Religious Flexibility

Islamic Mortgages and Religious Flexibility -

In Wednesday's Best of the Web, James Taranto blogs about "Islamic mortgages" in Minnesota (scroll to "very interesting"). He opines that the method used to get around the Koranic prohibition of interest is just a "loophole" - and intelligently compares it to Jewish techniques for getting around the prohibition on leavened bread at Passover (simple: sell it to a Gentile, leave it physically where it is, and buy it back when it's over). This is of course a commonplace in religious history. If you read even John Robinson's Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, you'll read many examples: medieval Catholicism opposed usury quite strictly, but the Templars provided financial services suspiciously like banking. No interest, of course, but the beneficiary would make a donation to the holy Order...In another part of the book, Frederick II is leading a Crusading army that wants to follow him, but technically they can't listen to him because his excommunication hasn't been lifted; he gets around it by issuing all orders "in the name of Jesus Christ" (it was his crusade, after all) - quite good enough.

Mr. Taranto expresses the humane hope that "if Islam can adapt so that Muslims can get mortgages, perhaps the more invidious elements of Shariah are open to reinterpretation as well." He doesn't seem aware that this already happens all the time. See the scholarly Islamic side of this debate with the anti-Islamic fanatic Ali Sina. The good professors squarely face the more brutal verses you know - smite the unbelievers' fingertips off, fight them until they convert "or, with willing hands, pay the jizya, and feel themselves utterly subdued," etc. etc. They argue, as many of the Muslims called moderate do, that those verses were only for that time (lawyers call it "limiting the case to its facts"). They argue that whoever lived at the time of Mohammed could see his Godly nature and had no excuse to deny it; but men ever since have only hearsay, and can't be held so strictly liable. Moreover, and this fascinates me, they take this doctrine as obvious and self-evident. Theologians can do to the plainest scripture what the Supreme Court did to the Commerce Clause, or the Ninth Circuit to the Second Amendment - and often they do this in a way that accomodates a stark doctrine to Life as we live it on the Earth, and makes it more humane. You know what Jesus said about divorce; perhaps you've read what Milton did with it?

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