29th June 2009
Before being in a position to answer such questions, one must first appreciate the thoroughly legalistic nature of mainstream (Sunni) Islam. Amazingly, for all the talk that Islam is constantly being “misunderstood” or “misinterpreted” by “radicals,” the fact is, as opposed to most other religions, Islam is a clearly defined faith admitting of little ambiguity: indeed, according to Sharia (i.e., “Islam’s way of life,” more commonly translated as “Islamic law”) every conceivable human act is categorized as being either forbidden, discouraged, permissible, recommended, or obligatory. “Common sense” or “universal opinion” has little to do with Islam’s notions of right and wrong. All that matters is what Allah (via the Koran) and his prophet Muhammad (through the hadith) have to say about any given subject, and how Islam’s greatest theologians and jurists — collectively known as the ulema, literally, the “ones who know” — have articulated it.
Consider the concept of lying. According to Sharia, deception is not only permitted in certain situations but is sometimes deemed obligatory. For instance, and quite contrary to early Christian tradition, not only are Muslims who must choose between either recanting Islam or being put to death permitted to lie by pretending to have apostatized; many jurists have decreed that, according to Koran 4:29, which commands Muslims not to “destroy themselves,” Muslims are obligated to lie.