Jihad and Justice: Western Pluralism and Islamic Exclusivity

In the foregoing discussion of similarities and differences between Christian and Islamic political and just war theory there is one distinction that should immediately appear to be in conflict with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the presuppositions its claims and authority rest upon.  As demonstrated in Augustine’s distinction between the city of God and the city of man, there is room within the Christian religion for a separation between church and state.  While any student of the American Revolution would be quick to point out that this distinction was a main feature in the new American government, it is important to note that the distinction has been made even during the formative stages of Christianity.  The examination of the roots of Islam and following interpretations of the Qur’an and the life of Mohammed reveal a very different principle—one that seems to directly conflict with the presuppositions found in the U.N.’s human rights declaration.  From the beginning, it seems that the religious realm cannot, or should not, be separated from the political realm in Islam.  The end towards which Islam is striving is a unification of the umma, the community of Muslim believers, in which the entire world will eventually be brought into submission to God.  This contrast between Islamic political theory and modern Western presuppositions is significant.

Currently, contemporary Western public opinion seems to concur with the presuppositions that form the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  When the United States contemplated going to war with Iraq, the media immediately began to question whether or not such a war could be justified.  A quick glance at headlines confirms this fact.  Protestors raised questions as to whether the war was really about American greed for oil money, whether America could be just in prosecuting a war in which innocent civilians (including children) would be killed, whether one nation could justifiably try to determine the destiny of another.  Certainly questions were raised in regards to Bush’s religious comments and themes in his addresses given to the American public.  Concerns were voiced regarding the new government to be established in Iraq; was America going to allow the Iraqi people to establish a religious, Islamic government if they so desired?  Public opinion still assumes that political authority can and should be separated from religious authority, and that religious motivations for carrying out war cannot be justified.

In light of the current discussion over justifiable actions in war and the relationship between religious and secular authorities in government, Islam has little to bring to the table.  Due to the fact that one authority, which is both religious and political, rules the ideal Islamic society the motivations for war are always going to be grounded, at least partially, in religious beliefs.  While many of the conditions for just war are comparable to Christianity, the motivation for war behind these conditions is strikingly different.  As long as Western society holds the foundational belief that religion and politics should be separate, there is little room for Islamic conceptions of statehood and its implications for just war.

Other posts in the Jihad and Justice series:

Islamic and Christian Theories of War

Christian Just War Theory, Part 1

Christian Just War Theory, Part 2

The Islamic Conception

The Islamic Context

Islamic Just War Theory, Part 1

Islamic Just War Theory, Part 2

The Two Cities

Augustine’s Citizens

The Two Territories

Contrasting Views

Pluralism and Western Values 

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