Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

Islam: What Do I Know?

October 1, 2007

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.



[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!]