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RexDart
01-20-2004, 07:13 PM
To set the stage:

Generally, I think little good can ever come of lies, even well-meaning deceptions, and thus I'm pretty critical of religion. I believe people should be allowed to practice their religions so long as they aren't coercive. However, people should also be educated away from their superstitions. People's beliefs don't exist in a vacuum, they don't discard them when they walk out of their door. At a certain point, a person believing a lie may be induced by his false perception of reality into doing something which will directly affect other individuals and the world around them.

On the balance, does Islam have a positive or negative effect on individuals and on the world?

I would have to conclude that it is a harmful set of beliefs. It has led to the recent formation of oppressive theocracies with no respect for individual liberty. It has provided a convenient excuse to whip up frenzy in the masses, for the purpose of carrying out various acts of violence. While these things certainly have an economic component, the religious component is not dispensible. The religious component allows those who would do evil to polarize the population, to cast all the others as wicked heathens who merit no better than second-class status. Islam sets up a framework that is readily exploited by those who wish to do harm. This alone makes it a dangerous force in the world.

Any positive consequences the religion might create, including support for those charities that aren't just Al Queda front groups, could easily be mirrored by a non-religious population. Charitable giving is not the exclusive province of religion, after all. Thus I would conclude from a quick survey of the impact of Islam on the world that it is more harmful than beneficial.

I am interested in hearing arguments that Islam has had either harmful or beneficial consequences, and why and how? (I'm not particularly interested in comparing it to other world religions, rather to give Islam an isolated and critical look, as I and other secular humanists have already been giving to other prominent religions. Saying "Christianity caused X" is not a counterargument to "Islam caused Y".)

Jojo
01-20-2004, 07:30 PM
Well,

On the plus side, you could say that it provides a set of ground rules for societies which are ruled by it to live by. It provides a common reference point. In centuries past (when times were more barbaric than they are now) this was probably invaluable.

You may think islam has faults but at least it provided some kind of common reference point for people - something they could all agree on. Even if it was objectively wrong, at least they all agreed on it (at least the basics).

On the minus side, I personally never believe what one guy tells me and, ultimately, that's what muslims have to do - believe what one guy told them.

John Mace
01-20-2004, 07:42 PM
Man, is this going to be a can or worms!

In keeping with your rule of not comparing Islam to other religions, one still has to ask that if Islam did not exist, what would fill the vacuum. Or, how could one eliminate Islam and what system would that require? Since the only* secular societies we have seen are communist China and the USSR, it would seem that it would require an extremely repressive regime to stamp out Islam (or any religion). And that regime, from empirical evidence, would be worse than the alternative. We'll have to see if China is able to evolve into a democratic, rights-honoring nation and still retain it's secular nature. The USSR did evolve into a a more or less democratic set of regimes, but not without letting religion back into its society.

*substitute "most significant" if you don't like the word "only"

Magiver
01-20-2004, 07:57 PM
I've always thought religious fundamentalism was a barrier to the advancement of human knowledge. It tends to breed power brokers.

Which makes me wonder if the progenitors of Islam sought a flat hierarchy to avoid the pitfalls of corruption that power always seems to bring.

To answer the question directly, I would say that Islam has played a major role in the political stagnation of nations. It is not a breeding ground for independent thought or lifestyle. It needs to evolve and that will not happen until religious leaders are removed from power by the will of the masses. Iran may prove an interesting challenge for all parties concerned.

UDS
01-20-2004, 08:08 PM
Hmm. Well, if you start from the basis that all religion is lies, deceptions which are at best well-meaning, and superstitions, I can’t avoid the suspicion that you’ve already decided what answer you want to your question, and are just looking around for a plausible route to arrive at that answer.

I think John Mace’s approach is correct. If there was no Islam, what would the world be like? But the question is not “what would the world be like if Islam disappeared”, since the previous existence of Islam would still have current consequences which might be beneficial or harmful for us. For Islam to have no consequences it has to have never existed at all. So what would the world be like if Islam had never existed?

The idea that it would be just like the world we have now, except with no Islam, is plainly nonsense. The direct and indirect contributions to the development of Western civilisation are enormous. It is entirely possible that, if the Prophet had never received his revelations, our civilisation would be different in ways we cannot imagine. To pick a few points at random, it is highly possible that important advances in mathematics, science and philosophy would not have been made when they were, or possibly at all, or, if made, that they would not have been communicated as widely as they were. There would have been no crusades, and therefore completely different interactions between Europe and the Middle East. Gothic architecture might never have developed. Constantinople might never have fallen, and that could have meant that the Renaissance took a very different course, or didn’t happen at all in the sense that we know it. Without the refuge provided by Islamic countries, Judaism might have been completely eliminated by Christians. North Africa would have remained at all time within a European sphere of influence, and the extension of European influence over the rest of Africa might have happened much earlier than, in the event, it did. Orthodox Christianity might have come to dominate over Roman Christianity, but on the other hand Orthodox Christianity might itself be very different. The Protestant reformation might never have happened. And so forth.

In other words, the alteration in the history of the world posited here is so fundamental that I doubt if any meaningful answer is possible. Instead the thread will provide an entertaining opportunity for posters to air their prejudices and preconceptions about Islam.

sibyl
01-20-2004, 08:37 PM
It has its good and its bad, the same as any organized religion. As you said, organized religion in itself imparts some negative aspects to a populace. You can't say its completely bad or completely good.

And just like all religions, its original tenets have been transformed to serve the rulers. You've seen it all through history, you see it around you today. Small parts of religion are taken as natural law and decisions are based solely upon them. They are misinterpreted. That blame doesn't belong upon religion solely, it belongs on the leaders that transform the tenets into evilness.

minty green
01-20-2004, 10:05 PM
To set the stage:
It has led to the recent formation of oppressive theocracies with no respect for individual liberty. It has provided a convenient excuse to whip up frenzy in the masses, for the purpose of carrying out various acts of violence. And how precisely would this make Islam different from the various secular ideologies--nationalism, fascism, communism, etc.--that did exactly the same thing?

Any excuse in a pinch, after all.

shijinn
01-20-2004, 11:50 PM
RexDart

though you'd specifically stated not to compare islam with another religion, i find that 'islam' in your entire OP could easily be interchanged for that other religion, as would some of the replies that you will be getting.

Noone Special
01-21-2004, 01:27 AM
I don't think the word "Harmful" is very good. I'd prefer something like "Outlived its usefulness".

I think all major religions (and other ideologies) arose in places and at times where and when they had something positive to offer the population. Often these ideologies continued to impact the life of the masses for the better for many hundreds of years following. But ultimately, every system of beliefs tends to stagnate, ossify and fall behind newer, more vigorous frameworks. Most major religions have, IMO, outlived their usefulness.

I think that Isalm, like many or all other religious and ideological frameworks, is not, in itself, "good" or "evil", "right" or "wrong". All things must be judged in context.

I would like to see nothing better than the disappearence of all religion (read - formalized and organized ideologies based on some form of Deism), but it just ain't gonna happen... and that being given, I don't think the (relatively) few Muslim Exremists and Terrorists should cause us all to discard Islam as something inherently worse than any other religion (or, indeed, any other ideology).

And, just as an aside, imagine what Europe would have looked like circa 1500-1600 if there had been no Islam to exert external pressure on the slowly decaying religious autocracies of the continent... bye-bye, renaissance?

Dani

Stoneburg
01-21-2004, 01:50 AM
I can't find a single thing in the OP that is specific to Islam.

formation of oppressive theocracies with no respect for individual liberty.
Same goes for the other two religions stemming from Abraham.

provided a convenient excuse to whip up frenzy in the masses
And the same can be said for almost every religion as well as political movement.

for the purpose of carrying out various acts of violence.
Once again, something that it has in common with almost every religion and political movement.

So in reply to the OP, I think religion in general is bad, and fundamentalism especially so. Limiting this debate to Islam is like starting a debate on how much black peoples feces stink and asking people not to compare to other ethnic groups. Everyones shit stinks. Singling out one oarticular group like this is bigoted.

ralph124c
01-22-2004, 03:11 AM
My question: ISLAM had its "Golden Age" ca1000-1300 AD. In this time period, Aranb intellectualism flourished..I read that most of the great mathematics and philosophy got done in this period..for example, an Arab physician wrote the first tretise on the human eye during this period. But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran.
Now, look at what happened in the West..the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation made Western Chruistianity more liberal and gave rise to democracies.
So, as I see, it, Islam became less and less friendly to intellectualism..the question is why?As for current-day Islam..Whabism seems to me to be totally regressive, and lacking in any usefulness..indeed, its tenets seem to me to be a positive danger to the Western cincepts of freedom,human rights, etc.

Desmostylus
01-22-2004, 04:56 AM
My question: ISLAM had its "Golden Age" ca1000-1300 AD. In this time period, Aranb intellectualism flourished..I read that most of the great mathematics and philosophy got done in this period..for example, an Arab physician wrote the first tretise on the human eye during this period. But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran.
Now, look at what happened in the West..the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation made Western Chruistianity more liberal and gave rise to democracies.
So, as I see, it, Islam became less and less friendly to intellectualism..the question is why?As for current-day Islam..Whabism seems to me to be totally regressive, and lacking in any usefulness..indeed, its tenets seem to me to be a positive danger to the Western cincepts of freedom,human rights, etc.I'm sorry, but I think that your post is utterly ridiculous.

"But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran."

Amazing how Christianity, and the U.S. in particular, doesn't seem to have this problem.

Oh, wait. It does. Seems that there's this enormous population of backward loudmouth fudamentalist assholes who have some sort of problem with this idea called "evolution" precisely because it contradicts the wisdom contained in some other book. :rolleyes:

Joachim Pieper
01-22-2004, 05:43 AM
Let's not forget that Islam provides enormous comfort to an enormous number of people.

And I have to say that if I were inclined to be, I would be offended by your (admittedly tacit) assumption that all Islam is fundamentalism. How many people are there who believe and are reasonable and decent and tolerant at the same time? Easy to forget, I find...


Cheers.

GoHeels
02-01-2004, 09:31 AM
I'm sorry, but I think that your post is utterly ridiculous.

"But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran."

Amazing how Christianity, and the U.S. in particular, doesn't seem to have this problem.

Oh, wait. It does. Seems that there's this enormous population of backward loudmouth fudamentalist assholes who have some sort of problem with this idea called "evolution" precisely because it contradicts the wisdom contained in some other book. :rolleyes:

Desmostylus, this is absurd retort; nothing in ralph124c's post merited the knee-jerk response you provided.

You use the exact same type of mindless, dogmatic orthodoxy that stifles thought and discourages expression of honest disagreement, so vital to the health of the marketplace of ideas.

"Backward loudmouth fundamentalist assholes" use judgment without reason and subsequent condemnation of unbelievers' morality to impose their backward beliefs. Frankly, they make it quite easy for thoughtful people to make their own judgment and condemn these people as "backward loudmouth fundamentalist assholes." The judgment rendered, the dissenters can then make the arguments necessary to refute the fundamentalists' beliefs. The supply of philosophy to the marketplace of ideas is provided, and idea consumers can make up their own minds what philosophy to buy because they have a fair choice.

Considering that 400 years ago in Massachusetts, young women were hanged by the reigning political authorities for heresy and witchcraft (an impossibility today in the West), I think the dissenters are making headway in the debate, no? Unfortunately, the idea of executing a woman for heresy or adultery isn't such an impossibility in too many parts of the Arab/Muslim world; maybe that's because those in political or religious power do everything they can to shut down the marketplace of ideas; prevailing orthodoxy is thus guaranteed the monopoly in far too many Arab/Muslim marketplaces of ideas - though it should be pointed out that some (Qatar, Oman) are better than others (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Egypt).

Desmostylus, your tactic - similar to the one employed by those I described above - is to impose your beliefs by excluding ideas that compete with yours from the marketplace. You didn't even attempt to refute what ralph124c wrote; you just turned the debate into a wholly unrelated rant on Christian fundamentalists - even though the thread is titled "ISLAM: BENEFICIAL OR HARMFUL TO THE WORLD."

Ralph124c made a well-intentioned foray into the marketplace of ideas. You saw yourself as ralph124c's competition, but you could only supply a vastly inferior product. Your only hope to compete was to deny ralph124c's entry into the marketplace. You attempted to do so by tainting his product with the sins of fundamentalist Christianity (guilt by association), even though his contribution into the "ISLAM: BENEFICIAL OR HARMFUL TO THE WORLD" thread is, quite reasonably, about whether Islam is indeed beneficial or harmful to the world.

You attempted to make consumers afraid that buying (or even considering) ralph124c's product would - by some flimsy shred of association - link them with a philosophy you were confident the marketplace (the SDMB board, which you are well aware does not embrace fundamentalists of any ilk) would flatly reject. You hoped consumers would reject ralph124c's ideas not on their merits, but on a wholly unsubstantiated, unsupported linkage to fundamentalist Christianity that ralph124c never espoused nor even implied.

Ralph124c made a pretty reasonable statement. Perhaps not nuanced, but generally accurate:

"But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran...As for current-day Islam..Whabism seems to me to be totally regressive, and lacking in any usefulness..indeed, its tenets seem to me to be a positive danger to the Western cincepts of freedom,human rights, etc."

Perhaps ralph124c may be chided for writing "Islam" was responsible for regression and dogmatism, when instead he may have said "some (not all) Muslims" or maybe "Muslims who held political or religious authority." Nevertheless, the gist of his statement is supported by the facts. And if you're prepared to counter his judgement of Wahabism, I'd like to introduce you to a wonderful thing called a "clue."

Even though it may strike you as antithetical to your own entire political orthodoxy to admit this basic truth, can you actually refute ralph124c's contribution to the marketplace, Desmostylus, by providing credible evidence to the contrary?

In desperation, you used the intellectual atomic bomb; the imposition of good old reliable post-modern guilt that all Westerners/Christians are somehow saddled with because of the tides of history. The guilt is designed to make us mindless automatons because it seeks to forbid us from using the tools of rational thought - these same tools that allowed the Western world to shoot past the Arab/Muslim world in almost every imaginable way - to make logical judgments about the current state of the Arab/Muslim world. IOW, if people would only focus on Western sins, they would avoid the heresy of making judgements about Arab/Muslim shortcomings, thereby ensuring the continued embrace of post-modernist dogma.

The difference between the "enormous population of backward loudmouth fudamentalist assholes" in the U.S. is that the system of laws, the ordering of society to tolerate and even encourage dissent, the belief in rational thought - all of which have occurred in the West (and quite noticeably in that wasteland you call the U.S.) allowed reasonable people to judge their beliefs. This scenario has not taken root significantly in the Arab/Muslim world. Ralph124c simply acknowledged this fundamental truth.

What are you so afraid of, Desmostylus? I'm inclined to agree with the general thrust of what ralph124c said, yet I'm perfectly capable of acknowledging that the West's ability to apply violence, combined with a healthy dose of historical Christian intolerance and aggression and political stupidity fueled by greed, had a deleterious effect on the Arab/Muslim world. But these factors alone don't tell the whole story, IMHO.

Various Arab/Muslim fueled phenonena such as xenophobia, tribalism, religious extremism, corruption, economic stagnation, absence of an Islamic Reformation, lack of separation of mosque and state, discouragement of dissent from prevailing orthodoxy (religious or political), lack of a free press, misogyny, honor killings, fascism, theocracy, anti-Semitism, corruption, oppression, degree of acceptance/celebration of terrorist acts, cultural backwardness, a flawed intelligentsia...do I need to go on?...also has quite a bit to do with Arab/Muslim decline. There is oodles of evidence to support these assertions, and one only has to open his/her eyes to the reality of the MENA region to grasp this. And the vast majority of people who cause this phenomena are Arabs and/or Muslims, and much of the aforementioned phenomena have a not-so-proud but prominent place in this region.

To acknowledge this fact is not racist - it is rational. Those of us sympathetic to the general thrust of this argument are not saying that Arabs and/or Muslims are backward simply because they are Arabs and/or Muslims. THAT IS racist. However, I think it's fair to argue that the prevailing socio-political-economic order of far too many parts of the Arab/Muslim world has produced Arabs and/or Muslims unable to compete in the modern world. In short, the Arab/Muslim world is churning out 21st century failures.

Don't call me anti-Muslim for saying this - Mahathir said the same thing and got a standing ovation from most of the leaders of Arab and/or Muslim states, and a degree of acceptance from those on the political left for its implied criticism of the West - Jews and Americans in particular. He wanted Arab/Muslim advancement to enable them to defeat the Jews; I call for Arab/Muslim advancement so that Arabs and/or Muslims can thrive in the modern world.

In conclusion, Desmostylus, just like the fundamentalists you decry as "backward loudmouth fudamentalist assholes," you seek to impose guilt to stifle debate and enforce belief. You just do it from the other side of the political spectrum. In short, you're no better than they are.

tomndebb
02-01-2004, 02:36 PM
Ralph124c made a pretty reasonable statement. Perhaps not nuanced, but generally accurate:

"But, after this Islam became more and more regressive, and more dogmatic. Now, we see many Muslim clerics who think that all wisdom is contained in the Koran...As for current-day Islam..Whabism seems to me to be totally regressive, and lacking in any usefulness..indeed, its tenets seem to me to be a positive danger to the Western cincepts of freedom,human rights, etc."I don't see what is particularly accurate (or particularly Muslim) about Ralph124c's statement. The "regression" of Islam can pretty well be tied to the rise of particular governments and empires, themselves inherently conservative (in the sense of choosing adherence to the past and consolidation over expanding research and outward exploration).

The Islam that peacefully migrated across the Northern plains of India, down through Southeast Asia, and out toward Oceania might easily have spurred its own renaissance if it had not been challenged by Christians with guns before it could consolidate enough territory to establish a growing empire. Meanwhile, the Islam of the Middle East and North Africa was sublimated to what became the Turkish Empire. Nearly all the "backward" voices in Islam are heard from places where it is a rallying point to resist cultural hegemony from Europe and North America.

China has a history of taking great leaps backward on several occasions--all tied to particular political events rather than being attributed to religious belief. There is ample evidence that the Mycenaean proto-Greek culture regressed long before the rise of the Golden Age of Greece. Rome demonstrated more philosophy and engineering ingenuity in the years prior to its becoming the sole Mediterranean empire (and long before Christianity took control of that empire).

Barring evidence that Islam, itself, is causing the problem (as opposed to being a cultural artifact of the societies experiencing the problems), I see no reason to ascribe any cultural or philosophical "regression" in the MENA region to Islam. Even examining the situation, today, we find the Whabbists and similar groups getting their greatest strength, not in the core areas of Islamic education, but in the lands with the fewest cities and in the cultures that have been most seriously disrupted by European intervention: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, (which are either sparsely populated or have been subjected to direct interference and conquest) rather than, for example, Turkey (which was treated as a defeated, but not conquered, nation after WWI and then allowed to develop on its own).

Futile Gesture
02-01-2004, 03:55 PM
All religions have proven to be a beneficial, Islam is no different. For centuries they have provided the basis of a method of social cohesion and control. These societies have gotten us where we are now, for better or worse, in a way that could not have been achieved any other way.

Undoubtedly they have had their drawbacks. But I am unconvinced that these wars and persecutions wouldn't have occurred without religion. These sort of things are ultimately political; based in plain old, ugly human behaviour and religion proved to be a convenient peg to hang them on, and still does.

Unfortunately, from religion's point of view, we have reached the point in most of the world where their need has expired and their rational can no longer be defended. But they are so engrained into our societies, and so perfectly modeled to match our human desires and insecurities, that they are not going to depart quietly.

This is the dilemma of Islam. It isn't any more stubborn than the rest, it's just shouting louder on the way out.

Uncivil
02-01-2004, 04:55 PM
Its an unanswerable question. None of us can predict what the consequences would be.

Don't single Islam out for blame, the majority of muslims are fairly moderate. The real problem as I see it are fundamentalists of what ever denomination - people who believe that only their point of view is valid, and that anyone else is dammed.

sqweels
02-01-2004, 08:13 PM
minty green:
And how precisely would this make Islam different from the various secular ideologies--nationalism, fascism, communism, etc.--that did exactly the same thing?

What's different is that these ideologies were intellectually derived (however flawed) in recent history rather than being an ancient and deeply held set of beliefs that insists it is the will of Almighty God. And as intrusive as these ideologies have been, they are not quite as intrusive into many aspects people's private lives as Islam is. Furthermore, since the secular ideologies had not succeeded in brainwashing the masses quite as thoroughly as the Islamic religion, their subjects have shown a willingness to abandon the ideology en masse given the opportunity.

sqweels
02-01-2004, 09:29 PM
tomndebb:

The "regression" of Islam can pretty well be tied to the rise of particular governments and empires, themselves inherently conservative (in the sense of choosing adherence to the past and consolidation over expanding research and outward exploration).

But it seems as though that the sharia is often more strictly enforced in traditional tribal regions than in areas where the central government--which isn't always officially Islamic--has greater control.

LonesomePolecat
02-02-2004, 07:23 AM
IThe Islam that peacefully migrated across the Northern plains of India ...

Islam did not "migrate peacefully" across the northern plains of India. It came with fire and sword. The atrocities the Muslims committed against the Hindus are among the most horrible in human history.

Tamerlane
02-02-2004, 05:34 PM
Islam did not "migrate peacefully" across the northern plains of India. It came with fire and sword. The atrocities the Muslims committed against the Hindus are among the most horrible in human history.

Yes and no. While the spread of Islamic regimes was a matter of conquest, the spread of Islam as a religion, rather than a political force was accomplished in a number of ways, including extensive Sufi proselytizing ( Sufism was undoubtedly heavily influenced by Hindu mysticism and then "backcrossed" to become a major attraction to converts ), but also natural population growth in regions where Islam became established as the prevailing folk religion - East Bengal being the exemplar of this. In this sense tomndeb has a point, though you can certainly argue particulars.

See in particular The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier: 1204-1760 by Richard M. Eaton ( 1993, University of California Press ).

Not to say that the sacking of temples et al didn't occur, but they tended to be sporadic outbursts, rather than regular policy. Ruling Muslim elites quickly adopted more pragmatic attitudes and usually extended the "People of the Book" designation to include Hindus, so as to more easily incorporate them into larger polity. Particularly as the at least partial cooperation of local Hindu nobility was so often necessary to the maintanence of minority Muslim regimes. Muslim rulers usually depended heavily on Brahman administrators and Kshatriyas, Kayasthas and similar castes as vassals - intermediarie between the Muslim rulers and the bulk of the population ( and they all in turn depended on state patronage ).

- Tamerlane

LonesomePolecat
02-03-2004, 07:15 AM
Even so, Tamarlane, it's a huge leap from there to a "peaceful migration."

istara
02-03-2004, 02:17 PM
True Islam->beneficial.

Perverted Islam->harmful.

litost
02-03-2004, 05:13 PM
Even so, Tamarlane, it's a huge leap from there to a "peaceful migration."

Peaceful given the times. Muslim rulers, in general, integrated well into the Hindu ethos. One could argue that they had to do so in order to rule effectively. Akbar, in fact, created a new "religion", an amalgam of Islam and Hinduism. Aurangzeb was a nasty egg but did not represent the average Mughal king.

GoHeels
02-03-2004, 05:43 PM
My thoughts exactly, Istara.

tomndebb
02-03-2004, 06:50 PM
Even so, Tamarlane, it's a huge leap from there to a "peaceful migration." I find it significan that you keep hammering away at the specific Muslim invaders (who engaged in run-of-the-mill conquest) while ignoring the actual conversions of the millions of people who adopted Islam across Southeast Asia and Oceania. You are hardly making a case for "bad" Islam by pointing out where they acted just like Christians while deliberately ignoring the rest of the events I noted.

Jojo
02-03-2004, 07:55 PM
I don't really see much point in threads like these because whether islam is beneficial or harmful is beside the point. Either way it's here. Even if we conclude that islam is the most dangerous force ever to confront humanity (which is entirely possible) what are we supposed to do about it?

Considering whether islam is beneficial or harmful is nothing more than an intellectual exercise. I think that the non-muslim world has always de facto considered islam to be harmful and has always resisted it. The catholic church considers islam to be one of the great heresies. Islam spread into the indian subcontinent but ran into a brick wall when it came up against the fiercely independantly-minded Punjabis - the unstoppable force met an immovable object.

The non-muslim world has been fighting islam ever since it first appeared. This "war" has been going on so long that we've now all got used to it (both muslim and non-muslim) and we've all reached accommodations so that the war only sporadically becomes "hot". It is now more a case that both sides view each other warily, circling each other in the boxing ring.

Having said all that (and bearing in mind it's all an intellectual exercise) there are things that crop up in threads like these that always puzzle me, but maybe I see things too simplistically. For example, John Mace said:

In keeping with your rule of not comparing Islam to other religions, one still has to ask that if Islam did not exist, what would fill the vacuum.

and then UDS said:

I think John Mace’s approach is correct. If there was no Islam, what would the world be like? But the question is not “what would the world be like if Islam disappeared”, since the previous existence of Islam would still have current consequences which might be beneficial or harmful for us. For Islam to have no consequences it has to have never existed at all. So what would the world be like if Islam had never existed?

The idea that it would be just like the world we have now, except with no Islam, is plainly nonsense. The direct and indirect contributions to the development of Western civilisation are enormous. It is entirely possible that, if the Prophet had never received his revelations, our civilisation would be different in ways we cannot imagine.

I don't understand these people. There would be no vacuum. It is entirely possible to imagine what the world would be like if there had been no islam. Maybe not in detail but in general. Speculation is entirely valid, I would think. This is what the world would be like:

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh would all be hindu. In fact there would be no Pakistan or Bangladesh (probably) since they are divided along religious lines. This means that there would be no Kashmir crisis, Pakistan and India wouldn't be glaring at each other threatening each other with nuclear weapons. The whole sub-continent would probably be democratic.

Arabia and North Africa would be pagan/christian. Persia/Iran would be zoroastrian. There would be no Taliban, no al Qaeda, no wahabbi.

The wearing of veils by women would be an entirely cultural thing with no religious significance whatsoever and would therefore be much easier for women to fight against (if they wished).

Democracy would be much more widespead. There is an ongoing argument about whether islam is incompatable with democracy. Maybe it's not incompatable but I think most people accept that it does create difficulties that have to be overcome - without islam these difficulties would not be there.

The Palestine problem would take on a different hue since all the Palestinians would be christian and therefore would not be defending the house of islam.

The Philippines would be christian and therefore would not have a "muslim problem" in the south.

There would be whole new ranges of beer to try since all the African countries and Asian countries would brew their own.

1.2 billion people would still have their foreskins.

There are probably hundreds of easily foreseeable consequences if islam had never existed. I dunno why people pretend that it's impossible to say anything about the subject. It is, however, all just an intellectual exercise since we live in this world (where islam does exist) and not an imaginary one. One day islam will collapse under the weight of it's own ridiculousness but until then we just have to deal with it.

And also, take heart, because if one starts from the presumption that Mohammed just made it all up then one has to conclude that, bad as it is, it could have been much worse.

All the muslims I know (and I know lots) are all extremely nice (moderate) people apart from the one blind spot in their personalities when it comes to religion. Their level of belief and lack of any degree of healthy religious scepticism sets off my excessive-belief-o-matic alarm but apart from that they're ok.

UDS
02-03-2004, 08:38 PM
[No, no, no. You’re not speculating deeply enough. For instance:

. . . Pakistan, India and Bangladesh would all be hindu. In fact there would be no Pakistan or Bangladesh (probably) since they are divided along religious lines. This means that there would be no Kashmir crisis, Pakistan and India wouldn't be glaring at each other threatening each other with nuclear weapons. The whole sub-continent would probably be democratic.
A couple of points occur to me here. First, you’re assuming that the only reason Islam partly supplanted Hinduism in the subcontinent is the arrival of Islam. Not necessarily so. The internal factors which contributed to Hindus accepting Islam might have led them to accept some other belief if Islam had not been the one to present itself to them. The people who invaded/migrated into India might have done even if they had not been Muslims, and this would have changed India. Or, if they hadn’t, some other people might have done, and this would have changed India even more.

The British took over an Islamic polity in India. If that polity had not existed, the colonial history of India might have been very different. It might have been colonised much earlier, or much later, or by someone other than the British. I see no reason to assume that the continent would be democratic at all.

. . . Arabia and North Africa would be pagan/christian. Persia/Iran would be zoroastrian.
Again, you’re assuming that, if Islam had not supplanted these faiths, nothing else would have. This seems to me to be a mistake. It’s at least possible (and, I would argue, probable) that Islam supplanted the earlier faiths in these regions partly because, in those places, at those times, it met needs which the preceding faiths didn’t meet. And, if so, those faiths were liable to be supplanted by something, if not necessarily Islam.

. . . There would be no Taliban, no al Qaeda, no wahabbi.
Granted. But what would be there instead?

. . . The wearing of veils by women would be an entirely cultural thing with no religious significance whatsoever and would therefore be much easier for women to fight against (if they wished).
This seems to me to be wildly unlikely. An aweful lot of cultural phenomena acquire a religious signficance and, in fact, veil-wearing in Islam is probably one of these. Remember that in the past head-covering had a religious significance in mainstream Christianity, too, and it still does in Judaism.

. . . The Palestine problem would take on a different hue since all the Palestinians would be christian and therefore would not be defending the house of islam.
If Palestinians (and Arabs generally) were Christian, relationships between Europe and the Middle East would be very different. I have already suggested that the Jewish nation might not have survived into modern times without Islam; you don’t say why you reject this possibility. Even if Judaism survived, you can’t assume that a Christian Middle East would have been colonised by Europe or, if it were, that the European powers would have established a Jewish state over the protests of fellow-Christians. In other words, there is no reason to assume that the state of Israel would exist at all.

I could go on. My basic criticism of your approach is that you are looking at Islam exclusively as an original cause having a number of fairly immediate effects, and not as part of a much longer chain (or series of interconnecting chains) of cause and effect. The social, economic and cultural conditions which lead to the spread of Islam would have existed even if Islam did not, and they would have had some outcome.

Jojo
02-03-2004, 09:26 PM
UDS said:

The internal factors which contributed to Hindus accepting Islam might have led them to accept some other belief if Islam had not been the one to present itself to them.

What other belief?

You seem to assume that if islam hadn't been invented then some other belief would have been invented. I beg to differ. Beliefs don't get invented that often - I think that the safest assumption to make is that if islam hadn't been invented then we would have been left with those beliefs that are here now ie christianity, hinduism etc and also zoroastrianism which was completely wiped out by islam.

It is illogical to blithely assume that some other belief - x belief - would have come along had not islam appeared.

The people who invaded/migrated into India might have done even if they had not been Muslims,

True these people might have invaded anyway but they would probably have been christian or zoroastrian. Let's assume then that present day Pakistan is christian - would this have lead to partition and a nuclear stand-off? Maybe, maybe not, who knows? You can't assume it would. And yet we know for a fact that the muslim/hindu combination lead to ill feeling. Therefore we can say for certain that the muslim/hindu combination didn't work but we can't say for certain that a christian/hindu combination wouldn't have worked or a zoroastrian/hindu combination wouldn't have worked.

Again, you’re assuming that, if Islam had not supplanted these faiths [in Arabia/North Africa], nothing else would have. This seems to me to be a mistake. It’s at least possible (and, I would argue, probable) that Islam supplanted the earlier faiths in these regions partly because, in those places, at those times, it met needs which the preceding faiths didn’t meet. And, if so, those faiths were liable to be supplanted by something, if not necessarily Islam.

If not islam then what? Martianism?

You seem to assume that something else would have appeared by magic. That some other faith was somehow pre-ordained. There are many factors that account for the success of islam in Africa not least the fact that it was the predominant power in Africa at the time and if you wanted to "get on" in life you converted to the new religion.

Not because you necessarily "saw the light" just that you saw which way the wind was blowing and you jumped on board.

If Palestinians (and Arabs generally) were Christian, relationships between Europe and the Middle East would be very different. I have already suggested that the Jewish nation might not have survived into modern times without Islam; you don’t say why you reject this possibility.

The possibility that christians might have killed all the jews?

Wasn't really the christian's style. They persecuted the jews, sure, and they expelled them to other lands but they didn't tend to genocide them until the nazis came along. I agree that jews found sanctuary in muslim lands but I don't think you can say that the christians would have killed them all.

My basic criticism of your approach is that you are looking at Islam exclusively as an original cause having a number of fairly immediate effects, and not as part of a much longer chain (or series of interconnecting chains) of cause and effect. The social, economic and cultural conditions which lead to the spread of Islam would have existed even if Islam did not, and they would have had some outcome.

And my basic criticism of your approach is that you completely ignore those causal factors that are exclusively islamic. You assume that it all would have happened anyway whatever religion was in town. Thereby bypassing the need to examine a particular ideology's effect on history, in this case islam.

UDS
02-03-2004, 10:33 PM
Hi Jojo

. . . You seem to assume that if islam hadn't been invented then some other belief would have been invented. I beg to differ. Beliefs don't get invented that often.
I disagree. Beliefs get invented all the time. Only a few of them grow to be dominant belief systems in a large part of the world, however. By definition, only a few can.

I think that the safest assumption to make is that if islam hadn't been invented then we would have been left with those beliefs that are here now ie christianity, hinduism etc and also zoroastrianism which was completely wiped out by islam.
I don’t see why that assumption is any safer than an equally arbitrary assumption that the factors which enabled Islam to (partly) supplant Hinduism in India would have enabled something else to do so. The “something else” could be, but doesn’t have to be, some belief system which is very minor, or even unheard-of, in our world. For instance, Islam largely (though not entirely) replaced the once-flourishing Jacobite Christianity. Had it not done so, it is entirely possible that Jacobite Christianity (a) would have replaced Zoroastrianism, and (b) would have moved into India in the way that Islam did – i.e. India might have been much more Christian, much earlier, than in fact it was. And that, in turn, might have accelerated European colonialism, or it might have retarded it. Either of which would have profound implications for India today.

It is illogical to blithely assume that some other belief - x belief - would have come along had not islam appeared.
No more illogical than blithely assuming that it wouldn’t. My point is that we can’t make either assumption.

True these people might have invaded anyway but they would probably have been christian or zoroastrian. Let's assume then that present day Pakistan is christian - would this have lead to partition and a nuclear stand-off? Maybe, maybe not, who knows? You can't assume it would. And yet we know for a fact that the muslim/hindu combination lead to ill feeling. Therefore we can say for certain that the muslim/hindu combination didn't work but we can't say for certain that a christian/hindu combination wouldn't have worked or a zoroastrian/hindu combination wouldn't have worked.
Exactly. We don’t know. On what basis do you speculate, for instance, that Pakistan would even exist? Or that (as you said in an earlier post) the subcontinent would be more democratic than it now is? If Islam had not existed you have to account for thirteen centuries of hypothetical events before considering whether the Indian subcontinent would be democratic.

You seem to assume that something else would have appeared by magic. That some other faith was somehow pre-ordained. There are many factors that account for the success of islam in Africa not least the fact that it was the predominant power in Africa at the time and if you wanted to "get on" in life you converted to the new religion.
Exactly. And if Islam wasn’t the predominant power, something else would have been. Initially Christianity, obviously, in North Africa, but as Christianity was fairly easily and rapidly supplanted by Islam when that challenge came, there’s no reason to suppose it would necessarily have withstood any other challenge. I’m not assuming that it would have collapsed; I’m just pointing out that there’s no reason to suppose that the continued survival and dominance of Christianity was more likely than its replacement by something other than Islam.

If you argue that, but for Islam, Christianity would have continued as the dominant belief system in North Africa, it seems to me that you have to show that Islam only replaced Christianity because of some uniquely Islamic aspect to it, something that no other challenge to Christianity would present. Alternatively, you have to argue that there would have been no other challenge to Christianity. I don’t see you making either argument; just assuming the continued survival and dominance of Christianity.

The possibility that christians might have killed all the jews?

Wasn't really the christian's style. They persecuted the jews, sure, and they expelled them to other lands but they didn't tend to genocide them until the nazis came along. I agree that jews found sanctuary in muslim lands but I don't think you can say that the christians would have killed them all.
I didn’t say they would kill them all; just that Judaism might not have survived. The Christians may not have embarked on systematic genocide, but they did practice forced conversions and expulsions. And expulsions might not have been an option if there was no Islamic world to expel Jews to. And a host of cultural factors other than forced conversion might have encouraged conversions. And Judaism would have been culturally weakened without the relative safety of the Islamic world in which to study, develop their thinking, etc. And, without the Muslim infidels to scapegoat, who knows where Christian rulers might have looked for an enemy against which they could form common cause?

All unknowns. My point is not that Judaism would not have survived, just that we cannot assume its survival.

And my basic criticism of your approach is that you completely ignore those causal factors that are exclusively islamic. You assume that it all would have happened anyway whatever religion was in town. Thereby bypassing the need to examine a particular ideology's effect on history, in this case islam.
No. I don’t assume that “it all would have happened anyway”; I just assume that something would have happened. Or, rather, I reject the assumption that nothing, or at any rate nothing very different, would have happened.

Far from assuming that “it would all have happened anyway” I think events would have unfolded quite differently, and the further away we get from the seventh century the greater the differences would be, so that the world in the 21st century would be different in ways we cannot really imagine. I think it is you who are failing to recognise who differently events might have unfolded.

Tamerlane
02-03-2004, 10:42 PM
UDS said:

Therefore we can say for certain that the muslim/hindu combination didn't work

Worth noting that there are nearly as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan. By population it is the third-largest Muslim country in the world. I would suggest that there was nothing at all inevitable about the partition.

And my basic criticism of your approach is that you completely ignore those causal factors that are exclusively islamic.You assume that it all would have happened anyway whatever religion was in town. Thereby bypassing the need to examine a particular ideology's effect on history, in this case islam.

Your point is sound enough in one respect, but IMHO you come off as bit to sure of your conclusions - a little more caution about the exclusivity of your "causal factors" might be in order. Just as a couple of for instances...

1). A Kashmir faultline could develop for any number of reasons - it is part of a natural geographic break between the subcontinent and central Asia, a prosperous little "penninsula" that would be an attraction to both a northern India centered state and a Hindu Kush/Afghanistan or eastern Persia or Transoxania-centered state. Religion need not be an issue to create an unstable border.

2). The opposition to Israel has only recently taken on a strident Islamic tone and then only among certain segments of the populace. Local Arab Christians were and are just as stridently anti-Israel as local Arab Muslims ( and were the original transmitters of anti-Semitic thought in the modern sense to the Muslim populace in earlier decades/centuries, at least according to Bernard Lewis ). Christian-run Lebanon invaded Israel in 1948. Christian Palestinians have been prominent terrorists. To suggest opposition would be any less rabid in a Christian Holy Land seems unwarranted. If anything UDS is correct - the establishment of Israel as an independent state in the 20th century would probably be less likely.

3). The Philipines could just as easily have a "tribal" problem in the south. No telling if Christian ( of Hindu, or Buddhist, or animist ) Tausugs in the Sulu, used to their own centralized state, would be any more inclined to accept rule from Luzon ( or Spain and the U.S. ) than Muslim Tausugs. The Sulu archipelago centralized early based on trade contact with Indonesia/Malaysia - doubtless they would have from sheer proximity anyway, Islam or no ( and may have gone Hindu rather Muslim actually, since that was the earlier dominant religious paradigm in that region ).

The world would be very different if Islam had never arisen or failed to expand much out of the Arabian penninsula. But how isnot always easily divinable.

- Tamerlane

tomndebb
02-04-2004, 06:23 AM
Arabia and North Africa would be pagan/christian. Persia/Iran would be zoroastrian. There would be no Taliban, no al Qaeda, no wahabbi.And what is your assurance that Persian Zoroastrianism, unchecked by Islam, would never have expanded to fill the void--perhaps generating its own schism that would have created a system that we would find more threatening than some find Islam? The wearing of veils by women would be an entirely cultural thing with no religious significance whatsoever and would therefore be much easier for women to fight against (if they wished).So? Female circumcision and clitorectomy persists in areas dominated by Muslims, by Christians, and by Animists.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Muslim-dominated states do not require veils on women.Democracy would be much more widespead. Or, democracy may not exist anywhere. Without the power struggles engendered in Europe due to the Crusades, there is no guarantee that the notion that a populace could choose its own laws or leaders would take hold in Europe. Where is the guarantee that the Protestant Reformation would have occurred in an alternative history? The RCC (and most early Protestants) taught that power was bestowed upon kings from above, by God. It was only in the fracturing of Europe that a few countries began experimenting with other forms. (Heck, without the Crusades for Richard Coeur de Lion to go gallivanting after--taking much of his English treasury, there might have been no need for his brother and successor John to go taxing his barons into rebellion, removing the incentive for the Magna Carta.)
The Philippines would be christian and therefore would not have a "muslim problem" in the south.As Tamerlane has noted, the rebellion in the Philipines is strongly infulenced by ethnic factors that happen to fall along religious lines. Without Islam, they could be waging a pagan (or possibly Buddhist) war for independence.

- - -
BTW, The Catholic Church does not consider Islam a heresy. To be heretical, one must stand inside the church and proclaim a separate teaching. As a pagan, Mohammed was never inside the church to begin with. The current statement of the RCC regarding Islam is (from the Catechism): 841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

LonesomePolecat
02-04-2004, 07:03 AM
I find it significan that you keep hammering away at the specific Muslim invaders (who engaged in run-of-the-mill conquest) while ignoring the actual conversions of the millions of people who adopted Islam across Southeast Asia and Oceania. You are hardly making a case for "bad" Islam by pointing out where they acted just like Christians while deliberately ignoring the rest of the events I noted.
I am not trying to make a case for "bad" Islam anymore than I would try to make a case for "bad" Christianity, "bad" socialism" or "bad" capitalism. I am, however, rather exasperated that both you and Tamarlane are trying to present those Muslim invasions as far more benign than they actually were.

Christianity's success resulted largely from the fact that the early Christians gained control of the Roman state. No doubt there were many peaceful and sincere conversions, but the bottom line was that the Christians held the reins of political power. To deny that would be dishonest. Similarly, military conquest was crucial to the spread of Islam in India and surrounding regions. No doubt there were many peaceful and sincere conversions, but the bottom line was that the Muslims held the reins of political power, and to deny it would also be dishonest. Entire cities were put to the sword, and millions died during those campaigns, and that makes it a sick joke to speak of Islam "peacefully migrating" into the subcontinent.

Look, I know we're not supposed to speak unpleasant truths about Islam or Muslims today--wouldn't want anyone to think we're prejudiced, now, would we?--but both you and Tamarlane are going much too far.

Tamerlane
02-04-2004, 07:35 AM
I am, however, rather exasperated that both you and Tamarlane are trying to present those Muslim invasions as far more benign than they actually were.

Actually, if you re-read carefully, you might note that I never made any claims about the Muslim invasions being particularly benign.

Similarly, military conquest was crucial to the spread of Islam in India and surrounding regions.

Absolutely agree and I said as much.

No doubt there were many peaceful and sincere conversions, but the bottom line was that the Muslims held the reins of political power, and to deny it would also be dishonest.

It certainly would be. Thankfully I never said any such thing :).

Entire cities were put to the sword, and millions died during those campaigns, and that makes it a sick joke to speak of Islam "peacefully migrating" into the subcontinent.

What I actually said was "yes and no."

The reason I said that is that the spread of Islam was absolutely promulgated by conquest. There can be no argument about that. It introduced Islam and fostered the atmosphere under which Islam could readily penetrate the subcontinent. But examinations of conversion patterns, which tended to concentrate away from the center of Muslim political control in India, seems to indicate that actual conversion did not depend from the state, but rather from a combination of both endogenous and exogenous factors and were not necessarily a matter of either just accomodation to the elites ( which was, as I noted, not generally necessary, as Hindus could be integrated into the Muslim state system perfectly fine without converting ) or forceful attempts by the state to impose its religion.

If it makes you feel better, the bald phrase "peaceful migration" is not, in my mind, a perfectly accurate descriptor, either. My exact comment on it was, "...in this sense tomndeb has a point." The qualifier in this sense should have made it clear enough that I thought it wasn't the whole story, but maybe I phrased it poorly.

Look, I know we're not supposed to speak unpleasant truths about Islam or Muslims today--wouldn't want anyone to think we're prejudiced, now, would we?--but both you and Tamarlane are going much too far.

Puh-leese. I know more than a few folks around here think I'm some sort of apologist, but I'm not. There are a number of things of things I don't care for about Islam ( or any of the Abrahamic religions ). But I don't think I'm either miscasting or whitewashing the historical record. I have never had any problem acknowledging any documented historical atrocity and there are plenty in India. What I have said is that it is not the whole story and it isn't. If I may, I thought you were leaning a little bit too far in the other direction, hence my ( to my mind rather reasonable ) correction.

- Tamerlane

Jojo
02-04-2004, 12:13 PM
First of all, I notice I said this in a previous post:

1.2 billion people would still have their foreskins.

That should read "600 million people would still have their foreskins". We might be able to blame islam for a lot of things but I don't think we can reasonably hold it responsible for women's lack of foreskins.

Although now I think about it - if a substantial part of the genepool routinely chops off their foreskin then this might eventually have an impact on evolution. We might evolve smaller foreskins or something. So we can probably blame islam for any small willies that occur in the world.

UDS:

I think we are all taking for granted that this whole train of thought is hugely speculative - what if islam had never existed - so obviously there would be 14 centuries of something to fill the gap where islam used to be. Obviously none of us knows what would have happened - I don't see why that means we can't speculate though.

On what basis do you speculate, for instance, that Pakistan would even exist? Or that (as you said in an earlier post) the subcontinent would be more democratic than it now is? If Islam had not existed you have to account for thirteen centuries of hypothetical events before considering whether the Indian subcontinent would be democratic.

I don't think that Pakistan would exist, I think it wouldn't. The only reason the British partitioned India was to separate the muslims and the hindus. If India was all hindu then the British wouldn't have partitioned it. As regards democracy, the reason I think that democracy would be stronger in an all-hindu India is simply because islam is not very democracy-friendly whereas predominantly hindu India has taken to democracy like a fish to water.

Far from assuming that “it would all have happened anyway” I think events would have unfolded quite differently, and the further away we get from the seventh century the greater the differences would be, so that the world in the 21st century would be different in ways we cannot really imagine.

Look, I agree that events would have unfolded hugely differently. The difference between us is that I have no problem imagining what things might have been like. I don't know that I'm right, it's impossible to know but I don't let little things like that get in the way of a good train of thought.

Tamerlane:

You are correct that a Kashmir faultline could have developed for a number of reasons but let's look at why it did develop - because of partition. Why did partition occur - because of islam. Prior to partition, when India was all one country, there was no trouble in Kashmir and yet all the factors you list as potential trouble-causers were present back then. These factors didn't cause any trouble before partition so I think it's reasonable to assume that they wouldn't have caused trouble had islam never arrived in India.

As regards Palestine, all I said was that the problem would have a different hue. You say that arab christians also opposed Israel but who is to say that arab christians have not been affected by living alongside islam for so long. If there had never been an islam, maybe arab christians would be different to what they are now. Maybe arab christians are like they are partly as a reaction to living in the midst of islam for so long.

As regards the Philipines. I was under the impression that at least part of their gripe was that they want to live under muslim rule, not christian. Consider Malaysia - Malaysia is muslim ruled and yet parts of it (out in the country, away from the capital) think Malaysia is not muslim enough so they tend to be more hardline. Part of the doctrine of islam is that the world is divided into the house of islam and the house of war (non-muslim nations), I think that there is a possible tendency of muslim groups who live on islands or peninsulas (that are ruled by non-muslim nations) to try to gain independance in order to join the house of islam.

Likewise muslim nations are reluctant to grant independance to areas of their country that are not muslim because they don't want to lose any part of the house of islam once they've got hold of it - witness East Timor. Some extremist groups of muslims want Spain back because they think that "once house of islam - always house of islam".

Tomndebb:

And what is your assurance that Persian Zoroastrianism, unchecked by Islam, would never have expanded to fill the void

What void? People keep talking about voids and vacuums that would exist if islam wasn't there. There would be no void, there would just be whatever was there anyway.

So? Female circumcision and clitorectomy persists in areas dominated by Muslims, by Christians, and by Animists.

Why does female circumcision exist? It's cultural but why is it in the culture? Because of various religious superstitions and taboos maybe? I'm not saying it's because of islam, just religious belief generally.

Veils are not mandatory in most muslim countries but islam makes a bigger noise about covering up than other religions. If islam wasn't there then that "noise" wouldn't be there - not as loud anyway.

(Heck, without the Crusades for Richard Coeur de Lion to go gallivanting after--taking much of his English treasury, there might have been no need for his brother and successor John to go taxing his barons into rebellion, removing the incentive for the Magna Carta.)

The Magna Carta came about as a result of long standing grievances. The high taxes that sparked the rebellion were just the straw that broke the camels back, Magna Carta would have happened anyway.

BTW, The Catholic Church does not consider Islam a heresy. To be heretical, one must stand inside the church and proclaim a separate teaching. As a pagan, Mohammed was never inside the church to begin with.

You're probably right, strictly speaking, but Hillaire Belloc disagrees with you:

What is a Heresy (http://www.ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/HERESY1.TXT)

The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed (http://www.ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/HERESY4.TXT)

Aldebaran
02-04-2004, 04:17 PM
I'm sorry, I didn't have time to actually read all the answers here but from a quick overview it seems to me people are straying far away from the OP.

I'll take it from there because if this must represent a "debate" on Islam then there must be something present that can be discovered as worth debating.

To set the stage:

Generally, I think little good can ever come of lies, even well-meaning deceptions, and thus I'm pretty critical of religion.

OK. Generally, I ask people who tell me that something is a lie to prove it. Would you care to do that for me = prove to me that what is in Al Qur'an = what most Muslims believe to be the word of God is a lie.
Thank you.

I believe people should be allowed to practice their religions so long as they aren't coercive.

Agree. It is stated in Al Qur'an: "There is no compulsion in religion" (surat al-bakara, 256).

However, people should also be educated away from their superstitions.

Define "superstitions".
Take by this in mind that what is to you "superstition" doesn't need to be "superstition" to others.

People's beliefs don't exist in a vacuum, they don't discard them when they walk out of their door.

Do you say here that your beliefs leave you, because you happen to live in a vacuum? Or do I misunderstand one and another here.

At a certain point, a person believing a lie may be induced by his false perception of reality into doing something which will directly affect other individuals and the world around them.

1. I suppose you once again start from your belief that "Islam" is a lie. Once again I ask you to prove that to me.
2. prove me also that you don't influence people around you with your beliefs. You are actually doing just that overhere.

On the balance, does Islam have a positive or negative effect on individuals and on the world?

Islam = a religion.
It is a religion with as goal to provide in the after life for a sitiuation that brings happiness to the individual = The believer shall come in an eternal state of peace and happiness.
What happens in this life is seen in that light completely irrelevant as long as it doesn't endanger the person's position in the after life.

I would have to conclude that it is a harmful set of beliefs.

Give me proof that a guidance towards eternal happiness in the afterlife is " a harmful set of beliefs".

It has led to the recent formation of oppressive theocracies with no respect for individual liberty.

Islam is not responsible for the political games of individuals who incorporate abuse of Islam and while doing this twist the religion Islam to their discretion.
You also fail to mention the attributions of the Western world to the creation and survival of such situations.

It has provided a convenient excuse to whip up frenzy in the masses, for the purpose of carrying out various acts of violence.

Idem.

these things certainly have an economic component, the religious component is not dispensible.

I fail to see the link you try to make here.
Do you mean there are no failed economical politics on this globe in societies that don't even have an organized religion and that Islam is the main if not only cause of failing economies?
Once again: prove it to me please.

The religious component allows those who would do evil to polarize the population

True to some extend as I explained above already.
Yet also true in societies where religions are banned.
So please prove to me that "Islam" as religion is so much more important in the case you try to make.

to cast all the others as wicked heathens who merit no better than second-class status.

Really? I can assure you that my late mother was not "second class" at all and not a "wicked heathen" neither. My late father was not exactly a retarded idiot who needed to marry a "second-class-wicked-heathen" because he just couldn't find anyone else willing to marry him.

I have a lot of friends who aren't religious at all. Don't see them as "second-class" in no matter which place or situation.

Islam sets up a framework that is readily exploited by those who wish to do harm. This alone makes it a dangerous force in the world.

Please unfold this "framework" to me in detail.
Then make your case why "this alone" makes Islam "a dangerous force in the world" and add to this why it is then so much more dangerous then whatever you believe in.

Any positive consequences the religion might create, including support for those charities that aren't just Al Queda front groups, could easily be mirrored by a non-religious population. Charitable giving is not the exclusive province of religion, after all.

So you mean that whatever charity Muslims provide for must be taken over by non Muslims or what exactly is your point? I can't quite follow this one, sorry.

Thus I would conclude from a quick survey of the impact of Islam on the world that it is more harmful than beneficial.

I'm sorry, but up to now your "conclusion" is worthless. You fail even to provide for one single valid argument.

I am interested in hearing arguments that Islam has had either harmful or beneficial consequences, and why and how?

Well, hear it from someone who is Muslim:
To me Islam has no harmfull consequences at all and I believe that following this religion shall have what you call "beneficial consequences" when my time on earth has ended. If God wills.

(I'm not particularly interested in comparing it to other world religions, rather to give Islam an isolated and critical look, as I and other secular humanists have already been giving to other prominent religions. Saying "Christianity caused X" is not a counterargument to "Islam caused Y".)

I can be wrong, but my impression is that you are only interested in posting your prejudiced views on Islam. Which to me is not starting a debate but only posting your views and telling us all that your views are the truth = you try to sell your beliefs.

So how exactly do you intend to convince me that you are in a position to command me to believe what you believe?

As for your "critical look" on Islam.
Sorry, but before you can "critique" on a subject you need to make yourself familiar with that subject.

Please do. Thank you.


Salaam. A

Tamerlane
02-04-2004, 05:14 PM
As regards democracy, the reason I think that democracy would be stronger in an all-hindu India is simply because islam is not very democracy-friendly whereas predominantly hindu India has taken to democracy like a fish to water.

An unwarranted claim IMHO. There is no reason to claim that the success of India's democracy is tied to Hinduism ( and there are certainly some rather undemocratic Hindu extremists running around ). Remember correlation does not imply causation. Not to mention that's a bit of a slam at ~130 million Indian Muslims, who are also part of said democracy.

Prior to partition, when India was all one country, there was no trouble in Kashmir and yet all the factors you list as potential trouble-causers were present back then.

Well, just as a nitpick, India was never one country until independence. Not even Asoka managed the task of taking the whole subcontinent and the British demesnes in India don't count as a "country" ( especially considering the multiplicity of administrations, of which the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was one ). But anyway - yep, Kashmir became an issue because of partition and partition revolved around a Muslim "homeland" ( which, again, given a slightly different set of leadership and a little more give and take in negotiations might never have occurred - both factions started out as part of the same INC and it was particular British courting of Muslim factions that helped promote separatist feelings ).

But an alternate history free of Islam might give an entirely different set of territorial problems. Say a Zoroastrian or Nestorian Persia that includes Afghanistan, extending to the Hindu Kush ( as Safavid Persia did up until the 1740's ) or beyond into the Punjab, independent of Britain, claming Kashmir as part of a Persian-influenced region, where maybe Dari is widely spoken and opposed to Hindu India. Or what if the impact of Islam derailed a potential conflict between rival Hindu movements like Saivism and Vaishnavism, which could have ended up fusing into geographically opposed camps. Say a Dravidian-speaking south vs. a north India, with the dangerous nuclear dividing line being the fertile disputed zone between the Krishna and Tunghabadra rivers in the southwest ( a not infrequent bone of contention in Indian history ). One can speculate endlessly :).

As regards Palestine, all I said was that the problem would have a different hue. You say that arab christians also opposed Israel but who is to say that arab christians have not been affected by living alongside islam for so long. If there had never been an islam, maybe arab christians would be different to what they are now. Maybe arab christians are like they are partly as a reaction to living in the midst of islam for so long.

Yeah, they probably would be worse ;). If anything the Muslim populace ( and more particularly Muslim governments ) had a moderating influence on local Christians, not the other way around. Generally local anti-Jewish riots in Muslim states in the pre-modern period originated with the Christian populace first. Check out The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis.

As regards the Philipines. I was under the impression that at least part of their gripe was that they want to live under muslim rule, not christian.

That is part of the gripe. My contention is remove that gripe and it is quite possible it would make no difference. The Sulu archipelago and Mindanao "modernized" earlier ( and a century before Islam got there ) than the rest of the Philipines due to closer contact with states of the Indonesian chain ( which were quite substantial even before Islam arrived ). Quite likely they would have resisted the Spanish just as tenaciously and successfully and quite likely have developed a strong independant streak from that experience in the same way they did, just excluding the Islamic rhetoric ( as I said it might have been Hindu rhetoric instead ). Not necessarily. But likely, I think - geography argues in favor of it.

Likewise muslim nations are reluctant to grant independance to areas of their country that are not muslim because they don't want to lose any part of the house of islam once they've got hold of it - witness East Timor.

That's nationalism, far more than religion. Acheh is as Muslim as you get and they want nothing to do with their "brothers" in Indonesia.

Some extremist groups of muslims want Spain back because they think that "once house of islam - always house of islam".

That's just nuts, I grant :p. But I doubt it is a terribly widespread opinion. Heck there are a few loons who want to cleanse the U.S. of "non-whites". *shrug*

The Magna Carta came about as a result of long standing grievances. The high taxes that sparked the rebellion were just the straw that broke the camels back, Magna Carta would have happened anyway.

Don't count on it. Richard wasn't quite the weak reed that John was.

- Tamerlane

tomndebb
02-04-2004, 07:19 PM
The Magna Carta came about as a result of long standing grievances. The high taxes that sparked the rebellion were just the straw that broke the camels back, Magna Carta would have happened anyway. It would have happened anyway? Based on what necessary chain of events? If Richard had hung around, he could have inspired a different coalition of nobles who either crushed the agitators or who simply incited a civil war to overthrow him and replace him with a new monarch. And this ignores the fact that the Magna Carta was only offered as a single example of all the myriad events that need to have happened for democratic processes to develop in Europe. (Just as you keep focussing on the violence in India and ignoring the rather peaceful conversion of much of Southeast Asia and Oceania.)

I make no claim that Islam is or Muslims are is always peaceful. I reject as silly the notion that Islam and Muslims are always aggressive and I deny outright the claim that we can know what the world would be like if Islam had not arisen.
Why does female circumcision exist? It's cultural but why is it in the culture? Because of various religious superstitions and taboos maybe? I'm not saying it's because of islam, just religious belief generally.Given an odd practice that exists across multiple competing religious systems, (and which is not taught or practiced by any mainstream version of them), I would look to something other than religion as the source. Similarly, veils (and hats among Christian women up until several decades ago) probably have much more to do with culture than religion--even if we can find a few (culturally instilled) religious tracts to support them.

GoHeels
02-04-2004, 08:29 PM
[Hijack]

Aldebaran:

"Sorry, but before you can "critique" on a subject you need to make yourself familiar with that subject."

Sure would be nice if you would take your own advice before writing about America.

[\Hijack]

Jojo
02-05-2004, 05:22 AM
Tomndebb:

It would have happened anyway? Based on what necessary chain of events? If Richard had hung around, he could have inspired a different coalition of nobles who either crushed the agitators or who simply incited a civil war to overthrow him and replace him with a new monarch. And this ignores the fact that the Magna Carta was only offered as a single example of all the myriad events that need to have happened for democratic processes to develop in Europe.

First of all, it was you who brought up the subject of Magna Carta not me.

Second, Magna Carta came about as a result of long-standing grievances. From this British Library page (http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/magnatranslation.html):

As might be expected, the text of the Magna Carta of 1215 bears many traces of haste, and is clearly the product of much bargaining and many hands. Most of its clauses deal with specific, and often long-standing, grievances rather than with general principles of law. Some of the grievances are self-explanatory: others can be understood only in the context of the feudal society in which they arose. Of a few clauses, the precise meaning is still a matter of argument.


(my bold)

Therefore it is entirely reasonable for me to suggest that Magna Carta may well have come about anyway. I could be wrong (who knows) but then so could you.

(Just as you keep focussing on the violence in India and ignoring the rather peaceful conversion of much of Southeast Asia and Oceania.)

I think you're getting me confused with a different poster. I haven't mentioned violence in India (other than in relation to Kashmir). Not in this thread, not ever. And I have never disputed the peaceful conversion of many in Asia.

So I don't know what you're talking about.

I make no claim that Islam is or Muslims are is always peaceful.

I never said you did.

I reject as silly the notion that Islam and Muslims are always aggressive

So do I. So it's just as well I never said that then isn't it?

and I deny outright the claim that we can know what the world would be like if Islam had not arisen.

So do I. But speculation is fun.

If you want my opinion (which you probably don't but I'll give it to you anyway), religion has clouded your mind. Religion stifles free thought. You cannot countenance the idea of musing about a world without one or another religion. Religion is so dear to you that you will defend all religions (even ones you don't agree with).

You'll notice that the areligious among us (me and Tamerlane, for example) have no problem with mulling over what the consequences would be in a world without a particular religion (even if we don't agree) but you don't want it to even be discussed (because it frightens you maybe?).

This is just another way in which religion stifles criticism of itself, another example of religion stifling free thought. Islam is probably the worst offender at doing this but it is by no means the only offender - they all do it.

Lighten up, free your mind. Don't try to kill idle speculation. Don't try to kill free thought. One of the consequences of free thought may eventually be that all the religions disappear but, hey, tough. That's a price worth paying.

Given an odd practice that exists across multiple competing religious systems, (and which is not taught or practiced by any mainstream version of them), I would look to something other than religion as the source.

Like what, for example?

Aliens?

tomndebb
02-05-2004, 06:43 AM
You'll notice that the areligious among us (me and Tamerlane, for example) have no problem with mulling over what the consequences would be in a world without a particular religion (even if we don't agree) but you don't want it to even be discussed (because it frightens you maybe?). I don't think you're paying too much attention to what is actually being said, here. I have no problem discussing the ramifications of any religion (or all religions) disappearing. I reject, as absurd, your contention that we can say, If we remove all the things that we don't like about Islam, all the good things in history would still occur.

For example, I mentioned that without the string of events that occurred in relation to the crusades, the democratic process might never have developed in Europe. I used the Magna Carta as a single example of a single event that would have changed if the ruler of England had not wandered off to play crusader. The best you can do is come back and claim that the barons were really mad, anyway. (Do you think that the various minor rulers within the Holy Roman Empire never had objections to and grievances against the various emperors? Have you ever read enough French history to see how often the nobility was at odds with the monarchy?) You have ignored all the possible scenarios that could have changed that event (such as the suppression of the rebellious nobility by a much harsher and stronger Richard or a simple coup to select a different monarch who would bend to the wishes of the nobility without the nobility actually drawing up a document to distribute the powers of the king).
Build upon that single event with all the different events that occurred throughout European history (which currently includes both the crusades and the Protestant Reformation--itself a result, in some ways, of the European reaction to Islam) and you are left with a scenario in which democracy may not even arise. So your initial claim that India and the Middle East would be more democratic if Islam had not arisen fails on the simple fact that we might have no democracies without Islam. (Yes, I know that it is speculation, but you have provided no scenario to get to your purported history: you simply remove Islam and pretend that nothing that Islam affected was actually affected by Islam.)I think you're getting me confused with a different poster.True. I typed "you" when I should have kept the names of each poster to whom I was replying.

I have no problem discussing alternative histories. However, if you are going to speculate, it would be a benefit to actually show the events that you believe would lead from one point to another. Claiming that the removal of Islam would lead to more democracy demands that you demonstrate how democracy would have occurred in Europe without the political forces that Islam created to act on Europe. In other words. Islam may be bad or good, but removing Islam requires a new string of historical events.

Jojo
02-05-2004, 07:56 AM
Tomndebb:

Claiming that the removal of Islam would lead to more democracy demands that you demonstrate how democracy would have occurred in Europe without the political forces that Islam created to act on Europe.

So, your contention is that, without islam, democracy may not have arisen? That democracy was in some way a reaction to islam?

An interesting theory but you appear to be ignoring a lot of factors that gave rise to democracy which have absolutely squat to do with islam. For one thing, democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks long before Mohammed and islam. So the theory of democracy was already in the public domain and the practice of it had already been tried. The acropolis in Athens is a monument to democracy, I believe.

Then you seem to overlook more recent factors such as the industrial revolution, the sufragette movement, the US constitution and the civil rights movement in America none of which had anything to do with islam.

Then you are ignoring the rise of political philosophy in the 19th century with writers such as Rousseau, Hobbes etc. Secularism arose in opposition to the power of the christian church not in opposition to the islamic church.

I reject, as absurd, your contention that we can say, If we remove all the things that we don't like about Islam, all the good things in history would still occur.

I didn't say that all the good things in history would have occurred. Obviously the absence of islam would have had a knock on effect on lots of things, in particular the history of the christian church. I was just talking about democracy.

I reject as absurd your notion that without islam there would be no democracy. Maybe islam was a factor in the development of democracy but I'm not so sure that it was the prime factor or even a particularly important one.

tomndebb
02-05-2004, 07:54 PM
So, your contention is that, without islam, democracy may not have arisen? That democracy was in some way a reaction to islam? I am not claiming that democracy is a reaction to Islam. I am saying that the conditions that arose in Europe to foster democratic governments were the results of a lot of interactions, many of which were directly connected to the ways that Europeans responded to the presence of Islam. Given that the experiment of Athens with a voting plutocracy collapsed and was not resurrected for well over 1500 years, you need to demonstrate how democratic (or representative) governments would have arisen in the absence of those factors and events. Simply declaring that without Islam there would be more democracy in the world when you appear to have no idea how it would arise does not carry forward your claim.

I do not claim that Islam had any direct role in the rise of the philosophical notion of democracy. I am pointing out that that philosophical construct arose in a Europe that had been shaped, to a great extent, by both contact with and conflict with Islam. The idea of votes for women (or votes for men), civil rights, and other phenomena of the 19th and 20th century never arose among the Christian nations of the East. So why should we expect them to have arisen in the West if the basic history of that region changes?
Without Islam, we might see less science, no Moorish culture entering through Spain, no externally funded wealth of petty nobles from riches stolen from the East end of the Mediterranean, possibly no gunpowder.

Industrial Revolution? Whre is the development of science and engineering in Europe if there is no stable Muslim society to bring Indian mathematics westward (and then to expand on the mathematics with the Muslim enhancements)?

I do not claim that they could not happen, but you continue to pretend that we would simply have all the same basic history (just minus the presence of Islam) when, in fact, Islam played an enormous role in creating those events and that history.

You may posit whatever alternative history you wish. However, if you make a significant change to the history we know, you need to come up with plausible ways in which many of the same events would have happened.

Thus, your claim--that there would be more democracy--fails, not on its impossibility, but on your failure to make a case for it.

Jojo
02-06-2004, 05:18 AM
Hmm...your theory gets more fascinating the more you expound upon it.

Given that the experiment of Athens with a voting plutocracy collapsed and was not resurrected for well over 1500 years, you need to demonstrate how democratic (or representative) governments would have arisen in the absence of those factors and events. Simply declaring that without Islam there would be more democracy in the world when you appear to have no idea how it would arise does not carry forward your claim.

You've got things back to front. Democracy arose anyway in spite of the presence of islam. We know that because democracy is here. What is to stop me reaching the conclusion that democracy would be even more widespread if it wasn't for islam - that islam (far from causing democracy) has actually acted as a brake on democracy.

You admit that the theory of democracy would be around anyway. Now you have to show why we would all have forgotten that theory if it wasn't for islam.

Without Islam, we might see less science, no Moorish culture entering through Spain, no externally funded wealth of petty nobles from riches stolen from the East end of the Mediterranean, possibly no gunpowder......Industrial Revolution? Whre is the development of science and engineering in Europe if there is no stable Muslim society to bring Indian mathematics westward (and then to expand on the mathematics with the Muslim enhancements)?

You're getting confused (and also you are swallowing muslim propaganda). If there were no islam then those countries in the middle east would not be empty. They would not be large wildernesses with no people in them. They would still be full of people - exactly the same people. Many cultural factors would still be the same.

There is no reason to suppose that science would be any less developed just because the people in those countries were not muslim. They may still have acted as a storehouse of knowledge. Any enhancements that were made to mathematics were not "muslim" enhancements - there is nothing in islam itself that means it is more likely to enhance mathematics. You could say they were "middle eastern" enhancements maybe, not muslim enhancements.

The reason I say you are swallowing muslim propaganda is because it is a common muslim argument that islam helped foster scientific advancements eg the first guy to invent a flying machine was a muslim (some spanish dude) therefore (say muslims) islam invented flying. This is a fallacy - islam didn't invent flying. Some dude (who happened to be muslim) invented flying.

If the people in the middle east had been christian then that area would probably have been more stable not less - no crusades, no inter-muslim wars. Thus you claim that "islam" was responsible for this and responsible for that when you should be claiming that "middle-eastern people" were responsible for this and responsible for that.

Those middle eastern people would still be there whether they were muslim, christian, Falun Gong, moonies or whatever. The middle east would not have been empty.

Hoisted by your own petard, methinks.

tomndebb
02-06-2004, 06:44 AM
Those middle eastern people would still be there whether they were muslim, christian, Falun Gong, moonies or whatever. The middle east would not have been empty. Of course it would not have been empty. However, the people who developed math and science did it in a particular milieu in which they had a sufficiently stable society to engage in those "liesure" activities rather than struggling to survive. It was the presence of a moderating Muslim influence, spread across the entire Middle East, that provided that stability. This is analogous to the Pax Romana that permitted the dissemination of laws, carried on Roman roads, throughout Southern and Western Europe (along with much of North Africa and the Western Middle East) several hundred years earlier. It is not enough to claim that the same humans would have lived (they may not have), you need to be able to show that they would have had the same environment.

As to your reference to Greek democracy: it is nonsense. When Western Europe began toying with democratic and represntative forms of government, they created their own models, then looked back to Athens to justify the changes they wished to make to government. They did not first look at Athenian democracy and say "Let's try that!" Instead, they came up with their own plans, (which were quite different than the model of Athens) and then invoked the (false) memory of Athens to rationalize their own efforts. Democracy was considered a stupid and evil form of government for over a thousand years--beginning wth the generation that watched Athenian democracy fail. Aristotle and Plato (from between whom nearly all Western European philosophy descended) both condemned democracy. Why did it arise again, except as nurtured by people wrestling with the particular forms of government that had arisen in Europe--which were, in turn, formed as a result of Europe's interaction with Islam?

tomndebb
02-06-2004, 07:11 AM
By the way, this is completely a straw man:The reason I say you are swallowing muslim propaganda is because it is a common muslim argument that islam helped foster scientific advancements eg the first guy to invent a flying machine was a muslim (some spanish dude) therefore (say muslims) islam invented flying. This is a fallacy - islam didn't invent flying. Some dude (who happened to be muslim) invented flying. I do not pay any attention to people who make up stuff just to elevate their own culture, whether it is the Muslims that you claim have made these claims (I have never heard any of them) or Afro-Centrists or white "Aryans" or anyone else.

The records of the actual advances in mathematics and science made by Muslims are well documented. (We had a thread that addressed them a month or so ago). Among the sites you can look through, the University of St. Andrews provides this overview with extended links (http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Arabic_mathematics.html)

tomndebb
02-06-2004, 07:33 AM
On re-reading your comment, I see that you were making a different point--and you are still wrong.

There is nothing about the advances made within Islamic society that require a Muslim to carry them out. However, you need the society and the stability of the culture to provide an environment in which they can be performed. Eliminating Islam (with the lingua franca of Arabic and the relative social and governmental stability to the entire Middle East for several hundred years) is required for the history we have today. If you drop Islam out of the mix, you need to show that there would still have been the same environment in its absence. This you fail to do.

Jojo
02-06-2004, 08:14 AM
I suspected that you had misunderstood the entire topic under discussion and you have now confirmed it. I am aware of the advances in mathematics that were made by muslims but the fact that these advances were made by muslims is entirely irrelevant. The point is they were made by people who happened to be muslims.

The previous thread you refer to was asking a different question to the one I am talking about. The previous thread was asking what contributions muslims have made to the world. I am asking "what would the world be like if islam had never existed?". A different question entirely.

The fact that the people who made these contributions were muslim is only relevant if you can show that their muslimness was somehow integral to the contributions they made. That their contributions could only have been made because they were muslim. That there is something specific in islam's doctrines that is responsible for advances in mathematics. So that, if these people were not muslim, then the advances would not have been made.

I don't particularly define people by what ideology they think they believe in. People are people. A clever mathematician is a clever mathematician whatever religion he thinks he believes.

You say this:

Of course it would not have been empty. However, the people who developed math and science did it in a particular milieu in which they had a sufficiently stable society to engage in those "liesure" activities rather than struggling to survive. It was the presence of a moderating Muslim influence, spread across the entire Middle East, that provided that stability.

I don't disagree with any of this. All you are doing is reciting history as it actually happened. That's easy - anyone can do that. What I am doing is contemplating history as it didn't happen. Are you saying that without this "moderating muslim influence" then the middle east would have been awash with war, anarchy, chaos and barbarity? Are you saying that no advances in science or maths would have been made?

You need to stop talking about history as it actually happened and start thinking about history as it didn't happen (for the purposes of this discussion). Assume there was no islam - make that your a priori assumption and then proceed from there.

It is not enough to claim that the same humans would have lived (they may not have), you need to be able to show that they would have had the same environment.

You're a glass half empty kind of guy. Your view is excessively pessimistic. You assume that if islam had not existed then the environment that would have existed would have been worse. I don't particularly see why.

Democracy was considered a stupid and evil form of government for over a thousand years--beginning wth the generation that watched Athenian democracy fail.

Exactly. The rise and fall of democracy had nothing whatsoever to do with islam. The susequent rise (again) of democracy likewise had nothing to with islam.

Why did it arise again, except as nurtured by people wrestling with the particular forms of government that had arisen in Europe--which were, in turn, formed as a result of Europe's interaction with Islam?

This is a statement I don't understand. I don't understand why you think that the rise of democracy in 20th century Europe had anything particularly to do with Europe's interaction with islam. I don't understand why you think that, if it were not for Europe's interaction with islam, then democracy would not have arisen.

I think that the rise of democracy had more to do with social factors, the industrial revolution, the rise of political philosophy etc than islam. My initial point (way back) was that in the absence of islam, democracy would be more widespread. I still don't see why this would not be the case since one of the factors that holds back the progress of (full) democracy in muslim countries is islam.

Tamerlane
02-06-2004, 10:39 AM
The fact that the people who made these contributions were muslim is only relevant if you can show that their muslimness was somehow integral to the contributions they made. That their contributions could only have been made because they were muslim. That there is something specific in islam's doctrines that is responsible for advances in mathematics. So that, if these people were not muslim, then the advances would not have been made.

I don't particularly define people by what ideology they think they believe in. People are people. A clever mathematician is a clever mathematician whatever religion he thinks he believes.

There are in fact arguments that particular facets of early Islamic theology, for one very broad example the emphasis on literacy, helped facilitate a number of intellectual investigations during the so-called "Golden Age". Similarly there are arguments that Islam also tended to influence investigations away from certain topics.I can perhaps give more detail on this later this evening when I have access to my library again.

But in addition, you may have missed tom's most recent post, but another facilitator was the expansion of Arabic ( even in areas like Persia where it didn't become the steet-level lingua franca ) as a universal scholarly language, something which was dependant on the success of Islam. The counter of Latin in a Christian-dominated MENA is possible, but Latin may never have extended as far east as Arabic ultimately did.

Are you saying that without this "moderating muslim influence" then the middle east would have been awash with war, anarchy, chaos and barbarity? Are you saying that no advances in science or maths would have been made?

I don't think he is saying this so much what would have happened, as he is saying there is no way of knowing. The Caliphate was one of the world's great empires, straddling an enormous territory - no Islam and you may have had a perpetually divided ME, with a Byzantine and Persian state constantly in conflict and periodically weakening themselves so badly they were routinely left open to devastating incursions from the steppes ( Transoxanian for Persia, Trans-Caucasian and Pontic for the Byzantines ). This indeed was the sort of scenario that opened the door for the Arab conquests to begin with.

You need to stop talking about history as it actually happened and start thinking about history as it didn't happen (for the purposes of this discussion). Assume there was no islam - make that your a priori assumption and then proceed from there.

I think you are sometimes falling into the same intellectual trap :).


You're a glass half empty kind of guy. Your view is excessively pessimistic. You assume that if islam had not existed then the environment that would have existed would have been worse. I don't particularly see why.

No, he is saying it might be worse. You are claiming it would be better ( in one respect ), tom is countering with scenarios where it might not be.

Exactly. The rise and fall of democracy had nothing whatsoever to do with islam. The susequent rise (again) of democracy likewise had nothing to with islam.

Undeterminable. Remember the "butterfly effect" ;). Reaction to the opposition of Islam may have compelled Christian Europe to move in different directions at different rates or times than it did.

Would Portugal and Spain have been quite so interested in finding an alternate away around a non-Islamic MENA? Would Spain and Portugal even exist in the same state if not for the impact of Islam? Maybe Iberia would be a divided possesion, split into ten little states, some possessions of other distant powers uninterested in using them for anything but as backward tax farms. Would a failure to pre-empt non-European resource bases have slowed the impetus towards industrialization? Who knows? Not me. Which is the point.

I don't understand why you think that, if it were not for Europe's interaction with islam, then democracy would not have arisen.

Might have arisen differently, at a different time, in different places, with different levels of success. Trying to trace out all of the indirect influences of a Christian world with a major oppositional force removed ( and oppositon often equals impetus to innovation ) is a probably fruitless task. There are too many possibilities.

I think that the rise of democracy had more to do with social factors, the industrial revolution, the rise of political philosophy etc than islam

Which all may have been impacted, maybe positive, maybe negative, by the absense of Islam.

My initial point (way back) was that in the absence of islam, democracy would be more widespread.

And it might not. Maybe the Byzantine Emperor would be calling the shots :).

I still don't see why this would not be the case since one of the factors that holds back the progress of (full) democracy in muslim countries is islam.

Unproven, at least.

- Tamerlane

tomndebb
02-06-2004, 05:52 PM
The fact that the people who made these contributions were muslim is only relevant if you can show that their muslimness was somehow integral to the contributions they made. That their contributions could only have been made because they were muslim. That there is something specific in islam's doctrines that is responsible for advances in mathematics. So that, if these people were not muslim, then the advances would not have been made. Again, you are missing the point.

I make no claim that Islamic faith led to one action or another.
(Christian theology was entirely opposed to democratic or representative government until it was reshaped in the context of the rise of democratic and republican states, so Islam's supposed opposition to democracy very likely has as much to do with Muslim nations being prohibited from developing democracy by European colonial powers (and the Ottoman Empire) as it does with religion.)
I am only pointing out that the society that Islam shaped had a serious effect on the history of Europe--and the removal of that force casts doubt on the rise of democracy in Europe. If you are going to claim that removing Islam (the society, not the faith) provides for more democracy in the world, you need to demonstrate how the absence of Islam allowed a Europe to develop that was sufficiently similar to the one we knew that democracy would continue to be part of history.

Captain Amazing
02-07-2004, 01:09 AM
The counter of Latin in a Christian-dominated MENA is possible, but Latin may never have extended as far east as Arabic ultimately did.

It probably would have been Greek, not Latin. You probably would have seen a stronger Byzantine empire. You still would be seeing barbarian incursions, but Persia couldn't have been as strong an enemy as the Caliphate was.

far_born
02-07-2004, 12:40 PM
RexDart

I think that like any religion that relies on a prophet long since dead, Islam, has become less relevant than it once was. But really, what's the point of your question? Why single Islam out? IOW there must be something unique about Islam to make this a real issue.

To me it is like asking "Why have red jellybeans? Jelly beans are bad for you. Don't tell that the other flavors are just as bad. Justify the red jelly beans"

I feel you should make a case as to why this religion, which is really an offshoot of and intricately related to many other religions, warrants being analyzed in a vacuum.

I do resent your portrayal of it as lies. Lies involve the deliberate telling of a known falsehood. People really believe in Islam. As far as they are concerned, it is not false. It may be a fine point to you, but I find it an important distinction to remember.

dal_timgar
02-07-2004, 01:08 PM
Look at the history of the last 500 years. How many people and how much land has been stolen by people who claim to be CHRISTIANS?

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not steal.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Is hypoChristianity the religion from hell?

HELL is not in the BIBLE. It actually says SHEOL, HADES and GEHENNA.

The underground fire and brimstone HELL comes from Roman paganism. People who lived near volcanos. No volcanos in the middle-east.

Dal Timgar

To set the stage:

Generally, I think little good can ever come of lies, even well-meaning deceptions, and thus I'm pretty critical of religion. I believe people should be allowed to practice their religions so long as they aren't coercive. However, people should also be educated away from their superstitions. People's beliefs don't exist in a vacuum, they don't discard them when they walk out of their door. At a certain point, a person believing a lie may be induced by his false perception of reality into doing something which will directly affect other individuals and the world around them.

On the balance, does Islam have a positive or negative effect on individuals and on the world?

I would have to conclude that it is a harmful set of beliefs. It has led to the recent formation of oppressive theocracies with no respect for individual liberty. It has provided a convenient excuse to whip up frenzy in the masses, for the purpose of carrying out various acts of violence. While these things certainly have an economic component, the religious component is not dispensible. The religious component allows those who would do evil to polarize the population, to cast all the others as wicked heathens who merit no better than second-class status. Islam sets up a framework that is readily exploited by those who wish to do harm. This alone makes it a dangerous force in the world.

Any positive consequences the religion might create, including support for those charities that aren't just Al Queda front groups, could easily be mirrored by a non-religious population. Charitable giving is not the exclusive province of religion, after all. Thus I would conclude from a quick survey of the impact of Islam on the world that it is more harmful than beneficial.

I am interested in hearing arguments that Islam has had either harmful or beneficial consequences, and why and how? (I'm not particularly interested in comparing it to other world religions, rather to give Islam an isolated and critical look, as I and other secular humanists have already been giving to other prominent religions. Saying "Christianity caused X" is not a counterargument to "Islam caused Y".)

tomndebb
02-07-2004, 07:09 PM
The underground fire and brimstone HELL comes from Roman paganism. People who lived near volcanos. No volcanos in the middle-east. In the interest of promting the Straight Dope, it should be pointed out that the first sentence of this paragraph is in error. A fiery place of punishment after death was firmly established in some Jewish literature (as opposed to Jewish Scripture) before the Romans had established a presence in Judea and was accepted and built upon by early Christianity before that had become a "Roman" religion.

A search of the SDMB GQ Forum will turn up several discussions of the origins of the Christian hell--none of which require Romans or volvcanoes to be understood.

[ /Straight Dope moment ]

Captain Amazing
02-07-2004, 10:39 PM
No volcanos in the middle-east.

Mt. Arafat in Turkey is an extict volcano. So are Mt. Damavand and Mt. Sahand in Iran.

RexDart
02-08-2004, 01:16 AM
Look at the history of the last 500 years. How many people and how much land has been stolen by people who claim to be CHRISTIANS?

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not steal.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Is hypoChristianity the religion from hell?

HELL is not in the BIBLE. It actually says SHEOL, HADES and GEHENNA.

The underground fire and brimstone HELL comes from Roman paganism. People who lived near volcanos. No volcanos in the middle-east.

Dal Timgar

What?

We weren't talking about any of that, and it's another thread entirely.

Which was precisely my point in trying to limit this thread to Islam. We have already had plenty of threads where we talked about the possible negative effects of Christianity on the world. If you want to discuss those, search for the old threads or start a new one.

originally posted by far_born
I feel you should make a case as to why this religion, which is really an offshoot of and intricately related to many other religions, warrants being analyzed in a vacuum.

We have no trouble talking about Christianity "in a vacuum", and will routinely discuss it without bringing up other religions. In part, I believe this is due to our Western viewpoint, we see Christianity as the big boy on the block, the default religious belief for most religious people here and in the UK, and a pretty constant part of our cultural fabric. So when we in America and the UK talk about the harmful or beneficial effects of religion, we probably have Christianity largely in mind because we're more familiar with it.

far_born, in your analogy all the jellybeans are the same except for their color, a rather superficial quality. World religions vary widely in the theology they embrace, and the cultural elements they have created, and have occupied different places in history. Thus, even if it is true that all world religions are harmful or beneficial to an equal magnitude (and whether that's the case would be a subject for a different thread), they would nevertheless be harmful/beneficial in different specific ways. Thus I think it's valuable to isolate one religion and look at the specific role it plays in the world.

kniz
02-08-2004, 12:28 PM
In other words, the alteration in the history of the world posited here is so fundamental that I doubt if any meaningful answer is possible. Instead the thread will provide an entertaining opportunity for posters to air their prejudices and preconceptions about Islam.
That is exactly my impression when I first read the OP. :(

far_born
02-08-2004, 01:04 PM
We have no trouble talking about Christianity "in a vacuum", and will routinely discuss it without bringing up other religions. In part, I believe this is due to our Western viewpoint, we see Christianity as the big boy on the block, the default religious belief for most religious people here and in the UK, and a pretty constant part of our cultural fabric. So when we in America and the UK talk about the harmful or beneficial effects of religion, we probably have Christianity largely in mind because we're more familiar with it. And that kind of annoys me honestly, because there's so much more to religion.

far_born, in your analogy all the jellybeans are the same except for their color, a rather superficial quality. World religions vary widely in the theology they embrace, and the cultural elements they have created, and have occupied different places in history. Hmm...or is it the culture that creates the religion? Are we really talking about Islam or cultures that practiced Islam?

I don't see how you can answer the question is Islam beneficial or harmful without considering the alternatives. Given the dispositions of the world and the areas where Islam has flourished, that alternative is another religion.

I have to ask because it is not immediately obvious to me why Islam has distinguished itself in any way in terms of a "cost/benefit" ratio. AFAIK there's only one prophet that seperates Judaism from Islam. Most other variances seem to spring largely from historical, geological accidents rather than theology and don't seem to merit a discussion IMO. But if you can explain, please do.

Thus, even if it is true that all world religions are harmful or beneficial to an equal magnitude (and whether that's the case would be a subject for a different thread), they would nevertheless be harmful/beneficial in different specific ways. That is your contention, and I'm afraid I haven't seen it supported so far. What's so special about Islam that makes it any different?

Now if you wanted to discuss religions based on montheistic sky gods with a strict dualistic good vs. evil dichotomy and their effect on humanity, then I would naturally find something worthy of discussion.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
02-09-2004, 07:56 PM
I think it's worth mentioning that Islam is in in its fourteenth or fifteenth century, based on its calendar (but I forget when that started, exactly). Christian rulers in the 14th - 16th centuries CE were not always models of tolerance and forbearance, either.