Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mohammed: Thomas Jefferson of Arabia?

Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.
Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Senator Dan Quayle during 1988 Vice Presidential Debate

On April 10, President Bush discussed the war on terror at John Hopkins Univesity, after which he answered questions from the students. Here is one of them:
I have a more general question about the United States' work to democratize the rest of the world. Many have viewed the United States' effort to democratize the world -- especially nations in the Middle East -- as an imposition or invasion on their sovereign rights. Considering that it was, in fact, the Prophet Mohammed who established the first known constitution in the world -- I'm referring to the constitution he wrote for the city of Medina --and that his life and the principles outlined in his constitution, such as the championing of the welfare of women, children and the poor, living as an equal among his people, dissolving disputes between the warring clans in Arabia, giving any man or woman in parliament the right to vote and guaranteeing respect for all religions, ironically parallel those principles that we hold most precious in our own Constitution. I'm wondering how might your recently formed Iraq Study Group under the U.S. Institute for Peace explore these striking similarities to forge a new relationship with Iraqis and educate Americans about the democratic principles inherent in Islam?
At The Corner, they give a link to an english translation of the Medina Constitution. One commentor notes an incongruity in that the document includes "A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family," and that the Athenian Constitution actually predates the Medina one by about 1000 years. But another commentor claims that:
Actually, that thing is pretty interesting. There's a lot of Jew-regulation (i.e. regulation of Jews), but some of it seems benign, given the period. It's certainly more friendly to Jews than, say, much of the stuff you find in the Arab press today (at least going by what Memri puts up).
This of course assumes 2 things:

o The line of the Medina Constitution that reads "(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided" is translated from the Arabic accurately.

o This constitution, as translated, was actually put into effect.

Some things do seem to make the assumptions unlikely. First of all, Mohammed himself. As Mitchell Bard points out:
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traveled to Medina in 622 A.D. to attract followers to his new faith. When the Jews of Medina refused to convert and rejected Muhammad, two of the major Jewish tribes were expelled; in 627, Muhammad's followers killed between 600 and 900 of the men, and divided the surviving Jewish women and children amongst themselves.(3)

The Muslim attitude toward Jews is reflected in various verses throughout the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. "They [the Children of Israel] were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness. They brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because they disobeyed and were transgressors" (Sura 2:61). According to the Koran, the Jews try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are enemies of Allah, the Prophet and the angels (2:97­98).
Bernard Lewis, who generally downplays the disadvantages of the Dhimmi status, writes in The Jews of Islam, about the recent vintage of the claim of equality under Islam:
The claim to tolerance, now much heard from Muslim apologists and more especially from apologists for Islam, is also new and of alien origin. It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their socety in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam,' and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.
Mohammed as a Moslem Thomas Jefferson?
Not really.

More on the propogation of the myth of Islamic equality at Soccer Dad.

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1 comment:

Soccer Dad said...

Gives some perspective on the notions of equality that the Almoravids broght to Andulasia.