MNA – Author of “Religious Freedom in Islam” Philpott says that religious freedom is present in the Muslim world and that Islam is not inherently hostile to it.
Daniel Philpott, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, says “if a religion can be shown to be hospitable to religious freedom, then we can say that it is a peaceful and tolerant religion.”
Author of “Religious Freedom in Islam” adds “religious freedom is present in the Muslim world and that Islam is not inherently hostile to it.”
“Religious freedom allows religious people and communities the space in which they can flourish as religious communities without interference from the state or from people of other faiths”, Professor Philpott said the Tehran Times.
Following is the full text of the interview:
What is your main question in your new book “Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today”?
In the book I confront the question of whether Islam is hospitable to the principle of religious freedom, a universal human right. Of course, this question can be asked of any religion. It is fair to point out that until modern times, no religion authoritatively espoused a teaching of religious freedom, and that all religions have had a history of violence and intolerance towards other religions. Still, in this book I pose the question towards Islam. I do this because in the West, where I live, a lively debate — even a culture war, one could say — has been taking place over the nature of Islam at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001. One side says that Islam is a violent religion. The other side says that Islam is essentially like any other religion – basically peaceful but containing some violent elements. The outcome of the debate matters a lot. Today, the US has a president, Donald Trump, who is manipulating the US population’s worst views of Islam and of Muslims. I do not agree with this approach. Through writing this book, I hope to arrive at a fair and balanced assessment of the Muslim world. I think that religious freedom is a good criterion for this assessment because it involves an enduring commitment to respect the full, equal citizenship of members of other religions. If a religion can be shown to be hospitable to religious freedom, then we can say that it is a peaceful and tolerant religion.
What is your hypothesis for answering your main questions?
I do not begin with any hypothesis. The study is an empirical one, meaning that I am open to finding different answers depending on where the evidence leads.
One of the main questions is whether Islam is hostile to religious freedom. Do you think that Islam is hostile to religious freedom?
The book’s finding is mixed. If you look at the levels of religious freedom in Muslim-majority countries from a satellite view – that is, in the aggregate — you will see that the Muslim world is less religiously free than the rest of the world. However, if we zoom in to a close-up view, we discover that the picture is more complicated. In fact, about one-fourth of Muslim-majority countries (11 out of 47) are religiously free. They are mostly on the western coast of Africa. Then, among those Muslim majority countries that are not religiously free (36), a sizable portion (15) are repressive on account of a secular ideology, not out of Islamic beliefs. True, the other 21 are not free for more religious reasons — they are governed by an ideology of Islamism. Overall, I try to be both honest and hopeful. In the end, I want to show that religious freedom is present in the Muslim world and that Islam is not inherently hostile to it.
In this book, you argue, the Islamic tradition carries within it “seeds of freedom”. How can we cultivate those seeds in order to expand religious freedom in the Muslim world and the whole world, in general?
Yes, I identify seven “seeds of freedom,” which are concepts or practices in the Islamic tradition that express religious freedom in a significant way but that fall short of a full human right of religious freedom that is articulated in its many dimensions, enshrined in law, protected in contemporary political orders, and broadly accepted by Muslims. By pointing out these seeds in the tradition, I seek to show potentialities for religious freedom to grow. They include 1) Quranic verses and traditions of interpretation; 2) evidence for freedom in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); 3) the tradition of treatment of minorities, or dhimmis; 4) periods of liberal Islam; 5) contemporary Muslim advocates of religious freedom; 6) elements of religious freedom in the law and institutions of Muslim-majority states; and 7) a tradition of separation of religion and state. We can cultivate these seeds by highlighting their presence in the Muslim tradition, spreading awareness of them, and building a network of people across traditions who are committed to religious freedom.
When you argue that the Islamic tradition carries within it “seeds of freedom”, which kind of interpretation of Islam do you mean?
The seeds of freedom are not tied to any one interpretation of Islam. Certainly, though, there are certain schools of thought that tend to favor religious freedom more than others, for instance, schools that stress the role of reason. It is important to remember, though, that even revivalist thinkers like Sayyid Qutb thought that religion could only be adopted freely. Religion, including Islam, is most authentic and beautiful when it is adopted freely and not imposed.
In this book you argue that “religious freedom promotes goods like democracy”. What is the preconditions for religious freedom (Democracy or not)? Some argue that secularism is precondition for having democracy. If this is true, it challenges your argument.
I would begin by saying that there are different forms of secularism. There is negative secularism, which embodies hostility to religion and has been exemplified by states like the Republic of Turkey as founded by Kemal Ataturk, Egypt under the rule of Nasser, modern day Syria, and the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia. But there is also a more positive form of secularism that views religion as a good thing and a strong contributor to justice and good governance, yet calls for religion and state to be separate in their functions and authority. The Muslim-majority states of West Africa, including Senegal, Mali, and Sierra Leone, meet this description.
What I want to stress most about religious freedom is that it is good for people — it manifests human dignity — and it is good for religions, good for Islam, and good for Muslims. Religious freedom allows religious people and communities the space in which they can flourish as religious communities without interference from the state or from people of other faiths. It does not involve a Western form of secularism that is hostile to religion but is rather a principle that carries the deepest respect for religion. That is one of the most important points I make in the book.
Interview by Javad Heirannia