The Problem is not Islam
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.
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.