Usually, I try to steer clear of conversations concerning religions as they are often inclined to turn into completely pointless, heated, trench warfare where no side is willing to back up, admit their own misunderstandings or the validity of the justified arguments of the opposing side. This topic, however, made me feel compelled to share my thoughts and opinions on the matter.

For the record: I am a Lutheran Christian in the books, although my views are much closer to Buddhism and Zen philosophy.

Comments to what =b= wrote

"Islam is constantly touted as the religion of peace, and yet fundamentalist Islam is responsible for much of the mayhem inflicted on the world at the moment."

Please, do keep the religion, the people practising it and the extremists claiming to act on it, separate. It's not Islam that is responsible for any mayhem inflicted anywhere in the world, it's the un-Islamic extremist terrorists who are to blame here.

"Since the fall of the Sultanate in 1622, -- violence and hostility against modernity and western culture has been a significant theme in Islam."

Again, it's not in Islam, it's in the heads of the extremists and extremist leaders and because of the terrorist actions these people have taken, it's also in the headlines of the media.

"The daily lives of muslim women the world over are repressed and constrained beyond what any modern western society would tolerate."

Sources? References? That is a very harsh claim incriminating the entire (male) Muslim community. Imho, generalizations of this magnitude should never be presented without very tangible and cogent references. I'm not arguing against the claim wholly, though, as there are countries with severe problems regarding the rights of women. It's just the generalization that I'm criticizing, as it's untrue.

"Islam is been claimed 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."

The keyword here being interpreted. Interpretations don't, necessarily, have anything to do with what or how a message was meant. Meanings can - purposely or accidentally - be altered while still remaining true.

"Islam refuses to support any form of reconciliation between muslims and Israel short of the complete destruction of Israel and the Israeli people."

Is it really Islam and Muslims as a whole that want this, or just (some of) the current political and/or religious extremist leaders? References? I would be inclined to believe that claim if it was made by ten respected Muslim scientists/philosophers/leaders/researchers, separately, but coming from a single non-Muslim source the weight of the grain of salt I'm taking that with is more than I can carry.

"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, etc. The syllabus at these schools includes a strong focus on hatred of America and the Jews.

Once again, a wild claim without references. The quote from Thomas Friedman in =b='s writeup says nothing to back this claim up; on the contrary, it seems to affirm the quest for (religious and/or historical) knowledge.

"Islam is treated by Muslims as a single entity demanding their loyality, and yet it has no Pope or High Church to speak authoritatively on its behalf. 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.""

A self-proclamation does not make one anything in any situation. Not without a strong support from the people that person claims to speak for. Of course, Osama bin Laden has a lot of supporters, but he does not speak for the entire community. A humoristic analogy would be your stereotypical "Ruler of the World" in a mental asylum. Sure, there may be few loyal subjects within the mental asylum's walls, but that hardly gives the person any real power over anything outside.

"I'd feel similarly towards any other totalitarian belief system inflicting misery and hatred on the world."

Uh oh. The load of over-generalization and (media-inflicted?) prejudice in this sentence forced me to take a break off the computer so I wouldn't reply with something nasty I would later regret. Please, do try to expand the picture and see beyond what the local media states in their absolute truth manner. One side can never give more than one half of the full picture, and regrettably often only a small fraction of it... and even that often wildly toned and exaggerated.

"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."

More likely, they just don't get their voices heard, because it's uninteresting and doesn't sell. People whining about how bad this and that system is was old news even before the newspapers were invented. Unfortunately. Plus, of course, there is the point about persecution =b= made. Though, once again, that has nothing to do with Islam as religion or Muslims as a whole - only those extremist leaders who wish to maintain their position and believe (or at least want to imply they believe) they interpret the writings correctly.

As a sidenote, a newspaper reporter interviewed in the movie "Bowling for columbine" said that if there are two news-worthy events going on at the same time, one being pollution and the other being a guy with a gun, they always, with no exceptions, go with the gun. This partly reflects the way media sells for money and because of that goes for stories that sell, but more than that, it reflects the way people are - reading about somebody else's misery can make you feel better about yourself.

"Many of the world's most intractable problems would suddenly become manageable."

...such as the thinning of the ozone layer, global warming and other ecological problems, famine, disease outbreaks and epidemics and the very unbalanced distribution of wealth around the world? I find it extremely difficult to believe they would have anything to do with Islam, or that they would lose to terrorism in significance. I don't want to sound sarcastic, but that claim is simply ridiculous and totally unfounded.

"I think on balance that they deny the reality of what Islam has come to represent in the world today."

Despite the fact that I am largely repeating myself in regard with my comments to these points, I would change this to: "...that they deny the reality of how media has come to represent Islam for the actions of a small group of extremists in the world today."

"Islam has been hijacked in a sense by the radical fundamentalist element and is increasingly feared and marginalized in the western world."

This I can almost fully agree with. Its (Islam's) reputation and public image have been hijacked by those extremists and - largely thanks to their actions - by the media.

"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."

This may be true, but once again you have to look at the bigger picture: TV-stations and newspapers in the west do the exact same thing towards Islam and others - there is blame on both sides.

"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."

This, I can agree with.

Comments to what j2 wrote

"Most Islamic fundamentalists profess to subscribe to the basic tenets of the faith (or five pillars of Islam) and the search for paradoxes in Islam would logically have to begin here."

Just a note, not to criticize the quote above, but to explain why that (getting the information from the source) is not so often done: The loudest opposition and claims of absolute knowledge often come from the sources with least real knowledge or the interest, courage or even capabilities to pursue it. Regardless of the subject. "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it." -- Vice President Dan Quayle. A real expert at work; a stunning performance.

Comments to what rk2001 wrote

"there are many Muslims themselves who have no aspiration to even read and understand the Qur'an, let alone live by it"

Exactly. Some of these people will invariably execute horrendous deeds "in the name of Islam" while their actions are totally un-Islamic.

"To take your own life is against Islam and one of the gravest sins, because the Qur'an teaches that a persons life is not his own to take, and it's as simple as that... regardless to what anyone else says or does. Again this is the Islamic viewpoint. Although if people wish to ignore this and view Islam through the actions of the suicide bombers then whose fault is that?"

My answer to this comes in a couple of words: ignorance and fear. It's much easier and safer to just believe what the local media tells than it is to go to the trouble of going straight to the source - what one might find out could be completely opposed to the predominant views and prejudices and one would be forced to admit they were wrong and change their views. People are afraid of change, to much higher extent than most are even aware of. A reknowned Swedish therapist and author of several best-selling books on psychology, Tommy Hellsten, says the following (freely translated by myself) in his book "Saat sen mistä luovut - elämän paradoksit" (You get what you give up - the paradoxes of life, only available in Finnish and Swedish at the time of writing, unfortunately): "Change only comes about at the point where it would be more painful for the person not to change than it is to go through the actual process of changing".

A short summary of my main points (regarding my whole writeup and not as a comment to any of the writers quoted)

  • When you speak of Islam, you speak of the religion, not the (real, supposed or self-proclaimed) followers of it.
  • There is a huge difference between ideas and their interpretations. You can not blame the religion or the community as a whole for the individual extremist actions executed because of falseful interpretations of the holy texts whether it be directly by the extremists or indirectly in the form of getting orders from seemingly religious extremist leaders (seemingly, because religious beliefs are a very easy target to abuse and be hypocritic about).
  • Media is biased, it only represents and reveals selected bits and pieces of the issues at hand and does so in a way that suits the motives of the management of that particular medium (be it a newspaper, a magazine or a radio station). Never trust a newspaper (or any single source of information for that matter) to give you the whole, objective, picture. They don't. They can't. It's virtually impossible (and would, generally, be way too much trouble compared to the benefits). Thus, if you want to be sure you get the right information, always question the interpretations of claimed motives and messages if they're not direct, full quotes straight from the source. Full, because the meanings can be changed completely if parts are left out (on a sidenote, this is what statistics (in practise) are all about: telling the truth selectively in order to alter meanings without lying). The alteration can also happen involuntarily (read seeya's excellent writeup No one can know what you want unless you tell them about "complete communication" to get a good picture of how and why).

One note that I made - which has to be said in order to better understand what and how =b= writes - is that all the references and sources quoted are American: Richard Connerney from Iona College (I must admit his note about entries for war and peace in the Koran is very interesting and raises questions if it's true), Bernard Lewis' article in the New Yorker, Thomas Friedman from the New York Times; there are no quotes from Iranian, Saudi-Arabian or Pakistanese newspapers (which is understandable) that might shed some light on the opposing views.

A small reply to rk2001's comments on my writeup:

As I am no expert on Islam and am not a practising Muslim myself, my comment on that the terrorists acting "in the name of Islam" (and/or Allah) should not even be regarded as Muslim was based solely on what I was taught in school and what I found in a dictionary - that the term "Muslim" refers to (and only to) an adherent of Islam, a person pertaining to the religion, law, or civilization of Islam (hmm, now that I read it again, those un-Islamic Muslims naturally fall under the last of those three categories and, thus removed the sentence you criticized).

HongPong says: "i would add that like Islam, Judaism and Protestant Christianity have no pope-like authorities. Also I'd say be cautious of Bernard Lewis as he's sort of Bush's bitch. Thomas Friedman is mostly a positive guy but sometimes a tad chauvinistic. If you are looking for arab perspectives try Al-Ahram Weekly,,, cheers! also i'd say that al-jazeera is usually fairly balanced compared with the US media.. jazeera's threshold of journalistic integrity is typically much higher than the usual American dreck."