Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika has stirred up a hornets nest with his reported statements that Islamic law must, for him, take precedence over Ausralian law.
Hmm? Surely all major religions take the same view. Indeed you don’t even have to be religious to say that wherever there is a conflict, your own moral position must take precedence over the laws of the land.
Now let’s make it perfectly clear, we believe that the current wave of terrorism practised indescriminantly against innocent people of all faiths must be profoundly condemmed. We also believe that the interpretation of Islam that is often used to justify this taking of innocent life is a perversion of Islam.
But this is not an argument about terrorism or Islam. It is an argument about personal belief versus the laws of the state.
On this front, most of us have it easy most of the time. Apart from niggling issues like the appropriate positiontion of speed cameras, most of us agree that the laws we live under are morally justified and we feel no personal moral conflict with them.
Things are not always so clear cut. During the Vietnam war many prospective conscripts put their own conscience before the laws of the land and refused to obey regulations requiring them to fight in a war the believed was wrong (many of them believed that all wars were wrong.) These ‘conscientious objectors’ put their own conscience above the law. Many others believed they were putting the security of our country at risk by doing so. However, as few of the objectors followed a religion not in the mainstream of our culture, few labelled them as extremists.
During the reign of the Nazis in Germany and the Appartheid rule in South Africa, many people are now regarded as towers of courage for giving their lives in the fight against what they saw as morally repugnant laws.
No, a person of high moral character will, whenever there is a conflict, always follow their conscience against the state. What is at stake here is not the issue of whether religious laws overide the laws of the land, but whether the religious laws themselves, or their interpreation are morally justifiable.
There is, we believe, a beacon in all of us that tells us when something is right or wrong. None of us are perfect and we struggle to find this beacon, or we struggle with our own selfish interest against the interests of others. None of us are free from hypocrisy. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said
…the universal dividing line between good and evil runs not between countries, not between nations, not between parties, not between classes, not between good and bad men: the dividing line cuts across nations and parties, shifting constantly. . . . It divides the heart of every man. Quoted here.
But that beacon is there and against it we can measure by our heart’s reaction, the truth of what someone tells us. We can condem an interpretation of Islam without knowing Islam and without necessarily condemming Islam in whole.
In our strenuous endeavour to remove the threat of terror from the world, let’s get our arguments straight – for getting them wrong only aids the cause of the terrorists. This is not an argument about personal belief versus state law and which has precedence. This is an argument about what is right.