A Permission is not an Instruction

(This is a current extract from the Patterns of Power Repository.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/4442.htm)

People cannot be allowed to assert ‘rights’ which breach the laws which are applicable to that territory.  In some cases the person concerned can easily resolve a conflict by recognising that religious permission to do something isn’t the same as an injunction to do it.  For example, if a religion allows a man to take many wives it does not mean that he is obliged to do so; he can stay within the law for most countries simply by remaining monogamous.

It can be argued that complying with the preferences of the majority should takes precedence over some cultural customs, to avoid conflicting with the Golden Rule.  The very contentious practice of women wearing veils which completely cover their faces (burkas and niqabs) in Western societies can be taken as an example where the women concerned (and their families) can be criticised for gratuitously upsetting other people, because their religion does not explicitly instruct them to wear that type of veil.[1]  This is an example where it is desirable to use the Moral Dimension of governance to increase social cohesion – by asking the minority to adapt its behaviour in this example. Trying to use the law to compel women to stop wearing the burka, on the other hand, is problematic – as discussed later (

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014

[1] Karen Armstrong, on p.165 in her book Battle for God, remarked:

“The veiling of women is neither an original nor a fundamental practice in Islam. The Koran does not command all women to cover their heads, and the habit of veiling women and secluding them in harems did not become common in the Islamic world until some three generations after the Prophet's death, when Muslims began to copy the Christians of Byzantium and Zoroastrians of Persia, who had long treated their women in this way. But the veil was not worn by all women; it was a mark of status and worn by women of the upper classes, not by peasants.”