A recent article I read forced me into a long and thoughtful reassessment of my
ideas, and experiences to date with the Islamic religion. I
thought it might be interesting to share these thoughts in the hope of
furthering the discussion, and perhaps expressing a set of conclusions that will
ring true for someone other than myself. This is explicitly not intended
as an incendiary message or a provocation, it's mostly what I think, rather than
what I feel, and I'm more than willing to have my opinions swayed by the weight
of factual and logically reasoned discussion.
If you think I'm wrong, don't settle for the cheap shot, write it up. Let
me know why and how I've strayed off the path of logic. Explain why I'm
wrong, but use facts and specific examples and above all
Even a cursory look at Islamic fundamentalism today reveals some surprising
contradictions and apparent hypocrisies that are difficult to reconcile:
- Islam is constantly touted as the religion of peace, and yet fundamentalist
responsible for much of the mayhem inflicted on the world at the
moment. Historically, Islam has been in a nearly constant state of war
with; the governments attempting to rule the societies in which it exists,
with its neighboring states in those cases in which it has ruled via fundamentalist
theocracies, and at war with itself in the form of bloody and enduring hatreds and
brutal feuds between its numerous sects. Examples of this range
from the extermination of the Jews of Khaybar in 629, called by the Quran,
" a glorious victory" (48:1) to Saladin's original conquest of
Jerusalem and most recently the long and brutal war between Iran and Iraq.
- Islam is touted as inclusive and tolerant, and yet every modern
the violent Islamic Jihad has specifically targeted Jews, Christians, or
both, as ideal targets. Since the fall of the Sultanate in 1622,
marking the end of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent rise of Qutbist
ideology in the mid 1900's, violence and hostility against modernity and
western culture has been a significant theme in Islam.
- Islam claims to venerate women, and yet in the most fundamentalist Islamic
societies, women aren't even allowed a rudimentary education. The daily
lives of muslim women the world over are repressed and constrained beyond what any modern western society would
tolerate. This true in many dominantly Muslim countries including
Saudia Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to name a few.
- Islam has been portrayed as a religion that encourages self-inquiry and yet it
is one of the few faiths in the history of humankind that is commonly
interpreted as allowing, and even encouraging, a true believer to commit suicide as a
religious act of faith. There is scholarly debate about the meaning
of the word jihad, but it's clear that the interpretation by fundamentalist
Islamists both allows and encourages the use of homicide bombing as a
religious expression. I'm not a religious scholar, so I would only
quote this comment from Richard Connerney, a professor of philosophy at Iona
"Perhaps the best way to sum up the hawkish attitude of the Quran is
to note that the Penguin edition of the Quran contains over 40 entries for
"war," and no entries for "peace."
- Islam is proclaimed to be tolerant, but at least in its current
evolution, it refuses to support any form of reconciliation between muslims
and Israel short of the complete destruction of Israel and the Israeli
people. From its inception during the unification of the tribes of Arabia
into a military force strong enough to overthrow the last vestiges of the
Byzantine Empire and the Persians in the Levant, Islamic religion, politics
and law have been unseparable. The Muslim political state, with
Muhammad at its head predates the writing of the Hadith (the life of
Muhammad) and the Quran. Islamic culture rejects modernity and secular rule
and is therefore eternally in conflict with it. To quote Bernard Lewis's
excellent New Yorker article on the subject, "For the early Muslims,
the leader of Christendom, the Christian equivalent of the Muslim caliph,
was the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. Later, his place was
taken by the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, and his in turn by the new rulers
of the West. Each of these, in his time was the principal adversary of
- Islam supposedly embraces a quest for knowledge, and yet the Quran is the only book
offered in the
Islamic madrasas schools of Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, UAE, Syria,
syllabus at these schools includes a strong focus on hatred of America and the
Jews. To quote the New York Time's Pulitizer Prize winning journalist
"On the way to Peshawar I stopped to visit the Darul Uloom Haqqania,
the biggest madrasa, or Islamic school, in Pakistan, with 2,800 live-in
students, all studying the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet
Muhammad with the hope of becoming mullahs, or spiritual leaders. I
was allowed to sit in on a class with young boys, who sat on the floor,
practicing their rote learning of the Koran from holy texts perched on
wooden holders. This was the core of their studies. Most will
never be exposed to critical thinking or modern subjects... It was
disquieting because their almost entirely religious curriculum was designed
by the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir who died in 1707. There was one
shelf of science books in the library, largely from the 1920's."
- Islam is treated by Muslims as a single entity demanding their
and yet it has no Pope or High Church to speak authoritatively on its
Its self-proclaimed spokesmen include such demonstrably evil individuals as Osama bin
Laden, and Mullah Omar. Saddam Hussein repeatedly invoked Allah and the
teachings of Islam in support of his regime in his recent interview with Dan
Rather clearly giving the impression that he had, "God on his
side." Beyond these heinous individuals, we are left with the apparently disconnected opinions
of a million mullahs preaching to the Arab street in behalf of Islam. These men may not represent Islam to the
majority of Muslims, but they are the only ones being heard.
The list goes on and on. I would hope that these statements are
considered on their own merits rather than interpreted as an attack on Islam. I'd
feel similarly towards any other totalitarian belief system inflicting
misery and hatred on the world. I'm not even
attempting to judge Islam as a religion, only pointing out that Islam is acting
like an extremely bad actor in the modern world. I honestly believe I'd be
ashamed to be a Muslim at the moment because no one among them seems to speak
out against these outrages. Moderate Muslims that do speak out against
the extremities of Islamic fundamentalism have been brutally persecuted by
their religious governments.
The response by fundamentalist Muslims to the issues raised above is typically a bellicose and high
volume rant on the many evils of America and Americans and globalization and
Israel and capitalism and most of the rest of western civilization.
None of which have anything to do with whether Islamic fundamentalism is a deeply flawed
and problematic belief. It just sounds powerfully righteous when you
string it together and deflects the argument. The world has heard very little from moderate Muslims, besides a understandable plea for protection against western backlash. That plea has been heard and respected for the most part and very few instances of reprisals have occurred.
Suppose you assume for a moment that there's no America? How many of
the problems Islamic fundamentalism rails against would still remain? I'd
claim that virtually all of them would remain, because Islamic fundamentalists aren't really at war
with America, or even Israel, they are at war with western civilization itself. Is the rest of the world is prepared to stand back and watch
fundamentalist Muslims massacre the Israelis, and assume complete control of
Israel, then overthrow the secular governments of every other country in the
Middle East, to install fundamentalist Islamic theocracies? If not, then we're all in
for trouble eventually, even without America to blame it on.
On the other hand, suppose for a moment that there's no Islam? Nobody has to
be killed or maimed, or even uprooted from their homes. Assume the Islamic faith itself
just disappeared and all the true believers just stopped believing. Many of the
world's most intractable problems would suddenly become manageable. To use
the example above, the Israelis and the Palestinians would quickly cut the
land-for-peace deal that they were so close to before the last "holy"
jihad destroyed all hope for peace. They'd get it done and move on. The basic Israeli demand is not to live next door to
a culture that is sworn to annihilate them. In a world without Islamic
would be possible to achieve. Muslims and Jews were living together for
centuries prior to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and they could do
so again. A similar example is the conflict between Pakistan and India
over Kashmir. The Hindus and the Muslims lived there together in peace for
generations prior to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. They could do so
Suppose you assume for a second that there is no God, and all
religions are completely false, and this world is all we've got, and one life is
all the longer we've got it for? Absent an inherently unprovable faith in
the veracity of the Quran, Islam makes no sense
whatsoever. Absent that unprovable faith, Islam is just another cruel
When I think of Islamic fundamentalism, I am reminded of the
beauty I once perceived in the purest philosophical essence of socialism, and the
lifetime of disappointment that I have experienced as I watched wave after failed
wave of real world totalitarian Communist atrocities. I think modern Islam might be
a little like that, beautiful in its unsullied spirit, but nightmarish in
My thanks to mr100percent for the response to this writeup. It is well
researched, skillfully presented and, obviously, heartfelt. More
importantly, it expands and illuminates the discussion by presenting an
alternate viewpoint. I especially appreciate and respect his perspective
as a practicing Muslim because that perspective is invaluable in helping us to
really understand these issues. That said however, I believe, his arguments are
compelling without being convincing.
The crux of the response seems to revolve around the following points:
- Islam has been around for a long time and was, for much of its existence a
model of enlightened spirituality. Islam's association with terrorism is a
relatively recent development that has been driven by political forces
rather than theological concerns.
- There are many moderate Muslims that do not approve of the actions the
fundamentalists who support terrorism, the oppression of women, homicide
bombings, the destruction of Israel, etc.
- That there is a huge discrepancy between the teachings of traditional
Islam and the extreme practices that are highlighted in my write up.
- That Islam isn't inherently bad, it's just that, "a few bad
apples" are getting all the attention and other religions such as
Christianity have also been responsible for atrocities over the course of
I find some merit in each of these arguments, but I think on balance
that they deny the reality of what Islam has come to represent in the world
today. More importantly these points highlight the very paradoxes that I've
attempted to highlight.
Islam was once a beacon of spiritual light for the entire world to admire,
but that's not the case any longer. Islam has been hijacked in a sense by the
radical fundamentalist element and is increasingly feared and marginalized in
the western world. The Islamic television station Al Jazeera, and the Islamist
newspapers such as Al-Medina or Al-Riyadh, constantly broadcast one sided
propaganda designed to inflame the Islamic community against the west. The
Islamic Jihad promises an endless stream of "holy martyrs," who will
be rewarded in Paradise for their suicide on behalf of the intifada. These
people may not speak for Islam, but, for all practical purposes, they are the
only ones representing Islam who are talking.
Islam appears to be having a very difficult time making a successful
transition to a modern secular world. If Muslims want to reclaim the deep
and admirable morality on which their religion is founded, they must show
some strong and effective leadership to reclaim their religion from the
fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who currently represent it to the world.
Moderate Muslims may represent a majority and they may reject the extremists,
and the cruel and mediaeval practices mandated in Islamic theocracies like Iran.
But how would anyone know it? Where is the outrage of these moderate
Muslims? What sign is there of their burning desire to recapture their
traditional Islamic values from the fundamentalists? What practical and
efficacious steps have they taken towards that end?
I entreat moderate Muslims like mr100percent to stand up and be counted
among those who are against terrorism, in any cause, and who won't tolerate it
in their mosque. The Catholics are taking steps to clean up their
problems, why shouldn't the world expect Islam to do the same?
Highlighting the deep divide between high-minded Islamic theory and the more sordid reality, consider a quote from a sermon presented by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris on the Palestinian TV station 15 May 2005:
"The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world - except for the Jews. The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquillity under our rule because they are treacherous by nature, as they have been throughout history. The day will come when everything will be relieved of the Jews - even the stones and trees which were harmed by them. Listen to the Prophet Muhammad, who tells you about the evil end that awaits Jews. The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew."
mr100percent assures us that Islam doesn't support these atrocities
(homicide bombing, repression of women, intolerance, etc.). But we see these
things perpetrated with alarming regularity by Muslims, in the name of
Islam. That is the paradox.
Richard D. Connerney, Islam: Religion of the Sword, Salon.com 11
Bernard Lewis, The Revolt of Islam, New Yorker Novermber 19, 2001
Thomas Friedman, In Pakistan, It's Jihad 101, New York Times, 13
David Brooks, Bashing Newsweek, New York Times, 19