Islam and Religious Liberty

As should — I think — be very obvious, I’m profoundly sympathetic to Islam (and, for that matter, to Judaism, Buddhism, and etc.)  I’ve received some very harsh criticism for it, in fact.

But I’m also committed to religious liberty.  In my judgment, a coerced “choice” is no choice at all, and of essentially no moral significance.  (It was also largely because of my concern for religious liberty that I supported establishment of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” about which I’ll probably post a future entry sometime.)

However, the contemporary interface between Islam and religious liberty isn’t always easy, pleasant, or tranquil — I see it as undergoing fundamental transitions right now, with the outcome for the foreseeable future not yet entirely clear — and situations like the one described in this article concern me very deeply.

Religious disrespect and bigotry can be extraordinarily unpleasant.  I know this personally — a quick glance at many message boards and at recent media coverage of Mormonism (and, even more so, at the relevant reader comments) can be pretty upsetting — and I obviously wish that there were more civility and charity manifest in discussions of various faiths.  But I would never compel such civility.  I would never ban bigotry.  The principle of freedom is simply too important for that.

(My account of one event in which the question of religious freedom arose rather dramatically during a Mormon-Muslim dialogue at a state university outside of Utah can be found here.)

It’s not only extremist and/or (if you will) not-yet-really-modern Muslims, though, who reject the concept of religious liberty.  There are some Catholic and Protestant Christians who do, as well.  (The Catholic group in question is, fortunately, relatively small and very much on the fringe, and I think that’s also true of the so-called “Christian Reconstructionists.”)

I actually believe that Islam will flourish more, and be more vigorous and healthy, under conditions of freedom (in the United States and elsewhere) than it ever would or could with the support (and under the regulation and control) of government.  This has certainly been true of Christianity.

It should be no wonder, in my opinion, that American society, with its free marketplace of churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques, is distinctly more religious than are those European nations that feature tax-supported state churches.  As a libertarian, I’m not at all surprised that free competition makes things better, even in matters of religion, nor that government subsidies and even, sometimes, monopolies lead to sclerosis and complacency.

Muslims will, for example, have to understand and come to grips with the fact that, in what I’ve termed a competitive religious marketplace, they will lose some of their fellow believers.  There will inevitably be conversions, not only to Islam, but from Islam.  (Other religious groups, including my own, have likewise had to live with changes of spiritual allegiance.)  And governments in such places as the United States will neither punish such conversions themselves nor permit Muslims to punish them in the manner that some Islamic jurists would prefer under their interpretation of the hadith and of shari‘a law.  But those who choose Islam as their faith will have done so freely, and will be stronger Muslims for it.

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