By Josh Landis on Syria Comment, March 26, 2012
The Muslim Brotherhood has issued new Covenant. It is being praised widely on the Gulf TV stations by Christians such as Michel Kilo and others. They say that the Muslim Brotherhood has now embraced the notion that political authority emanates from the people and not from God. Human law should be the arbiter of human affairs and not divine law. Sharia is finished for the Muslim Brothers, who state that they embrace equality of all citizens without distinction between religions or gender. Although they neglect to state it outright, they leave open the possibility that a Christian, Alawi, or Druze could have the constitutional right to be president of Syria.
A dirty “Google translation” of the most important paragraphs of the new charter give this:
This iCovenant and Charter has a national vision, and common denominators, adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and provides the basis for a new social contract, establishes the relationship between national contemporary and safe, among the components of the Syrian society, with all its religious, sectarian, ethnic, and intellectual trends and political rights. Adhere to the Muslim Brotherhood to work to be Syria’s future:
1 – A modern civil state, based on a civil constitution, emanating from the will of the people of the Syrian people, based on national consensus, established by a constituent assembly which must be freely and fairly elected, and protect the fundamental rights of individuals and groups from any abuse or excesses, and to ensure equitable representation of all components of society.
2 – State of deliberative democracy, pluralism, according to the highest conclusion reached by the modern human thought, with a republican parliamentary system of government, which the people choose their representatives and governed, through the ballot box, in the elections free, fair and transparent.
3 – State of citizenship and equality, where all citizens are equal, with different ethnic backgrounds and religions, sects and attitudes, based on the principle which shall be the basis of citizenship rights and duties, any citizen access to the highest positions, based on the bases of the election or efficiency. As even where men and women, human dignity and to be eligible, and enjoy the full women’s rights. …
7. A state that respects the institutions, based on the separation of powers, legislative, judicial and executive branches, the officials in the service of the people. ….
9. State of justice and the rule of law, no place for hatred, where there is no room for revenge or retaliation .. Even those who contaminated their hands with the blood of the people, of any class they are, it is entitled to fair trials before impartial judiciary free and independent. …
There are only a few phrases that raise some concern. One is the statement, that the new state will be “committed to human rights – as endorsed by heavenly religions and international conventions – of dignity, equality, and freedom of thought and expression…. equal opportunities, social justice, and to provide basic needs to live decently. …”
Here the covenant defines human rights to be “as endorsed by ‘heavenly religions” — كما أقرتها الشرائع السماوية والمواثيق الدولية – - The definition of human rights provided by the “heavenly religions” is a bit problematic. The “heavenly” religions are the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their divine books were revealed from the heavens by God. The other religions of the world are defined by Islam to be “non-heavenly.” See my article:
“Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” by Joshua Landis in Eleanor Doumato and Gregory Starrett, Eds., Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East, London & Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007, pp. 177–196.
Here is a quote from the section of my article that deals with the “non-heavenly” religions of the world as they are defined in Syria’s school texts that are used to instruct all Syrian Muslims in the principles of religion.
Atheists and Pagans
At the very bottom of the hierarchy beneath the revealed religions of the “people of the book,” are the belief systems of the rest of humanity, who are categorized as “Atheists and Pagans.” Only one paragraph is devoted to them in the twelve years of Syrian schooling and it is tucked away in the ninth grade religion text under the subtitle, “Islam Fights Paganism and Atheism.” It explains that “pagans are those who worship something other than God, and atheists are those who deny the existence of God.” Islam must fight these two belief systems because they “are an assault to both instinct and truth.” We are told that these belief systems “contradict the principle of freedom of belief.” This is because “Islam gives freedom of belief only within the limits of the divine path,” which “means a religion descended from heaven.” Because pagan religions were not revealed by God, they are considered an “inferior” form of belief that reflects an “animal consciousness.” How should Muslims deal with these peoples who comprise half of humanity? Students are instructed that “Islam accepts only two choices for Pagans: that they convert to Islam or be killed (9:128).” The Islam of Syrian texts does not have a happy formula for dealing with non-believers. Perhaps in recognition of this failing, the ministry of education has buried a mere six sentences on the subject into the middle of its ninth grade text.
But the new Muslim Brotherhood covenant does not define human rights only by reference to the revealed religions, it also references “international conventions.” If the MB is serious about accepting humans to be the source of national government and laws and not God or Sharia law, this is very important. The Syrian opposition is struggling to come up with a “national” agenda that all Syrians can sign on to. The weakness of Syria’s sense of national political community has been its greatest shortcoming. Maybe Syria is becoming a nation?
Of course, we deeply welcome this move in the interest of broader acceptance by the Muslim community of "the other" in all countries. We will be watching to see how the new charter is interpreted and implemented.