Reflection 2 Islamic governance any better?

>> Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Assalam Alaikum

So this was the 2nd paper I wrote last semester. It is comparing the Islamic form of governance with a Buddhist kingdom. Like last time I have left teacher comments present. Much thanks to my fiance Sara for helping me write 4 drafts of this paper. And who will give me even more help and support when I do my master's thesis InshAllah.


Comparing Islamic leaders from different time periods and places, to King Ashoka and other Buddhist figures, we find that theologically the two societies are very different. Buddhism is not theistic at all; in fact, some teachings of Buddhism are against the belief of a God while Islam’s central principle is Tawheed, the oneness of God and His isolation as the only thing to be worshipped and pleased. However even with this fundamental difference, both religions share a similarity in their treatment and tolerance of other faiths and their own. After reading about Buddhism, in particular chapter 14 of Neusner the case of King Ashoka, has made me wonder if is it necessary to have an Islamic form of government or even a theistic centered government to form a coexistent and peaceful society[ml1861] .

Both Buddhist and Muslim families portray themselves of being accepting of diversity. Ashoka’s father and grandfather were from different religious backgrounds. His grandfather became a Jain late in life, and his father was of the Ajivika sect. Many Khaliphs had mothers who were usually from the lands that their fathers laid conquest, specifically the Ottoman Empire where most of the mothers were Armenians but the Ummayyads in Spain also intermarried. Some of the mothers remained with their original faith and others converted to Islam. The two societies are different in that Muslim men were allowed to marry women of other faiths but women were not allowed to marry outside of the faith. However both societies had families, even ruling families, who accepted some form (not all forms) of religious diversity in their homes.

Both societies have an idea that there is no compulsion in religion and everyone has the right to follow any faith. Ashoka believed in honoring other religions. Kristin Scheible writes, “For Ashoka, other faiths have inherent self-worth as well as occupy a crucial role as a mirror to reflect and amplify one’s own faith. “The faiths of others all deserve to be honored for one reason or another. By honoring them, one exalts one’s own faith and at the same time performs a service to the faith of others.”” Furthermore in Buddhism other religions were not the result of some evil force [ml1862] but rather other paths to the same destination.[1] Muslims on the other hand, at least the majority of the Khaliphs, believed in respecting other faiths because the Quran says, Do not curse the idols they set up beside Allah, lest they blaspheme and curse Allah out of ignorance.” Also, unlike Ashoka, Muslims believed that other faiths were due to evil forces contaminating the pure word of God[ml1863] . Even with these different views and mindsets towards the other, Islamic societies and Ashoka developed similar institutionalized forms of tolerance. Ashoka’s Rock Edict XII admonished attempts to overtly proselytize and the Kaliphs forbade forced conversion following the prophetic command: there is no compulsion in religion by writing such treaties like the Pact of Umar. These institutionalized forms of tolerance are still put on a pedestal by the present followers of both religions; India has the symbol of the wheel, which signifies many things one of which celebrating the reign of Ashoka, on its flag, and Muslims speak very nostalgically of certain past leaders.

The Ashokan edicts and the Khaliphate either elevated their religion or put limits on other religions. In Edict VII Ashoka announces that he will have officers spreading the Dharma and the Khaliphate allowed other faiths to proselytize to each other but not to Muslims. Both the theist and non-theist religion are very similar in furthering their religions.

Ashoka, like some Kaliphs, also limited followers of divergent views of his own religion. Ashoka had intolerant edicts directed towards the sangha. Disruptive monks and nuns under the Sarnath Pillar Edict are expelled from the anabasasi and forced to wear white robes instead of saffron robes. Kaliphs on the other hand would punish theologians and jurists who disagreed they disagreed with. The kaliph would either make takfeer (claiming that one has done something that makes him an apostate making it legal to kill him) on those he disagreed with, causing the theologians and jurists to change their views, or straight out torture people until they agreed. Ashoka and some Kaliphs were tolerant to others who disagreed with them but not so much to their own people if they disagreed.

Both of these societies, the Kaliphate and Ashoka’s kingdom, were based on very different faiths but ended up being similar. Both the societies are put on a pedestal by the followers of these faiths as evidence of the faith’s greatness. But both Muslims and Buddhists have also acted intolerant in different times in history, for example in some of the Taifa kingdoms, Muslims were intolerant towards Jewish people. Also during a period of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims acted very intolerant by force converting then drafting children into the military, creating the Janissaries. Some may argue the Janissaries went on to live a luxurious life but their parents did not agree with their children’s force conversion and draft. Buddhists also at some points of history acted intolerant and warlike in Lanka due to nationalism discussed in the following chapter in Neusner. The Muslim teaching that the only way to have coexistence and peace is through an Islamic form of government and the belief of one God is challenged by the fact that at times Muslim society acted just as intolerant as others they believed themselves better than, and that those who Muslims believed they were better than, in this case a people who do not even believe in a god, also formed a society similar to the best of Muslim society[ml1864] .

My reflection does not dissuade me from Islam but rather makes me turn more towards it and makes my belief stronger. In Islam we are constantly told to be sincere, and the fact a that non-Muslim can accomplish the same thing as a rightful Muslim ruler as long as he or she is sincere gives credence to that teaching. Furthermore Muslims may call me blasphemous for my claim that Islam is not a requirement. However I believe I uphold Islamic principles. We do not implement an Islamic form of government because it is the only way to achieve an ideal society; rather we do it because we wish to show submission to God[ml1865] . If we wish to implement Islamic law to form an ideal society then the intention is not to please Allah but rather to please ourselves. And Allah will give us what we want in this life, a good society, but not in the next, paradise.

9/10 points: You draw some nice comparisons between Buddhist & Islamic thinking. I’d like to hear more of your personal thoughts on the Ashoka chapter.

[1] Kristin Scheible writes, “Other religions were conceived as more or less effective means to the same end. They were not considered the consequence of evil forces…”

[ml1861]Are you suggesting that the ethics of coexistence and peace are primarily derived from a concept of – or relationship to – God?

[ml1862]Do other traditions (Christianity, Islam, etc) view other traditions as the result of evil?

[ml1863]This answers my question above …

[ml1864]Interesting point. So, what is it, in the end, that makes the cornerstone of a just society?

[ml1865]But, does making an Islamic form of government force this submission on non-Muslims?