Islam and the Constitution

koran IIThumbing through the Constitution the other day I came across Section 116 covering freedom of religion:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Trusty Wikipedia then sent me to what is regarded as a leading authority on the question of religion, the 1983 judgment of the High Court in Church of the New Faith v Commissioner for Pay-Roll Tax (Vic). In this case the court found that Scientology is a religion, despite some justices commenting that its practices were “impenetrably obscure”. In reaching this finding, the court argued that the definition of religion needed to be flexible while also recognising the need to be sceptical of disingenuous claims of religious practice. Justices Mason and  Brennan held:

“… the criteria of religion [are] twofold: first, belief in a supernatural, Being, Thing or Principle; and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief.”

Justices Wilson and Deane were less prescriptive, setting out five “indicia” of a religion:

1/ a belief in the supernatural
2/ a belief in ideas relating to “man’s nature and place in the universe
3/ the adherence to particular standards, codes of conduct or practices by those who hold the ideas
4/ the existence of an identifiable group of believers, even if not a formal organisation
5/ the opinion of the believers that what they believe in constitutes a religion.

A definition by the fifth judge, Justice Murphy, included the supernatural, but was less prescriptive on other matters.

It led me to ponder how effectively Islam meets these requirements: belief in the supernatural (Being, Thing or Principal) and adherence to codes of conduct. In the Koran these are most commonly presented as the Five Pillars: the Affirmation, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. These are what might be called housekeeping precepts and form the populist face of Islam. The more significant codes are those which are driving resurgent Islamism.

Firstly, the Koran encourages an ethos of ‘us’ and ‘them’, where the ‘us’ are Muslims and the ‘them’ are Jews, disbelievers and Christians: that is, Muslims and the rest. For example:

You who believe, do not take the disbelievers as allies and protectors instead of the believers: do you want to offer God clear proof against you? (Women 4:144)

You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies: they are allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them—God does not guide such wrongdoers. (The Feast 5:51)

The believers should not make the disbelievers their allies rather than other  believers— anyone who does such a thing will isolate himself completely from God—except when you need to protect yourself from them. God warns you to beware of Him: the Final Return is to God. (The Family of Imran 3:28)

Believers, do not take your fathers and brothers as allies if they prefer disbelief to faith: those of you who do so are doing wrong. (Repentance 9:23)

It does not matter how elegantly one tap dances around these and other like injunctions, they are repugnant to, and unacceptable in, Australia’s secular, egalitarian society.

Secondly, there are injunctions in the Koran that encourage an aggressive and threatening mindset towards non-Muslims, plus the suggestion of subjugation. For example:

You who believe, fight the disbelievers near you and let them find you standing firm: be aware that God is with those who are mindful of Him. (Repentance 9:123)

A sacred month for a sacred month: violation of sanctity [calls for] fair retaliation. So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you, but be mindful of God, and know that He is with those who are mindful of Him. (The Cow 2:194)

[Prophet], tell the disbelievers that if they desist their past will be forgiven, but if they persist, they have an example in the fate of those that went before. [Believers], fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to God alone: if they desist, then God sees all that they do, but if they pay no heed, be sure that God is your protector, the best protector and the best helper. (Battle Gains 8:38- 40)

When the (four) forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post; but if they turn (to God), maintain the prayer and pay the prescribed alms, let them go on their way. For God is most merciful and forgiving. (Repentance 9:5)

Thirdly, the Koran states that to be declared righteous and worthy of paradise, a believer must do three things. First, repent of their wrongs. Second, believe in the fundamentals of Islam — God, his angels, the Koran, Muhammad and his prophets, the Last Day, and that no good or evil comes other than from God. Third, the righteous must do good deeds.

On that Day the weighing of deeds will be true and just: those whose good deeds are heavy on the scales will be the ones to prosper, and those whose good deeds are light will be the ones who have lost their souls through their wrongful rejection of Our messages. (The Heights 7:8- 9)

This is a classic coercive management strategy that gives Islamic leaders, who variously define what is “good” and “bad”, the opportunity to exact obedience at all levels of Islamic society. Any organization that holds control over an individual in this manner, and whose one or more faction uses that control to create division and mayhem, strikes me as out of place in a secular democracy.

All that set me to thinking about the other aspect the learned judges of our High Court stated must be present in a religion: belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principal. Given that Muslims believe the God of the Koran is the same supernatural Being as the God of the Bible, one would expect conformance in this regard. The supernatural nature of the God of the Bible is demonstrated in the following: the immutable and all-powerful nature of God; the creation; the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); the virgin birth of Jesus; the resurrection of Jesus; miraculous events that are recorded throughout the New Testament, as evident in the miracles of Jesus; the gifting of the Holy Spirit to believers.

As noted, the Koran equates the God of the Koran with the God of the Bible. It would then be reasonable to expect the God of the Koran to possess and employ the same supernatural power as the God of the Bible. But here’s the funny thing, the God of the Koran makes use of supernatural power when it suits, but dispenses with it when it would hinder the development of the Koran’s narrative and codes of conduct. Specifically, the Koran ignores the supernatural aspects of the following: the Trinity, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Why?

Simply, the Koran’s narrative must assert there is no Trinity as, if there were, Jesus would be, as the Son of God, the final word to mankind and there would be no rationale for Muhammad to appear 600 years later nor any need for the Qur’an. So for the Qur’an and Muhammad to have any credibility the Qur’an must renounce the Biblical Trinity.

People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ –stop [this], that is better for you— God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (Women 4:170- 171)

Further, to reinforce that Jesus is simply a messenger, the supernatural miracles He performed are downgraded in the Koran, mentioned only in passing. In fact, the Koran states that Jesus performed miracles only with the God of the Koran’s permission as he lacks the supernatural power accorded to Him as part of the rejected Trinity.

Then as a messenger, Jesus fulfills His most crucial role in the Koran: in fact the whole reason for His being written into the Koran. He announces not the miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit, as in the New testament, but foretells the coming of Muhammad! Very convenient, you may say.

Jesus, son of Mary, said, ‘Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad [Muhammad].’ (Solid Line 61:6)

Then, just to make sure, the Koran ensures that Jesus is acorded no greater status than a simple messenger by negating his Resurrection.

And so for breaking their [the Jews] pledge, for rejecting God’s revelations, for unjustly killing their prophets, for saying, ‘Our minds are closed’ –No! God has sealed them in their disbelief, so they believe only a little— and because they disbelieved and uttered a terrible slander against Mary, and said, ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’

(They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him—God raised him up to Himself. God is almighty and wise. There is not one of the People of the Book who will not believe in [Jesus] before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them). (Women 4:155- 159)

Thus the matters of greatest spiritual importance in the Bible have the high point of their supernatural nature stripped from them to enable the narrative of the Koran and the centrality of Muhammad to be created. In short, the author of the Koran has appropriated the God of the Bible, cherry-picked that God’s supernatural nature, and misrepresented the narrative to create the storyline of the Koran.
Considering all the above, I return to the learned judges’ definition of a religion: belief in the supernatural and codes of conduct. Islam does have codes of conduct, but they are very disturbing, especially to a secular democratic society. It believes in a god whose supernatural nature is tenuous, and its assertion that the God of the Koran is the same god as the God of the Bible is fanciful. Would these manipulations constitute ‘disingenuous claims’? Is Islam getting a ‘religious free-kick’ by association? Should Islam be given ‘free exercise’ under Section 116 of the Constitution?

I just now noticed that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is currently in Australia and advocating that ‘modifier’ (her word) Muslims should reform Islam: take the nasty bits out of the Qur’an, in other words. In a recent Quadrant Online article (Kidding Ourselves About Islam) I suggested this is a pipedream. Why? Simply because the objective of the Koran is the subjugation of people to the God of the Koran’s ways and the coercive precepts of the Koran are the means to achieve it.

In light of all that has been discussed above, Muslims may be better advised to heed Jesus’ injunctions to love the God of the Bible and to love their neighbours as themselves: there is no subjugation or coercion involved with Christianity, it is the individual’s choice. Rather than bashing their heads against the unrelenting intransigence of Islam, it would be far simpler, not only for Hirsi Ali and her “modifer” Muslims but all Muslims, to change their lives rather than the Koran.

Jim Campbell, an engineer and consultant, is the author of The Logic of the Qur’an

10 thoughts on “Islam and the Constitution

  • rh@rharrison.com says:

    I have no issue with the thrust of the article, but a corrective is in order regarding the opening remarks about section 116 of the Constitution.

    That section does not guarantee freedom of religion in Australia: it imposes restrictions on the powers of the Commonwealth but does not limit powers of the States on religious matters. As a result it has been possible for a State to outlaw a religion without breaching the Constitution of the Commonwealth.

    This is not merely a theoretical possibility. Victoria banned Scientology by enacting the Psychological Practices Act 1965. That Act made it a criminal offence with a penalty of two years’ imprisonment to teach Scientology. As to whether Scientology is actually a religion, the High Court decision quoted in the article makes it clear that, as far as Australian law is concerned, it is.

    The ban on Scientology was repealed in 1982, presumably because the political will to maintain the ban had disappeared. But there was no successful challenge to the law during its 17 years on the statute book. I have no reason to think that there would be no legal obstacle to such a State banning another religion. Obviously, the political obstacles would be formidable.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    This article by Jim Campbell ends on a high with the last paragraph where it refers to a religious conversion as the answer. Conversion to Christ was the answer for Daniel Shayesteh who as an Iranian Muslim went from supporting the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini to becoming a Christian, an Australian, and now an international speaker offering a new and better way for Iranians. His wife and his daughters each removed their headscarf and their sour expression and are smiling productive citizens of this country. One can read it all in his book ‘The House I Left Behind – a journey from Islam to Christ’.

  • pgang says:

    The philosophical worldview of western society is built upon the bedrock of a trinitarian reality. It provides the personification of the creator god as a living example of what it means to be human, and also the social and logical solution to the inescapable dichotomy of ‘the one and the many’, given that all things are constructed in the image of the creator. The most telling difference between Christianity/Western society and Islamic society is the trinity/monotheism contrast, which I’m pleased to see raised in this article. Offering a cold, unapproachable, unfathomable and inhuman thing as the ruler of the universe has profound implications for humankind’s view of itself and of society.

    But do we need to read another complaint about the threat of Islam to a secular society? The logical end game of a secular society is a society at war with itself. Islam has as much right to encroach upon a secular society as any other religion. This is according to the definition of secularism itself (perhaps it was postmodernism before its time). The alternative is a move towards totalitarianism and the subjugation of those people of a specific religious persuasion. Like all of the godless ideals to have come from the enlightenment, secularism is self defeating and the next step is always to force submission.

    The smarter Muslims will, as the article suggests, embrace the Bible rather than secularism. It could be one of the great ironies of history that Islamic apostates end up saving us from ourselves. Apparently this is already beginning to occur in Europe, albeit on a very small scale at the moment.

    • Jim Campbell says:

      pgang – your last para a very nice point. It’s a really interesting situation: secular democracy needs Christianity but doesn’t know it; Christianity needs secular democracy and may understand that; Muslims need both but can we keep all the balls in the air long enough? The tension is unbearable! And, see my note to Keith below.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    This is not a battle between religions.

    Until people understand it is a battle between Islam and the freedom of Liberal ( not Christian or Jewish religion) Western Democtatic thought , practise and society, the battle will be lost.

    The idea that our society is dominated by Christianity ignore the history of liberal traditions since David Hume and the separation of church and government.

    Really this is boring seeing these selfsame self serving commentaries over and over.

    Make this war about religion and the west will be destroyed. Make it about liberal democracy and we’ll win.

    • Jim Campbell says:

      It’s interesting that Christianity has always recognised the separation of church and state. In his first letter to Christians at that time the apostle Peter said the following:
      ‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.’

      Christianity was just slightly ahead of David Hume and the rest of the Enlightenment chaps, and still is by the way.

      And you are right: this is a battle between between Islam and Liberal Western Democratic thought, practice, and society. Trouble is, Liberal Western Democracies are nor doing too well at the moment. Why? Simply because the West has lost its moral and spiritual capital and is becoming a danger to itself, irrespective of resurgent Islam. At the very least, if the West is not the agent of its own destruction it is certainly offering Islamists of all stripes a very convenient platform on which to pursue their objectives. It’s a line ball call on self-destruction or Islam.

      I wonder what the West can do? Any ideas?

      And Keith – sorry to bore – when you see my name at the top of an article best to just move on.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    The German government may be wise in not recognizing Scientology as a religion because it believes that Scientology pursues political goals that conflict with the values enshrined in the German constitution. Strange then that they do not put Mohammedanism in the same class.

    In Australia Scientology in the process of overturning its ban claimed to be worthy of recognition as a religion [with consequent tax concessions] as much as Buddhism which in founding times declaimed being a religion because there was no recognition of Divinity in the teachings. Governments however have had no trouble with Buddhists or in regarding Buddhism as a [‘honorary’] religion and the same can not be said about the ideologies which are much more political than they are religious.

    • Jim Campbell says:

      Western governments seem to be particularly immature when it comes to matters of theology and that’s a problem for all of us. In a very astute comment last year, Greg Sheridan when showing some doubt on the US/Iran deal said, ‘No one in the West takes the idea of God seriously any more and cannot conceive of a government whose actual real behaviour is determined by theological goals.’

  • en passant says:

    I read this article yesterday.

    As I walked home last night I passed a bookshop, went in and tried a small (inconclusive) experiment.

    I asked the assistant if they had a copy of Mein Kampf. He had never heard of it, but checked the computer that said it was not stocked, nor could they obtain a copy.
    “Is that because it contains hate-speech?” Don’t know.
    “Do you have a copy of the Qu’ran?”
    “Yes, we stock the plain copy and an annotated version.”
    I then quoted: ‘… wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post …’ and asked if that was ‘hate-speech’. Can’t say.
    In exasperation I asked if they stocked copies of Prime Minister Bill Shorten’s autobiography. “Oh, Yes”
    I gave up the futile experiment, but came away with the thoght thet wee dount nede kno Gonski, tha edukatiun cistern hass alredy dun itz jobb.

  • Jim Campbell says:

    Good of you to do that – probably a big part of the problem – you’ll have to stop knocking yourself about.

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