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Over the years, Islam and Christianity have grown in several ways that have impacted society in a notable way. Two writers, Reza Aslan and Moore have written No God but God and Formations of Persecuting Society respectively in order to shed light on these weighty religion groups. Further information is also provided by Ward and White in their work sources of world societies.
Aslan tells about the emergence of Islam beginning from the pre-Islamic era. His expose runs from geopolitical to religious themes. For instance, we are told about the time when the Arabian desert was inhabited with tribes that were always at war. Pluralism was also on the downtrend.
The tribes believed in own different gods. However, each of these tribes reserved great reverence to their respective one god. It is against this background that Aslan suggests Muhammad might have been influenced by the religious state of affairs of that pre-Islamic Arabia (17). It is also around the same period that suffered great changes.
Religious and State Connections
The connection between the states and religion has been in existence for some time. Though the recently years, there has been a clamor for the separation between the state and religious interests, this is a problem that had got itself entrenched in the early empires (Ward and White 256). Secularizing the state has been a difficult issue for many governments.
A clear analogy from what Aslan states is feeling that Mohammed, coupled with his background in tribal areas, might have started own group of adherents who, according to him, were like a tribe under his leadership.
It is due to his influence on the group that Islam spread sporadically into a group that came up with its own laws governing its members. These laws have been extend to social governance. This connection shows the basis of state religion relationships. The Islamic empires did not detach from the today governance.
The European state systems had great connection with the state (Ward and White 290). This was before a tumult, as it is seen from previous persecutions of Christians. But we are told that emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, and after having done this, he managed to grant various concessions to Christianity.
Here the state and religion got connected though they were distinct. And thus, Constantine people (believed Rome) raised Christianity above other groups such as the pagans. We are informed on how Christianity eventually became the official religion of the state.
The state could also have its presence felt by some political leaders having taken some positions of influence in the church. Bishops also had the state’s ear in the early empires. Rulings made by the emperors made granted the bishops immense powers in the state. All in all, it can be seen that these early empires had a strong relation with religious groups. It was actually difficult to tell.
Aslan, however, vouches for a situation where Islam and democracy can exist hand in hand in such a way that only Islam stays in the background to guide on the moral and religious aspects as opposed to the members of the faith that have political powers in the running of state affairs (265).
Power and Persecution
Persecution was rife in the empires. Whenever dissent was expressed, it would be met with full force. The way, for example, with which heretics were persecuted showed the dissent. Even based on religious beliefs would be met with eventual persecution. (Moore 1). The empires could use several ways of containing such dissenting groups. For example, this could be done by clearly stipulating laws that could clearly identify such groups.
Such monitoring ensured that whatever they were pursuing was checked. These laws would be made to gag them: they did not have freedom of expression. Moore further clearly says in the chronicles that institutions of containment have been established specifically for such groups.
Moore feels persecution targeted mostly the Jews, lepers, sodomists and many others. The decrees that were put in place essentially bordered on flimsy excuses of protection.
For example, Moore says that one of the “last three cannons required the Jews to distinguish themselves from Christians in their dress, and prohibited them from holding public office” (17). This could therefore force some of the Jews to pretend to have converted so as to avoid persecution.
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Immense power was a tool that the church leaders to effect the harsh treatment. For example, if one could be suspected of heresy, he or she would be excommunicated. Even whole regions would, at the direction of the Pope, be taken over and bestowed to groups that were faithful. One sees the power of the church here was immense in such a way that it could be difficult to tell if the church was in itself a state organ.
The Pope himself would not be free to let the heretics to leave freely. It any complacency could be seen or suspected on the side of the Pope then he would be deposed.
Persecution was not only directed towards the heresy, but it also targeted its adherents to defended, including even the magistrates who refused to take actions (Moore). The judicial officers and other accused officials would eventually be denied inheritance, legal redress and their business could even be boycotted.
Those who would sympathize with this group faced excommunication. If a cleric was sympathetic then they would be forbidden from giving sacraments (Moore 10). In a nutshell, this punishment would be bolstered by an array of legal measures. It was therefore difficult to find an escape route.
The law, as seen here, was crafted from a central authority that it was not easy to circumvent it. The church got its foundation in the very core of catholic leadership. This was in such a way that even the pope did not have the powers to implement a certain measure as described in the cannon law.
There was also the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the one that was formed at the height of anti-heresy. It is this council that actually laid down the specific ways in which persecution could be carried out.
These mechanisms would be eventually extended to other groups e.g. the lepers, Jews or even the sodomists. One was either seen to be in line with the expectations of the society or not. So those that were labeled as unorthodox were routinely the victims of these punitive mechanisms laid down.
A good example of one such mechanism was the Papal inquisition (Moore 9). Here the inquisition kept giving itself more duties and powers.
Persecution was widespread in European empires. The Jews were the ones who faced a lot of trouble. For instance, after having been expelled from the kingdom of France in 1182, they fall into other hostile hands in England. According to Moore, there was a massacre of the Jews in 1198.
Whenever they had come from, they faced economic frustration as their property was confiscated. Lepers were not spared either, they were to live in segregated quarters, away from other members of the society.
In the Moore’s work, we can see that this persecution was not invented in the twelfth century, but it was a thing that traced its way back in the centuries of antiquity (11). A clear collaboration between the religion powers and the secular powers can be seen at play in Moore’s expose. For example, first of all, the religion powers could identify the heretics and then hand them over to secular powers for punishment.
Such highhanded collaboration also made sure that the economic life of the segregated was affected. It has clearly come out that the collaboration had some symbolic advantages between the two sides. Let’s take, for instance, the possessions of the disinherited; one wonders who benefited from such a ‘windfall’.
Though we are not given a direct link to show us the beneficiary, one can only but speculate that both the church and state benefited from these dispossessions. Another clear point to be gleaned from Moore’s expose is that beyond the face value of the institutions put in place then, there was a deeper self purpose.
In other words, the judiciary and the police force were not created to serve all but to perform or advance the selfish interests of the regime and church.
Looking at the trends in both Islam and Christianity, one sees notices a trend that is based on change. Though some of the contemporary changes appear to have bordered on the absurd, they have some of their foundations in the medieval periods.
One sees an urgent need to reform on several fronts. For example, in Islam Aslan does not shy away from stating his conclusion that Islam is in a state of transition, the one that Christianity faced when the protestant movement came to the fore. He feels that it may seem that Christianity can be in conflict with Islam; this may not be the real truth.
It is only that there is internal rivalry over the one who will direct the next cause of events. There is actually some internal war. This is true given that Islam today cannot be said to be homogenous; there are factors and groups.
In one line, there are the moderate Muslims, while on the other, there seems to be a group that is advancing fundamentalist tendencies. He feels that it is not actually a battle between Islam and the West. He likens the impending reform in Islam to that of Christianity which took 1500 years to occur.
To illustrate his point, Aslan tells how Mohammed advanced radical social and economic justice. He is the one that assumes that the Sunni have continued to advance. Issues like Islam’s view of women or even its attitude to the Jews and Christians do not worry him so much. He expresses an optimistic tone by saying that this are just signs of an internal conflict that will hit a climax through the reform that is revolutionary in nature.
Just like Christianity, Islam is a religion that is compassionate. He feels that some people have picked words like Jihad, Fatwa to shed religion. The richness of the religion is seen in its compassion for human piece and universal brotherhood. Thus, he well illustrates it by giving us the setting of his book which is remote village where Jews and even Pagan Arabs used to coexist.
He says that they used to share even their practices without any major conflict. In other words, the cultures were connected in a very peaceful way. In fact, he says that Islam in those medieval ages was more accommodative than Christianity. That Christianity actually persecuted Jews and other Christians who were believed to non-orthodox.
In certain instances, death penalty was resorted to. According to the author, Islam is merciful. Indeed, from a factual historical account, we can truly say that Islam was more tolerant. This is seen from the fact that nowhere are we told of forceful conversions as we are told of early Christianity.
Aslan says that Islam and democracy can still coexist (253). This is true from Iran, Aslan’s homeland. He says that democracy can still co-exist with democracy. This is unlike the feeling of many who feel that democracy is a creation of the west, and therefore not compatible with the Islamic faith.
This factual presentation by Aslan perhaps explains what is happening today. Many factors in the Islamic world have emotionally based their actions on what true Islam does not stand for. They have managed to capitalize on the death of Muhammed to mislead many.
By this, certain terrorist movements have been borne. This work carefully shows that today’s events are actually a result of what some opinion leaders have wrongly or rightly put in the minds of many.
We have seen that far the mainstream religions have had a controversial relationship with the various states. However, from the facts presented, many people took and have continued to use religion to advance their selfish parochial interests.
It can be said therefore that it is good for a religion to concentrate on its core values of morality and leave the state to do work. However, this does not mean that relationship between the state and religion should not be there.
Aslan, Reza. No God but God. Glenfield: Random House Press, 2005. Print
Moore, Richard. The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Oxford: Blackwell, 1987. Print
Ward, Walter and Carol White. Sources of World Societies, 1: To 1715. Boston: Bedford/st Martins. Print.