The Sharia was and is the source of so much justice and mercy. Only tyrants want to do away with it.
This essay from Mark Koyama given an honest admission: religious freedom is not a revolutionary idea that took the Western world by storm simply on the basis of its compellingness or virtue. Rather, according to the author, tolerance for different religious groups was purely a practical matter politically and economically.
How did this happen?
The author argues that, for various reasons, European states grew less dependent on the Church for political legitimization. Previously, these states needed to ally with the Church in order to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Christian masses, which in turn led to political stability (something very valuable to ruling state authorities). States allying with the Church was bad for tolerance, however, since the Church required the state to punish heretics for them.
Additionally, the author claims, states relied on the religious institutions to contribute to public order. Churches (and waqfs in the Islamic world) were better positioned and capable to help the poor, provide education, and conduct other public services relative to weak state institutions. Furthermore, laws and social rules of these times depended on religious identity as opposed to a general nationalistic identity (e.g., citizenship) that applied equally to all people. All this led to less tolerance for religious diversity. In this world, “religious freedom was inconceivable.”
State institutions started taxing more and became more powerful, claims the author. This allowed them to forego a quid pro quo arrangement with the Church. With increased power, laws and social rules could be enforced more broadly without depending on religious identities to function. As far as the state was concerned, the Jew, Protestant, and Catholic were all equal sources for taxes, so it became unnecessary and a waste of bureaucratic resources to discriminate based on religious identity. Ultimately, “As they relied less on religious authority, states grew less inclined to value enforcing religious conformity.”
Religious freedom born of convenience rather than principle. Still a good thing, though, right?
Well, not if you look at it honestly. From beginning to end, the aim of the state was to bend the people according to its will in order to draw wealth from them. At first, the Church was a convenient medium for this, but then, more effective means were found that made the Church obsolete. As the author notes, the most formidable state institution was the military, which grew in power, size, and technological ability throughout this historical era. What better tool for controlling one’s own population than sheer military force? No need to co-opt the idea of God’s wrath to exercise state might. Just use the state military infrastructure.
Is this really an improvement? Did the waning of religious institutions really lead to more “autonomy” and “freedom” for the average person? Or was this simply the replacement of one source of authority with another?
Well, as far as Jews and Christians are concerned, maybe the brutal military-state was/is more benevolent than the brutal Church. So the trade was/is still a net positive for them, which is why “religious freedom” is appealing at all.
But this is not the case with Islamic Law. Historically, we do not find the kind of brutality and oppression from religious institutions in the Muslim world that was seen from European Churches. Brutality, oppression, and mass violence in the Muslim world was usually undertaken in direct contradiction to Islamic Law and the opinion of religious scholars. Simply consider the long history of persecution of orthodox Islamic religious authorities over the centuries. The tradition of ulama resisting co-option by the ruling elite is well established. Muslim religious orthodoxy was historically in an uneasy, if not outright antagonistic, relationship with ruling authority, and it was often precisely because of the little regard many of these rulers had for the Sharia. The Sharia was and is the source of so much justice and mercy. Only tyrants want to do away with it.
Up until the present day.