Tag Archives: Comparative Law and Religion

Salim, “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam”

This April, Springer Press will release “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam: The Case of West Sumatra, Indonesia” by Delmus Puneri Salim (University of Sydney).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islamic RegulationsThis book explores the relationship between transnational and local Islam as expressed in public discourse and policy-making, as represented in the local press. It does so against the background of local governments in majority Muslim regions across Indonesia promoting and passing regulations that mandate forms of social or economic behaviour seen to be compatible with Islam. The book situates the political construction of Islamic behaviour in West Sumatra, and in Indonesia more generally, within an historical context in which rulers have in some way engaged with aspects of Islamic practice since the Islamic kingdom era. The book shows that while formal local Islamic regulations of this kind constitute a new development, their introduction has been a product of the same kinds of interactions between international, national and local elements that have characterised the relationship between Islam and politics through the course of Indonesian history. The book challenges the scholarly tendency to over-emphasise local political concerns when explaining this phenomenon, arguing that it is necessary to forefront the complex relationship between local politics and developments in the wider Islamic world. To illustrate the relationship between transnational and local Islam, the book uses detailed case studies of four domains of regulation: Islamic finance, zakat, education, and behaviour and dress, in a number of local government areas within the province.

Hemming, “Religion in the Primary School”

This March, Routledge Press will release “Religion in the Primary School: Ethos, Diversity, Citizenship” by Peter Hemming (Cardiff University, UK).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion in the Primary SchoolReligion and its relationship to schooling is an issue that has become more and more topical in recent years. In many countries, developments such as the diversification of state school sectors, concerns about social cohesion between ethnic and religious groups, and debates about national identity and values have raised old and new questions about the role of religion in education. Whilst the significance of this issue has been reflected in renewed interest from the academic community, much of this work has continued to be based around theoretical or pedagogical debates and stances, rather than evidence-based empirical research.

This book aims to address this gap by exploring the social and political role of religion in the context of the primary school. Drawing on original ethnographic research with a child-centred orientation, comparisons are drawn between Community and Roman Catholic primary schools situated within a multi-faith urban area in the UK. In doing so, the study explores a number of ways in which religion has the potential to contribute to everyday school life, including through school ethos and values, inter-pupil relations, community cohesion and social identity and difference. At the centre of the analysis are two key sociological debates about the significance of religion in late modern societies. The first is concerned with the place of religion in public life and the influence of secularisation and post-secularism on the relationship between religion and schooling. The second relates to the increasingly multi-faith nature of many national populations and the implications for religious citizenship in educational settings.

Religion in the Primary School will be a useful resource for academics, researchers and students as a key addition to existing knowledge in the disciplines of education, sociology and human geography. It will also be of value to both policy-makers and educationalists interested in the role of religion in schools and the implications for the wider community and society in a range of national contexts.

“Issues in Religion and Education” (Beaman & Van Arragon, eds.)

In March, Brill Publishing will release “Issues in Religion and Education: Whose Religion?” edited by Lori G. Beaman and Leo Van Arragon (University of Ottawa).  The publisher’s description follows:

Issues in Religion and EducationIssues in Religion and Education, Whose Religion? is a contribution to the dynamic and evolving global debates about the role of religion in public education. This volume provides a cross-section of the debates over religion, its role in public education and the theoretical and political conundrums associated with resolutions. The chapters reflect the contested nature of the role of religion in public education around the world and explore some of the issues mentioned from perspectives reflecting the diverse contexts in which the authors are situated. The differences among the chapters reflect some of the particular ways in which various jurisdictions have come to see the problem and how they have addressed religious diversity in public education in the context of their own histories and politics.

Law and Religion Australia

Professor Neil Foster at the University of Newcastle (Australia) has launched a new blog, Law and Religion Australia. The blog will cover mostly Australian issues — but which law and religion issues are purely domestic, now? — and will promote the cause of religious freedom. Looks very worthwhile. Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Aroney on Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right

The latest issue of the University of Queensland Law Journal is devoted entirely to issues of federalism and freedom of religion in Australia.  One article by Professor Nicholas Aroney, Freedom of Religion as an Associational Right, is particularly informative.  You can read the article in its entirety here.

In his article, Professor Aroney argues that the religious freedom clauses of the Australian Constitution (section 116), which were modeled after the American First Amendment, should be interpreted to protect not only individual rights, but also communal or associational rights.  In support of this contention, Professor Aroney provides an impressive textual and historical analysis of section 116.  He further shows how this interpretation is in accord with international law.

According to Professor Aroney, correctly interpreting section 116 is of fundamental importance, because to interpret it as protecting merely individual rights has the potential to severely weaken religious freedom. Here is Professor Aroney (footnotes omitted):

Efforts to impose an individualistic view of human rights … continue to be made by groups such as the Discrimination Law Experts Group, who argue that the rights of religious organisations engaging in ‘public sphere activities’ should simply be trumped by the rights of individuals ‘to be treated in a non-discriminatory way.’ The Public Interest Law Clearing House and the Human Rights Law Resource Centre have argued similarly, maintaining that permanent religious exceptions to antidiscrimination laws facilitate and condone discrimination by protecting ‘traditional social structures and hierarchies’. Although the context is that anti-discrimination laws apply only in certain ‘public’ contexts, the reasoning is not so limited. These arguments are not unlike that of Stephen Macedo, who advocates that modern liberalism must ‘constitute the private realm in its image’ by forcing citizens ‘to observe its limits’ and ‘pursue its aspirations’. Such persons are to be actively coerced, Macedo candidly asserts, ‘to help ensure that freedom is what they want’, even in ‘their most “private beliefs”’.

 The underlying individualism of this line of argument has been made clear by Margaret Thornton, who has argued that although the ICCPR protects the right to exercise freedom of religion ‘in association with others’, this right not only has to be balanced against the competing rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination, but all such rights need to be understood, fundamentally, as the rights of human beings – not of corporations – and so it is a ‘logical fallacy to extrapolate from an individual’s private beliefs to an impersonal for-profit corporation’. Thornton’s argument shows the weakness of religious freedom rights if they are conceptualised in reductively individualistic terms. This is because one would have to show, first, that certain individuals have particular religious convictions that are legally protected and, second, that these same individual rights are being expressed through the religious corporation’s rules or practices. If religious rights are conceptualised as inherently ‘private’ in this sense, it will be that much more difficult to establish that such rights are really being exercised as private rights in various domains of ‘public’ or ‘quasipublic’ life. But on the contrary, as has been seen, international human rights principles, while certainly premised on the rights of the ‘human person’, are not exclusively concerned to protect only individual rights or only private expressions of religious conviction.

Another problem with individualised conceptions of human rights in this domain is that such rights, although originally conceived as rights against the state, can nonetheless ‘double up as rights against everyone’. Accordingly, as Julian Rivers has shown, there are some for whom it is not sufficient that an individual has a right of ‘exit’ from his or her religious community. Rather, there is evidence ‘of a growing assumption that everyone who wishes should be able to join any religious body’ and that ‘membership tests are suspect’. The underlying assumption, in other words, is that ‘the preservation of religious identity on the part of civil society groups needs justification against the individual who does not share that identity’, even though to adopt such an approach ‘is potentially destructive of the identity of [all] non-State collectivities’. For if any individual can decide whether he or she qualifies for membership of an organisation, no organisation will be able to maintain its distinctive identity.

This reductio ad absurdum suggests that a radical individualist conception of religious liberty is simply incompatible with the existence of religious associations and communities as distinguishable groups within a society. Against such a view, William Galston has observed:

 It is not obvious as an empirical matter that civil society organisations within liberal democracies must be organised along liberal democratic lines… A liberal policy guided … by a commitment to moral and political pluralism will be parsimonious in specifying binding public principles and cautious about employing such principles to intervene in the internal affairs of civil associations. It will rather pursue a policy of maximum feasible accommodation, limited only by the core requirements of individual security and civic unity. That there are costs to such a policy cannot reasonably be denied. It will permit internal associational practices (e.g. patriarchal gender relations) of which many disapprove. It will allow many associations to define their membership in ways that may be viewed as restraints on individual liberty … Unless liberty – individual and associational – is to be narrowed dramatically, however, we must accept these costs.

 A reductively individualist conception of religious freedom is obviously opposed to the capacity of such groups to determine their own conditions of membership, but an excessively narrow associational conception may also have this effect, for there are many social groupings and traditional communities, including religions, in which membership does not initially arise by deliberate choice but by birth and circumstance. Whether voluntaristic or otherwise, unless such associations and communities are going to be understood, following Thomas Hobbes, as ‘worms in the entrails’ of the body politic, we need to recognise, as Harold Laski argued, that they are ‘as real, as primary, and self-sufficing as the whole [society]’. This does not mean of course that communal religious rights must always prevail. But it does mean that they ought to be treated with the same respect as the rights of individuals. As such, from a liberal point of view, what is most crucial in order to protect individuals is not the right to join (or remain) within a group, but the right to exit it. On this approach, the question of the legitimacy of a law which regulates a religious association becomes one of determining what conditions, if any, must accompany an effective exit right, understood to include the rights to associate, disassociate or not associate with a particular religious community on terms offered by that community. Alternatively, from a more communitarian point of view, what matters is that a religious group genuinely benefits its members and does not inappropriately interfere with the legitimate interests of those outside the group. These are large questions, of course, which lie beyond the scope of this article, the point of which has been to establish the associational and communal dimensions of religious freedom as a matter of principle.

 

President Sisi’s Speech

Abdel_Fattah_el-SisiThe Internet is buzzing with news of a speech last week by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (left) on the need for a “religious revolution” in Islam. Speaking at Cairo’s Al Azhar University, the most important center of Islamic learning in the Sunni world, Sisi admonished the assembled scholars to revisit Islamic law, or fiqh, in order to calm the fears of the non-Muslim world. According to a translation at Raymond Ibrahim’s site, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics.  We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before.  It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.  Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.  It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Some are praising Sisi for his bravery. That’s certainly one way to look at it. When Sisi calls for rethinking “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years,” he may be advocating something quite dramatic, indeed. For centuries, most Islamic law scholars – though not all – have held that “the gate of ijtihad,” or independent legal reasoning, has closed, that fiqh has reached perfection and cannot be developed further. If Sisi is calling for the gate to open, and if fiqh scholars at a place like Al Azhar heed the call, that would be a truly radical step, one that would send shock waves throughout the Islamic world.

We’ll have to wait and see. Early reports are sometimes misleading; there are subtexts, religious and political, that outsiders can miss. Which texts and ideas does Sisi mean, exactly? Fiqh rules about Christians and other non-Muslims, which often insist on subordination? Some argue that, notwithstanding the speech at Al Azhar, Sisi has done relatively little to improve the situation of Coptic Christians. And calling for the opening of the gate is not necessarily progressive. Although progressive Muslim scholars endorse the opening of the gate in order to adapt fiqh to modernity, Salafist groups wish to open the gate in order to discard centuries of what they see as un-Islamic traditions. Opening the gate may be a signal for fundamentalism, for a return to the pure Islam of the Prophet and his companions. I don’t imply Sisi is a fundamentalist, of course. I’m just saying one needs to be alert to the nuances.

Still, Sisi’s remarks do suggest he means a rethinking of Islamic law to adapt to contemporary pluralism. This is definitely worth watching.

Kwall, “The Myth of the Cultural Jew”

This February, Oxford University Press will release “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition” by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall (DePaul University College of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Myth of the CulturalA myth exists that Jews can embrace the cultural components of Judaism without appreciating the legal aspects of the Jewish tradition. This myth suggests that law and culture are independent of one another. In reality, however, much of Jewish culture has a basis in Jewish law. Similarly, Jewish law produces Jewish culture. A cultural analysis paradigm provides a useful way of understanding the Jewish tradition as the product of both legal precepts and cultural elements. This paradigm sees law and culture as inextricably intertwined and historically specific. This perspective also emphasizes the human element of law’s composition and the role of existing power dynamics in shaping Jewish law.

In light of this inevitable intersection between culture and law, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition argues that Jewish culture is shallow unless it is grounded in Jewish law. Roberta Rosenthal Kwall develops and applies a cultural analysis paradigm to the Jewish tradition that departs from the understanding of Jewish law solely as the embodiment of Divine command. Her paradigm explains why both law and culture must matter to those interested in forging meaningful Jewish identity and transmitting the tradition.

Sattam, “Sharia and the Concept of Benefit”

This February, I.B. Tauris Publishing will release “Sharia and the Concept of Benefit: The Use and Function of Maslaha in Islamic Jurisprudence” by Abdul Aziz bin Sattam (Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The idea of maslaha has a rich history in classical legal thought and literature. Conventionally translated into English as ‘general benefit’ or ‘general interest’, it has been the subject, over many centuries, of intense argument in Muslim legal manuals about how the concept should be constructed and how it might be interpreted. Some celebrated scholars have even elevated its status to an independent legal source; while other prominent jurists have spoken of the special strictures which need to be applied to maslaha when considering it within the overall framework of Islamic law. In this thorough and original treatment of the concept, Abdul Aziz bin Sattam offers the first sustained examination of one of the most important tenets of Sharia. Seeking to illuminate not only the intricacies of its application, but also the wider history which has shaped it, the author examines its foundations, theoretical underpinnings and the key debates in both classical and contemporary texts. His book will be a vital resource for all those with an interest in Islamic law, whether of the medieval or modern periods.

“Islam and the European Empires” (Motadel, ed.)

Last month, Oxford University Press released “Islam and the European Empires” edited by David Motadel (University of Cambridge).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam and the European EmpiresAt the height of the imperial age, European powers ruled over most parts of the Islamic world. The British, French, Russian, and Dutch empires each governed more Muslims than any independent Muslim state. European officials believed Islam to be of great political significance, and were quite cautious when it came to matters of the religious life of their Muslim subjects. In the colonies, they regularly employed Islamic religious leaders and institutions to bolster imperial rule. At the same time, the European presence in Muslim lands was confronted by religious resistance movements and Islamic insurgency. Across the globe, from the West African savanna to the shores of Southeast Asia, Muslim rebels called for holy war against non-Muslim intruders.

Islam and the European Empires presents the first comparative account of the engagement of all major European empires with Islam. Bringing together fifteen of the world’s leading scholars in the field, the volume explores a wide array of themes, ranging from the accommodation of Islam under imperial rule to Islamic anti-colonial resistance. A truly global history of empire, the volume makes a major contribution not only to our knowledge of the intersection of Islam and imperialism, but also more generally to our understanding of religion and power in the modern world.

Subway Ads and Mental Maps

Many thanks to Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami for letting me return with a couple of guest posts.

I’ve been intrigued by some recent posts on this blog and how they confirm my long-held view that the normative decisions we make with respect to the law’s treatment of religion are deeply intermeshed with cognitive choices we make — how we “see” and understand religion.  Religious phenomena don’t fit easily or self-evidently into the mental maps by which we divide the pieces of the secular world.  All we can do is approximate, and those approximations matter.

subway1Let’s begin with Mark’s fascinating and wonderfully observant recent post about an ad for the Marble Collegiate Church that he recently saw in a New York City subway.  The ad itself was unremarkable, touting Marble Collegiate as “Church the way you always hoped it could be.”  (Marble Collegiate itself is more remarkable, founded in 1628 as a Dutch Reformed congregation and serving in the 20th century as Norman Vincent Peale’s pulpit for some 50 years.)  But the ad included a prominent disclaimer form the MTA (the local transit agency) taking up the bottom third of its precious space: “This is a paid advertisement sponsored by Marble Collegiate Church.  The display of this advertisement does not imply MTA’s endorsement of any views expressed.”  What gives? Continue reading