In a philosophy class at Stanford years ago, I was exposed to the concept of “might makes right” through reading excerpts of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in which he said, “…right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Those in power get to set the rules. While we expect such self-serving attitudes from tyrants and dictators, we expect more from our Creator. Should ultimate good and evil have no deeper reality than the whims of an all-powerful deity? Should there not be some absolute morality where “rightness” and “wrongness” can be justified as self-authenticating moral categories that even God abides by? One would hope so – certainly that is the perspective of most of us steeped in the biblical, Judeo-Christian tradition.
That, however, is not the view of core Islam, where Allah (according to the Qur’an) is the Master of all, the being whose absolute power trumps everything else, even morality. As the Qur’an says, “to Allah belongs the might and to His Apostle and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know”(63:8; Shakir trans.). What he says, goes, even if it contradicts the most basic ethical concept of fairness to all.
This is the reason that Islam cannot embrace something as ethically straightforward as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, which
…sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.” But not in Allah’s universe, apparently. Why do I say this? Because Allah decrees one set of full rights/rules for Muslim men and another set of abridged rights for Muslim women and unbelievers (kafirs).
For example, under shari’a law, which Muslims take to be divine and unchangeable, a Muslim man may marry up to four women at one time. He can divorce a wife on a whim or for cause, he can limit her travel outside the house, he can demand sex from her at any time – she may not refuse him (or else, according to Muhammad, the angels will curse her until morning), except if menstruating or extremely ill. Women by nature are unequal to men. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad declared they are deficient in their religion, in intelligence and in emotional balance. Hence, their testimony in Islamic courts is equal to half that of a man’s. Their periods make them unclean during monthly menstruation, so that they are unable to attend to required religious duties. If they are disobedient to their husbands, they are to be shunned until they repent. Failing that, they are to be beaten until they submit. Yet Muslim women have some rights. If they do all their husbands demand, they have the right to be fed and clothed and protected. Under very limited circumstances, they can sue for divorce, but should they be successful, the courts will still award children to the father once they have reached 7 (for a boy) and 9 (for a girl). This is all in accordance with Allah’s will.
Human slavery is a given in Islam. Of course, all human beings by nature are slaves of Allah. Muslims are never to be enslaved by others, but they are free to enslave kafirs, either by winning them through the conquest of jihad, or by purchasing them in the slave markets. The slavery of infidels pleases Allah, as it shows the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims. Muhammad himself bought and sold slaves, received and gave slaves as gifts, owned both white and black slaves, and used some of females he own as sex slaves. According to Allah, this was a moral good, even forcing sex on female slaves who were already married, for once they became the property of Muslims their former marriages were annulled. Nevertheless, good slaves are to be treated well, and can even be set free by a merciful master, for such an action is meritorious in the eyes of Allah.
Freedom of religion is a limited right under Islam. For the kafir who refuses to convert when challenged by Muslim forces, he/she is given an ultimatum: convert to Islam or face beheading. If the kafir is a monotheist (Jew, Christian, or Zoroastrian) there is a third option: become a dhimmi, i.e., a non-Muslim resident in the Muslim state, who is required to pay an annual tax of humiliation known as jizya and to submit to severe limitation of rights. According to the Pact of Umar, dhimmis are not allowed to worship openly or ring church bells, they cannot build new houses of worship, their existing structures cannot be extended, nor can their steeples be higher than any mosque in town; they must dress in styles that set them apart from the Muslim majority, must move out of the way when a Muslim approaches on the street, must give up their seat to a Muslim who wishes it, must house Muslims who request hospitality for up to three days, and must show respect for all Muslim practices. Dhimmis may not carry weapons, may not support spies or insurrectionists against the Muslim state, and may not hold any office with authority over Muslims. We know that Allah is pleased with this arrangement, because it accords with his “perfect” shari’a law.
Lastly, the dignity and value of kafir lives (those outside dhimmi status) are negligible compared with that of Muslims. The Qur’an brands all kafirs as “dirty” (9:28). Muslims are to show mercy to one another, but to treat kafirs with harshness (48:29). Allah declares that Muslims are the best of all peoples (3:110), and that kafirs are the vilest of all creatures (98:6)! If a Muslim murders another Muslim, that is a capital offense. But if he murders a kafir, he is only required to pay “blood-money” to the victim’s family. Muslims engaged in jihad are authorized not only to kill or capture kafirs but to plunder their women, children and possessions as booty for their efforts. In the course of jihad, warriors are permitted to rape infidel women – as we are hearing increasingly from Muslim immigrant men in Europe and like-minded believers in Pakistan, “Kafir women exist for our pleasure.” The Qur’an forbids Muslims from taking kafirs as friends, except for the purpose of saving their own skins and/or advancing the cause of Allah (under the doctrine of taqiyya, deception of kafirs is permissible when one’s life or the cause of Islam is in danger). Even family members are to be shunned or executed for failing to submit to Islam. The only freedom of conversion is to Islam. A Muslim who decides to leave Islam is branded as an apostate, and Muhammad’s verdict is that such a person be killed.
What kind of a creator god would set up a moral system that treats such evil as good, as long as it is being done by his followers, but condemns such actions when done against his forces? Would we not call such a god immoral? Certainly, those believing that true ethics are universally applicable would reject as tyrannical and evil any god who plays fast and loose with moral truth.
But Allah doesn’t care what you might think. All that matters, according to Islam, is that he holds all the power, and can do whatever he wants. After all, Allahu akbar — God is greater! Greater than you, greater than truth, greater than morality. Those who speak out against him will be leveled by his power, unless of course they are protected by a greater power – the power of the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1: 23-24; Romans 1:16).