From Allah’s Lips to the King’s Ear

Here’s a fascinating dynamic, not only for the Muslim state, but the perspective that factions of the West might bring of it:

Now King Abdullah is moving to regain control over this abundance of fatwas. Under a royal decree issued in mid-August, only the official panel may issue the fatwas that answer every question of how pious Saudis should live their lives.
The result: In recent weeks, websites and a satellite station where clerics answered questions have been shut down or have voluntarily stopped issuing fatwas. One preacher was publicly reprimanded for urging a boycott of a supermarket chain for employing female cashiers.

One wonders by what religious claims the king grants himself authority to restrict those to whom the domestic society has imparted the role of interpreting and explaining religion. As the West can testify, this is the road along which religion crumbles, when worldly habits and political constructs begin to be overtly superimposed on claims that are supposed to be supernatural.
Some observers see such an outcome as in line with the natural (even supernatural) order of things:

The question on the minds of some Saudis is whether any of this points the way to a more liberal code. Saad Sowayan, a Saudi historian and columnist, thinks it does. “The state wants to take the lead in shaping public opinion and this serves the issue of secularism and modernity,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

That path, as the article goes on to explain, requires the king to stack the official religious council with increasingly tolerant clerics. But that would only undermine its claims to religious authority in favor of royal authority. In other words, the liberalization is entirely in the statist mode, rather than the classically liberal mode of freedom and balance between social institutions.
Of course, liberalizing Islam hasn’t been the inclination of the ruling class of Saudi Arabia, and the official fatwas are among the most hard line.

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David P
David P
10 years ago

Sounds like King Abdullah is trying to pull a Henry VIII, which he should be able to accomplish with less of a headache than his sixteenth century counterpart, since Islam has no pope to resist this move. But the historical example does demonstrate that arrogation of religious authority by the secular state does not, in and of itself, lead to liberalization or tolerance.

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

“One wonders by what religious claims the king grants himself authority to restrict those to whom the domestic society has imparted the role of interpreting and explaining religion.”
My guess is that it’s about controlling the ‘official message’ to prevent subordinate or cultist leaders from putting the entire institution on the line for inflammatory statements. I’m not endorsing this tactic, just saying that it’s basically a ‘stock buyback’ by the government in the face of a perceived existential threat (military action from the west?).
“As the West can testify, this is the road along which religion crumbles, when worldly habits and political constructs begin to be overtly superimposed on claims that are supposed to be supernatural.”
Forgive me for sounding disrespectful, but aren’t you Catholic? I can’t think of an institution where ‘worldly habits and political contructs’ are ‘superimposed on claims that are supposed to be supernatural’ more than the Catholic church. I’m reading the Bible for the third time now, and I draw very few lines between the text and observed policies.

Justin Katz
10 years ago

Mangeek, You misunderstand a couple of key aspects of the post and of religion. First of all, when I refer to the imposition of political constructs, I mean quite literally the overt dominance of the political sphere in a society over the religious sphere. I’m not aware of an overt narrative, in Saudi Islam that the royal family is descended from the prophet, or anything like that. If religious people begin to observe their religion being bent to the will of political leaders, rather than to religious leaders, the entire system comes into question. Second of all, this manifests in a more familiar western setting when religious principles change overtly in response to popular positions. I’ve written before about the fading of variations of Christianity Lite, and it’s a very similar dynamic: when people realize that the structural religion bends easily to the fashions of the day, whether it is in line with a transcendent God comes into doubt. The Catholic approach is significantly contrary to that. In a nutshell, it takes up the proclivities of an era and measures them against Christianity as understood by the claims that it has made over the ages. Those claims do evolve; our understanding of the physical world alone would force that. But that evolution isn’t of the sudden “everything we thought we knew was wrong” sort toward which more loosely coherent Protestant sects tend. That you think modern Catholicism ought to jump out at you from straight readings of the Bible illustrates the point that you’re not seeing. Catholic thought has spanned millennia applying scriptural rules and examples — conveyed in a diverse set of religious texts within the Bible — to an ever-expanding range of human experience and deepening understanding of the world in which we live. It has been reshaped… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Still waiting for Justin to say a kind word or two about Islam. So in an attempt to be fair and balanced, here are some kind words from Muhammad.
“ISLAM began as something strange, and it will become thus again, as it was at the beginning.
Blessed, therefore, are the strangers.
(He was asked who the strangers are:)
The strangers are those who restore what the people have corrupted of my law,
as well as those who revive what has been destroyed of it.
You will not enter paradise until you believe,
and you will not believe until you love one another.”

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

There is nothing “kind” to say about Islam. It is one of the most cynical frauds ever perpetrated in human history. Islam was created by a power-mad, violent tyrant as a means of controlling people by their emotions and legitimizing his campaign of conquest, subjugation and terror. The word itself is more properly translated as “submission” than as “peace”. It is a political ideology disguised as a religion.
I can understand why a Leftist would be sympathetic to Islam.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

OTL-if you were ever in a situation where Islamic extremist terrorists were attacking,I doubt your sympathy for their religion would keep them from cutting your head off or blowing you up.
Do yu live in Fantasyland ALL the time?
There are 1.8 billion Moslems in the world-if only 5% are inclined to terrorism,do the math and think about it.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

BobN You are too much of a prejudiced moron to respond to.
joe
Think about the bumper sticker I saw the other day, “Lord save me from your followers.” This applies, if you care to think about it, to all religions. Islam/Christianity/Judaism/Zorastorism/Jainism/Buddhism are beautiful religions. Not all of their followers are.
Where, exactly is your argument with the Prophet’s words, which I requote here;
“ISLAM began as something strange, and it will become thus again, as it was at the beginning.
Blessed, therefore, are the strangers.
(He was asked who the strangers are:)
The strangers are those who restore what the people have corrupted of my law,
as well as those who revive what has been destroyed of it.”
Muhammad is saying the same thing that Jesus said; “Watch out that no one deceives you.
For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ’,and will deceive many.”
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

So what evidence does Lefty have that my analysis is incorrect at all, much less “prejudiced” or “moronic?”
Answer: None at all. He is so confident in his own prejudices that he cannot see the consistent evidence widely available to anyone who desires to study Islamic history.
Or perhaps Lefty is a Muslim himself? That would explain his uncritical and highly emotional defense of Islam.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

BobN
You stick your head in a garbage can and then complain that you only see garbage.
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

To Lefty goes the prize for most meaningless post of the month.

CRO
CRO
9 years ago

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