Is Islamic Society Barbaric?
...This essay will uncover the baseless accusations and deliberate attempts to malign Islam by exposing western ideologues’ political narrative. This will be achieved by showing that Liberalism’s social model has failed and solutions provided by politicians are simply not working...
Having already discussed that Liberalism has caused social breakdown and that its political values are non-cohesive in that they neither facilitate social cohesion nor evoke ideas that construct positive behaviours. Since non-cohesive liberal values have directly contributed to social breakdown, the evident solution is to propagate cohesive values with the relevant social models and mechanisms to achieve a cohesive society.
Although cohesive values are a fundamental feature of a cohesive society, they are inadequate if they do not sit within a workable social model. It is the scope of this essay to contrast the Liberalist and Islamic social model by highlighting and discussing some of their key features in the hope to demystify aspects of Islamic law and demonstrate that in actual fact Islamic punishments are founded within a workable model, a model that has produced positive results and has a greater capacity to achieve a cohesive society.
Unfortunately many politicians and media outlets degrade and attack Islam as well as its solutions for society thereby creating a caricature of Islamic law. It is hoped that this essay will help the reader transcend the media hype and political rhetoric, and in doing so bring to light the dynamics of the Islamic model. This essay will uncover the baseless accusations and deliberate attempts to malign Islam by exposing western ideologues’ political narrative. This will be achieved by showing that Liberalism’s social model has failed and solutions provided by politicians are simply not working.
Liberal Social Model
Liberalism’s social framework is illustrated below:
1. Non-Cohesive Values: Individualism
As illustrated above a Liberal society lacks cohesive values. Liberalism’s political values of individual freedom and the primacy of individual rights, based upon the false premise of individualism, are non-cohesive.
2. Propagated Non-Cohesive Values
Liberalism’s non-cohesive values are propagated via the influential structures in society including the media and politics. For example, Leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, David Cameron said, during a speech to the Foreign Policy Centre,
“It is a shared home with values which make it tolerant and hospitable in the first place. We need to build that home together. We need to re-assert faith in our shared British values which help guarantee stability, tolerance and civility. If we lack belief in ourselves, then we transmit a fatal lack of resolution to defend liberal values against those who would destroy them. Sometimes liberalism can decay into relativism, and respect for others can become an unwillingness to proclaim confidence in what we know to be right.”
3. No social model
These propagated non-cohesive values sit within an atomistic view on society, in other words, society is recognised merely as a collection of individuals and not as an entity in itself. Simply put, the dynamics of societal relationships are not entirely recognised other than through the lens of individualism which is the consideration that individual human beings are social atoms abstracted from their social contexts, attachments and obligations. Individualism seeks to understand the self as an abstract entity divorced from its social reality but such a view is inaccurate as there are social and communal attachments which determine the individual. For example, during the cognitive development of a child, developmental psychology has moved away from emphasising the child as the “independent constructor” of his or her own development. According to research cognitive development is not so abstract but is more closely tied to social attachments including socially prescribed routines and tasks.
Additionally, aims and values must be considered when determining the individual where they can only be truly understood within a social context. Shlomo Avineri and Avner de-Shalit argue this point saying, “We cannot analyse their behaviour as if they were abstract entities, as if their values existed somewhere in the distance, ‘outside’, so to speak. This is a critique of the image of the person put forward by the individualists, who tend to distinguish between who one is and the values one has.”
There are dynamic links between society’s values and behaviour. Social constructionist Vivien Burr concludes that key features (or values) of a specific society will affect an individual’s personality, she uses competition as an example, “For example in a capitalist society competition is fundamental; society is structured around individuals and organisation that compete with each other for jobs markets etc…so that where competition is a fundamental feature of social economic life, what you will get is competitive people.”
Similarly, Charles Taylor argues the incoherence of individualism. He contends that human beings have capacities and the affirmation of human capacities defined as the presence of characteristics and traits of individuals that ensure the possession of rights and has normative consequences in that it cultivates these capacities in a society. Liberalism’s core political value of the primacy of rights affirms the capacities that were nurtured in a society and therefore the obligation to belong to a society should be as fundamental as the assertion of rights. However by asserting the primacy of rights, one cannot always claim an equally fundamental obligation because at times the assertion of an individual right is achieved at the expense of the society. To assert the rights to the point of destroying a society deprives the environment for nurturing the required human capacities as well as prevents future individuals in exercising the same capacity, and therefore, rights cannot be ensured if individual rights are taken as a priority (primacy) at the expense of society.
4. Weak Justice System
In addition to this incorrect view of society, we find that in Liberal societies there is a weak criminal justice system that is miserably failing, a key reason being inappropriate punishments. Taking the UK as an example, its criminal justice system is facing immense problems where:
- The system is bringing justice to only 3% of offences committed.
- Punishment does not alter the behaviour of repeating offenders.
- The courts are still not equipped with powers to attack the problems which generate crime with the result that they continue to send too many defendants into custody.
- Courts continue to experience delays: 24% of prisoners are not delivered to court on time; 52% of civilian witnesses come to court and do not give evidence; and 64% of prosecution witnesses come to court and do not give evidence. Files of evidence provided by police to prosecutors are on time and to a suitable standard in only 43% of cases and preparation of prosecutors are effective in only 60% of cases.
- 44% of fines are unpaid and up to 40% of community punishments are unserved.
Islamic Social Model
In contrast to this the Islamic Social Model, illustrated below, is conceptually and practically enhanced:
1. Cohesive Values
As illustrated above the Islamic Social Model has stronger foundations due to its cohesive values. Some of these values include:
- “…judge with justice between them. Verily, God loves those who act justly.”
- “What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger, an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion”
- “...bear witness impartially: do not let the hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to the awareness of God. Be mindful of God...”
2. Propagated Cohesive Values
These cohesive values are propagated via the influential structures in an Islamic society which includes the media, education and politics.
3. Social Model
The Islamic model provides multiple mechanisms to prevent social breakdown. For example, the excessive agitation of human instincts (such as the survival instinct) would be monitored and managed which would be a contributing factor in preventing unnecessary crime such as theft and fraud. Liberal societies, where competition for goods is an essential feature for a functioning economy, have facilitated excessive marketing campaigns including an increase in social and peer pressure which has contributed to crime. Studies have shown that if the perception of what is required to survive is taken outside of a competitive and excessive marketing context, it reduces the desire to obtain the unobtainable. Psychologist Clive Hollin argues that if crimes are the end result of criminals seizing the opportunity to make a personal (usually) financial gain, then the opportunity or situation should be looked at as well as the criminal.
4. Strong Justice System and Suitable Harsh Punishments
The ‘Judge of the Court for Unjust Acts‘ known as Qadi al-Madhaalim is a useful example to show that Islam has a effective justice system. This judge is from a category of judges within the Islamic criminal justice system who settle disputes arising among the people. This judge has jurisdiction within a court called Mahkamat al-Madhaalim translated as ‘The Court of Unjust Acts’. In essence, the judge is appointed to remove all unjust acts within an Islamic society, whether they are committed by the ruler, governors, or any other official. In cases of disputes between the people and the officials of the Islamic society, the judge of this court has the right to dismiss the official once his negligence of the law or injustice committed upon the people is established.
As examples, this court may investigate all matters executed by the Islamic system involving discrimination upon citizens, improper application of the law, improper interpretation of the law and negligence by the ruler, including forcing a tax unduly upon the citizens of the Islamic society. This is a unique process unheard of in Liberal societies. Richard W. Bulliet a professor of history at Columbia University, who specializes in the history of Islamic society and institutions, highlights this point in The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, “…minutely studying case after case, they have shown that justice was generally meted out impartially, irrespective of religion, official status, gender…not being subject to the sharia, Jews and Christians were free to go to their own religious authorities for adjudication of disputes; but in many cases they went instead to the Qadi [Islamic Judge].”
Suitable Harsh Punishments
Finally the Islamic model prescribes suitably capital punishments (hudud). These punishments are often described as ‘barbaric’ however this perception is based upon the liberal outlook to crime and society. If the punishments are viewed in the context of the Islamic social model without superimposing Liberal values on the discussion, these perceptions will inevitably change as these punishments are only a deterrent and a last resort. Additionally, an individual will have to ‘escape’ the cohesive values and the mechanisms put in place to prevent the individual from committing a crime. One of the most powerful arguments for the deterrent effect of harsh punishments and the death penalty comes from the commonsensical notion that people are conscious of pain or death more than a relatively short and comfortable life in prison. Ernest van den Haag, the late professor at Fordham University and a noted proponent of capital punishment stated, “What is feared most deters most.”
Professor van den Haag also argues that harsh punishments should be, on grounds of justice alone. He states, “To me, the life of any innocent victim who might be spared has great value; the life of a convicted murderer does not.” The Islamic model is unlike the situation in the US where capital punishment is still enforced in certain states yet commentators argue that US capital punishment has not reduced crime. This is because capital punishment in the US does not sit within a cohesive social model where it is viewed as a last resort, after the criminal escapes the cohesive values and the mechanisms put in place to prevent the crime in the first instance.
Islamic punishments are suitably harsh, but Muslims completely reject the accusation that these rules are barbaric as they serve as a deterrent to ward off the occurrence of crime in society. The Qur’an views oppressive trials and hardship as worse than killing, hence for some crimes, capital punishment is more than suitable. To contextualise this even further, Islamic law requires higher burden of proof for conviction, for example, there are eleven preconditions for the punishment for theft to be applied. Professor of Law at Harvard University Noah Feldman states, “Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offences, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation.”
Islamic law actually gives the defendant greater basic rights, but also recognises that society has rights too. For example, with regards to burden of proof, Islam requires much higher levels of proof compared to the liberal tradition of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In this regards the Prophet Muhammad said, “…if a person has a way [e.g., alibi, excuses] let them go for it is better for a judge to make a mistake in dismissing charges than in applying the punishment on an innocent.” In other words there must be no doubt at all rather than the liberal concept of beyond reasonable doubt, which is based upon common sense rather than certainty. The Islamic concept considers certainty as the criteria for passing criminal judgements.
Islamic law exists to protect both the individual and society defining when one outweighs the other which is a point that seems to have been lost or ignored in liberal societies today. The Islamic social model is a comprehensive model that is layered with cohesive values and justice. The Liberal social model is a crude model that doesn’t fully recognise society and is layered with non-cohesive values and a failing criminal justice system.
Some of the Fruits of the Islamic Social Model
Since Islamic political values are not implemented in any Muslim country today, historical references must be investigated to highlight some of the results of its social model. The reason for this is due to the fact that Islam’s political values and its models were implemented in history. It must be noted here that the Islamic social model cannot be established successfully without a fully functioning Islamic government, also known as the Khilafah (Caliphate). This is because Islamic Governance is a comprehensive system where all of its models and mechanisms are interdependent and interlink with one another. For example the Islamic economic model is interdependent with the Islamic social model as the requirements for a cohesive society is that all essential needs are met which include food, shelter and clothing. These needs cannot be satisfied without the Islamic Economic Model which fundamentally rests on the premise that individual needs are limited and defined. This is in contrast to the Liberal economic model which rests on the false premise that there are too many needs and not enough resources. This is a geopolitical myth which has facilitated the competitive nature of Liberal economics and its lack of distributing wealth and resources. Below are some of the Islamic cohesive values with historical references exhibiting the positive manifestations of these cohesive values.
Kindness & Liberty
The Qur’an expresses kindness and liberty of belief,
“There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path.”
“What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger, an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion.”
Heinrich Graetz, a 19th century Jewish historian expressed how Islamic rule in Spain favoured the Jews in the context of kindness and liberty of belief, “It was in these favourable circumstances that the Spanish Jews came under the rule of Mahometans, as whose allies they esteemed themselves the equals of their co-religionists in Babylonia and Persia. They were kindly treated, obtained religious liberty, of which they had so long been deprived, were permitted to exercise jurisdiction over their co-religionists, and were only obliged, like the conquered Christians, to pay poll tax…”
Tolerance and Popular Rule
Reinhart Dozy, an authority on early Islamic Spain, states with regards to Islamic tolerance, “…the unbounded tolerance of the Arabs must also be taken into account. In religious matters they put pressure on no man…Christians preferred their rule to that of the Franks.”
Ulick R. Burke, a prominent historian specializing in the history of Spain, reached a similar conclusion, “Christians did not suffer in any way, on account of their religion, at the hands of Moors…not only perfect toleration but nominal equality was the rule of the Arabs in Spain.”
These historical realities were as a result of the cohesive values of Islam. The Qur’an states,
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
The Qur’an resonates with teachings of justice,
“O You who believe! Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, God is aware of what you do.”
"... God loves the just."
“O You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to faith. Heed God [alone]. God is aware of what you do.”
In Islamic history, where the cohesive values of Islam such as justice were propagated, the conclusions made by some historians are unparalleled, an Italian Rabbi, Obadiah Yareh Da Bertinoro, travelled to Jerusalem in 1486 CE and he wrote a letter to his father telling him about the country and its people under the Islamic Social Model, “The Jews are not persecuted by the Arabs in these parts. I have travelled through the country in its length and breadth, and none of them has put an obstacle in my way. They are very kind to strangers, particularly to anyone who does not know the language; and if they see many Jews together they are not annoyed by it. In my opinion, an intelligent man versed in political science might easily raise himself to be chief of the Jews as well as of the Arabs…”
The Jewish historian Amnon Cohen states that the Jewish minorities sought justice from the Islamic courts rather than their own, “The Jews went to the Muslim court for a variety of reasons, but the overwhelming fact was their ongoing and almost permanent presence there. This indicates that they went there not only in search of justice, but did so hoping, or rather knowing, that more often than not they would attain redress when wronged…”
Distribution of Resources
The distribution of wealth and resources constitutes the macro-economy of the Islamic economic model; the Qur’an repeatedly mentions distribution of resources and charity.
The famous letter from a Rabbi found in Phillip Mansel’s book ‘Constantinople’, reflects the Qur’anic reality of distributing resources, "Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the earth. Everything is cheap and every one of us lives in peace and freedom..."
Justice, kindness, tolerance and the distribution of resources are just some of the cohesive values that are propagated in the Islamic Social Model. It can be concluded that under this model people lived under a cohesive society full of justice and kindness, the type of society that is needed today.
In the dire need to realise the implications of this discussion the reader is strongly advised to understand the importance of this analysis which must not be ignored or merely taken to be ideological rhetoric. This essay has attempted to question Liberalism’s social model, something which just doesn’t happen in political and popular culture discourse. Of course, this dangerous silence is due to the insistence that Liberalism should not be questioned as it is the best that we have, yet, ‘the best that we have’ has failed at every level, whether it is its non-cohesive political values or unsuitable punishments for crime. In contrast to this Islam’s social model has strong foundations and mechanisms in place to prevent crime and a strong justice system with suitable punishments. Islamic law and its punishments can only be viewed in context of the Islamic social model, and when understood in this way, terms such as ‘barbaric’ and ‘medieval’ can no longer be applied.
 Hamza Andreas Tzortzis. Liberalism and its Effect on Society. 2009. http://www.islam21c.com/british-affairs/liberalism-and-its-effect-on-society.html
 Marilyn Friedman ‘Feminism and Modern Friendship: Dislocating the Community’ in Shlomo Avineri and Avner de-Shalit. Communitarianism and Individualism. Oxford University Press. 1992. p 101.
 Peter E. Bryant and Andrew M. Colman (Eds). 1995. Longman Group Limited. 1995. p. 20.
 See R. Hinde, A. N. Perret-Clermont, J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds).1985. Social Relationships and Cognitive Development. Oxford University Press.
 Vivien Burr. Social Constructionism. Routledge. 2003. p 33.
 Charles Taylor. Communitarianism and Individualism. Oxford University Press. p 31 - 38.
 Al Ma’idah 5:42
 Al Balad 90:11-20
 Al Ma’idah 5:8
 Clive Hollin. 1999. Crime and Crime Prevention, in D. Messer & F. Jones (eds) Psychology and Social Care. London: Jessica Kingsley.
 See Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi. The Laws of Islamic Governance. Ta-Ha. 1996. p 116-143.
 See Kumo Sulaiman. The Rule of Law and independence of Judiciary Uder the Shari’ah. CILS Publications, Zaria.
 See Abid Ullah Jan. The End of Democracy. Pragmatic Publishing. 2003. p 133 - 135
 Richard W. Bulliet. 2004. The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press.
 Stephen E. Schonebaum. "Introduction." At Issue: Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime?. Ed. Stephen E. Schonebaum. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. August 2004. 21 February 2009.
 ‘Abd ar-Rahman I. Doi revised and expanded by ‘Abdassamad Clarke. Shari’ah: Islamic Law. Ta-Ha. 2008. p 2388-390.
Reinhart Dozy. A History of Muslims in Spain. 1861 (reprinted 1913, 2002), Delhi, p 235.
Rabbi Obadiah Yareh Da Bertinoro, quoted in The Jewish Caravan edited by Leo W. Schwarz, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1946, p. 249.
A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century). Part One, 1994, Pennsylvania, p. 17
Philip Mansel. 1995. Constantinople: City of the World's desire, 1453-1924. Penguin Books, p. 15
DISCLAIMER: All material found on Islam21c.com is for information purposes only. The views expressed on this site or on any linked sites do not necessarily represent those of MRDF.
written by Muhsin, April 27, 2009