I have read about Wilayat al Faqih (The State of the Jurist – A Muslim religious government) in the 299 pages of a Persian book that was translated to Arabic. And discussing that view is not my aim in this article. But I noticed that on page 162, it says that he who presides is he who does not commit iniquity, and is just and is not capricious going after the passions of one’s soul.  It also states something to the effect that the above qualifications are found universally. I understand by that that the presidents of non-Muslim nations could have the same virtues that are bestowed on the Faqih and as such we do not have to consider that the presidents of the nations of the world are immoral.

And according with a great Shiite master in this country, I further say that there cannot be a “religious nation”. Logically, the term has no real meaning since it is the individual who is the one to believe in a religion and not a nation.  It is the individual who is clad with a heart and a mind while the nation is not a being and as such, it is impossible to say that “a nation ‘believes’ in a religion”.

I understand that a religious group can take over the government in a certain country and would get inspired by their religion to govern the nation. Even secular governments use the teachings of the religion to which most of the people belong to in order to explain its policies and laws. For example, France, which is the most secular country, considers three Catholic feasts as official holidays; moreover, the official day-off of the week is Sunday.  And if you read the French civil law you will find that much of it is based on the Catholic Church Canon Law. The governor of a country comes from a certain background. No one comes from nothing (no background). I understand through the said statement above, that in a country where Muslims are the majority the people come from Islam in their juridical mentality.

People come from several denominations, including those who are atheists. They seek to enact laws that apply to their life situations which are in constant change. The question posed to the nation that considers itself Islamic is how to reconcile between the divine absolute and the vicissitudes of human experience resulting from changes in one’s circumstances, changes that are relative and have nothing to do with what is absolute. Every divine law, or what is thought to be so, comes down on people in a way to suit the times they are in; and whatever is the product of a certain period of history is conditioned by its times. And if you know some psychology and anthropology and sociology and history, you realize that Man is in constant change, change that is always a challenge to his mind and thought. I do not intend to distort the holy books, but I want to understand what they say in the scope of their times and the extent of its absoluteness. If you take them literally in a universal way, you would be unaware of the reality of time and its place in the divine economy concerning the matters of this world. Time is also the book of God.

The Europeans did not go back to the Gospel to launch its industrial revolution inventing the train, the car, the airplane and the study of the human body. As such scientific research has its own independent realm.

I find the modern trend of seeking to place scientific discoveries in texts that do not have a reference in them to such discoveries strange; so it is not appropriate also to “insert” the perfect eternal God in matters that belong to the human mind in its endeavors. People question why God does not say of things by name as if He has to assign names for things before those things come into existence.

It is high time we separate scientific research from what we presume is linked to it in the holy books. It is high time we believe that the mind is free. There remain behaviors that science has realized are of an ethical stance. Here the argument as to whether it is alright to experiment with the embryo and the fetus arises. The researcher does what he can. But not all discoveries violate morality.

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Going back to confessional nations, I know that all of them do have secularists or liberals. I do not believe those who do not accept the term “secular” just because they consider it to be anti-religion; I also do not excuse them for not putting an effort to get acquainted with its denotation. Except that I would like to ask Islamists whether they count on their large number for imposing their jurisprudence on the rest of the nation; and by “nation” I mean, here, a group of citizens. Do we legislate and govern together, or the minorities are considered as “Ahl Dhimma” (Koranic term referring to non-muslim protégés under Islamic law)? In situations like the above, minorities have to emigrate.

But I see things differently; I as a Christian, am the “protégé” of God alone, and as a citizen, I participate equally with all citizens, together enacting the laws of the nation. I am under the supervision of God alone, and in my free mind I am constantly seeking the political reality that draws my existence with other free minds (citizens of other Confessions).

In this admixture of people, my love for the freedom of others implies on me not to impose laws in the name of my confession or religion. I do not have a problem with that because my religion has no laws governing civil life. Spiritually and culturally, I come from one situation and the other comes from another situation, yet we dialogue and associate together. I am guided by the doctrine I want and he the same, by the doctrine he wants.

There remains certain matters concerning the personal status of the citizen, like the law governing inheritance which is not a matter of conscience in my case; my parents lived under that law for years until another law was issued for the non-Muslims. The Christians had nothing to do with the law of having four wives; yet Muslim countries like Tunis, canceled it. The Christians have been quiet about the Muslim law of cutting off the hands of thieves. It is not civic thinking for one group of citizens to say for example: “Marriage laws of those of other confessions are their business”. No group has a “business” independent of the other citizens in a unified nation.

What does the Civil Nation mean then after the “Arab Spring”? Until now I do not have the slightest idea. The “democracy” which the Arabs speak of is precisely the system of dialogue that the British philosophers and French Revolution leaders spoke of long ago. For those, “democracy” refers to the people with no consideration of the problem of confessions. The Jew became a Prime Minister in France as well as the Protestant. How can democracy be the order or government for both the majority and the minority while the minority has no say in anything?

I understand that things are not like that in Lebanon. This is a country governed equally by both Muslims and Christians. And that for me shows the magnanimity of the Muslims here. The citizen finds it hard to live under religious ideologies. Religion in for the individual as my friend, the great Shiite master, once said.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “طوائف ومذاهب وعلمانية” – 11.02.2012