John Locke’s Lesson for the Taliban

Last weekend, the Taliban issued a decree requiring Afghan women to wear a veil, ideally a headscarf, in public. If a woman does not follow this rule, her male “guardian” could face prison. This is just the latest example of how the Taliban, who took power in Afghanistan last summer, have not changed much since their brutal rule in 1996-2001.

In the ’90s, women who traveled alone or didn’t wear a burqa were lashed out in public. The “new” Taliban wanted to avoid graphic scenes as they tried to save face internationally amid economic disaster. But the basic idea is the same: If the Taliban considers something a religious obligation, the group will use force to make sure people comply.

The Taliban are particularly harsh, but they are hardly the only group engaged in religious coercion. Unlike terrorism in the name of Islam – a view that is truly extreme – the practice of Islam by state power is a dominant idea in much of the Muslim world. Beyond the nuances of culture, sect, and context, it’s standard practice under any regime that considers itself “Muslim.”

In Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are also required to wear a veil, which may not necessarily cover the face but certainly the head. At least a dozen such “Muslim” countries have draconian laws, including the death penalty, against apostasy and blasphemy. From Malaysia to Morocco, there are “Ramadan laws”, which forbid Muslims from eating or drinking in public during fasting.

Liberal Muslims, especially those living in the West, often consider these religious imperatives bizarre, seeking support for a soft touch in the Quran. The most famous of these is a short phrase from the longest chapter of the scriptures: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

This statement sounds like a statement about religious freedom — even religious freedom. But the medieval Muslim scholars who interpreted the Quran did not understand this verse in such a liberal sense. They understood it only to prevent Jews and Christians from being forced to convert to Islam. This limited tolerance, despite its second-class status, was quite generous at the time. But it lacks equality under the law, which we have in modern liberalism.

Meanwhile, in the Medieval understanding, the phrase “optional” did not apply to Muslims, who could be beaten with sticks if they abandoned communal prayers or drank alcohol. For apostasy, they could even be put to death if they renounce Islam.

It is not surprising that some conservative translations of the Quran have carefully edited the “optional” sentence. Sahih International, published in Saudi Arabia, insists: “There will be no coercion in [acceptance of] religion. “It means you are free to be non-Muslim. But once you have accepted it, even at birth, you are not free.

The Quran also repeatedly calls for “ordering right and forbidding what is wrong.” A survey of the Islamic tradition shows that this obligation has higher explanations than religious coercion, such as merely propagating Islam or speaking out against tyrannical rulers. Those rulers, however, favored an orthodoxy that preached docile “obedience” to themselves while fervently pursuing heretics and sinners.

The same orthodoxy has turned an organization the Prophet Muhammad founded to combat fraud in the marketplace — muhtasib—There is an official religious police.

Today, critical readings of Islamic traditions are needed to challenge the forced Islam forces of the Taliban and their gang. It should also be emphasized what coercion actually achieves: not genuine, sincere piety but only hypocrisy. It has even achieved what the followers of Islam most loathe: loss of faith in Islam, even contempt for Islam – as demonstrated by a large number of ex-Muslims speaking out. , especially from countries with Islamic regimes like Iran.

A 17th-century Christian thinker observed similar troubles with coercion, when his faith was less developed than it was. He wrote: “True and frugal religion consists in the inner persuasion of the mind, eliminating the ‘external force’ of the state. Instead, the philosopher added, state-imposed religion only creates “His Majesty’s hypocrisy and contempt.” His name is John Locke, and his landmark essay, “A Letter Concerning Tolerance,” will help transform Christianity.

Today areas of the Muslim world like Afghanistan need a Lockean step forward. This comes from a simple but powerful insight: Religion is only “true and frugal” when it is based on free choice and free practice. When coerced, it becomes lifeless, stuffy, and ugly. It turned into the Taliban – old and new.

Mr. Akyol is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of the book “Reopening the Islamic Mind: A Return to Reason, Freedom and Tolerance.”

Review & Outlook (March 2, 22): With the death of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi a valuable reminder that the threat of Islamic extremism remains. has not disappeared. Image: AFP / Getty Images / White House / Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Alley Einstein

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