Islam: What Do I Know?

Square1 asks “What do you know about Islam?”

Like most Americans, I’m going to say that the word “Muslim” or “Islam” conjures up images of violence and terror.  Images of planes flying into buildings, people who strap bombs to themselves and terrorize a school full of children or a people who cut off the heads of others.  It appears to be a religion of violence, intolerance and oppression.  It is a religion, at first glance, in serious need of a press agent.  Everywhere Muslims exist, there is hatred and violence, murder and mayhem.

 

My first encounter with Islam was not a violent one, though.  My first college room mate was a guy from India who was a Muslim whose family had moved to Kuwait back in the 1980’s.  Avi was a very small guy, who was diligent in his studies but not so much diligent in his religion.  We did have conflicts but not about religion, per se.  The conflicts were about stupid roommate stuff that happens when one studies 20 hours per day and the other does not.  He was largely an absent roommate.  There were some Pakistani Muslims on our floor in the dorm and they seemed fairly easy to get along with while politically they were somewhat outspoken.  However they were just as prone to drink and womanize as much as the rest of us, which helped them assimilate.  So none of the Muslims I knew in college seemed especially orthodox in their practice of their religion although they did abstain of eating pork as far as I knew.

 

Outside of those college experiences, I’ve not had much contact with Muslims outside of people who seemed to be running convenience stores and hotels.  And even then, I wasn’t sure whether the businesses were being run by Hindus or Muslims.

 

I’m also aware that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.  They are divided into two groups, Sunni and Shi’a and apparently these two groups have a hard time getting along, especially in Iraq.  Much of the terror and violence perpetrated by Muslims is directed at other Muslims.

 

Other bodies of work I have read where Islam was given extensive treatment were by James Clavell and James Michener.  

 

In response to Square’s challenge, I read up a bit on the subject.  Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

 

In order to understand Islamic violence, it is important to understand the concepts of apostasy and blasphemy.  Apostasy relates to turning away from true Islam and is punishable by death.  The Sunnis and Shia both accuse one another of apostasy, which is why their clashes are so often bloody and violent.  It also explains, somewhat, why Islam has grown compared to other religions.  The consequences for turning to any other religion once you are a Muslim are dire.  Muslims who convert to Christianity must indeed be willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, often at the hands of their own families.  In many Muslim countries, it is illegal to practice another religion publicly and it is even more illegal to try to convert others from the Muslim faith.  Apostasy is one of the two pillars of Muslim violence.

 

According to Square1’s account, she converted in the space of about a month after her husband, formerly known as Cubed, converted.  In my opinion, this was a ridiculous, rash and foolish thing to do.  But at the same time, I can see why she would feel pressure to do so. 

 

The schism between my own wife and me concerning worship has been often palpable.  I can only imagine the tension inspired when one converts to something so entirely foreign.  The consequences of her husband’s conversion could have had dire consequences, not the least of which would have been divorce.  While there is some tolerance for Muslim men to have a nonmuslim wife, the idea of having nonmuslim children would be reprehensible.  Therefore, her family as she knew it was in imminent danger from the moment her husband converted. 

 

Blasphemy is the other pillar of Islamic violence and this is where they are in conflict with the rest of the world.  Blasphemy, like apostasy, is punishable by death.  Basically blasphemy is anything that attacks or profanes the Islamic faith, including saying bad things about Muhammad, the Qu’ran, God or any other facet of the Islamic tradition.  This includes profane images and words, such as those Danish cartoons.  This is why any comments that are contrary to Square’s beliefs and religion would have to be removed from her blog because allowing them to remain would be akin to blasphemy.

 

One of the terms bandied about to describe those who have a less than favorable impression of Islam is Islamaphobe implying that such people will discriminate against Muslims may be doing so out of some sort of neurotic fear.  However those Islamic individuals who practice terror many times do so with the express purpose of cultivating fear and terror.  It is the Muslims themselves who have a neurotic fear of other religions, going so far as to outlaw any and all proselytizing activities. 

 

There is no such thing as freedom of speech and expression in the Muslim religion, especially in those who insist upon sharia law.  While many Christians were outraged and offended by Piss Christ, there were no death threats or violent riots as opposed to the reaction to those Danish cartoons which depicted Mohammad with a bomb in his turban.  In Denmark there were terrible riots and persecutions and deaths.  Any drawings or representations of Mohammad, no matter how benign, are generally considered blasphemous in Muslim culture.  And the reaction is predictably psychotic in nature.

 

Apostasy and blasphemy are akin to treason in the Muslim world.  Both offenses are considered capital offenses.  The preferred method of dispatching offenders is through beheading although rape, torture, hanging and shooting have all been employed.  Most often, such sentences are carried out for more political purposes than religious ones.  In any case, the result is the same; violence that terrorize the adherents into submission.  Certainly many, many Muslims practice their faith out of a love for God.   However, as I’ve discussed above, there is no room for questioning Mohammed’s authority or legitimacy.

 

Muslims have suffered throughout history for their faith.  Genghis Khan nearly wiped them out completely as he and his hoard drove westward.  The crusades made an attempt to drive them from the Middle East and failed several times.

 

The godless Soviet Union oppressed them mightily in order to control them before being beaten back out of Afghanistan.  At that time, the United States was somewhat sympathetic to their cause even though it was Jimmy Carter’s administration that destabilized the Afghan government in the first place. 

 

The oddest example of U.S. support came in the early 1990’s when Serbian Christians began ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Bosnia.  The U.S. led an effort to thwart this effort and overthrew the dictator Milosevic who was arrested for war crimes.  The U.S. population was touched by the images of emaciated Muslim prisoners behind barbed wire fences reminiscent of the concentration camps of the Holocaust.  We did not hesitate to help those mostly Muslim people who were being oppressed by mostly Christians and denounce their behavior as decidedly unchristian. 

 

Most people in the U.S. were sympathetic to the cause of Chechnya, where Muslims wanted to establish an independent state.

 

This was despite the fact that Muslims were still actively terrorizing governments throughout the world, but mostly in the Middle East.  Americans had some suspicions toward the Arab countries that seemed to be supporting terror towards Israel and who often allied themselves with the Soviets when it suited them.  Even when hostages were taken in Iran, Americans did not automatically associate all Muslims with violence.  We counted Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan as friends and allies.  The animosity towards Iran pretty much translated into a distrust of the Shia sect, thus the U.S allied itself with Iraq during their war with Iran. 

 

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. allied itself with many Muslim nations to drive Iraq out.  But the U.S. presence is Saudi Arabia began to anger Sunni and Shia alike because the massive presence in what was their holy land was akin to blasphemy.  A sentiment of hostility grew towards the U.S. presence.  Most Americans were ignorant of this until the late 1990’s, when our embassies were bombed in Africa.  Even then, we had no idea.  We sort of got the hostility in Israel as that conflict had been raging for decades.  But we had no idea how the proximity of our troops to Mecca was creating more animosity and anger.  Muslim extremism was still considered an anomaly.

 

Until 9/11/01.  This shifted the perspective of everyone, as did subsequent attacks in Spain and England.   Suddenly it seemed that everywhere there were Muslims, there was violence, terror and bloodshed.  The attack on the school in Beslan further galvanized the image of Mohammed’s legacy as one of bloodthirsty, warmongering, murdering barbarians. 

 

While Christians were relatively quick to denounce the atrocities of the Christian Serbs, the Muslim community’s outrage towards their own has been anemic at best.  The simple reason is that any dissention within the Muslim community is akin to blasphemy and apostasy: treason. 

 

Getting back to Square1’s conversion…

 

She said she converted in about a month.  It is not possible to make such a radical decision with any degree of knowledge in that short of time.  Islam is a fairly sophisticated religion with many laws, pillars of belief, tenets that differ among varying factions.  It has many unique cultural distinctions and practices that are foreign to a western style of thinking.  Just learning the Arabic vocabulary would take months of study, let alone reading and understanding the Qu’ran.  Even Catholics require several classes before becoming a member and the stakes are not nearly as high.  Putting aside the fate of ones eternal soul for the moment, Muslim law and belief clearly hold that there is not such thing as reconsidering your options.  Once you convert to Islam, you are obligated for life.  It is an eternal marriage not to be taken lightly. 

 

While it is common for Christians to make decisions for Christ quickly, we’re not going to cut off anyone’s head for choosing Hinduism later on and we’re not going to advocate divorce and taking your children from you on that basis alone.    The Christian belief is that God’s grace is sufficient to bring you back at any time in the same way the father welcomed the prodigal son.  This is not true in Islam.  Once Square recited the Shahadah, it was a done deal.  Not only is she obligated (upon pain of death) but so are her children.  Them choosing their own path is not an option, at least not without being disowned by their family and community.

 

Inshah Allah.

 

The tenets, beliefs and history of Islam are fascinating and I’m led to believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to learn more about it.  I’ve started reading some of the discussions behind the various wikipedia entries in order to gauge the reaction by Muslims to the various controversies.  And most of them do have controversies, although the tone is not as hostile as I might have expected.  I think there is a tendency to underestimate the intellectual side of Islam since it seems to have such wide appeal amongst those who are uneducated and ignorant.  However all of those I knew in college were studying to be engineers and all were top notch students.  These were no dummies.  However they seemed very pragmatic about their religion and were not the sort I would expect to be taken in by extremists.

So what do I know about Islam?  Not a heck of a lot.  I’ll look forward to reading more from Square about her journey and continue investigating various aspects of it.  Perhaps such knowledge could spare my neck when it is on the chopping block or if I end up being taken hostage by such extremists.  Or even talk to one in my neighborhood with some bit of background.

 

D.

[Since I wrote this initially offline,  I had no links for any of this stuff.  Finding links to examples of Islamic violence is like shooting fish in a barrel.  It is all over the place every single day in almost every continent in the world and takes place on a massive scale on par with the Soviet Gulags, the Nazi concentration camps and Pol Pot.  Why would anyone want to join with such hypocrisy on such a global scale?  These folks give all religions a bad name!] 

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16 Responses to “Islam: What Do I Know?”

  1. Hamza Says:

    Hi Digger.

    It was good to hear you are still around. I will be posting some comments and respectful corrections (insha’Allah) and hopefully we can dissipate the cloud of misconceptions and misunderstandings. I will probably post it to my blog, but let me know if you have any requests on this. I am thinking it will take quite sometime to respond to a post of this length, and do it and Islam justice in doing so, and since I have other more pressing obligations I will need to wait until later in the week, possibly Thursday or this weekend to reply.

    Just a note, wikipedia is user based content, and edited and composed by users, sometimes edited by wikipedia. Since very few (if any) non-Muslims really genuinely know about, understand and comprehend Islam fully, there are not a good authority or source on Islam, it is best to go to a Muslim to find out about Islam, not wikipedia really…but I applaud your efforts to find out the truth and look forward to talking with you. Are you ever in Tennessee? It is Ramadan right now and I would love to have you have Iftar (fast breaking meal at about dinnertime) with us.

    Best Regards and Peace upon you.

    Hamza
    (Square1’s wife aka OneCubed/Mr. Muse, a Muslim.)

  2. Hamza Says:

    Husband not wife, lol.

  3. Square1 Says:

    Like Hamza, it will also take me time to post an intelligible response. Mostly due to time and energy constraints.With time constraints (college), and energy constraints (family), it will take me a bit of effort to give a well composed response. In addition I must take care to make sure I am giving completely accurate information. It would be an injustice to other Muslims and myself to misrepresent or accidentally mislead anyone in regards to Islam, so I must be very attentive to detail.

    However one issue I did wish to address real quickly. Anyone is free at any time to post contradictions and challenges on my blog. It is not blasphemy. In fact it is quite welcome. Any religion that falls down to simply being challenged is not worth much. This is one thing that is stressed to all new Muslims, that we are allowed to question and to seek out answers. (Of course it is expected that this should be done politely and respectfully.) Lifelong Muslims already know this from being raised up with this knowledge, and sense of assuredness. In other words, I am supposed to be ready to meet any challenge armed with knowledge and reason. It is my duty to diplomatically dispel misconceptions about Islam and educate those who wish to learn. Still being a new convert, that may mean I have to take time to research, and then get back to the person though. As I said this is to insure that I am accurately informing them so that they can make their own decisions about the religion, and so that I am not misrepresenting, it or misleading anyone (even unintentionally). No one will be censored for challenging or contradicting me.

    On the other hand, I do reserve the right to remove any bigoted or inflammatory remarks. I mean after all it is my space and I can do that. And those I remove simply because they serve no purpose in debate, except to upset people. When someone who is debating has to resort to that, it just tells me that they have a weak argument, they know they have a weak argument, and at that point it’s a waste of my time and energy to continue the exchange.

    This was the case with the blog I started after first converting. The comments I moderated from that one were rather inflammatory and bigoted. The nice thing about America is that bigots can be intolerant of me all they want, and I can be intolerant of bigots all I want. So it’s all good. I simply let that blog go because it wasn’t my comfort zone, and now that I’ve finally figured out how to reconcile my muse blog with my new sense of life, I am back in my element, and writing again. Alhomdulilah! (Thanks be to God!)

  4. Square1 Says:

    You can be my wife, Hamza. I don’t mind! :oP I love you!!!

  5. MP Says:

    Just a correction of your facts: FYI, Andres Serrano DID, indeed, receive death threats after “Piss Christ” was exhibited. Not surprisingly, the Christians making them didn’t understand the work and actually demonstrated that Serrano (a Christian himself) was making a very valid point in his interpretation – that many people CALL themselves “Christian”, while behaving in direct opposition to what Jesus allegedly taught (for example, making death threats), thereby “pissing on Christ”.

    History shows that Muslims are no more dangerous than Christians.

  6. gukseon Says:

    “Everywhere Muslims exist, there is hatred and violence, murder and mayhem.”

    …you DO realize that Muslims exist in the United States as well, right? And that they have for centuries now? That possibly up to 20% of the African slaves brought over to this country were Muslim?

    Muslims have been here since the beginning. Are you blaming them for America’s high rate of homicide? Or perhaps the Muslim minority are responsible for the fact that every two minutes in America, a woman is raped?

    We might as well say, “Everywhere Americans exist, there is hatred and violence, murder and mayhem.” Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, etc! Flawed logic? Of course it is.

    But of course it is so much easier for us to point out the splinter in others’ eyes than it is to deal with the plank in our own—easier to deal with caricatures and generalizations than it is to deal with real people. Real people generally defy all the convenient little categories we’ve created for them.

    Let me put it to you like this, RXNs: drawing conclusions about Islam based on the actions of extremists is like drawing conclusions about Christianity based on the actions of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

  7. diggerjones Says:

    Fair point, MP, I didn’t know about Serrano’s death threats. However no one was killed even though this was done in a predominantly Christian country. Perhaps I should have used that “Gay Last Supper” painting as an example. In any case, Christians are more tolerant in a postmodern age towards their sacred symbols being profaned. Denmark, OTOH, was not a Muslim country yet over 100 people were still killed over the deal. I think in the 21st century, Muslim radicals are the most violent group at present. And yet they are a growing religion. Yeah, Serrano has a valid point; Christians are doing a piss poor job of reaching the lost.

    Fair call, Gukseon, on that super sized over-generalization. In fact, Muslims seem to do well in the U.S. and are too busy making money to fool with extremism, either doing it or condemning it. Westboro Baptist church is certainly not what most people would want as the face of Christianity.

    Which only goes to show my knowledge of Islam is pretty limited, isn’t it?

    Square and Hamza, no worries. I’m putting together some specific questions for you to answer about your own experiences with Islam that might be easier than responding to this screed. i.e How easy is it to be a Muslim in the Southeast U.S.? Of all the places I would pick for undergoing such a conversion, this wouldn’t be it!

    D.

  8. Square1 Says:

    It has been a challenge here in the Southeast. This was another reason behind our move to a larger city, though a very peripheral part of the decision. Our move had more to do with finances and gas prices, and time for the children than anything else, but this was also a consideration. I personally have been fortunate, because there are quite a few American converts that are women, surprisingly enough. Some have converted on their own, some are married to immigrants. Others such as the case of a friend of mine, are married to other American converts.

    There are going to be people who jump to conclusions and make stupid comments, however the worst I’ve suffered has been dirty looks and one comment about a “towel head”. Most of those kinds of things I find myself oblivious to anyway, so it doesn’t bother me.

    I do find it humorous though to see the surprised looks on people’s faces when I begin speaking and it becomes apparent that I’m American… especially when people get to realize how outspoken I generally am. It just blows preconceived notions clean out of the water for some folks.

    If there is anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that people are going to believe what they want to no matter what you do, so I just go on about my business and leave them be.

  9. Hamza Says:

    I posted some resources on legitimate Islamic Information Resources on my blog. Best Regards.

    For reference: Square1 doesn’t always see the murderous glances she receives, or hear the whispered threats and assumptions we are terrorists and/or foreigners because we dress differently than your “typical American”… (Obvious Muslims)

    It IS difficult and never have I seen abundance of tolerance and nonjudgmental attitude, but from a very small portion of our society, in the South or otherwise in regards to Muslims. Usually it is the honestly open-minded and good hearted Christians that are the most open and kind. Others are the Hippy type, or Atheist Agnostics, but are pleasantly and surprisingly open minded.

    Just a thought:

    David Koresh was a self acclaimed Christian, and I even knew him. (We corresponded when I was in high school for a report I was doing for school, right before the fecal matter hit the fan there…) He was extreme and even militant in his beliefs, but never have I heard him, or others like him, called Christianofacists, Christian Terrorist, or any of the like. The same could be said for Timothy McVey, he blew up the Oklahoma City Federal building, in retaliation for Waco… Son of Sam was a self proclaimed Christian, and it is reported he got his orders from a black dog claiming to be God, and would then follow these orders and murdered many many innocents.

    Associating a religion with such a negative connotation is defamatory to the religion, but it happens to Muslims all the time. CNN and the news in general is full of lies brother. If you look carefully at the organization and ownership most media companies are like the world bank: owned by Zionist Jews… I have Jewish friends, some Jewish by belief, others Messianic Jews/ Christians. Even they will tell you that Muslims get a bad rap on purpose for propaganda’s sake. I will post more and prove my point later on in my blog posts.

    Asalaam Alaikum. (Peace be upon you.)

  10. Desmond Jones Says:

    Digger, I can recommend Bernard Lewis’ ‘What Went Wrong?’ for a good account of the background for 9/11. More generally, Lewis is probably the leading ‘Western’ scholar of Islamic civilization.

    Also, Bat Yeor has written some very sharp books about ‘dhimmitude’ – the ‘second-class’ staus of Jews and Christians (‘people of the book’) in Islamic societies. . .

  11. FTN Says:

    All I can say is that I wish I had something actually intelligent to add to this discussion. It’s interesting reading, however.

    On one hand I see how silly it is too stereotype a large group by the actions of a few. And then on the OTHER hand, I also see how silly it is for people to deny that such a large number of Muslims worldwide believe in murder and terror as something their God finds perfectly acceptable.

    I’m not sure that “yeah, but look at a couple of the silly people in YOUR religion” is a valid argument.

    Once we get into all of the news being “Zionist Jew” propoganda, I’m afraid I start to have trouble doing anything but shaking my head. Which is odd, because I’m one to criticize the news media as much as anyone else.

    I think the key here lies in this statement of Digger’s: the Muslim community’s outrage towards their own has been anemic at best. No, we shouldn’t judge a religion based on the actions of a few misguided individuals. But if the vast majority of the followers of a religion don’t condemn those actions and those people, they will be accepted as normal followers of that religion.

  12. Square1 Says:

    Please see my post “Islam Decrying Terrorism”.

  13. paulus Says:

    I started to try to understand what is going on in the Middle East with Vali Nasr’s excellent book the Shai Revival. As ever when you have only one view it is important to discount possible bias. Nasr’s Persian roots will have had an influence on his thinking so there is a need to look more broadly. But at least I had a starting point.
    However he provides wonderful insights and has inspired me to research more.
    My approach is different from yours. I take it as read that Sunni and Shia do not get on and don’t worry too much about the reasons. But Naser goes further and distinguishes the views of the fundamentalists on both sides from the moderates on both sides. With this as a starting point one can begin to unravel the mess which is killing hundreds of people every week in Iraq and Afghanistan and which threatens to engulf us all.
    I have started to put my analysis on my blog. It’s a sort of “who’s who” and “who’s where” I have called it “A really simple explanation of Sunni/Shia tension and the Middle East crisis” and that is what I am trying to provide. A tough task I know.
    So far I have looked at the lie of the land in terms of population and have pushed my understanding well beyond its starting point which was much as you describe yours: it “could fit on the period at the end of this sentence”.
    I have a second article ready to be published on Thursday. It looks at where the oil is and what implications that has. I have another project in mind about where the oil money has gone. The region, despite its mineral wealth, has failed to raise many of its people out of poverty and it has failed to develop a non-oil economy so there is little opportunity for its population. Then there is the interesting question why, if Islam is so great do so many of its sons and daughters choose to live in the hated West.
    There is no shortage of material. Come and have a look at what I have found so far at thinkhard.org I hope you find it interesting. And feel free to add, comment and contradict.

  14. paulus Says:

    PS the link is at:

    http://www.thinkhard.org/2007/10/a-really-simple.html

  15. uspace Says:

    .
    Keep learning about what radical Islam can do to otherwise good Muslim people.
    Google ‘The Religion of Peace’.

    The Islamofascists are the racist ones. They are against the Christian Race, and the Jewish Race and the Buddhist race and the Atheist race and the…

    .
    draw not Muhammad –
    Islamic law can only
    apply to Muslims…

    Muslims not bound by Buddhis
    Christian or Jewish doctrine

    .
    absurd thought –
    God of the Universe says
    you have NO rights

    to hate religions
    that demand to convert you

    .
    absurd thought –
    God of the Universe calls
    for sick ideologies

    that deny human rights
    KILL adulterers and gays

    .
    absurd thought –
    God of the Universe says
    don’t learn about jihad

    wanting to know or teach it
    is RACIST say the WACKOS
    .

    http://absurdthoughtsaboutgod.blogspot.com/

    🙂
    .

  16. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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