Video: Islamic Law, the Nation State, and the Case of Pakistan

Most Muslims today live in political systems that operate on a nation state model. By contrast, classical Islamic jurisprudence developed in the context of empire and a robust and relatively independent scholarly class. Is there something about the nation state that makes “Islamization” unworkable? In what contexts might "Islamization" be most successful? Is there a role for classical Islamic law in Pakistan, and, more generally, for Muslims living within the framework of modernity? This event, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and the Religious Freedom Institute, addressed these questions and more.

Monograph: Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law and Non-Muslims

Abstract:  Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code prohibits insulting the Prophet and carries a mandatory death penalty. This law was passed based on a claim of ijma‘ (consensus among Islamic scholars) that such an offense is subject to a hadd (divinely fixed) punishment. Nearly half of those charged under this statute crimes of hadd are Christians, who make up only about four percent of Pakistan’s population. Yet there is no consensus among Islamic scholars on the death penalty for non-Muslims who insult the Prophet. Some early Islamic scholars held there was no punishment at all in such cases, and most said it was a ta‘zir offense, i.e., subject to discretionary punishment or none at all. Under Islamic law, whether and how ta‘zir punishment is applied depends on the interests of the common good (maslaha). Pakistan’s application of Section 295-C to non-Muslims promotes harm: mob violence, disrespect for the law, oppression of minorities and the poor, and damage to Islam’s reputation. Moreover, such cases are adjudicated by judges who have no expertise in Islamic law or the interpretive tools of Islamic jurisprudence needed to mitigate the statute’s harm. Therefore, applying this section to non-Muslims contradicts Islamic law. Under Islamic law and from a policy perspective, the only relevant question is whether enforcing Section 295-C against non-Muslims promotes the common good. Because it clearly does not, the government of Pakistan should immediately stop doing so and pardon those accused or convicted under it. Muslim religious leaders should make it clear that Islam does not require the death of non-Muslims who insult the Prophet and that the true way to show love for him is not mob violence, but dignified behavior, patience, and wisdom.

Letter From Prison to a Brother

This is a letter I wrote from prison in 2007 to someone. I discuss the beauty of the English language, how to write well, modernity, and alienation from God. "Our age is the culmination of a shift from a spiritual to a material view of the world, and it is this material view that  defines our age, and is the source of its disease. Some very insightful men and women perceived this, at least with respect to the modern era, and I believe it’s impossible to understand our disease, & how to cure it, without reading them."

Religion and the American Constitutional Settlement

It is human nature for individuals to reach different conclusions about what is true, and to be convinced that one’s beliefs, being true, deserve to prevail over false beliefs. The diversity of our opinions and our zeal in advancing them, wrote James Madison, has “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” This dilemma is thus “sown in the nature of man,” and the resolution to it of late-18th century Americans was the disestablishment of religion: first, through the No Religious Test Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, and later, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment...

The Common Ground Between Evangelicals and Muslims

Last month, my wife and I joined a small group of Muslims and thousands of Christians at the annual March for Life in Washington to call for an end to what we believe is the unjust murder of unborn children in America. My wife’s hijab attracted interest, but we didn’t feel out of place among marchers, many of whom were white evangelicals. Despite our deep theological differences on other issues, we were at home in the company of fellow believers. Yet, the Muslim presence at the March is perennially small, even insignificant. In fact, Muslims also decline to join forces with conservative Christians on other traditional social causes such as opposing same-sex marriage...

American Public Opinion About Islam and Muslims in the Months After the 9/11 Attacks

I was commissioned to write this report in March 2002 by a Saudi Arabian think tank. It was originally published on a Saudi website in English and in Arabic, and I was told at the time the Arabic translation had been given to members of the Saudi royal family. The report, which I wrote using online news databases while living in Bosnia, is basically a snapshot of American public opinion about Islam and Muslims in the 6 months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  It was cited in a couple books but has been offline for at least a decade and I recently discovered it after a lot of digging. I'm posting it for the historical value. 

Thoughts on Religious Freedom

In this response to brother Daniel Haqiqatjou, I argue that religious freedom in America came primarily from the efforts of devout believers; and though skeptics like Jefferson found common cause with those believers, religious freedom is not an inherently anti-religious concept. Hence, Muslims in American can firmly and authentically support it.