It was my privilege to meet Rev. Dr. Mark Durie yesterday. Durie, a noted linguist and Australian Anglican Priest gave a lecture at The Hudson Institute titled “Hate Speech Laws, Islamic Blasphemy Strictures, and Freedom of Speech: The Case of Australia.” A brief description of Dr. Durie’s outstanding lecture as well as an audio of the lecture and subsequent discussion can be found here.
I first became aware of Dr. Durie when doing some background reading in preparation for a short piece “Why I Would Not Sign the Yale Response to ‘A Common Word’“, which I had been asked to write for the journal The Review of Faith and International Affairs.
I had a lot of problems with the Yale response, formally titled, “A Common Word Between Us and You”, but I intended to focus my remarks on the issue of religious liberty. It seemed to me that these so-called Muslim scholars were selling a bit of theological snake oil on the issue of religious liberty in particular and that the Yale response failed to call them out on it. Durie helped me prove the point. Here’s what I said:
Had the authors and signatories to the Yale statement taken time to reflect more carefully about this obvious contradiction [between public statements about religious liberty and the lack of it in the Islamic world], they might have avoided the embarrassing revelation brought to light by Mark Durie, a noted Australian Anglican scholar of comparative theology and linguistics. Durie, suspicious of the Muslim claim that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbor,” decided to take a little closer look. And what he found was quite telling.
The “Common Word” letter from 138 Muslims was the product of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. Durie discovered that at the time “A Common Word” was issued (October 13, 2007), the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute had several disturbing fatwas—Islamic legal verdicts or edicts—posted on a website that it sponsors (altafsir.com, which provides free online access to a large collection of primary Islamic texts). These fatwas condemned people to death who have left Islam, including Muslim-background Christians. If these Christians are not killed, then these so-called apostates are to be treated as legal non-persons, having no rights before the law.
These fatwas, complete with justifying citations from the Qur’an and hadiths of Mohammad, were written by none other than Shaykh Sa’id Hijjawi. Shaykh Hijjawi is not only a prominent signatory of “A Common Word”; he is the chief scholar of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute and was the Grand Mufti of Jordan (the highest religious authority in a Sunni Muslim nation) from 1992-2007. Durie notes that given his status, it is quite reasonable to suppose that Shaykh Hijjawi played a considerable role in writing “A Common Word”.
As far as I can tell, none of the “yes-I-signed” people deny that these “Muslim scholars” really aren’t all that hot on things like religious liberty or that they are being just a tad disingenuous when, for Western consumption, they tell us that “freedom of religion” is a crucial part of “love of neighbor.” The typical rejoinder from the “interreligious dialogue” folks is that while this may be the case, you just shouldn’t call them out on it in public. Its “bad taste” or doesn’t align with rules some people seem to have for things like “inter-religious dialogue.”
Durie’s lecture was the first of a Fall series on “Lifting the Theocratic Iron Curtain: Examining the Application of Muslim Blasphemy and Apostasy Rules in the Contemporary World,” sponsored by Hudson’s Center for Religious Freedom under the fine leadership of Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, who to their credit think these matters should be spoken about in public.