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Iraqi Expat

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Problem is not Islam

There is a misperception in the west that Islam promotes terror, women repression and backward thinking. I don’t blame westerners for viewing Islam the way Muslims portrayed it; I blame Muslims for misbehaving in the name of Islam. There has never been a greater enemy to Islam than Muslims themselves; Muslims misrepresented Islam and made it look like that.

I believe that one of the lessons that a lot of people missed, is that religion evolves. Two examples to point out; first, Muslims believe in all prophets from Abraham to Mohammed - including Moses and Jesus - and the revelations given to them by the one God (Allah). We know that it’s all about good and evil, and we also know that the rules and guidelines changed – or to be more specific, increased - from one prophet to the next depending on the circumstances, but why? Since God knows everything, the rules and guidelines could have been given more or less the same to all of them! But the rules change with time and depending on the circumstances; i.e. they evolve.

Second example is alcohol. God banned alcohol in stages; first, Muslims were not allowed to pray while drunk; but then after that rule was broken, God forbidden alcohol. It could have been easily banned in the first revelation; but it had to evolve. These are clear indications that Islam - or any religion for that matter – should evolve, as long as it doesn’t offend God (Allah).

It’s all about interpretation! The rules and guidelines can be interpreted differently, as we have different sectors within Islam that have different interpretations, depending on the way it’s been look at and who looked at it. Therefore, these rules and guidelines should also be interpreted differently depending on the time and place.

There are three factors that contributed to Islam’s bad image:

1. Tribal culture

The tribal culture is a serious problem; albeit, many Arabs have been urbanized, their culture is derived from the tribal culture, especially when it comes to women and honour. Women were repressed before Islam; but many were also repressed after Islam! The reason is not Islam, it is the tribal traditions!

Islam advocated equality between human beings regardless of race and gender. But because the gender issue can be argumentative, I will say - for argument sake - that Islam differentiated between men and women; but even then, Islam undoubtedly gave women more rights than what women had anywhere else at that time - 1400 year ago - which should’ve been embraced and progressed not regressed; only tribal mentality didn’t give up all traditions that easily. Female infanticide was one of the tribal traditions that Islam prohibited!

Honour killing is not an Islamic practice, it’s a tribal tradition to preserve the honour of the tribe/family; yet many justify this act as an Islamic law! Islam does not distinguish between men and women when it comes to punishment, whether it’s for unlawful sex or any other reason. But to justify honour killing as an Islamic law, all you need to do is to look at the rules and guidelines with a tribal mentality.

Therefore, it is important to differentiate between Islamic culture and the Middle East culture. For example, Islam prohibit sex before marriage for both men and women; whereas the ME culture only prohibit women! Non-Muslims in the ME are part of ME culture which is influenced by tribal culture; therefore, they consider honour - and other values - same way their Muslim neighbours consider it.

2. Fundamentalists

If you accept that Islam can be interpreted differently depending on how you look at it; then you will accept that fundamentalists can justify what they advocate! To be honest, I find it hard to understand how they justify killing innocents in the name of Islam!

The problem of many fundamentalists is that they are retrogressive; now that makes all the blinded followers retrogressive too. They either look back at the Caliphate's era or the Prophet’s era, and they dream of making today look like centuries ago! Therefore, their actions and interpretations are not of today, but of centuries ago. For example, Wahhabists want to make today’s world look like the Prophet’s era, they want to make it look like 1400 years ago and they don’t want to move on!

There is no need for me to talk about the roots and reasons for terrorism as it is irrelevant to this subject; however, what is relevant is the damage caused by terrorism. Terrorism damaged Islam and Muslims more than anything else; the impact of 9/11 on the Muslim community around the world was gigantic; Muslims became target of racism and hatred; Westerners looked at them differently after that day; Islam became a feared religion, a religion that export terrorism and oppress women! And I don’t blame westerners because they love their freedom and democracy and want to protect it, I blame the fundamentalists and their followers who don’t want to evolve!

3. Leaders of Muslim countries

Most of the leaders don’t care about Islam more than they care about their own people! However, what they care about is the chair and for that they need to justify their existence, the emergency laws, the oppression, etc; and what can do the job better than pro-Arabism, anti-Imperialism and anti-Zionism!

Pro-Arabism, anti-Imperialism and anti-Zionism, that sounds like the Islamic fundamentalists agenda! Exactly! They have the same agenda and for their survival, they have to encourage the retrogressive fundamentalists! Could that backfire?

Furthermore, they persecute, oppress, torture and unjustly kill their own people; women - and human - rights are appalling; justice is merely a tool used to protect themselves and Islam is the excuse!

I think history repeats itself; I always compare the Arab Muslim world today with the European Christian world few centuries back, i.e. in the Middle Ages. The Church was powerful then, and later were in a power struggle with the state; but what happened when the church was powerful? Were there any human - and women - rights? How about anti-Semitism? What about justice? Sort of similar to what we have now in the Muslim world! We are just few centuries behind! But it looks like we are catching up.

Islam is being abused by Muslims and that’s why it has a bad image. Justice for Muslims and Islam would be served best if we get rid off tyranny, fundamentalism and tribal mentality and replace them with secularism, freedom and democracy.

23 Comments:

Blogger Brian H said...

Yes, very well thought out and written, Ahmad.

Here's a question: "Would you still choose to be a Muslim if you had to give up everything in Sharia and hadith?" How do you suppose fundamentalists and others would answer that? How would they choose between their customs and their faith in Allah and the Quran?

By the way, in my opinion all possibility of understanding the Quran properly was destroyed when the verses were arranged in terms of length rather than subject or time of transcription. Take any book of similar length and rearrange the paragraphs, ignoring all chapter divisions, ets., in length sequence, and then try to read it. It will be nonsensical.

March 30, 2005 10:38 pm  
Blogger Brian H said...

**divisions, etc., in**

March 30, 2005 10:40 pm  
Blogger Ahmad said...

Brian,
When the Wahhabists consider Shiites as infidels; how do you expect them to answer your question? Of course they would consider anyone who give up the Sharia and Hadith as infidel!

But you don't have to give up the Sharia, all you have to do is to look at it with an open mind, separate religion from politics, don’t use religion to justify actions, embrace the message of equality and justice, and think of how it should - and could - be applied, with an open mind, today!

Religion is used to justify actions, and that is a big problem. Therefore, they use religion not only to enforce it but to enforce their tribal customs and to justify the leaders actions!

If you look at pictures - and movies - of urban ME women in the 60s and 70s, you will be surprised because women used to wear skirts about 10-15cm above the knee! Now they don’t dare, i.e. they fear from fundamentalists not God!

March 30, 2005 11:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The more Muslims talk about their faith with others, the more the rest of us will understand. I have some friends who are Christians and they are feeling the same way right now. They are demonized as often as Muslims in the US.

There are going to be plenty of Muslims, Jews, Christians and Agnostics harassing each other and it is going to get worse in the next few years. The world seems smaller every year, and I think that is a good thing as long as moderate reasonable people can find a way to have fun together in the everchanging world.

-Mike

March 31, 2005 4:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahmed...I hope you are American because your essay was so thoughtful and we need you as a part of our society.

I am so sorry that you have felt like people hate Muslims. I don't hate Muslims. As a matter of fact, through blogs, I have grown to love many new friends. Most people think that many are at war with the west and lets face it... many are.

I am a secular Christian and I hope you don't mind my saying this but I wish that more Muslims studied the life of Jesus just so they understood Christians better..there are no imperialistic conspiracies.

Anyway...a big hug to you....beautiful post. Thank you.

thinker-USA

March 31, 2005 8:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About that hug...Don't worry...its OK with my husband...its platonic...and I'm old enough to be your mom.....

thinker

March 31, 2005 8:34 am  
Blogger Brian H said...

I agree with the age and maturation observation, but there are strict limits to how fast it can happen. It takes many generations of closed minds dying off for attitudes and interpretations to change. Even in science, where change and improvement of theories and "paradigms" is a highly valued goal, it has been said that for a new major "paradigm" to take over, the men who perfected the old one in their youth have to die of old age.

Artificially aging the current Wahabi and other fanatics with bullets might or might not be desirable, but there are too many of them to do it very cleanly and easily.

March 31, 2005 8:47 am  
Blogger xScottAllen said...

Most of the world is mired in evil, so please take this comment in perspective: I am not just picking on Islam. But I must respectfully disagree with the assertion that Muslims believe in Jesus. Feel free to post what true Muslims believe, I will refrain except to say what they do NOT believe: Christianity asserts that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the Savior who died on the cross for our sins, and who is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life. Mankind has only 2 thought systems: (1) where each person earns his way to heaven or a higher state, etc. by his/her own merit and (2) Christianity where you recognize that you are evil, repent and accept Jesus' perfect sacrifice on your behalf. I say this out of concern for the reader's personal future. I know most readers will find it ludicrous or irrelevant as part of a geopolitical discussion, but please realize that culture is the summation of individual thought and behavior. So even if you believe that religion is nonsense, think about how the difference between (1) individual merit, and (2) repentance and a Savior are fundamentally different and have a different impact on the wider culture.

April 01, 2005 4:18 am  
Blogger Ahmad said...

thinker,
I am sorry, but am not an American!

thinker, xscottallen,
I hope Muslims read more about the life Jesus too, even though Muslims know a lot about the life of Jesus; he and Virgin Marry are mentioned in the Quran; in fact, there is a chapter called Marry in the Quran.

Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet, Jesus is the Messiah and he will come back. Having said that, there are some differences between what Muslims believe and what Christians believe about Jesus and Christianity.

Muslims don't believe that he is the Son of God and they don't believe that he sacrificed on our behalf. Therefore, Muslims believe that each person earns his way to heaven.

So even though there differences and some of these differences might be fundamental, Muslims do believe in Jesus and do believe that he was a prophet of God.

April 01, 2005 9:29 pm  
Blogger Brian H said...

There are only two kinds of people: Those who say there are only two kinds of people, and those who do not.

"Merit" is defined by those who want to draw a line with themselves on the good side, and those they want to control or oppress on the other.

April 02, 2005 4:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muslims believe there was a real Jesus, what is referred to by secular writers as the historical Jesus. They also believe he was a prophet, but the big divide is that they do not believe he was the only begotten son of God. I heard a quote from the Quran that stated what an affront it was, the idea that God should have a son!

April 02, 2005 6:03 pm  
Anonymous Sunna said...

wahhabies reality

http://www.sunna.info/antiwahabies

April 03, 2005 6:04 am  
Blogger Apesnake said...

As an atheist I found your post to be very thoughtful and well thought out. This is something many religious people are not quick to accomplish.

Have you ever considered the idea that the "prophets" were only divinely inspired and, as imperfect humans, are only blurred windows on the concept of God? That maybe no one is immune from the tendency to include their own biases against... say, homosexuals or the theory of evolution etc. in Gods "dictations" and that progress depends more on change than it does on conservation of past traditions and scriptures?

Just a thought.

April 03, 2005 7:39 am  
Blogger Louise said...

ape-snake, I like that thought. It's similar to what I believe. I don't know if there is a God. As a mere human, I'm incapable of fathoming such a force as an Almighty Omnipotent Creator, but if there is, I'm am sure It has no gender. That's why I never feel comfortable referring to God as "He" and would feel equally uncomfortable referring to God as "She". "It" doesn't sound right either, but that, no doubt is just the inadequacy of the English language. Most Muslims I have met refer to "The God", not God. That comes close, I think. Whatever there is out there (or in here), "The God" is felt through a movement or a stirring which I would call divine inspiration.

April 03, 2005 4:42 pm  
Anonymous iconoclast said...

Ahmad

What you says has considerable merit, particularly your notion that the current state of Islam maps well to the state of Christianity 3-400 years ago.

Let's take that notion one step further. Europe was embroiled in a number of religious/political wars at the time. Oftentimes between the more fundamentalist nations (Catholics at the time) and the Enlightenment Protestants. Ultimately, the Enlightenment won out over the fundamentalist Catholics. Partly because the Catholics were trying to prevent an emerging middle class (and the accompanying capitalism) from flourishing. Partly because the Catholics were trying to keep the scientific and technological growth from happening. And partly because the Enlightenment cultures defeated the the Catholic cultures in war. (btw, people with a real understanding of history are welcome to correct this shallow description).

Do you think that the current situation in the ME and Islam has parallels with the historical situation I described? Do you think it will take less than a century to accomplish the task of modernizing Islam? What should be the role of western nations in this going forward?

April 03, 2005 5:19 pm  
Blogger Louise said...

iconoclast, I think perhaps your depiction of the Protestant movement is a bit too rosy. What I remember from the European history classes I took many moons ago, is that once the Bible was translated into the various vernacular European languages, everyone and his dog was able to interpret it in his own way (I'm exaggerating somewhat), but that only resulted in an explosion of competing "my way or the highway" thinking among the multitude of so-called protestant sects. Not only was there an ideological and real war between the "Popish" religion and the new upstarts, but the various and sundry upstarts couldn't tolerate one another as well. That was still very much in place until very recently. Hopefully, Islam can jettison right over that phase. Perhaps the modern model of secularism provided by the West, will be more influential than our own history is. That is, if we are going to have any influence at all.

Also, by and large, the reformation was a reaction against the corruption in the Roman church, not so much a reaction against fundamentalism. The Roman church at that point in history had become a top down corrupt theocracy which was more interested in wealth and opulence than genuine pastoral care or inculcation of church doctrine.

April 03, 2005 5:48 pm  
Anonymous iconoclast said...

Louise

Yes, my description of the Enlightenment was shallow and biased. And certainly Protestant sects persecuted one another wholeheartedly, though not with the breadth and depth available to the Catholic church (just too few with too little organization).

But I wasn't referring to the Reformation--that period in which the Protestant sects rose up against Rome and the Papacy. The Reformation pre-dated the Enlightenment and, while it contained the seeds of the Enlightenment, was not the same thing. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation seem to be more of internal struggle over the kind of religion rather than a struggle over the general primacy of religion. Enlightenment, the idea of an "age of reason" with its accompanying de-emphasis of religion, seemed to be more effective in moderating Christianity in the way that Ahmad suggests for Islam.

But we can take the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Enlightenment as one long struggle for Christianity to move from superstition, absolutism, monarchy, and tribal law. It was one hell of a long and bloody struggle. And the outcome was not certain.

Does Islam face an equally long and bloody struggle within itself? In this interconnected world with industrialized death available to most countries, what is the role of the rest of the world in this growth? Can we contribute positively? Has the rest of the world the moral certainty to do the hard things that are needed?

April 03, 2005 7:35 pm  
Blogger Louise said...

Sorry, iconoclast, I guess I missed that little cue in your thesis.

One thing that is very different today is modern communications technology and the predominance of two or three languages (English, French and Spanish) that are spoken or at least read throughout the entire globe, which has made global communication of ideas, and therefore influence, occur much faster. Therefore, I don't think it will take that long in the Middle East.

I think one of the reasons this war was fought in Iraq, as opposed to somewhere else in the Middle East, is that it was already a secular society. That's one of the few good things one can say about Saddam Hussein's legacy. That and universal education, which included a high degree of post secondary achievement.

Although much of the education included Ba 'athist indoctrination, it also included sciences and technology, so I think Iraqis, in particular, are well situated to take the ball and run, so to speak, as soon as a democratic institutions take root. They've also had a very long history of being traders and merchants, so I don't think it will take them too long.

April 03, 2005 8:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will find that many people lost their faith in Europe following the black death, people who were virtuous still died.

Also in the UK duing the Victorian period the lower classes had rubbish like this preached at them, "respect your elders and BETTERS!" So you can imagine where all the respect disappeared to.

Great first post by the way, spot on, I don't hate Muslims, but Islam scares me to death.

April 04, 2005 9:16 pm  
Blogger Steve from Florida said...

Ahmad, excellent post. You made many good points, that anyone with a little common sense can understand.

April 05, 2005 2:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Islam -is- the problem for one reason.

It allows for extremist control of the political process. Islam is worse about it - being a 'guide for life' in all aspects it is the de facto government over people wether they like it or not.

Islam's plurality is it's weakness. By it's nature, there is no megalithic 'church', only Shaykhs giving out fatwas. The fatwa with the most people following it becomes more important than a more reasonable fatwa with only a few adherents.

Coupled with a tribal and violent xenophobia, extremists can control the religion easily. The Hijab is constantly called 'optional' by some commentators, but there are many who are forced to wear it! What happened in Basrah? Extremists were beating people to death for not following their brand of the religion. "You have to be tolerant of us and not offensive to us!" They say, regardless of the fact that saying such is offensive to others, becuase they others don't have guns or the will to kill.

In this way, extremists control the debate. In this way, moderates lose out.
In this way, Islam controls.
In this way, Islam is evil.

April 06, 2005 5:49 pm  
Blogger Ahmad said...

Anon,

Any ideology or religion can yield extremism; there were at times Catholic Extremists, there are Jewish extremists and there are Muslim extremists. When governments harbour extremists and support them, you will have all sorts of problem and they [the government] might eventually lose their grip on the situation.

Many religions are intended to be a guide for life in all aspect; some are used even when it is not intended to be so. If religion has the power it will become de facto rule and it will prosecute and persecute people. Read about Christianity in Europe in the Middle Ages to see what it did before the Reformation and Enlightenment!

Therefore, Islam is no exception to other religions. The people, the Imams, the interpretation, the power and authority given to those Imams are the problems; not Islam in itself. Which means, after enlightenment of people - and maybe reformation and reinterpretation of Islam - things would look completely different in the ME.

You said extremists control the debate which means extremists are evil, not Islam! If the moderates control, then we have no problems.

April 06, 2005 10:02 pm  
Blogger yochanan said...

I am glad to have read your post. It is rare to hear such a thoughful piece hopefully in the future it will be less rare.

April 08, 2005 6:04 am  

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