The International Herald Tribune headline screamed; “German judge’s citing of Quran in divorce proceedings draws wide condemnation” an erstwhile summation and echo of the strident cacophony of dissention and outrage over what was seen as very controversial ruling by a German Judge. The story paints a picture of misunderstanding and anguish when Religion, Politics and society collide.
The sensational headline that appears in the International Herald Tribune dated March 22, 2007 tells a tale of a judicial ruling which was at odds with general interpretation of German law and the role that religion plays in society. The case is emblematic of an inimical outcome that brought religion, German laws and popular beliefs to a clash and struck a discordant note in the hearts of many German citizens, especially Muslims. The case is of a German woman of Moroccan decent who sought a divorce from an abusive husband of Moroccan ancestry. The article gave the impression that the husband is also Muslim and this is further confirmed by the utterances of the judge. The Judge, a woman herself, cited the Quran stating that the Muslim woman seeking the divorce also came from a cultural background in which men may use corporal punishment against their wives. This drew sharp condemnation from both Political and Muslim leaders who felt that Muslim rules had no place in determining the outcome of a case under German law. The judge quoted a part of the Quran which indicates that “men were in charge of women.” This clearly infuriated people who felt that Sharia or Islamic law had absolutely no place in German society. Interestingly, there has been a spread of eastern religions into western nations and despite mushrooming secularization in these nations, more emphasis was placed on the rule of law rather than on religious traditions.
The dialectical rules of German law were clearly at odds with Muslim practices. This dichotomy hinted at a clear rise in secular values and a reduction in the influence of religion within the nation as citizens were more concerned with the safety of the wife and felt that Sharia law was certainly not applicable. Clearly the fate of religions is unclear and there seem to be waning dependency on the teaching of scriptures and the adherence to traditional religious values. The new societies seem to place emphasis on rule of law and evolving western mores. Religion plays a valuable part in shaping many western nations and it influences both politics and the judicial system. The feeling that Sharia law has no place in Germany reveals an emphatic view held by many that religion sometimes threaten existing dominant values held by members of western societies. It is argued that secularists fear that religion would invade and negatively impact personal choices and in the case cited in the International Herald Tribune, Sharia law seems to be seriously impacting the choices proffered to the injured wife. However for many commentators, the wife was being offered Hobson’s choice; an outcome that did not really represent a real option. Under Sharia laws, she was suppose to submit to her husband and he in turn can use corporal punishment against his wife. This rightly sparked an outrage in a nation where individual rights are protected under the law and any type of abuse is frowned on and the abuser punished.
To allow religiosity to prevail over established law would give the notion that the nation has lost control to a religion that perpetuates stereotypes unacceptable to the masses. In recent times, religion has been the source of several conflicts and some people view personal rights; such as the right to seek a divorce if a spouse is abused, as more important than the religious teachings that they have been receiving since childhood. Secularization does not really mean that people are no longer influenced by religion. On the contrary, religion influences behavior which evolves over time and thus people become more free thinking and refuse to abide by strict religious interpretations. It is interesting to note that although religions may have influenced some of the laws within western nations such as Germany, selective interpretations is normal and literal adoption of religious viewpoints are not always embraced. Asad, in his book on Religions, Nation-States and Secularism stated:
Religion is regarded as alien to the secular, the latter is also seen to have generated
religion. Historians of progress relate that in the premodern past, secular
life created superstitious and oppressive religion, and in the modern present,
secularism has produced enlightened and tolerant religion. Thus the
insistence on a sharp separation between the religious and the secular goes
with the paradoxical claim that the latter continually produces the former.
In the minds of the German public, religion is being clearly oppressive when viewed and followed in a literal manner. Clearly, as viewed in their society, it was unacceptable for a man to abuse his wife. There was definitely no way that members of the society would cave in to religious dictate and forsake personal enlightened beliefs concerning personal rights and safety. The subjugation of women under Sharia law was unacceptable and to many, this was an imposition of an antiquated religion on national laws. Asad further opined that although people in the nation may be “under God” their true loyalty lies with their nation. Clearly the German people reject the notion of nationalism be equated with Islamism and they clearly have no history or culture that embraces Sharia law. There are millions of Muslims within Germany, however the over arching principle is that the country’s laws override religiosity. It is felt that the German constitution should dictate the laws under which citizen operate and the adoption of Sharia laws would violate values that were held dear. Asad further notes:
In conclusion, I suggest that if the secularization thesis seems increasingly
implausible to some of us, this is not simply because religion is now playing
a vibrant part in the modern world of nations. In a sense what many
would anachronistically call “religion” was always involved in the world
of power. If the secularization thesis no longer carries the conviction
it once did, this is because the categories of politics and religion turn out
to implicate each other more profoundly than we thought, a discovery
that has accompanied our growing understanding of the powers of the
To Asad, religion impacts society and influences politics. The story in the news paper clearly articulates the instance where politicians reacted, albeit in horror to the imposition of literal Muslim scriptures on the lives of citizens. In articulating his viewpoint, Asad feels that the influence of religion should not permeate political life. The citizens of Germany seems to agree with this hypothesis and they further seem to repudiate the any link between Muslim religion and the laws that were accepted as vital to national interest. Religion is described by some to be shared understanding with a collective memory. However, there seem to be a view that the religious interpretation of Muslim scriptures are not really shared by the entire nation and even though a section of the population is Muslim, they do not embrace the literal meaning of some Sharia teachings. The definition of religion within the social context that wove the fabric of German society seems to be of a more moderate view, consistent with the beliefs and culture of the majority of the citizens. It would therefore seem that although Muslim teachings may spread to many nations and even though Muslims may migrate to non-Muslim countries, Sharia law has not been allowed to dictate or shape the interactions or mores of the masses. Religious influences seem to be waning and it is just a matter of time before people more discordantly question the relevance of certain religious teachings. Within the new globalized world and especially in western nations, the Sharia law is considered as too radical and does not clearly serve the needs of most people.
Asad, Talal. (2003). Formation of the Secular. Stanford:Stanford University Press
BECKFORD, James A., WALLISS, John (eds.). Religion and Social Theory: Classical and Contemporary Debates. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006
IANNACONE, Laurence R. Religions, markets and the economics of religion, Social Compass, 1992, 39(1), p. 123-132.
Koehnlein, Stephan. (2007, March 22). German judge’s citing of Quran in divorce proceedings draws wide condemnation. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved march 12, 2009 from http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/03/22/europe/EU-GEN-Germany-Quran-Divorce.php
STARK, Rodney, BAINBRIDGE, William S. Towards a theory of religion: religious commitment. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 1980, 19(2), p. 114-128.