Islam, Democracy and Rose-Colored Glasses

Dr. Carl Moeller | Open Doors USA | Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Islam, Democracy and Rose-Colored Glasses

The election of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt is being treated as a triumph of democracy in many quarters. This is probably because the consequences of this great nation going the other way are simply too awful to contemplate.

One examplecomes from Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley. “Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is philosophically committed to creating a state governed by Islamic law, and some say that his victory poses a threat to Israel. Now he wants to reach out to Iran,” Stanley writes. “But the presumption that Morsi's political Islam is the vanguard of theocratic dictatorship ignores historical and contemporary evidence to the contrary. Islam is simply too complex to be stereotyped as the faith of tyrants.”

Stanley presents as evidence for his thesis some examples from ancient and contemporary Muslim history. After acknowledging that Islam conquered Jerusalem in A.D. 637 — presumably by force of arms? — he lauds the imposed Covenant of Umar as “one of history’s first examples of a state guaranteeing religious freedom.” Yet it was a greatly constricted kind of "freedom."

The document “permitted Christians and Jews to remain in the holy city and worship freely in their own temples” (emphasis added). This privatization of competing faiths, relegating their adherents to permanent second-class status, is still practiced across most of the Muslim world today. It stands in stark contrast to the all-encompassing role of Islam in political and social affairs. Truly, there is usually no “separation of mosque and state” where Muslims rule.

Stanley cites several modern examples of Muslim-majority states that practice a type of democracy — in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, Turkey and Egypt. Indeed, we do see a temporary moderation in Muslim states that achieve a certain level of economic prosperity. But this moderation is, sooner or later, overruled by the even stronger radicalizing tendencies in Islam. We must face the fact that a disturbingly high percentage of the world’s worst religious liberty offenders claim to follow Islam. In fact, 74 percent of the 50 countries on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List have Islamic governments.

Even Stanley acknowledges this. “Alas,” he writes, “there are many more examples across the Muslim world of dictatorships and parties committed to violent fundamentalism. Saudi Arabia, for example, hasn’t stopped the bankrolling of terrorism, forces its subjects to live by a strict reading of Sharia law and even tolerates beheadings for witchcraft.”

And, based on Islam’s long and consistent track record, we need to keep in mind that when Islam is in a position of weakness politically, its leaders often present a moderate face to the outside world, as Morsi appears to be doing. This peaceful image allows the Muslim community to grow undisturbed.

But as it grows in power, it presents a different face, with a turn towards suicide attacks and violent aggression toward minorities (such as Christians) as Muslim leaders attempt to move the political dial. We see this Muslim radicalization in places as diverse as Nigeria and Iraq. We see this even in Western nations with large Muslim minorities, such as the UK, with attacks on critics of Islam and increasingly forceful demands for Muslim law.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has displayed these classic Muslim deceptions in its more than six decades of existence. The Brotherhood apparently has taken to heart the Qur’anic injunction to Muslims to deceive non-Muslims until achieving a position of power (called a taqiyya).

That’s why I think it is prudent to take Morsi’s newfound expression of political pluralism with a large grain of salt. President Obama has just invited Morsi to the United States, but this does not mean those who care for freedom and religious liberty should stop asking hard questions. We can all certainly hope for the best when it comes to Egypt’s new leader, but we should prepare for the worst.

Egypt’s Christians, 100,000 of whom have been forced to flee the country in recent months, have seen these kinds of assurances before. As one Egyptian Christian co-worker said, “It is quite unrealistic to imagine that either the newly-elected president or his yet-to-be-named administration is really going to stand for the church or bless her growth.”

I’ll go even further. If the president-elect becomes a champion of political and religious freedom, it will be in spite of Islam’s repeatedly demonstrated innate tendencies, not because of them. Believing that Morsi’s election heralds a new openness to democracy in the Muslim world is naive wishful thinking on the part of far too many Westerners. It represents a classic misunderstanding of the objectives of Islam.

This is not to say that Muslims cannot be good and moral people. I have some Muslim friends here in the United States who honestly recoil from any talk of Qur’an-inspired violence, saying that they are “more enlightened” than that. And thank God that they are!

But the question must be asked: What’s at the core of Islam — tolerance or extremism? To answer it, let’s compare what happens when the followers of Christ and Muhammad get closer to their faiths. When Christians get closer to Jesus, they usually become more tolerant and loving. Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, has said that he loves Muslims because he is a Christian. Much as I’d like to say otherwise, too many Muslims become less tolerant and loving in their pursuit of Islam.

It is a pattern that has repeated itself time and time again in Muslim history — and it ought to be visible even to those wearing rose-colored glasses.

Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, based in Santa Ana, Calif., the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting the religious and humanitarian rights of Christians since 1955.

Publication date: July 11, 2012

Islam, Democracy and Rose-Colored Glasses