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