Islam’s perspective on political development begins with the spiritual concept of the community of believers (the umma), their individual responsibility to community and to God. With this, other faith groups are not in dispute concerning their own spiritual communities.

In turn, the spiritual community of believers takes precedence over institutional structure within the Christian community. It is understood that the Holy Spirit– God’s breath and power– is upon all followers of Jesus and joins them together. The Passover Feast was Jesus’ last meal, emphasizing the scapegoat motif. Followers of Jesus ritually partake of that communal feast, and despite the Reformation of some 500 years ago that led to institutional splits, believers are still spiritually united in communion and identify with one another.

In antiquity it was the responsibility of the community to hand out justice. The five centuries up to now slowly evolved as there were attempts to put Godly principles into play politically, but the respective faith institutions became private personal affairs of conscience. The Holy Roman Empire had finally lost its grip.

The political Islamic perspective is that it is the responsibility of the state as the organizer of the community to promote and facilitate ethical behaviour prescribed in the Quran. It is a moral mission and activist posture to build with a divine role in the world.1

It has been said the Western perspective is that “political development is inversely related to religion in politics because secularism is a fundamental criterion of political development.”2 Mackenzie King might have disagreed. King started out longing to put an end to class conflict with a growing idea that the union of “religion, politics, and education” would best deliver reform. Ramsay Cook wrote that in the late nineteenth century King, shunning laissez-faire orthodoxy, had blended Calvinism [indicating the hand to the plow and not quitting?] and social reform producing a ‘religious liberalism.’ King’s aim for the Kingdom of God on earth ironically saw the development of the secular city.3 Industrialization and urbanization brought the end of many of the old ways of life and livelihood.

Cultures organize themselves with mores and routines; at a sophisticated level, we have political-civil society expressed by John Locke (1632-1704) as a tool for interpreting political behaviour, affected by beliefs, social forces, material traits of a social group. National identity might be associated with tribal, or clan structures or sects, carrying a collective awareness of a common history. Historically we have been limited by affectations of distinctive language and culture, and seeing differences in spiritualities instead of discovering similarities once weeding through dialects and customs. We need common identifiers in a transient world. Everyone needs to know at their core that they are a vital part of the community or we become as lost ships at sea.

1. Esposito, John L., ed. (1980). Islam and Development: Religion and Sociopolitical Change. Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, pp. 3,4.

2. Ibid, p. 3.

3. Wardhaugh, Robert A., (2000). Mackenzie King and the Prairie West. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, p.9.; George Ramsay Cook (1985). The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, p. 169.

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A few years ago I wrote the following book review for The Glad Tidings. Since then Irshad Manji has reprinted with the title The Trouble With Islam Today.

The Trouble with Islam: a wake-up call for honesty and change by Irshad Manji, Random House, 2003. Paperback. 247 pages.

The Trouble with Islam is an open letter of critique to fellow Muslims. Her journey of discovery into her own inherited Islamic world is so wittily documented and searingly insightful that we can only hope that there will be more writers like her for each of our faith groups. Pulling no punches, she states that totalitarian impulses lurk in mainstream Islam.

Yet in the midst of this acknowledged reality, Irshad persists in exploring her religious culture heritage. Having escaped Uganda at the tender age of four, that cultural heritage includes a deep impact from Canada, specifically Vancouver where her family first settled. From free baby-sitting and Bible stories in a Christian church to currently hosting TVO’s Big Ideas, Irshad has discovered that asking questions is not only tolerated but necessary for the thinking mind. One’s faith can evolve and one’s race doesn’t have to define a person.

Irshad’s efforts to find an English language Koran strikes a chord since it hasn’t been very long in a historical context that most Christians have had free access to Judeo-Christian scripture in their own languages. Then there is the problem of understanding what you are looking at….indeed, the Koran is not chronological and it contradicts itself, a goldmine of “proof-texting” to reinforce one’s already made up mind. Fortunately for us, Irshad still continues to think it all through and hasn’t thrown in the towel on Islam as a whole yet, while she unequivocally rejects what she calls “desert Islam”. Does the virtue of being Muslim make every Muslim virtuous? This is the burning question as Muslims try to comply with charity, one of the five pillars of their faith. To which Muslims does the money go? Does it matter? Irshad says, “Yes, it matters!”

There are many answers to our questions about Islam in this volume but solutions are tentative and in short supply. Hers is a clarion call for all Canadians to accept the birthright of our open society and to ask pointed questions of one another. Tolerance is not segregation and a blind eye. Tolerance does not abdicate us from inter-relationships and responsibility among our citizens. Tolerance is not about keeping our mouth shut when an injustice prevails.

For a heavy subject, Irshad Manji’s  The Trouble with Islam reveals Islam with a Canadian logic and humor that needs no apologies. I recommend it to one and all.