In the wake of multiple Hollywood sex scandals, British attorney Qasim Rashid made a bold—and some may say audacious—assertion that the Teachings of Islam Could Help Us Prevent More Sexual Abuse Scandals. In his Op-ed, he ignores the rich history of sexual equality in Christianity and without irony proposes Islam as the cure to the increasingly depraved West.
There is a new type of religious crusade being fought in the hearts and minds of the increasingly secular West. We live in a brave new world without a shared history or collective knowledge on which we can agree. Our past has dissolved like a sugar cube in water leaving little but conflicting narratives to assemble what is to come with our forlorn future. With this point in mind, I would like to dissect a recent column—How the Teachings of Islam Could Help Us Prevent More Sexual Abuse Scandals—by Qasim Rashid in the Independent. Mr. Rashid has decided to use our collective historical amnesia to his and Islam’s advantage by asserting that the West was founded on “empty dogmatic theories.” This, of course, is news to me as well as it would be James Madison, John Locke, Thomas Aquinas, and even Aristotle. An attorney by trade, when Mr. Rashid is not engaged in creating philosophical straw men to blow down, I suspect he has encountered the rich legal history of the West, and its dependence over the years on Christian thinkers to define legal, illegal, just, and unjust.
As the secular philosopher Jurgen Habermas explains, “The nominalist revolution in medieval thought paved the way for the emergence of modern science, for humanism, and for the new epistemological and rational-law approaches, as much as for Protestantism and the mundanization of Christianity—that is, for what the Catholic Church first meant by “secularization” from its perspective.” Habermas explains that Christian thought is baked into our language and even rituals in a way that we risk these words effectively losing their meaning if society is divorced from their source. Essentially, unless a person considers words like justice, freedom, individuality, or community to be “empty dogmatic theories” then the philosophical foundations that our civic life depends upon is far from living in the abstract.
Now to be fair, there are some points Mr. Rashid makes on which I fundamentally agree. For instance he writes, “How can we rely on government when 97 per cent of rapists never see a day in prison, judges punish rape of an unconscious college woman with a measly three months in jail, award rapists with equal custody of the child born from a woman they raped, and the US Department of Education rolls back rules that protect women in college from sexual assault?” Indeed, how can we rely on government? My journey towards libertarianism came about as I slowly concluded we cannot, or at the least we should not rely on bureaucracy for much at all. Honestly, his first three examples of government ineptitude are different from his final in that the Department of Education is essentially acknowledging how devastatingly bad the government is at such endeavors. The fact is, every law is in its nature reactive. Until there is a rape there is not a law broken. So if a person depends on the bureaucrat to protect him or her it will only come about after he or she has been made into a victim. This is one reason why libertarians insist on robust rights for the individual. We understand a law must be broken in order for that law to be enforced.
Another strong point he makes on which I agree, though it is more tacit in its assertions, is the role of religion in shaping the public square toward a more just society. Contrary to the new atheist narrative religion helps ground the individual in reality, it provides community which motivates him to be a contributor to society, and offers him a framework on which to order his life. These are all positive contributions that come about without the threat of coercion from on high, and facilitate the creation of a culture that both respects the individual and values the community. Where Mr. Rashid’s pleas fall on deaf ears to this listener is on the patently absurd suggestion that somehow Islam is more capable of fostering an egalitarian society than Christianity is, or more importantly, has been. He is referring to the same Islam which was established through concubines and polygamy. The writer explains the Quran states, “Chapter four, verse two of the Holy Quran…clarifies that women were not created out of the body of a man or from his rib. Rather, the Quran testifies to the fact that men and women were created from a single soul and are of the same kind and species.”
On its face this is a fair interpretation of the scripture. Man and woman share a soul and are therefore on equal footing, but the next verse switches gears and offers guidelines for taking multiple wives (mind you I have yet to find the same rules for woman taking multiple husbands). Further along in the same chapter, regarding division of property, the male children are entitled to twice the inheritance to female children. In every conceivable economical standard, women are entitled to half of what men are. I suppose the idea of material equality between the sexes is asking too much of Islam. Or sexual equality for that matter, women also singularly bear the punishment for being caught fornicating. Men are, at least, held accountable to strict guidelines on how women are to be interacted with as property. These are not the sort of seeds that germinate into equality of the sexes. Quite the opposite and anyone with any knowledge of current events should not be surprised at any of this.
The fact is a compelling case can be made that approaching the two sexes as exact equals from the beginning will inevitably descend into such an unequal system. Once the two sexes are perceived in this way then power becomes the mediator, and men win that battle almost every time. Call this the equality paradox. Consider, for instance, how modern feminism has been pushing the narrative of interchangeability among the sexes. Women must be on the same plane as men in every meaningful category. Interchangeability is exactly what happened. Now men occupy women’s bathrooms, women’s sporting events, and women’s magazine covers. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the sexual revolution unleashed by turning the marital act into something more befitting of an economic exchange thus enabling young men to live in a perpetual state of adolescence.
Now consider Christianity’s claims. In his great poetic and theological work, the Theology of the Body, John Paul II considers the marital union as a reflection of the Trinitarian God. In this vision, as understood in the relation between Father and Son, man and woman are “two separate but complementary incarnations.” No Christian would define the work of the Father as more important than the work of the Son, nor should a Christian say that man is greater than woman or vice versa. But they are different. So as to achieve the common good, the beautiful difference between man and woman come together to conceive through their labors the fruit that is the third person in this holy union, and thus completes the reflection of the Godhead. In this way, man’s power is not to be conceived as a means for his own selfish ends but as a way to protect the honor and dignity of this Trinitarian image. In this manner, woman’s strength is contributed towards the same communal ends. This conception of harmony between man and woman both admits to the equally fundamental and beautiful difference between male and female and thwarts any post-modernist “battle of the sexes” narrative spoon fed to our culture. It is also through this vision that true equality is achieved.
I would like to commend Mr. Rashid for his attempts to recast Islam in a contemporary light, but his efforts unfortunately require an exegesis on par with the “Jesus never explicitly said X and therefore X is okay” crowd. It also requires an historical amnesia that would rather castigate a few contemporary politicians and Hollywood high rollers than contend with why or how our culture even reached a point where we all agree equality is a good thing (Hint: This was not the result of a few “empty dogmatic theories”). If Mr. Rashid would like to know how the hard fought battle for equal dignity of women was advanced he must begin with a Jewish Carpenter 2,000 years ago declaring that “He who is without sin cast the first stone,” and then later revealing His resurrected body to His female companion Mary Magdalene before visiting the disciples. The idea that Jesus would come to the defense of an adulterous woman and then later allow a female follower to be the first witness of His resurrected form was outright scandalous, and required every generation of men since to contend with women cast in a new light. That woman was created through the rib of man is not an indicator of a more important status of men, but the duty of man to protect and foster the dignity of woman. Therefore he protects and fosters the dignity of his children, grandchildren, and community at large. Otherwise, to perceive the sexes as exact equals is to concede that power is the mediator, and in this paradigm women will lose almost every time.