crosses; and outlawing and possible execution for apostasy from Islam, or even for criticism of Islam or Mohammed.

The sharia laws even command the actions Jesus foretold: “They will put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour is coming, that whosoever kills you, will think that he does a service to God.” (Jn 16:2) Such killings in the name of Allah are justified against Christians who refuse conversion or criticize Islam, and are often accompanied by cries of “Allahu Akbar.” Sheikh Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini, a Salafi preacher in Egypt, has had no qualms about recommending, “if anyone prevents our dawa [invitation to conversion] or stands in our way, then we must kill or take them as hostage and confiscate their wealth, women and children.”

In Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians, Raymond Ibrahim documents the massive persecution of Christians, now exacerbated as a result of the “Arab Spring,” which the media have portrayed naively as the harbinger of the imminent advent of democracy in the Middle East.

Ibrahim has been engaged for years in translating from Arabic-language media sources, and transmitting them to the media in the United States and elsewhere. Often his stories do not appear in the mainstream media, unless they are too spectacular to ignore – as, for example, the October 2010 Baghdad church massacre, which saw some fifty-eight Christians killed. However, in 2012 he was successful, using Arabic reports, in exposing the fact that al-Qaeda-connected Islamists were threatening to attack U.S. embassies unless America released the “Blind Sheikh” and other prisoners, three days before the attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi.

A 2012 Reuters news report estimates that 100 million Christians are being persecuted around the world. Ibrahim documents from mostly Arabic language sources the incidents of persecution of Christians in over thirty  countries: 

Wherever and whenever Muslims are in power or getting more power, churches are outlawed, burned, and bombed, while Bibles and crucifixes are confiscated and destroyed. Freedom of speech – to speak positively of Christianity or critically of Islam – is denied, often on pain of death.

According to Ibrahim, the situation in Egypt has been particularly acute. Mohammed Morsi during the presidential elections, offered a clear preview of his agenda as president: “The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal.” Abductions and massacres of Christian Copts at Mospero, Luxor, and elsewhere, sometimes caught on video and depicted on YouTube, have been followed up in recent weeks by the torching of at least forty-four churches and ransacking of twenty Christian institutions throughout Egypt.

The Syrian rebellion has been no kinder.  In the city of Homs, which previously had a Christian population of 80,000, the sole remaining Christian was murdered in October 2012. Ibrahim cites a December 2012 interview with Muslim rebel fighters, which shocked journalist Tim Marshall, the interviewer:

Marshall asked the four jihadis about the future of Syria’s Christian minorities, and Ahmed, Basah, and Hamid Hassan all agreed – Christians could only live there if they either converted, or paid the “Jizyah” – special tax levied on non-Muslims in previous centuries in the Middle East. If not, said Bahar, they could be killed. When asked why, the answer was, to them, quite simple – because the Prophet Muhammad said so. I was then invited to become a Muslim.

Such episodes of reality are almost completely ignored in the West.  When the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Western media did not see this as worth reporting. The White House’s response to the massacre in Maspero was a call for “restraint on all sides.”

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom recommended to Secretary Clinton that the State Department list Egypt as “a country of particular concern” because of murders of Christians and forced conversions of kidnapped Christian girls, but she refused. And the newest choice to sit on the U.N.’s Human Rights Council is President Omar al-Bashir, famous for killing millions as he tried to enforce sharia law in Sudan.

The West may not want to see, but this whole story goes on and is far from the end.

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.

  • Manfred

    In 1948, Sec’y of State George C. Marshall asked Pres. Truman why he was rushing to give formal recognition to an embryonic “state” newly created in the Middle East when it would alienate America’s ALLIES on whom the U.S. depended for its oil. Manning just received a sentence of 35 years for revealing on Wikileaks an attack by a US Apache helicopter firing a 30mm cannon at Muslim civilians who were “suspected” of being terrorists(they were not). You don’t mention years of drone strikes, Howard, which killed, maimed many innocent Muslims, all in the name of bringing “democracy(?)” to Muslim areas. You don’t mention the invasion of and war in Iraq which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths,the causes of going to war were known at the time to be fraudulent. All this suffering by Christians can be laid at the door of 70 years of US foreign policy. We are paying a price here at home. Sodomite marriage has become rife and normative. You don’t find this in Muslim states. (Prof. Andrew Bacevich has a great piece in the L.A. Times which is well worth a read.

  • Grump

    The Athenians came closest to “direct democracy” although even that was a farce, excluding women, foreigners and slaves from having a say in politics.

    The representative kind, as supposedly practiced in America, is equally farcical in that anytime the people vote en masse (Proposition 8, i.e.), their collective will is overturned by a judge or otherwise frustrated by edicts from on high.

    It’s really time to stop using the word “democracy”, whether in the “Western sense” or any other since it has no true meaning nor can it be understood or implemented in any meaningful way.

    Most nations, including the U.S., are so poorly governed that a form of anarchism is beginning to look like it ought to be seriously tried.

    Is it not true that our current rulers decide which laws ought to be obeyed and which ought to be flouted? If the titular head of our government fails to “faithfully execute” the laws, as he swore to do so when taking the oath of office, are we, too, not free to act similarly?

    Of course, these questions have been asked and answered for centuries and remain insoluble.

    Kant came up with four kinds of government:

    A. Law and freedom without force (anarchy).
    B. Law and force without freedom (despotism).
    C. Force without freedom and law (barbarism).
    D. Force with freedom and law (republic).

    “A” appears to be the best of the lot inasmuch as “none of the above” is not an option.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Manfred: The present suffering of Christians throughout the Middle East is due to American foreign policy? Sharia law is preferable to our imperfect democracy because it provides for execution of homosexuals? I’m wondering, if you had your “druthers,” what country you would find most conformable to your ideals in this century?

  • aloleng

    Western media,American media in particular are very busy spreading the virtues of abortion,same sex marriage and homosexualities they dont see whats happening on the other side of the world.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Has anyone heard Samantha Powers, Hilary Clinton, John Kerry or Barak Obama express any concern for the persecution of Christians during the “Arab Winter”?

  • Manfred

    Howard: Don’t put words in my mouth. People were killed and maimed at the last Boston Marathon as revenge for the killings of Muslims by American policy. The two perpetrators admitted it. If the US had been the objective broker in the Mid East it claimed to be, the Mid East would be stable and there would be concord among all faiths as it had been for decades. Instead, the U.S. has been in endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight. We replace Mubarak with Morsi (wasn’t he living in San Diego?) in Egypt until we learn he is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, and now Mubarak is suddenly released from jail? CIA members who were in Benghazi have been moved to various sites all over the US and given aliases by this administration? Can you explain/defend this?
    It is not Sharia Law which is directing the HHS in its battle against Catholics and other God-fearing Americans on issues of contraception, abortion and euthanasia “panels”. It is Socialist governments including the West and now the US which are making the push against 2,000 years of Judaeo-Catholicism. John Adams admitted that a democratic republic would only work among the people who were living in America in his day. He did not think it would be applicable anywhere else. If the way Muslims live and treat their members upsets us, then we should mind our own business and leave. There are nine cities in N.J., as example, I do everything in my power to avoid.

  • Jack,CT

    Not sure what to feel but
    Manfred you are simply
    a fool.think before
    you start your rants.
    I read your dimented
    remarks and assume
    you are Simply Ill.
    You counteract all the
    authors but with this topic
    you cross the line.
    Homophobia is no reason
    for Murder.
    I will pray for you
    and I hope you think
    about it at least put
    American values first.

  • Rich in MN

    I would find it funny, if it were not so terrible, that Christians in our country are being marginalized (and possibly on the verge of serious persecution) because we are “hate-filled, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-choice, homophobic superstitious bigots,” while Christians are suffering terrible persecution and martyrdom in other parts of the world for being “heretics and blasphemers.” But it seems to me that Christianity is like a dividing wall in a terrarium that isolates two extremely incompatible species; Christianity is like cartilage that keeps two bones from rubbing painfully together. If NARAL and GLAAD think Christians are the problem, if fundamentalist Muslims think Christians are the problem, just wait until that dividing wall is pushed out of the way, until that cartilage has been worn down. We’ve felt just some small twinges of what bone-on-bone pain feels like. I almost lost my sister as bone was rubbing against bone 12 years ago. She worked on the 67th floor of the South Tower (WTC 2) and she was at her desk when the first plane hit.

  • Ernest Miller

    It is terribly ironic that these Catholic brothers cannot agree…even on this site, let alone expect Muslims and Secularists to cut Catholics some slack.

    A careful read of Manfred does not justify the acidic attacks of Jack and Howard. Indeed, posters such as Rich, Chris, Aloleng, and Grump bring insight to the discussion. From their insightful thoughts, one can better construct a meaningful course of action.

    If I had a vote, I’d say stop the food fight.

  • Howard Kainz

    @Ernest Miller: “Acidic attacks”? Because I raised some questions about Manfred’s meanings? Dialogue among those who disagree is not necessarily a “food fight.”

  • Jack,CT

    The “Comments” section of this site
    Erny is not just to have tea and stroke
    each others ego.I preserve most of my
    comments for exceptional works and those
    that are offensive to the point described.
    I like to think we are all big boys and

  • John McCarthy

    Demonizing Islam is not my game.

  • Brett

    John McCarthy: demonizing Islam is not my game either. However, the application of Islam as it pertains to Christian, Jews, women and others, is certainly something to
    hold in contempt. This is not a new 20th or 21st century
    phenomenon, but has been going on for 1300 years.

  • Howard Kainz

    @John McCarthy: Not my game, either. If you read my former column, linked above, you may have noticed that I end with some possibilities of democracy in Islam. I am open to hearing of other opinions on this, pro and con. It takes some effort to get beyond political correctness in a discussion like this.

  • Jeffrey

    [Thanks, Howard. Check this out – a thing I saw on the net.]


    (Each human is part of this “River.” Are you an “oxbow lake”?)

    Islam, part of the Living River of History, affected even the 2012 US election!
    The “headwaters” of this River was Adam, according to Judaism, Christianity, Islam etc.
    In the OT (Deut. 28), “tributaries” wanting to join the River are blessed while “distributaries” wanting to flow away from it are cursed. Those wishing to totally separate from the fresh Living River become polluted, dying “oxbow lakes.”
    In the OT we see Israelites repeatedly flowing away from God, then repenting and returning to Him; we also see heathen “oxbow lakes” creating their own little “gods” and being allowed by God to plunder and kill the erring Israelites.
    Then, at the right time, the Living River took on new life with the arrival of the Promised One who offers “living water.”
    In the 7th century Islam, drawing from both OT and NT, chose to be a distributary away from this River. Many scholars have viewed it as the final Antichrist: note “scourge” (Isa. 28), “Assyrian” (Mic. 5), “Euphrates” (Rev. 9) etc. (Google “Prof. F. N. Lee’s ISLAM IN THE BIBLE [PDF].” Dr. Lee, BTW, has nine (!) earned doctorates in various fields.)
    God will allow this “scourge” to temporarily persecute and kill apostate Jews (JINOs) and Christians (CINOs). Jews, especially in “entertainment,” seem more expert in apostasy than Christians since Jews have been at it 2000 years longer than Christians have (Google “”) – but Christians apparently want to catch up to the Jews!
    It’s apparent that others will join Islam in its end-time inquisition; its great oil wealth can captivate many leaders and already we’re seeing apostate American leaders being bribed into turning against true American patriots.
    Those who ignore (or try to dilute or destroy) the God-ordained Living River of History will be swept down it to an ocean made by their own never-ending tears of agony and despair.
    The good news is that American JINOs & CINOs can overcome the “scourge” discussed above. The secret is found by checking out “II Chronicles 7:14” & “John 3:16” on the web.
    There’s still time – and freedom – to Google or MSN “Obama Promotes Public Sex,” “Obama a Black-Slavery Avenger?,” “Dangerous Radicals of the Religious Right,” “Pretrib Rapture Politics,” “Mikey Weinstein, Jesus-Basher,” “Christ’s return is NOT imminent,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” and (for dessert) “Pretrib Rapture Stealth.”
    In light of Matthew 7:2, if we tolerate Christian leaders who lie to us and steal from us, we shouldn’t be surprised if God allows us to have political leaders who lie to us and steal from us!

    A Kansas Patriot (who won FIRST PLACE over 2200 entrants in a nationwide Americanism essay contest)

  • Neil

    CALLING ALL CHRISTIAN WOMEN – Tired of the war on women? Ready to flex your beautiful muscles? You can show your power after you Google “The Male-Dominated Pretrib Rapture Cabal” (on Joe Ortiz’s blog dated Mar. 6)!