Monday, May 7, 2012

Letter to Charlene Law - part 6

(Letter to Charlene Law continued.....)

We like to believe that slavery was a passing thing and that humanity has outgrown it. Don’t be so sure. We have definite archeological evidence for slavery going back to 8,000 B.C. and at the date of the present writing, there are numerically more slaves than at any other time in history. 
As we enter the 21st century there are perhaps 20 to 30 million slaves in the world. Historically there are a few ways to become slaves. One can be born into slavery be enslaved as a captive of war or kidnapping, be enslaved as a punishment for crime or be enslaved for non-payment of debt. All these forms of enslavement, though universally outlawed are practiced at the present time. Governments turn a blind eye to the problem throughout the whole world, including the U.S. Government.   

The U.S. does not permit slavery.  It simply allows the import of the labor of slaves. There are slaves who are forced to work sugar plantations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. There are thought to be as many as 10,000 slaves in the United States, mostly held against their will for purpose of prostitution. There are at least a few hundred thousand slaves in India, principally children who are locked in factories. There are prisoners in China forced to work as slaves as well as outright human trafficking, but the great majority of modern slaves are found in Islamic countries, principally the Sudan. (Black African Christians captured in war). 

In Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, indentured servitude, (also called bond slavery or enslavement for debt) is common and Bangladeshi slaves are found as far away as Yemen and Malaysia. And of course our friend and ally, Saudi Arabia denies that it permits slavery, but I know all sorts of people who have relatives and friends, especially Filipinas, who have gone for work in Saudi Arabia only to find that they are not allowed to leave and are at the whim of their Saudi master. Our other friend and ally, Pakistan, is one of the great slave holding countries of the modern world. The estimates of the number of child bond slaves in Pakistan is anywhere from 2 million to 20 million. They are forced to make things as diverse as carpets and surgical instruments for export. A Pakistani child is thought to be able to stitch three footballs a day. 

There is a chance that your carpets, your expensive designer athletic shoes, your sporting goods, your tables and chairs, your clothes, the sugar in your coffee are made by modern slaves, often children, most of them in the Dar al Islam, the World of Peace. So friends, you and I mustn’t feel too enlightened or superior. We are no better than slave holders. We are too arrogant to have slaves ourselves. We simply enjoy the cheap luxury goods  that are made with their sweat, their blood and their tears.

There is a very subtle and very important difference between Christianity and Islam regarding slavery. Both religions assume that slavery is a natural phenomenon.

The Koran actually discourages slavery, and the freeing of slaves is considered a meritorious act. Muhammad freed 67 of his own slaves. He did however seem to have kept some women slaves as concubines. No Muslim can have relations with a woman to whom he is not married, except with a concubine who is, in fact, a slave. There is no penalty for relations with an enslaved woman, either for her or for the man involved. (Koran 33:50) “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowries; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee.” And we read in the Hadith (Bukhari 34:351) “A man decided that a slave of his would be manumitted after his death and later on he was in need of money, so the Prophet took the slave and said, ‘Who will buy this slave from me?’ Nu'aim bin 'Abdullah bought him for such and such price and the Prophet gave him the slave.” 

So Muhammad both owned and sold slaves.  Still, he freed many slaves and in Islam no free born Muslim can be enslaved. One born as a slave, even though a Muslim, doesn’t have to be freed, and anyone captured in battle can be enslaved. A person who is not in one of the permitted religions faces death, slavery or conversion as the only possible options if captured in Holy War. In short, the freeing of slaves is meritorious but not required. 

At first glance Christianity seems to have very little to say about slavery. It is acknowledged as legal, but in his letter to Philemon, Paul urges his friend to free the slave, Onesimus, which Philemon apparently did. Onesimus is thought to be the third bishop of Ephesus. St. Callistus (217-222) the 16th pope, started out life as a slave at a time when the Roman world believed slavery was an indelible blot on the character, even if the slave were eventually freed.  Slavery in the ancient world was  part of the social contract. “You should have fought harder in the battle and rather have been killed than captured.” “You shouldn’t have put yourself and you children up as collateral for a debt.” The free man would respectably kill himself rather than be enslaved. 

So you see, if you were a slave it was your own fault and the fault of your slavish nature.  Still, slavery  was not an impediment to St. Callistus’ election as bishop of the growing Roman Church, because in the Church all were slaves and none were slaves. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal.3:28)  The title “slave” (Greek: “doulos”) was an honor among Christians. The Blessed Mother and St. Paul both call themselves slaves. Jesus himself is called a slave in St. Paul’s letter to the Phillipians “(Jesus), being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave.” (Phil. 2:6,7)

Slavery continued, though diminished in the Byzantine, Eastern Christian empire. It continued, but was very actively discouraged in western Europe, only to be replaced by serfdom. Slavery in early medieval Europe was still common enough that the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly prohibited it, especially the sale of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands. Non-Christian slaves taken in war were permitted with the exception of enslavement for reasons of race or nationality which were expressly forbidden first in 1435 by Pope Eugene IV regarding Guanches, the indigenous inhabitants of the Canary Islands and by Pope Paul III (1534) in reference to the indigenous inhabitants of the newly discovered Americas. Ultimately, slavery has largely disappeared where Christians are the majority, but it continues and seems to be growing in parts of the Muslim world.

The ending of slavery in the Christian world is a good window into one of the prime differences between Christianity and Islam. Some Christians speak of the development of doctrine.  Most Catholics prefer the term, the “unfolding” of doctrine.  Understanding and applying the teaching of Jesus and the meaning of His words in new situations is an integral part of Christian life. Take, for example, the phenomenon of WWJD bracelets, the letters standing for  “What Would Jesus Do.”  A traditional Christian may just as easily ask “What Does Jesus Want Me to Do?” The visionary experience is alive and well in the Christian world, believing that the Holy Spirit still speaks, not giving new revelations, but reminding believers of what has been revealed and applying that revelation to the present situation.

There is a saying among Muslims, that “the gates of Ijtihad are closed.” Ijtihad is the making of a decision in Islamic law by an individual. For most Muslims, the revelation and the interpretation of that revelation is absolutely complete as of around 900AD. There can be no new law or new interpretation. This is much more significant than it first appears. Christianity has nothing to compare with the structure of Islamic law. Islamic law dictates what one wears, what one eats and drinks, whom one marries and just about every other area of life. Islamic law is revealed and is divine in its inspiration. Christian law is much less detained. It is limited to certain moral principles and must be fleshed out in the societies where the Christian finds himself. There are basic laws and principles, but most Christians cannot be known by what they eat, by what they wear, or how they look.  Even the extensive codes of Canon Law, common in Western and Eastern churches, are commonly reworked and changed. It is human law based on the need of the church in a particular era. It is not thought to be divine in its origin.

The closing of Ijtihad has to do with the nature of both Muhammad and the Koran. The Koran is the unchanging, infallible word of God. It is not the expression of a man, but of Allah. It cannot be questioned or changed in anyway. In fact, most Muslim scholars are uncomfortable even with its translation into modern languages. To translate something is to change it. Allah did not say anything in English or French or even modern Arabic. He said it in classical Arabic and to translate even into a more contemporary Arabic is to change it, and thus it is impossible to have a real understanding of divine revelation if one does not take the trouble to learn classical Arabic.   

Muhammad is the perfect man,
Al-Insan Al-Kamil. To do what Muhammad did is always moral.  The content of Islamic faith and law cannot be changed in any way since the beginning of the Islamic era. It cannot be improved on, or restated or accommodated in any way. What Muhammad did, the Muslim should do. As Muhammad prayed, the Muslim should pray. As Muhammad fought, the Muslim should fight. As Muhammad lived, so the Muslim should live. And so on. Muhammad is worthy of imitation in all things. It is impossible to absolutely change things like child marriage, concubinage, slavery and religious war. They may diminish, but they cannot be outlawed, because to do so would be to impugn the perfection of the prophet of Allah. With the exception of more than four wives at one time and the authoritative speaking of inspired revelation, all that he did the Muslim man may and should do.

There is still one more implication of the perfection of the Koran and its prophet and the closing of Ijtihad that is very much misunderstood by the liberal governments of the West. Heaven knows that at different times and places in the West, there have been slavery, child brides and religious war, and these things are not what separates the West and the Islamic world absolutely. The most difficult thing for Westerners to understand is that, in a fully Islamic society, an elected legislature is morally wrong. No such thing existed in Islam until the arrival in the East by the liberal ideas of the French revolution. 

Christianity has always had a balance between election and delegation. Abbots, abbesses, popes and bishops are all chosen by a process that involves both election and delegation. They, in turn, make the changeable laws of the Church and apply unchangeable divine law to the current need. The Church is not much concerned with civil law, unless that law demands that the believer violate divine law. In Islam, civil law is religious and religious law is civil. Muhammad was a ruler of an earthly state, and his Successors followed his example. 

Here is the point: As far as the Muslim is concerned, no elected body can make law! Only Allah can make law and he has done so in the Koran. These laws were fleshed out by the first four, or rightly guided Caliphs (Successors) and to attempt to make new law and new interpretation is blasphemous. Our attempts to impose Western style democracy on an Islamic world are utterly futile. Law is made only by Allah and its interpretation is a theological task, not a civil or secular one. The governments of America and Europe are fooling themselves to think that Islam is modernizing. If it modernizes it ceases to be Islam. The depth of understanding of Islam by most Western leaders is so shallow as to be laughable. The belief that, “Muslims are really just like us and want what we want” is both absurd and insulting to Muslims.

To be continued………….

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