No compulsion?

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The New York Times has an article about a Malay woman who converted to Christianity and now wishes to marry her fiance, who is also a Christian. Her problem is the ideology promoted by the Malaysian government that by definition Malays are Muslim. Additionally, Islamic tradition reinforced by shariah imposes strong sanction, up to capital punishment, upon those who apostatize from the faith. The day to day reality of apostacy varies, there are many unbelievers within the Muslim world, but their rejection of religion is not public and they do not generally follow another religion. The woman profiled in the article not only rejected Islam, but, she converted to another religion and is making her conversion public knowledge and attempting to assert her rights to conversion through the legal system. “Moderate” Muslim nations like Malaysia are in a twilight zone, attempting to reconcile the medieval center of gravity of world normative Islam with their own acknowledgement that the “next stage” in national development requires a relaxation of the coupling between traditional norms and state sanction. The power and strength of Christianity, in particular evangelical Christianity, in concert with the the suffocating march of international liberalism is that it will confront a large number of Muslims and force them to turn away from the older norms of exclusion, domination and anti-individualism (radical Protestants also played this role in northern Europe). One of the advocates for the woman in question is himself a Muslim; in nearby Indonesia it is not unknown for nominal believers in places like East Java to transfer their religious identification to Christianity or Hinduism. A similar process of religious competition occurs in much of Africa as Muslims become Christians and Christians become Muslim. But, the unfortunate reality is that the “center” of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, represent the other antipode of fluid toleration of freedom in regards to choice of religion. For the world of Islam these are the Edgardo Mortara moments, but the outcome will not be measured via such sensational cases, but rather by the slow but inevitable wheels of liberalism grinding away at the edifice of medieval social control.

9 Comments

  1. Never mind poor Edgardo, in 1935 the Roman Catholic church chose to appoint this man a saint:- “As Lord Chancellor, More had six Lutherans burned at the stake and imprisoned as many as forty others, some of whom were interrogated under torture in his own house.” Quotation from Wiki.

  2. added to @COB. Dude I love delicious.

  3. typo: “state saction”

  4. Malaysia had earlier converted a famous Malyasian Hindu mountaineer in death from Hinduism to Islam. They claimed that he had converted on his deathbed, but his widow denied that. Malaysia’s top court ruled that it could not override the Islamic court’s decision that the “conversion” had happened. They took his body and gave him an Islamic funeral against the wishes of his widow who wanted him to have a Hindu cremation.  
     
    BBC Link

  5. For the world of Islam these are the Edgardo Mortara moments, but the outcome will not be measured via such sensational cases, but rather by the slow but inevitable wheels of liberalism grinding away at the edifice of medieval social control. 
     
    Something about that sentence sounds as if it were taken straight from a college sociology paper.

  6. but rather by the slow but inevitable wheels of liberalism grinding away at the edifice of medieval social control. 
     
    This might happen in the long run, but as we know, we are all dead in the long run anyway. But more to the point, I think it will get worse in the short term before it gets better. Most of the Muslim world was illiterate and not very aware of how Islam worked in the center of gravity of the Islamic world – the Arabian peninsula. Now with greater literacy, they are trying to ape them and follow the fundamentalist texts rather than the more liberal Islam their older societies followed. The practice of this more strict (authentic?) Islam might make them see the light and make it more liberal. On the other hand it might not, if the example of Afghanistan has any validity for the wider Islamic world. Afghanistan was rid of the Taliban and has had an opportunity to liberalize. But it does not look like it is happening. Maybe it is not happening because the ouster of the Taliban was not indigenous.

  7. But more to the point, I think it will get worse in the short term before it gets better.  
     
    this is a plausible perspective, but more for say bangladesh, than malaysia. after all, malays have had a generation of prosperity, and always made ostentatious attempts to ape arab (as opposed to turco-persian indian) islam. also, the social dynamics matter. i think you will see a lot more debate and tension, and probably finally accommodation in a society like the hui muslims of china than in pakistan, for obvious reasons. malaysia is somewhere in the middle.

  8. I could imagine guest workers in the gulf states converting to evangelical christianity. Those countries are moderately liberal and the “turn the other cheek…our reward is in heaven” seems like an appealing philosophy to a guest worker (poor Americans love it).

  9. In what sense Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country? It is led by a fanatic Hadrami community which are anything but moderate.

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