Foreword: I have been writing this for a while and whilst it really has nothing to do with the recent events in Orlando (because all evidence points to the fact that that guy wasn’t really a Muslim, was gay and was just an angry disturbed prick) this is just when it came out. I’ve been wanting to write all this down for a while now and…well here it is. An earlier version of this appeared in the now defunct blog “Me, me me it’s all about me” but that was about three pages shorter and not as good.
Say I wander into my bathroom and find water draining from the bath. Do I assume that it has always been draining because I have not witnessed at time when it has not been draining? No that would be ridiculous, but this is exactly the same trap that people fall into regarding many everyday things we see around us. Its call the “Bathtub” fallacy and it’s amazing how often people fall for it.
On a side note there is a weird tradition of trying to see Arabic writing on fish. This one apparently says “Muhammad is Gods servant and messenger” but on the other side it says “Cow’s are delicious”
If we haven’t been around for the genesis of something then it’s tempting to think that it’s been going on forever. I’m sure there are children around today that believe we have always had T.V. the Internet and mobile phones. When I was a child I was amazed to discover that there was a time that my grandmother could remember when there was no electricity to houses. I was blown away by this. How could something so every day, so ubiquitous not have always been around?
It’s easy for instance to think that Muslims have always been fundamentalist and that the religion lends itself to fundamentalism, strict policies and violence. To us it seems that Islam is a religion that lends itself to such dangerous fundamentalism that other religions can only stand and stare with their mouths open, yes there are moderate Muslims out there but as a whole the entire religion seems to be completely lacking a sense of humor. Suicide bombings, fatwa’s and taking cartoons entirely too seriously don’t help, not to mention ISIL. Could these people have ever been reasonable?
Islam is a monotheistic religious tradition that developed in the Middle East in the 7th century C.E. Islam, which literally means “surrender” or “submission,” was founded on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as an expression of surrender to the will of Allah, the creator and sustainer of the world. The Quran, the sacred text of Islam, contains the teachings of the Prophet that were revealed to him from Allah. Essential to Islam is the belief that Allah is the one true God with no partner or equal. Islam like any large religion has several branches and much variety within those branches. Two traditional divisions within the faith are the Sunni and Shi’a, each of which claims different means of maintaining religious authority. One of the unifying characteristics of Islam is the Five Pillars, the fundamental practices of Islam. These five practices include a ritual profession of faith, ritual prayer, the zakat (giving to charity and the needy), fasting, and the hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca). Many Muslims characterized their commitment by praying to Allah five times a day. One of the defining characteristics of Islam is the primacy of sacred places including Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Muslims gather at mosques to worship Allah, pray, and study scripture. There is no sharp distinction between the religious and secular aspects of life in Islam as you might find in the west or other faiths; all aspects of a Muslim’s life are to be oriented to serving Allah and in obvious ways that are integrated into everyday life. A Muslim rarely “leaves it at church”. After its conception Islam expanded almost immediately beyond its birthplace in the Arabian Peninsula, and now has significant influence in Africa, throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
More pronounced in Islam than in most Christian religions is the idea of abasement. Allah created you and is actively sustaining you. Therefore it is only right and proper to devote yourself to Allah in all things. Your religion is not simply a moral compass that you carry with you thorough the day and then worship on Sundays you are abasing yourself before Allah in all things because he keeping you alive. This is the kind of devotion that I have only ever witnessed personally in one Christian and…to be honest it was creepy. They often said “I do nothing under my own power or my own will, God strengthens me and guides me in all things” later they became a Nun and then a Hari Christina when that didn’t work out (but I digress). Now it’s entirely possible that many Christians believe that this is true of themselves but they rarely state it openly. The commandment from Mohammad was to be devotional, that you carry the responsibility to please your God with you at all times. This is VERY present in the religion on all levels. And this is on top of the usual religious ideology that comes with a major Abrahamic religions. You are powerless before your god and you must do what he wills. How do you know what he wills? Well don’t worry about that, like most religions people will tell you. About 50 times a day. It is possible that it is this seamless integration by faith into everything that makes Muslims susceptible to fanaticism but then. Maybe not.
If the media are to be believed you would think that Muslims want Sharia law for Australia they want to terrorize Bendigo and want all women to wear Burqas. Yet the facts are that there has only been one call for Shira law and that from an extremist who was asked “Would you like sharia law for Australia” and when was the last time you actually saw a woman in a Burqa? Yeah I thought so, that’s because out of all the Muslims in Australia only an estimated 325 actually wear them. And a cursory glance at the Quran will tell you that whilst there are some fairly hard-line aspects to it, it doesn’t contain any rules that are stranger or bloodier than the Old Testament. Yes Mohammad tells people to “Slap the infidel” but as Sam Harris said “There is nothing more bloody and barbaric than the Old Testament, the Quran pales in comparison”. And for once the bastard is right. Although this is the only time you will ever find me agreeing with Sam Harris.
Here’s some samples of the Old Testament;
Ye shall keep the sabbath … every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.–31:14
He that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.–24:16
And the man that … will not hearken unto the priest … that man shall die.–17:12
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine.–49:26
Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.–22:12-13
This is but a sample of the horrors contained within the text, The last one in in fact from the new testament where a guest at a wedding doesn’t have a Tux…so the King has him put to death….and that’s fine with Jesus….
In contrast the Quran is not always quite as full on.
Don’t bother to warn the disbelievers. Allah has blinded them. Theirs will be an awful doom. 2:6
A fire has been prepared for the disbelievers, whose fuel is men and stones. 2:24
Disbelievers will have a painful doom. And they will have no helpers. 3:91
Hell is sufficient for their burning. 4:55
And sometimes it is!
Kill disbelievers wherever you find them. If they attack you, then kill them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. (But if they desist in their unbelief, then don’t kill them.) 2:191-2
I’m not bashing Christianity here, merely pointing out that despite some very upsetting and baffling things in their bible for the most part they get along with other people just fine. I have very good Christian friends whom I’m sure will not put me to death. Even if I turned up to their wedding naked.
In the Quran there is stuff about fighting wars and being prepared to fight and dying for the cause but it’s also couched in this “Don’t worry about the unbeliever, their doomed” kind of thing. Doom is very big for the unbeliever in the Quran.
BUT unlike the bible the Quran has a tone. The Bible is talking to everyone collectively, the Quran is talking to YOU. You the guy in the scarf, yes you. The one with shoes. You the believer, you who wants to do the right thing by the creator who you own your very existence too. You are here to serve. Here’s how you do that.
Of course much like the Bible the Quran is choc full of contradictions.
Do not fight wars of aggression. 2:190 (It’s tempting to laugh at that but think how many passages of the bible Christians ignore when it suits them)
“There is no compulsion in religion.” (But the next verse says that disbelievers will burn forever in Hell.) 2:256
It is good to help the poor and make peace. 4:114
“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion.” Other translations render this as “O people of the Book, do not be fanatical in your faith.” 4:171
Whoever kills a human being, it is as if he had killed all mankind. Whoever saves the life of one, it is as if he had saved the life of all.
(But If I’m being completely honest the next verse says that the enemies of Allah and Muhammad will be killed, crucified, have their hands and feet cut off, or expelled. And after they die they will face SURPRISE! “An awful doom.” So yeah contradictions) 5:32
So if the Quran really isn’t more bloody or violent than the bible, so how it is that Christians for the most part seem to be above rabid bloody fundamentalism? There are exceptions of course and yes the Westborough Baptist church springs to mind, but to be honest there are about 20 of them and abhorrent thought they are, they have never actually killed anyone. So if Christians and people of nearly every other faith can desire to live in a peaceful society where religious pluralism reigns, what is it about the Muslim faith that makes it susceptible to this kind of fanaticism?
Well it’s possible as I mentioned that the tone of the Quran doesn’t help, also Christians make the distinctions between the Old Testament and the New Testament (although people of the Jewish faith follow the Old Testament and seem not to be as fanatical) and tend not to follow the Old Testament. Yes these are possibilities and I am not the first person to postulate them but this does not answer the initial question. How long have Muslims been fanatics?
The answer is about 50 years.
In fact it might even be less than that some scholars believe that they can pinpoint the moment that the Muslim world changed and that was in 1967.
In the 1950’s there was a resurgence in outdated and unpopular traditions, things like the veil, male-female segregation and fundamentalism began gaining ground in the Muslim world (none of which are mandated in the Quran), this was mainly due to the efforts of followers of an 18th centaury scholar Mohammed Al Wahab. His followers ran a concerted campaign to return the Muslim world to it’s roots, which in this case mean returning to traditions, many of which Al Wahab just plain made up.
During his lifetime, Wahab was taken about as seriously as Derren Hinch is taken today in the Australia sure he has his followers but the general population largely ignores him. ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s teachings were criticized by a number of Islamic scholars for disregarding Islamic history, monuments, traditions and the sanctity of Muslim life. His own brother, Sulayman, was particularly critical, claiming he was ill-educated and intolerant, classing Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s views as fringe and fanatical. But in the late 1950s, Wahabi Muslim thinkers like Sayyid Qutb started to urge total separation between Islam and the West, arguing that the outside world had “nothing else to give humanity.” The other name for his view was Salafi which for a very long time just meant “A firm adherent to the Quran” but According to Ahmad Moussalli, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, “As a rule, all Wahhabis are Salafists, but not all Salafists are Wahhabis”. Yet others say that while Wahhabism and Salafism originally were two different things, they became practically indistinguishable in the 1970s.
But whilst this idea had more adherents the second time around it was it wasn’t the thing that swung the Muslim culture down the road it currently travels there was a catalyst.
In 1967 Israel won the Six-say War and took the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights against the combined forces of Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
To fundamentalists this was a dramatic illustration of the crisis that they saw in Islam: lethargic, backwards Muslims defeated by a modern enemy (Israel had and still has one of the best run and most modern militaries in the world). Thus it was only natural for the debate about Islam to reemerge in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat.
The fundamentalists and ardents of ʿAbd al-Wahhab’s argued that the Arabs had lost the war because they had lost their faith and direction. That they had strayed too far from the central tenants of Islam and that the faith was in crisis. They argued that because they had disconnected themselves from a deeply held system of beliefs the Arabs proved an easy prey to Israeli power.
They argued that Islamic society needs a rigid system of beliefs, an ideology to guide it. Their contention was that a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam offered that system of beliefs and could do what no other imported doctrine could hope to do – mobilize the believers, instill discipline, and inspire people to make sacrifices and, if necessary, to die for the cause through martyrdom.
And so the fundamentalist mentality was not born but suddenly accepted, and to some Islam slipped backwards 400 years to a time that had never actually existed at any point in its history. In the Middle Ages for instance Islam was tolerant of other ideas and religions (more so than Christianity was at the time), perused science and mathematics and traded fairly with China and surrounding countries but in these days of “enlightenment” it has withdrawn and worse become dangerous.
Reporting from Saudi Arabia for The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright interviewed an older Saudi man who reminisced about the good old days when men and women used to be able to celebrate weddings together and remembers frequenting a beach where women and men could intermingle freely. Something that would be unthinkable and illegal today.
The unfortunate lesson with fundamentalist religions around the world seems to be that when backed into a corner faith runs towards fundamentalism but walks very slowly away from it. And opposition to fundamentalism only seems to make it stronger. It also seems to be true that events can make a religion fundamentalist of any religion. In this and many other regards Islam is not unique. Australians wonder if they should be wary of Muslims and the Muslin faith. The answer is yes and no. Any belief system can sour, all belief has the capacity for fundamentalism. Worldwide there are roughly 50 million Salafists, including roughly 20 to 30 million Salafis in India, 5 to 6 million Salafis in Egypt, 27.5 million Salafis in Bangladesh and 1.6 million Salafis in Sudan. Salafi communities are smaller elsewhere, including roughly 10,000 in Tunisia, 17,000 in Morocco, 7,000 in Jordan, 17,000 in France and 5,000 in Germany. But this does not mean that all Salafists are hard line fundamentalists who want to kill all unbelievers. There have been lots of figures thrown about Daniel Pipes figures that there are 120-180 million actively militant Muslims in the world. But that figure can’t really be close to accurate otherwise we would not see sporadic violence we would see concerted violence. A more accurate estimate would be 1-2% of the worldwide Muslim population which would be 12 – 30 million are hard-line fundamentalist who want to go and do some damage. Which proves that even if this religion were set up to breed fanatics it’s not really that good at doing so. So what should we do? We should be on guard, we should do our best to remove ISIL, we should celebrate the freedom we have and the lifestyle that we cherish. We should be supportive of moderate Muslims wherever we find them but also be wary of blatant Islamophobia and sheer racism dressed up as “vigilance”.