Today I stumbled across a blog post written by a Malaysian Muslim named Farouk defending the concept of “human rights” which Malaysian prime minster Najib Razak accused of being “against Islam” in a recent speech. One of the reasons that the Islamic fundamentalists condemn “human rights” is because the actual phrase for “human rights,” huquq an-naas in Arabic, doesn’t appear in the Koran. So Farouk’s argument in defense of human rights involves making a derivative case from overarching themes in the Koran, reminding me very much of the arguments I often make about Biblical teachings, which always fall flat before fundamentalists who take a “word search” approach to Biblical proof-texting.
One paragraph in Farouk’s blog in particular caught my eye because it sounded exactly like the logic that gets deployed in the Christian culture war debates:
Islamofascists who speak out against human rights, liberalism, humanism and secularism always claim that these are ‘man-made’ ideologies based on reason and desires and must therefore be rejected by Muslims since they have ‘divine teachings’. This is simply a convenient maneuver to forget the reality of interpretation. Sharia law is very much a human product. Even its proponents cannot agree on its sources, let alone its provisions. What they are protecting by condemning these ideologies is their own right to dominate and rule. Najib mentioned Human Rights-ism follows desires but one must ask, what about an ideology which refuses to give women even the right to travel by herself? Isn’t that feeding into the desire of men to control women? That is what Sharia law teaches yet its proponents claim it’s divine.
It makes me wonder if every religion in the world involves the same jockeying with which a religion’s fundamentalists try to claim that they are immune to “man-made ideologies” and are simply dispassionately following “divine teachings.” Often the most vociferous opponents of compromise with the secular world are completely swept up in secular values that are completely off the radar because they don’t have to do with the token issues around which they’ve defined morality.
I wonder to what degree “sacrifice” is the basic power-play universal to all religions. In a recent argument, a fellow Methodist pastor wrote: “Jesus taught that there is a narrow way which is hard but leads to life and a broad way, which is crowded and leads to death. He never mentioned a middle way.” This is a perfect example of the currency of “sacrifice” in action. When you can claim the higher moral ground of a “narrow, hard” way, that gives you the right to give yourself power and demand obedience from others.
Of course, I would contend that Jesus is the solution to the universal religious power-play of “sacrifice.” He not only says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” but his cross is the means of repudiating the entire sacrifice game since it puts us all before God equally illegitimate and completely dependent on his mercy. But our Christian fundamentalists would rather be gatekeepers of their own fortresses of “orthodoxy” than groundskeepers in the strange, uncontrollable garden of God’s grace. In that sense, there is little that distinguishes them from the fundamentalists of Islam or any other faith.