Love's Labor Lost: When Religion Takes Precedence Over Law

The debate of Church and State takes many forms, spanning centuries and cultures with ease. Perhaps the clearest examples we've seen of religious extremism -- outside of our very own American Taliban1 -- have been embodied within regimes like the Taliban of Afghanistan, or within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Examples abound, but one case that recently made headlines2 in some areas illustrates just how the dominance of religious belief over secular law can interfere with love, marriage and a woman's right to choose. A right which, btw, refers not only to her right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term but also her right to choose who to marry, where to live and how to raise her children.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Two years ago, a knock on Fatima and Mansour al-Timani's door shattered the life they had built together.

It was the police, delivering news that a judge had annulled their marriage in absentia after some of Fatima's relatives sought the divorce on grounds she had married beneath her.

That was just the beginning of an ordeal for a couple who _ under Saudi Arabia's strict segregation rules _ can no longer live together. They sued to reverse the ruling, publicized their story and sought help from a Saudi human rights group.

But the two remain apart and Fatima said she is considering suicide if her recent appeal to King Abdullah does not reunite her with her husband.

How would you like such a nightmare in your life?

I've written about some of the complexities of Muslim law before, relying heavily on the analysis of a man named Rudy Jaafar.3 Here's a bit of an idea concerning the type of mess that Muslim law must deal with:

It's not simply a matter of a "democracy" or even "a more democratic" method of governing and living. It's a matter of an entirely different culture, one based on a history of conflict and conquest, suppression and faith. And "faith" isn't simply a word to incite the masses over there -- it's a real thing, a living part of their everyday lives and deeply entrenched in their history. Here's a complicated but enlightening excerpt:

The predicament revolves around the Muslims' struggle to balance the exigencies of temporality with the transcendental requirements of the Sharia'ah, the Muslim holy law. Muslims believe their polities must be governed by the divine regulations dictated to the Prophet. However, with some exceptions, these provide only finite generic principles; what are God's answers to the increasingly complex necessities of life? To respond to the specific contingencies of their governments, Muslim rulers in the past adopted an expediential principle called Siyasa, where worldly utility was used for state policy and public law positivization, as long as it contradicted no explicit Sharia'ah statement. On the other hand, the Muslim clerical class maintained its autonomy to dictate the application of Islamic principles in the private sphere, acting as the ultimate authority on the concurrence of law with the Sharia'ah.

Ah, there it is -- a nugget of knowledge, obscured slightly by context. In short, a diamond in the rough. Let's break it down: Laws being updated and improved to reflect the modern complexities of life in order to improve and keep in step with their neighbors and trading partners, but governed and moderated by their religious laws as interpreted and dictated by the clergy, who serve as the final authority of where the law and the Sharia'ah meet.

It's a balancing act, but unlike the "balance of power" that our nation's system of checks and balances used to provide, the Muslim version favors the clerical class and the religious interpretation of the Sharia'ah over the law whenever there is a conflict. Tough? Yeah.

We in the United States don't have such limitations and compromises -- yet. But if the wall between Church and State is torn down, particularly by the radicals who seek to embody a non-existent fundamentalist Christian basis to our nation and our Constitution, restrictions will come.

Women will be the primary target; homosexuals likely the secondary one. Schools and libraries will likely be high on the list, in order to ensure that they don't offer "subversive" ideas or challenges.

This sounds a lot like a slippery slope, but the evidence of each major element of restriction can be found in the ongoing onslaught by radical Fundamentalists against our nation's Constitution and within both the halls of Congress and the classrooms across the country.

It's not enough that the radical religious right seeks to rewrite history -- isn't lying a sin? -- but their hypocrisy and denial of reality should frighten all stalwart citizens: these people don't ~love~ our nation, and could care less who we, The People, love.

For them, it's all about power, control and dominance over the common



  1. No, I'm not talking about John Walker Lindh when I cite "The American Taliban" -- I'm speaking instead of those who profess to uphold the principles of both the United States and their radical interpretation of a fundamentalist Christian god. This means, of course, the pundits, the preachers and politicans who are mirror-images of the slavish, unthinking and decidely un-Christian of their brothers-in-arms in Afghanistan and anywhere else where religion is used to oppress freedom, justice and democracy. Our "American Taliban" are, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than "Christo-fascists" hell-bent on instituting an authoritarian theocracy in this land of the free and home of the brave.

    See also The American Taliban, by Bill Berkowitz, AlterNet, January 22, 2004.

    Daniel Levitas, author of 'The Terrorist Next Door,' speaks about homegrown terrorists, the state of white supremacist paramilitary groups, and rising racism.

    Additional resources:

    The Seeds of the American Talibanby W. David Jenkins III,, December 10 2004; American Taliban, Perrspectives, originally published November 24, 2004, and updated January 25, 2007 and April 19, 2005.

  2. Hat-tip to JRichards of Delphi Forums, who pointed out the article Forced Annulment Keeps Couple Apart by Associated Press Writer Donna Abu-Nasr. The article appeared online January 20, 2008 on the Federal News Radio site.
  3. From Danse Macabre 03: The Return of Ja(a)far [Donald Rumsfeld], 16 December 2006. The inside quote is from al Nakhlah, The Fletcher School Online Journal for issues related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization Fall 2004, Article 3, by Rudy Jaafar: "Time for Arab History to Follow its Course" (PDF file)
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On the other hand it pays to take note of how the US government has supported Islamic fundamentalists--after all Osama bin Laden got his start with US encouragement during the cold war when we considered him an ally against the Soviets. And sad to say, under Sadam Hussein despite it being a political dictatorship ordinary life was governed by secular code of law that gave full citizenship to women. Not so today, even if things in Iraq are not as bad for women (if we discount the violence against them and their families) as it is in Saudi Arabia.

I could go on but I suspect we can all fill in the blanks here.


footnote, you'll find much to back up how the Conservative Republicans, Bush Republicans and Bush Administration are all part of the same effort to inject radical fundamental Christianity into our laws and governing process.

They're scary. Very, very scary.