The Muslim attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya came just as I was preparing to review Sadakat Kadri’s provocative and thought-provoking book on Shari’a law: how it evolved from diverse interpretations over 14 centuries and how it is understood today. I asked Kadri to comment on the riots in Libya and Egypt. I asked him to explain why Muslims seem to react more violently to hateful and offensive insults to their religious beliefs than people who practice other religions do.
Sadakat Kadri answered:
There are at least two ways of answering your question – theological and practical – but both are interconnected. Insofar as anger against the film rests on religious underpinnings, it draws on an attitude to sanctity which, as you know, is common to all three monotheisms. But though the Qur’an warns blasphemers to expect a terrible judgment from God, it actually tells Muslims to ignore insults. Islamic states only imposed punishments very rarely, and it’s only since the Satanic Verses crisis of 1989 that blasphemy has become news. As that suggests, the violence today is a primarily political phenomenon – part of the same huge half-century process that has seen anti-colonialism, wars, occupations, urbanisation and economic grievances fuel the growth of politicised Islamic movements everywhere. That’s not to excuse the terrible murders in Benghazi, but to contextualise them. A mob armed with mortars and RPGs is a symptom of political chaos rather than religious certainty – and it’s important to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of people who suffer violence in Islam’s name, even in Libya itself, are Muslims themselves.
Another factor is the lack of a greater understanding of the world gained through education. Sadly, populations afflicted by oppressive poverty have little opportunity to learn non-violent ways to express their anger. They don’t have the means to overcome their extreme hardship.
Sadakat Kadri is the author of Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World and The Trial: A History, from Socrates to O. J. Simpson.