I am told by my Muslim convert friend that Islam provides everything a state needs to establish fair governance and an equitable distribution of resources. The laws and advice contained in the Qur'an and ahadith, if strictly adhered to, will inevitably and inexorably lead to the best society of which humans are capable.
However, ask any Muslim why the world's current Islamic states appear to be much less desirable places to live than their liberal, secular, democratic counterparts and you will usually get one of two answers which can be summarised as follows:
i. The West's interference in Muslim lands has made it impossible for nascent Islamic nations to find a secure place in the world. Imperialist realpolitik has meant support for regimes that terrorise their own populations whilst supporting Western interests; and Western interests are almost always diametrically opposed to Islamist interests. Thus supposedly Islamic nations have been such in name only: Libya and Egypt being two obvious examples
ii. Even in those countries where one cannot claim Western interference, there isn't a truly Islamic theocracy; ask a Western Muslim what he or she thinks of Saudi, for example, and you'll get the picture...
Any liberal with a conscience will have sympathy with the first argument, and this goes some way to explain the left's knee-jerk support of Islamist demands, even when they seem to fly in the face of the liberal shibboleths of free speech and gay rights (to name but two...). And one would be hard pressed to argue with the second argument.
But what we are seeing in Egypt and elsewhere now, promises to give Muslims a chance to see their Islamic utopia become a reality.
For an experiment is taking place which might just give Islam its first chance since the so-called "Golden Age" to show what it's capable of. "The whole point of Egypt's revolution for the Muslim Brotherhood is to usher in the utopia that the full application of sharia would ostensibly bring" as The Economist magazine has it this week, and if the Muslim Brotherhood can succeed in creating a constitution wholly reliant upon sharia then we shall be able to judge Islam.
This is, however, a two edged sword. There can be no more excuses. And so we watch the debates rage:
Al-Azhar University, a revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim teaching in Cairo, has come out strongly against any change [to the wording of the current constitution]. “The ‘principles’ of Islamic is an inclusive term that reflects the consensus of Muslim clerics,” says one of the university’s scholars on the constitution-drafting body. “Scholars differ over the text for ‘rules of Islamic because these change all the time, while the constitution should express fixed principles.”Al-Azhar (pictured above) has even blocked a push by Salafists, a puritan strand of Islam that won a quarter of votes in last year’s parliamentary elections, to enshrine al-Azhar itself as the sole authority for interpreting .[...] Historians, meanwhile, note that in past ages, as well as in countries such as Saudi Arabia today, the relatively thin body of accepted laws has in practice needed bolstering by secular rules.
Hang on - what's this? Sharia needs bolstering by secular rules? But I thought Islam was a complete and perfect set of instructions for a society? Isn't the whole point of Islam that there is no division between religion and state?
So once again, are we to be denied the chance to see a truly Islamic society flowering? Will what many regard as Egypt's inevitable failure be blamed,not upon the barbaric and outmoded laws and rules that the Qur'an dictates, but upon the exigencies of secular administration?
Whatever happens, it's going to be an interesting experiment. Watch this space...