The St. Petersburg Declaration: text and analysis

Here is the full text of the St. Petersburg declaration from the Secular Islam Summit.

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to

reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;

eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women;

protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;

reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;

and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must chose for themselves.

It won't surprise regular readers of mine to learn that I largely agree with the declaration as written. Note that I am taking the Declaration at its word; I have emphasized some words above upon which my agreement is contingent.

Agreement aside, however, I simply cannot sign or endorse the St. Petersburg Declaration. The reason is not for what it does say, but rather for what it does not. The signatories explicitly reject Shari'a as Law; that's fine, but they do not acknowledge it as a valid source of law, which is not fine. Shari'a is a complex tradition with many schools of thought and as such is as perfectly valid as the Judeo-Christian jurisprudential tradition for deriving inspiration and guidance for Law. As matoko puts it, they suck at bricolage.

By excluding Islam and excluding muslims of faith from the conversation about how to achieve these noble goals, they have marginalized themselves.

To be taken seriusly, the declaration must live up to its assertion of freedom of religion, by validating the choice of Islam as faith as compatible with the freedoms they enunciate. Instead, they have created a document that explicitly separates Islam from freedom, and in so doing becomes an attack on Islam and muslims themselves. The skeptical muslim might well conclude that - noble lofty rhetoric about rich Islamic traditions and no war between West and Islam aside, the real purpose of this Summit was to erode the legitimacy of Islam itself in the eyes of the West. Having wild-eyed reactionaries like Wafa Sultan aboard certainly doesn't help their credibility in this regard, either. I also note that Irshad Manji refused to sign the declaration and protested vigorously when her name was added to it without her consent. Based on an insider report from a practicing muslim at the Summit, I have revised my opinion of Manji and in fact am unashamed to admit that I misjudged her. She has my authentic respect.

How could the signatories of the Secular Islam Summit obtained my support? I am after all a signatory to the Euston Manifesto; I am pro-freedom (though I think democracy is putting cart before horse); I am pro-Israel (I support the Wall and was pleased at Arafat's demise). Simply put, they could have made an attempt to acknowledge that being a pious muslim is perfectly compatible with these universal principles. That could have been achieved by including something like this addendum via eteraz:

1. We believe that faithful, practicing Muslims are an integral part of the global community and that there is nothing inherently irreconcilable between the practice of Islam and affirmation of universal human rights. 2. In democracies the world over practicing Muslims routinely affirm the principles of separation of religion from the state by participation in such civic systems. 3. We believe that practicing Muslims, as holds true for every person in every faith tradition, should be free to rely upon their faith tradition to inform their social and political decisions as long as they are consistent with the principles of pluralism. 4. We stand by those who practice the religion of Islam and draw from it empathy, justice, peace, and humanity and oppose violence of any kind including violence in the name of Islam.

In addition, they could make some effort at outreach to those who have already done much yeoman's work in explaining liberty and freedom from within the Islamic context. That includes the blogsphere as well as noted thinkers like Khaled Abou el Fadl and Syed Hussein Nasr.

Ultimately, for any kind of true progress towards the goals that the St. Petersburg signatories desire, they must talk to muslims themselves and rely on Islam itself for the solution. Or be irrelevant; as they choose.


Matoko Kusanagi said...

habibi, an important fact that everyone is missing......ALL law that is based on cultural mores or religious thought is sharia law.
jewish dietary laws, incest taboos, under god in the constitution, swearing on the bible.......codified mores.
we ARE all muslims, lol.

Scorpius said...

jewish dietary laws

Uhm, that's actually Kosher but I digress. The big difference is that, save for incest taboos which are universal anyways, these cultural rules are not forced on people; Sharia is forced on non-muslims by muslims. Which is why we in the West need to handle this problem by putting a ten-year ban on muslim immigration followed by an aggressive program of assimilation (i.e. banning muslim clothing, teaching the to speak english well, etc)

Scorpius said...

And BTW, I am clearly NOT a muslim and am deeply offended that you would say that I am.

Isha' said...

"Sharia is forced on non-muslims by muslims. [...] aggressive program of assimilation (i.e. banning muslim clothing, teaching the to speak english well, etc)"

There's a contradiction there...

By the way, just a reminder, because of this forcing of Shari'a law, the Jews living in Al-Andalusia to Jerusalem were saved from the Christians, well just as long as Muslims could hold these places.

But some people may not like that forcing that.

You seem to be one of them.

Isha' said...

There are other things that the horrible Shari'a forces. For example, in exchange of the Zakat, it forced the Muslims to create state within state- the Christians, Jews or others are entitled to their own religious/whatever laws, unless that law politically interferes with the state, of course.

This idea of forcing others to live under Shari'a was entirely new to the Christians in particular, as the three great Inquisitions show us that they have a far better solution in offer (than to create state within state), and it wasn't until Christian countries came in contact with the horrible Shari'a laws, such extremism in tolerance did not dirt the gentile mindset.

Ever wondered why any European country has no survivors of any of the religions that existed before? And why all religious minorities are actually recent immigrants?

No, you are not a Muslim. I also agree with you. Such infidel-like things are not in you.