Thursday, February 23, 2012

Desperately Seeking 'Nuances' of Islamic Law

As a follow-up to my post on Youcef Nadarkhani I wish to address the concept of "Nuance" when discussing Islam. A recent article on CNN provides the opportunity.

In academia, there are certain approaches which are revered by those in the ivory towers, which convey the unassailable virtues of reputable, dispassionate, and relevant scholarship. This sort of scholarship leads to the most refined and subtle parsing of theology, philosophy, and even history. No doubt many of these efforts are good and helpful. But when it comes to the topic of Islam, I have found that too much parsing ends up completely parsing away the core truths which ought to be always held at the forefront.

Scholars prone to parsing often use a word to validate their reputable, dispassionate and relevant scholarship. This word is "nuance." A rough example might read something like this: "We need to have a nuanced understanding of Islam, not one based on polemics and caricatures."

One can readily see that such statements are, in fact rather patronizing, and directly imply that only the author and his validated sources are capable of presenting these nuances. This is a form of logical fallacy. (For other logical fallacies which obscure clear-headed discussion of Islam, see my recent re-posting of Dr Mark Durie's A Dozen Bad Ideas for the 21st Century.)  Appealing to "Nuance" is a variation of arguing from authority, and a broad generalization condemning "polemics and caricatures" is a reductio ad absurdum fallacy designed to diminish and dismiss certain writing(s) which do not comport with one's validated "nuanced" views.

I have much to say about this deplorable trend as it applies to Islam scholarship, and am developing a series of articles treating specific examples. However, for the moment, I wish simply to share a truly absurd example of this approach recently published on CNN's BeliefBlog, as relayed (with comments) by Jihad Watch.

Pastor's Possible Execution Reveals Nuances of Islamic Law
by Dan Merica CNN

(CNN) – The possible hanging of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for converting from Islam to Christianity has exposed a division among Islamic jurists on whether Iran would be violating Islamic law by carrying out the execution.
According to some of these scholars, the Quran not only outlaws the death penalty for the charge of apostasy, but under Sharia law, conversion from Islam is not a punishable offense at all.
"Instead, it says on a number of occasions that God prefers and even demands that people believe in Him, but that He will handle rejection of such belief by punishing them in the afterworld," wrote Intisar Rabb, an assistant professor of law at Boston College and a faculty affiliate in research at Harvard Law School, in an e-mail toCNN.
Utterly absent from this discussion is Sahih Bukhari vol. 9, bk. 84, no. 57, where Muhammad ordered: "If anyone changes his religion, kill him."
But Rabb also acknowledges that there is a more nuanced view to Islamic law, too.
Clark Lombardi, an associate professor of law at the University of Washington, said there is more room for interpretation because the Quran is not the only source of Islamic law.
Islam is not a sola scriptura religion:
"Most Muslims look past the Quran and say the Quran needs to be looked at in the practice of the Prophet. So they look to see what rules the prophet laid down," Lombardi said.
And, according to Lombardi, if you look at literature about the life of Mohammed, "then apostasy is clearly something very bad. And there are examples of apostates being punished."
What emerges from this is a complicated division between whether apostasy is punishable in the first place and, if it is punishable, for what reason. (Full article here...) 

Youcef Nadarkhani, if he is executed, will be suffering the full extent of the "complicated nuances" of Islamic law.  However, by confessing Christ to the end, he would be a profound witness (Greek: martyria) and earn an imperishable — and un-nuanced — crown in heaven.  This is something the scholars seem loath to confront, and I suspect some of them might prefer to accuse Nadarkhani of being divisive and polemical rather than see Islam for what it really is.