Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Celebrate Heresy

Two articles about Ahmed An-Na'im

"The Future of Sharia Is the Secular State"
Law professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim supports secularism, in which a neutral state makes the laws for all citizens, while leaving enough room for them to lead their lives according to the rules of their own religion.

"We Muslims Have No Church!"
The Sudanese born Abdullah Ahmed An-Na'im teaches law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Active in the fields of civil, human and international rights, he sees the Islamic Sharia as an important point of reference for him. The Muslim law system, which dates back to the seventh century, must, in his opinion, always be open to being questioned.

I’m rather confused about this man. Granted, I have only two very short articles to base him on so some further inquiry may be warranted.

On the one hand he says, “Human rights and secularism are so important to me because they create a space within which I may protest” and “I believe that religion and the state should be separate, institutionally.” Right on so far, but then…

“There are many questions in which [secularism] cannot interfere. It can handle the basics about how we can live with and maintain respect for one another. But answers to questions on things like abortion or the right to take one's own life must be sought elsewhere [religion]” and “If I am in need of money so that my children can receive religious education, then the state must help me. These are civil rights.”

I’m not getting a really clear picture about what his world would look like. Yes, in a secular world secularism would not “interfere” with topics like abortion or suicide. Everyone would have to right to live and act according to their own beliefs provided they didn’t interfere with or harm others. But that should not include helping to fund institutions that do want to “interfere”. If he believes that “whatever your value system is, it is you, not the Imam who must decide what is relevant and what isn't” what religious education system is it that would be funded? When he states he has, “difficulties with the idea of someone else defining what my religion should mean to me. No one should be given the power of deciding what is right or wrong” what Islamic religious school teaches that?

There is one quote that I can somewhat agree with though:
Every orthodoxy began as heresy. All religions have their roots in heresy. Christianity began as a Jewish heresy; Islam was once a Christian-Jewish heresy. It is in breaking with tradition that we strike the vein of greatest creativity. This is true of all societies. So celebrate heresy!

I don't think he'd go so far as to celebrate my atheist heresy, but than again who knows. I certainly celebrate my heresy.


Anonymous said...

I've only read the articles to which you linked, so I don't know much about this guy's ideas. This one is just wrong, though:

I do not distinguish between secularism and religion because I believe that in the secular there is much that is religious and it is difficult to separate them.

Regardless of the distinction he does not care to make, "secular" is, by definition, distinct from "religion." That's what the word means. He doesn't get to create a new meaning for an established term.

And what in the world does "in the secular there is much that is religious" mean? Is he alluding to the fact that secularists can have traditions, rituals and so on, just as religious practitioners do? If so, he has stripped the word "religious" of any significance.

But, okay, I'll play: As of today, I declare that baseball is a religion and that Babe Ruth is its one true prophet. Every game shall begin with the singing of national hymns and the tossing of the ceremonial first pitch. Every game shall end with sweaty ballplayers patting each other on their rumps as they head to the dugouts, chanting, "Hallowed be the name and memory of Babe Ruth."

The Exterminator said...

It sounds as if An-Naim celebrates heresy as long as it isn't too heretical.

What you fail to make clear in your baseball religion is: Was Mickey Mantle the son of Babe Ruth or just Babe Ruth made flesh (although you can't get much fleshier than Babe Ruth, himself) or just another manifestion of Ruthiness. And then, where does Yogi Berra fit into the whole thing?

Anonymous said...

Mickey Mantle is a second manifestation of Ruthiness; they are two distinct beings, yet one in spirit. Yogi Berra is the Holy Spirit that binds Ruth and Mantle together, although one could make a good case for Casey Stengel in that role.

Maybe I should return to the Church of the Groundhog. That's a much simpler religion, although it seems to have an awful lot of prophets.

The Exterminator said...

Maybe I should return to the Church of the Groundhog. That's a much simpler religion ...

Yeah, but can they hit?