We should not expect the Muslim world to take the lead in answering the threat of secularism.
As Catholics agonize over how best to cope with the more bitter fruits of modernity (sexual depravity and the breakdown of marriage and family), we can turn to another part of the planet to find a culture that has shown considerable success in preserving traditional mores. I am speaking, of course, of the Islamic world. Even as Christians abandon en masse our centuries-old beliefs concerning marriage, fornication and homosexuality, Muslims are still largely adhering to those traditional views.
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero has recently noted this in US Catholic Journal, pointing out that significant majorities of Muslims living in the Islamic world would like to see Sharia (divinely revealed Islamic law) adopted as the official law of their respective nations. Along with this, overwhelming majorities retain traditional views on marriage, sex, euthanasia, and suicide. Ruggiero understands that Westerners tend to view Sharia as barbaric and dehumanizing, particularly in light of the ruthless punishments it prescribes (including the stoning of adulterers, the execution of apostates, and the amputation of the hands of thieves). Nevertheless, he suggests that we should on the whole admire Islamic morality, recognizing that Muslims have been far more steadfast than we in retaining traditional moral views. We are not (forgive the pun) in a position to throw stones.
Muslims are indeed noteworthy for their rigidly anti-modern views on many subjects. That being the case, we may sometimes find them to be worthy friends and allies in pursuit of limited goals. For example, there’s nothing wrong with joining forces with Muslim parents at your child’s school in lobbying for a reasonable dress code. But should we really, in a broader sense, admire Muslim values? Or should we take the more disturbing elements of Islamic law, and the barbaric actions of Islamic militant groups, as evidence that Islam does indeed contain some inhumane elements?
Islam has been with us for fourteen centuries and not all were filled with the kind of horror that we see in contemporary Islamic militants. Apologists point out that historically, Islamic societies have sometimes been culturally elevated and humane, fostering great art, philosophy and architecture. At the high points of Islamic society, religious minorities were for the most part allowed to exist peacefully, though generally under the condition that they not seek high public office, nor attempt to proselytize their Muslim neighbors. Islam has never been comfortable with pluralism, and apostasy has always been regarded as a grave offense. But in its more elevated manifestations, Islamic culture can show a certain respect for Jews and Christians especially as fellow descendants of Abraham.
Should we take the gardens of Cordoba to be the “norm” for Islamic societies, and view ISIS as the aberration? That is more difficult to say. It’s interesting to note that the most elevated and thriving Islamic societies have generally had noteworthy Hellenistic or Christian influences. Cordoba and Granada were built on what has through modern history been Spanish soil, just over the border from Medieval Christendom. Islamic Mesopotamia flourished during the period when Aristotelian and Neoplatonist influences were most prominent. Some of the greatest thinkers of the enlightened Islamic world (notably Averroes) were more Greek than Muslim in their thought, viewing religion largely as a crutch for the masses.
In fact, Averroes remains a pivotal figure in Islamic history, and his fate echoes through the centuries to the present day. He ended up on the losing end of a battle that was, in different ways, enjoined in all three Abrahamic faiths. At issue was the relationship of faith and reason, and especially the question of whether divinely revealed truth could be reconciled with the findings of natural reason. How much freedom should we allow the human intellect in its exploration of the world? To what extent should we trust our natural faculties?