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March 14, 2004


Luke Lea

Hi! I got pointed over here from razib's site, and this is my first-time visit.

Let me just say that I am a non-Moslim of Christian descent (though both of my parents were free thinkers), and will freely admit that I knew almost nothing about the Moslim religion before 9/11. (However, I did make the effort to read the Koran in translation a couple of years before that -- and could barely make head or tails out of it, except that it seemed, in comparison with the Jewish and Christian sacred literature, more a-historical, now-centered in outlook.) Anyway, since 9/11 I've read about 50 books on the subject, from a variety of different points of view, and have some sense now -- perhaps a distorted one -- of what the religion is all about. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask some questions, realizing that the range of opinion among believers (of Islam I presume, no less than Christianity and Judaism)is vast. So, one question for starters: How reliable is Daniel Pipes's early book The Path of God, particularly his take on the hadiths and the general impracticality of applying Sharia in any real functioning society, past as well as present? (Please try to forget about all Pipes's current polemicism if possible.) Also, is it true that the political and religious authorities in Islamic countries have had a kind of live and let live arrangement: with the ruling elite more or less telling the imams to stay out of politics and we'll leave you alone, and the imams saying to them to show at least a pretense of orthodoxy and we'll leave you alone? I know this is a ridiculous simplification, but it's a place to start.


It;s not possible to divorce Pipe's political opinions from his analyses on Islam.


"live and let live" is simple pragmatism. re: pipes, i would say: islamic law recognizes a spiritual component, and that spiritual discipline brings a person to more honesty, rightness and correctness, for it reduces our whims, our negative desires and focuses our mind. because pipes has no such component to his thought, it is questionable from an orthodox point of view. from a mainstream point of view, how can someone rabidly opposed to islam be considered a fair judge of it?


I've never read anything by Daniel Pipes, give or take the odd article. So excuse me for not commenting on his book. Further, I am not sure what "the hadiths and the general impracticality of applying Sharia in any real functioning society, past as well as present" even means.

The other point, on the "live and let live" approach is a fair opinion; if we were to try and look for "historical causes", the early Muslim community did suffer from civil wars. Perhaps this developed a more politically quietist ethos in the `ulema? I think this argument has good weight. Even still, many individual Muslim scholars did speak out against rulers (off the top of my head, an example which comes to mind is the cheif jurist at the time of the Mamlukes).

But if you're looking for some sort of 'legal' opinion which carries weight with Muslims, I would suggest finding a Muslim scholar qualified to give such opinions.

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