Saturday, December 19, 2015

Taking Lives and Liberty in the Name of God

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Throughout history religion has motivated the taking of lives and liberty in the name of God.  Examples abound in the Hebrew Bible, the Qur’an and in Church directives that mandated the Crusades and Inquisitions.  Today radical Islamists cite the Qur’an as they murder unbelievers in the name of God.  Religion continues to motivate abominations of justice, and the reason is simple: For believers, ancient religious laws define standards of right and wrong and the justice of a vengeful God. 

            People have been killed and oppressed over the years based on the sacred dictates of holy books and religious doctrines.  Countering those holy mandates are the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that came with the Enlightenment, and today in libertarian democracies no person’s life or liberty can be taken without due process of law.  But the protection of human or civil rights and the due process of law are not available in Islamic regimes where Islamic law (shari’a) subordinates the secular rule of law to God’s law.

            Modern justice requires that religious laws be subordinated to libertarian human rights and the due process of a secular rule of law, but fundamentalist Muslims (Islamists) do not recognize the primacy of human rights and secular law over shari’a.  While there are fundamentalist Jews and Christians in libertarian democracies who, like Islamists, consider their holy scriptures to be the inerrant and infallible word of God, they accept the primacy of libertarian human rights and due process of secular law over the dictates of religious law. 

            Democracy by itself cannot provide justice.  There will be tyrannies of the majority in Islamic cultures where the majority makes shari’a the supreme law of the land, as is evident where apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the freedoms of religion and speech.  Only the secular rule of law based on a foundation of human rights beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech can provide true justice.  That requires that religious laws be considered voluntary standards of legitimacy for believers and are never imposed as coercive laws of the state.

            There can be no justice where there is no freedom of religion or speech.  Apostasy and blasphemy laws are an integral part of shari’a and reflect the seamless integration of religion and politics in Islam.  Such laws allow authoritarian Islamic governments to use their coercive powers to stifle political criticism, and that provides undeserved legitimacy to radical Islamist groups like ISIS.  They are devoutly religious fundamentalist believers (Islamists) who consider themselves true Muslims, and the failure to acknowledge that is an obstacle to reform.  

            The legitimacy of radical Islamism depends upon the supremacy of shari’a over libertarian human rights, and that oppressive form of Islam cannot be challenged until Muslims can openly discuss how to conform shari’a with the libertarian standards of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  The freedoms of religion and speech can undermine the legitimacy of radical Islam with the recognition that justice and citizenship in the modern world require the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to take precedence over oppressive religious laws that allow the taking of lives and liberty in the name of God.

            It is true that secular law and due process allow the taking of lives and liberty—whether in self-defense or the defense of others, as a matter of military necessity in wartime, or in capital punishment; and due process allows liberty to be denied those convicted of crime.  But those deprivations of life and liberty are governed by secular laws made through democratic processes and subject to fundamental human rights.  Unlike ancient religious mandates, they meet the requirements of due process and justice.

            It is wrong to consider all Muslims culpable for the crimes of radical Islamists, but it is also wrong to deny that those crimes were motivated by religion.  They were acts of devoutly religious people who claimed to be true Muslims.  Only Muslims can effectively challenge the legitimacy of radical Islamists and their standards of legitimacy, and they should begin with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves which was proposed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith in 2007.  And who is our neighbor?  Jesus answered that question with the story of the good Samaritan.  Once Jews, Christians and Muslims consider apostate unbelievers to be their neighbors, they can begin the process of religious reconciliation.

Notes and References to Resources:           

Previous blogs on related topics are: Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil?, February 15, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; A Fundamental Problem with Religion, May 3, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; A Containment Strategy to Defeat Islamist Terrorism, November 1, 2015; Tough Love and the Duty to Protect, November 8, 2015; Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness, posted November 22, 2015; and Faith, Hope and Love in a World of Fear, Suspicion and Hate, December 5, 2015.

An example of Mosaic Law that mandates killing non-Hebrews in the name of God is at Deuteronomy 20:16, 17 (the ban), and there are comparable mandates in the Qur’an, the most notable being the sword verse at Sura 9:5.  For references in the Qur’an on punishments for unbelievers and killing unbelievers in Jihad, see pages 470-475 and 498-502 in the Index to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, in the Resources for this website; for comparable mandates in the Hebrew Bible for taking life and liberty for the violation of Mosaic Law and in holy war, see pages 548-557 and 585-592.  It should be noted that Mosaic Law emphasizes God’s rewards and punishments in this world, while in the Qur’an the emphasis is on rewards and punishments in the next world.      

The relationship of Islamic religious obligations to citizenship is emphasized by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim in Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a (Harvard University Press, 2008).     

At an interfaith town meeting in Columbia, S.C., on December 7, 2015, a local Imam said that massacre in San Bernardino was not violence “coming from Muslims,” but “It is coming from a group that is dealing in politics.”  Mohamad Dahoudi, Imam for the Islamic Center in Augusta, GA, said that the Islamic State (ISIS) is a political, not a religious organization, and “They are radicals, terrorists, extremists.  There is nothing there about faith.”  It is understandable that Muslims wish to disassociate the violence of radical Islamism from their beliefs, but denying that ISIS terrorism is motivated by devout religious beliefs is an obstacle to understanding and countering such violence. See From:
On Islam as a seamless religious and political system that promotes theocracy, see

Paul Waldman has characterized the discussion over whether to use the words “radical Islam” or Islam in referring to Islamist terrorism as a “silly, distracting” debate.  See  But it is important to recognize that the Islamist terrorism taking lives and liberty in the name of God is motivated by an extremist form of Islam.  Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that “…the enemy is radical Islam, an ideology that has spread over the past four decades…and now infects alienated young men and women across the Muslim world.  The fight against it must at its core be against the ideology itself.  And that can be done only by Muslims—they alone can purge their faith of this extremism.”  See

In the battle against ISIS and Islamist terrorism, experts have agreed that it will take religious reform within Islam to defeat Islamist terrorism.  Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist, has criticized those who say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam as disingenuous.  It will require establishing legitimate governments in Islamist cultures which provide “fair justice” (based on libertarian human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech).  See  

Saudi Arabia recently launched an “Islamic military alliance” to combat radical Islamist terrorism that would “confront the ideology of extremism that promotes killing of the innocent, which is contrary to every religion, particularly the Islamic faith.”  See  But that initiative has been met with skepticism.  See

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