What Would Work In Syria?

With the collapse of the United Nations peace negotiations to end the Syrian conflict, we need to step back and envision what an effective Muslim government with the support of the people would look like.

One thing is for certain: It would not be imposed by the United States or Russia or any other outside power. Outside intervention is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Another certainty is that it would not at all resemble the so-called "Islamic State" -- some sort of caliphate requiring violence and terror to impose its will and distorted doctrine on the people.

Many authorities on the region lament that the Sunni/Shia conflict dating back 1,400 years will impede any sort of peace agreement and popularly supported government.

But I believe a solution can arise from the combined tradition of Sunni/Shia thought to define what a government in a Muslim-majority country will look like based on common Islamic principles that have the support of all religious factions - even non-Muslim.

I know this because for the past 10 years I have worked with a group of Muslim scholars from several Muslim-majority countries

We agreed -- Sunni and Shia alike -- that the tragedy of today's Muslim world is that many of the states that purport to be Islamic are violating the very fundamentals of the faith. Tyranny is not Islamic. Killing innocents is not Islamic. Persecuting people for their beliefs is not Islamic. In fact, it is un-Islamic to use Islam to divide a Muslim community.

Providing justice is the bedrock of Islam law. Our goal was to speak in a vocabulary that reaches the masses of Muslims to find consensus on a definition of a government that reflects this Islamic tradition of justice.

We agreed that government should be based on the six objectives of Islamic law. These are protection of life, religion, property, intellect, family values, and dignity.

In essence these are the same values in the American Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So if a Muslim-majority state uses these basic principles of Islam to create a government, it is essentially creating a system of values similar what Western governments offer.

But you can't tell Muslims they must import Western values of governance any more than you can tell Westerners to import Islamic values.

However, if you use Islamic language to describe the same positive values, Muslims will listen.

In addition to the Sunni/Shia divide, a new divide has developed in the Muslim world that if allowed to grow could be just as damaging. This pits Muslims who seek a secular government against those who want a religious-based government. It's President Sisi in Egypt vs. the Muslim Brotherhood; it's Hamas vs. Fatah among the Palestinians. It's happening throughout the Muslim world.

But this new divide is not based on substantive differences - both secular and religious parties seek the same thing.

A state is not a religious organism. It is a compact among the people to create a government that provides certain protections and services. But the Muslim approach to law and justice must begin with religious language because secular governments have failed to deliver what Muslims want. Instead of justice and freedom they saw in the West, Arab Muslims got tyrannical governments supported by the West. They got dictatorships that may be anti-Western but do not believe in political freedom.

Now is the time for clearer heads to prevail. The foundation of Islamic legal tradition is God's law, which is common to Christianity and Judaism.

Islamic law makes both the rulers and the governed accountable to God. It preserves the rights of every person. It protects and promotes human life, seeks freedom of the mind and religion. It promotes family, trade and commerce, property and wealth, economic justice and human dignity.

It can be the basis for the compact between the people and the governments in Muslim-majority countries that provides the same freedoms, opportunities and order that most Western countries offer their people.

As this round of peace negotiations broke down, a new approach to a social compact based in an authentic form of Islamic law should be explored that draws on the religion's traditional positive values and opens the region to the modern world.