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Friday, July 29, 2005

Seems like big news to me...

Buried deep in my local paper today, under the "News in Brief" heading, was the following:

U.S. Muslim Scholars Denounce All Terrorism

After deadly bombings in Britain and other Nations, American Muslim scholars issues an edict yesterday condemning religious extremism and calling terrorists "criminals, not martyrs."

The 18-member Fiqh Council of North America said Muslims were barred from helping "any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence."

"There is no justification in Islam for extermism or terrorism," the scholars wrote in the edict, called a fatwa. "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram - or forbidden."

...The U.S. scholars said their prohibition applied to attacks on civilians everywhere. Their fatwa says Muslims are obligated to help law enforcement authorities "protect the lives of all civilians."

I did a little follow-up research and found a more in-depth article at Reuters. Turns out this fatwa was signed and endorsed by over 130 American Muslim organizations. Now this, it seems to me, is pretty big news. Haven't we heard our politicians, over and over again, calling for Muslim leaders to denounce all violence and terrorism in the name of Islam? So here it is, and the story gets buried. Darn that liberal media!

I think that Islam in general is about to come face to face with a huge authority problem. Fatwas are supposedly binding upon the community, though jurisdictional boundaries are less than clear. So what happens when these binding rulings are in conflict with one another? How does an exclusivist system, which is supposed to be unifed under a single, revealed truth, handle the murkiness of multiple interpretations of the law (sharia)?

I am reminded of some of the writings of John Cobb which I studied in Divinity School. Cobb posited that there are three kinds of religious systems - exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist. By his defintions, the major problem with interfaith dialogue is that pluralists are trying to get exclusivists to abandon the salvific uniqueness of their tradition in favor of a relativistic approach in which all religions are somehow equal and in which every path leads to salvation.

Now, I think his assessment of pluralism needs work, but it's not really my point here. What I find intriguing is that Cobb argues for a middle path, inclusivism, in which each religious system can find within itself a loophole (probably not what Cobb would call it) whereby persons outside the system can still be "saved" with or without their knowledge or consent (think Rahner's "anonymous" Christian, whereby those who have never heard of Jesus are still saved by grace and their own good works). Cobb suggests that every major tradition has within it a universalist strain which is broad enough to include others without necessitating their conversion.

As a mentor of mine is fond of saying, "The best way to help a fundamentalist grow is to encourage her to be a better fundamentalist." This means that, as our religious communities engage in interfaith relationships, we have a responsibility to know enough about our partners' traditions (and our own!) so that we can explore with them the meaning, importance and validity of our togetherness. The more persons who adhere to an exclusive, "our way or death" mentality are exposed to the broader, universalist notions within their own traditions, the more apt they will be to engage with the world beyond their narrow boundaries.

And by the way, exclusivist:pluralist is not necessarily the same as conservative:liberal. There are plenty of liberal exclusivists (dare I say there are quite a few in my own UU church?), and lots of conservative pluralists as well. Umbrella terms really are useless, aren't they?

Copyright © 2005 by Jason Shelton | Posted 29 July 2005 at 10:25 AM

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Bill Baar:

July 29, 2005 04:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

Life is a long conflict with "authority problems". In the end, authority wins.

Some struggle all the way, others figure out a deal. Don't single out Muslims for a struggle all people face.

One only need to look at Ayatollah Ali Sistani to to find a Muslim leader casting his lot with the Liberal West, and at considerable risk to his life. More risk than many religous in the US face.

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