We need to have a deeper conversation about how we as Muslims understand modern concepts, structures, and institutions in light of our religious principles. Here is a simple example.
If we look at our scholarly tradition, banning non-Muslims from entering Mecca and Medina is well-established and some classical scholars even extended that restriction to the entirety of the Arabian peninsula.
Given that this is a part of our tradition, on what basis can we object to a country that decides to ban Muslims from entering? Or a country that bans Muslims from entering particular cities?
This is an important question and I am not asking it for merely rhetorical effect.
I was trying to make this point earlier with the issue of hijab, but border control is an even more straightforward case.
In this case, appealing to principles of freedom of religion and other liberal maxims clearly won’t cut mustard. If we insist on resorting to liberalism to defend Muslims in these countries, then we should expect liberalism to be used to attack us in turn. Why should a predominantly non-Muslim, secular nation allow Muslim immigration, but Muslims won’t allow non-Muslims to enter these cities? By reflexively appealing to liberal sensibilities to defend Muslims in the West, we are essentially writing checks we can’t cash.
(And I understand that non-Muslims not being able to enter Mecca and Medina is not a big deal today, but it might be a big deal tomorrow, so we better get our story straight sooner rather than later.)
Of course, there are plenty of Muslims who are willing to throw our tradition, fiqh, and even the sacred law as a whole under the bus. That’s what they call “progress” and “rational faith.” I call it shallow opportunism and embarrassing myopia.
So short of that, what other options do we have?
Clearly, the appeals to liberalism have to go. No more writing checks we can’t cash and we don’t even want to cash.
Then what’s left? Well, all inter-religious relations and foreign relations generally are predicated on the basis of leverage and mutual wants. Deals can be cut. Agreements can be reached. Quid pro quo is the name of the game. That has always been the basis of the relationship between Muslim polities and the rest of the world from the time of the Prophet -s- and thereafter. These are the “Hudaybiyya opportunities” so to speak.
And quid pro quo is STILL what makes the world go round, but we have fallen into this delusion of thinking that liberalism is a safety net that we can depend on without there being any costs. But there are costs. BIG costs, like eviscerating our scholarly tradition! If we pay that price and in effect sell our souls, then and only then is liberalism willing to “help” us. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.
UPDATE: Let me make a comment since it is important to understand what is at stake here because people seem to think my insisting on Muslim consistency is little more than academic fastidiousness as an intellectual exercise with no practical relevance. If you have been paying attention for the past 200 years, you may recall that much of Western imperialism in the modern period has been predicated, at least rhetorically, on spreading freedom, liberty, democracy, and so forth. This is the language and the ethics that has justified so much invasion and occupation and brutalization of the Muslim world. By taking this language and these ethics for granted and employing them as convenient for us, we are legitimating them and that makes it all the easier for the imperialists and the neo-crusaders to justify their campaigns. “See! Even the Muslims agree that women should have the right to choose how to dress! And clearly Afghanistan is not facilitating that freedom, so we need to go liberate those poor Afghan women!” You might say that it is possible to espouse liberalism without condoning militarism/imperialism. Fine, but even “peaceful” infiltration of Muslim society by many of these NGOs with liberal agendas cause all kinds of social havoc and are ultimately just a means for converting the natives to modes of thought and behavior favorable to Western economic and imperial interests. Joseph Massad hits the nail on the head when he details this program in his recent book “Islam in Liberalism.”