Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Daniel Pipes Corrects the Pope

Daniel Pipes obviously has chutzpah. He doesn't accept the doctrine of infallibility. Today he argues that Pope Benedict is mistaken about the nature of Islam:
I must register my respectful disagreement. The Koran indeed can be interpreted. Indeed, Muslims interpret the Koran no less than Jews and Christians interpret the Bible, and those interpretations have changed no less over time. The Koran, like the Bible, has a history.

For one indication of this, note the original thinking of the Sudanese theologian Mahmud Muhammad Taha (1909-85). Taha built his interpretation on the conventional division of the Koran into two. The initial verses came down when Muhammad was a powerless prophet living in Mecca, and tend to be cosmological. Later verses came down when Muhammad was the ruler of Medina, and include many specific rulings. These commands eventually served as the basis for the Shari'a, or Islamic law.

Taha argued that specific Koranic rulings applied only to Medina, not to other times and places. He hoped modern-day Muslims would set these aside and live by the general principles delivered at Mecca. Were Taha's ideas accepted, most of the Shari'a would disappear, including outdated provisions concerning warfare, theft, and women. Muslims could then more readily modernize.

Even without accepting a grand schema such as Taha proposed, Muslims are already making small moves in the same direction. Islamic courts in reactionary Iran, for example, have broken with Islamic tradition and now permit women the right to sue for divorce and grant a murdered Christian equal recompense with that of a murdered Muslim.

As this suggests, Islam is not stuck. But huge efforts are needed to get it moving again.