Terrorism and Religion| criminal law
One of the first tasks faced by an American student beginning a study of Islamist behavior is learning the place and importance of ideology, or religion, in the everyday life of a follower of the Prophet Mohammad. God’s2 place in the daily life of a Muslim is significantly different and more pervasive than the place of God in even the most devout Christian’s life.
From the beginning, the founders of our nation made it clear that church and government would remain in separate spheres. One of the ideas incorporated in early drafts of the constitution, and retained in the final form, was total rejection of the notion that religion and government would be united. The Constitution addresses the powers granted to and the prohibitions placed upon the federal government. In the First Amendment to the Constitution, Congress was directed to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Reacting to their earlier experiences in England, the writers of the document clearly rejected the very notion of a state religion. Since the 18th century, there has never been any serious, formally institutionalized acceptance of the statements of clergy or congregation as government policy.
2 The student may find the term Allah often used in reference to the deity of Islam, and not without cause. English-speaking Muslims sometimes do refer to God as Allah, and with much less frequency than English-speaking Christians refer to God as “Adonai”. That being said, Arabic-speaking Christians, for instance, also refer to God as Allah – since this is the Arabic word for “God”. The use of “Allah” in an academic text outside of theological or linguistic analysis generally signals the use of polemic rather than academic objectives. Caution is therefore warranted.
The American bifurcation of church and state is a serious point of difference with the traditional politics within the Muslim world, and has at times contributed to a basic difference in perspective. A major source of difference is that the Qur’an – the Muslim holy book – not only provides final answers to religious questions, but also serves as a “Revised Criminal Code” and the “Civil Code Annotated” for the Muslim community – known as the ummah. All aspects of criminal, civil, religious, and personal life are subject to application of rules derived from the Qur’an. Just as in our legal system, the exact application of the rules is subject to interpretation that has resulted in a wide diversity of manifestations over time and place.
In a simplified representation, the Muslim religion can be considered a monotheistic religion in the most complete sense. The shahidah3, or “testimony”, articulates the unitary nature of God at the center of the religion, a dynamic rooted in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity. However, the unitary nature of Islam reaches into the daily activities of not only the individual’s spiritual life but the organization and operation of government agencies and the rules that govern commerce. The idea, common in most Western nations, that religious practice is a personal preference that should not influence the actions of government is generally outside the worldview of many devout Muslims. From a historically Muslim perspective, the Qur’an represents the word of God guiding us toward the best way we can all live together in peace and harmony. Given that, a government claiming to represent the ummah must, by its very nature, construct itself according to that guidance.
A clear application of this principle can be seen in the Muslim world’s skepticism toward President George W. Bush’s claims that the War against Terrorism was not a War against Islam. Regularly, various American evangelical and conservative clergy have repeatedly characterized the Islamic religion as “Worse than Nazis” and “a very evil and wicked religion” and similar appellations. In the United States this amounts to the beliefs of the leader of a particular religious group which does not agree with government policy in this subject – and is certainly not required to do so. This division may not be perceived so clearly to many Muslims outside the western world.
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We have so far been speaking in sweeping generalities that require a word of warning. One should never misunderstand that the ideology of the Islamic world is not incredibly diverse. Like the histories of all civilizations, the Islamic world did not emerge from a time and a place affected by the lessons learned and perspectives of the people within, or unchanged by the communities and civilizations with which it interacted. The militant radical Islam of contemporary terrorism is particularly unique to the modern era. As the British historian Karon Armstrong has demonstrated through her impressive body of research, militant radicals across different religious persuasions have more in common with each other than they do with their co-religionists. These complex dynamics must be understood by the counterterrorism professional if we are to engage in any effective counterterrorism strategy. The ideology of militant radicalism of any religious origin includes a willingness to die for the goals of self-proclaimed religious leaders. It is imperative that we learn as much as possible about the details of such ideologies in order to provide the best possible defense.
Prepare a review of the article “Terrorism and Religion”, which is provided in the “Getting Started” section of this module. Provide a synopsis of the article and provide an opinion on the basis of the author’s point of view.
Howard, R. D., Sawyer, R. L., and Bajema, N. E. (2011). TERRORISM and COUNTERTERRORISM: Understanding the New Security Environment, Readings and Interpretations – Fourth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Publisher.