Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Bernard Lewis on Islamic tradition on the relation between religion and state

The eminent scholar of the history of the Middle East and Islam Bernard Lewis recounts what was the Muslims' sentiment like in the seventeenth century in that area:

"The Muslim jurists discuss at some length whether it is permissible for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim country. They consider the case of the non-Muslim in his own country, or in their terms, the infidel in the land of the infidels, who sees the light and is converted to the truth faith [Islam]. May he stay where he is or may he not? The general consensus of the classical jurists is no. It is not possible for a Muslim to live a good Muslim life in an infidel land. [...] If a Muslim land is conquered by the Christians, may they stay under Christian rule? The answer of many jurists was again no, they may not stay. The Moroccan al-Wansharisi, considering the case of Spain, posed what turned out to be a purely hypothetical question: if the Christian government is tolerant and allows them [Muslims] to practice their religion, may they then stay? His answer was that in that case it is all the more important for them to leave, because under a tolerant government, the danger of apostasy is greater."
(Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response [UK: Phoenix, 2002], 40)

That's the tradition of our Muslim neighbors. To their conscience, they can only live in a Islamic state. We see this in Malaysia, especially certain quarters of the political arena, ruling and opposition parties alike.

To the Christian, we have the theological polity of saeculum where there is a distinction made between the authority of the Church and the State based on Matthew 22.21. In such polity, other religions and even Christian apostasy and heresy are therefore can and should be tolerated. This should be the case even for Christendom. An insight that was not appreciated in the ante/post-Nicene and Medieval period and resulted the Church being stained with a grotesque guilt forever. And rightly so... So that the next Christendom, if ever occur, may learn.

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